Talking Movies: Jurassic World: Dominion [SPOILERS!]

Talking Movies

Released: 10 June 2021
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Budget: $185 million
Stars:
Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Campbell Scott, Isabella Sermon, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum

The Plot:
After being set into the wild at the end of the last film, dinosaurs now live amongst us and a thriving black market has arisen. When poachers kidnap the infant of Owen Grady’s prize Velociraptor, Blue, and the teenage clone he and Claire Dearing (Howard) have been rising in isolation and a swarm of genetically-engineered locusts threaten to cause a worldwide famine, they must team up with faces old and new to infiltrate a dinosaur conservation site and put a stop to both plots.

The Background:
In 1990, writer Michael Crichton penned Jurassic Park, a cautionary tale about the dangers of genetic engineering that saw the long-extinction dinosaurs returned to life through science and running amok in a theme park; the novel was well received and its concept caught the attention of famed director Steven Spielberg, who spearheaded the production and not only revolutionised computer-generated special effects on film by marrying CGI with complex animatronics, but also an incredibly profitable and one of the most influential movies on its era. Naturally, the film led to sequels, however these weren’t as well received and the franchise lay dormant for the better part of twenty years until being revitalised by director Colin Trevorrow with the ridiculously successful Jurassic World (ibid, 2015). Following this success, Spielberg and Trevorrow collaborated on a plan for a new trilogy; however, although reviews were notably mixed for the sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (ibid, 2018) yielded an impressive worldwide gross of $1.310 billion, which all but guaranteed a third entry. Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly penned a story that tackled the question of how the world reacted to dinosaurs being loose among the populace, how that impacts society, and the promise of different dinosaurs and genetic monstrosities being featured. Alongside crafted something of a redemption story for new generation of protagonists, Trevorrow brought back the three protagonists from Spielberg’s groundbreaking film, and actually used the down time afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic to make changes to the film based on fan feedback. After numerous delays, Jurassic World: Dominion released earlier this month and has currently grossed nearly $440 million at the box office; however, the film was met with disappointingly low reactions, with reviews criticising the film as a shameless cash grab that was largely derivative of its predecessors and, while many of the effects and action sequences were praised, it was largely seen as squandering its primary premise.

The Review [SPOILERS!]:
The Jurassic franchise has long suffered from the law of diminishing returns; the first was a blockbuster hit, a visual spectacle that captivated an entire generation and kicked off a short-lived fascination with dinosaurs across a variety of media. The special effects, interpretation, and behaviour of its impressive dinosaurs continues to be influential to this day, with many other books, comics, videogames, and documentaries utilising a similar presentation, no matter how scientifically inaccurate they may be, simply because of how realistic and detailed the effects were at the time. Unfortunately this success didn’t really carry through to the sequels; while they all made a massive profit, critical and audience reactions dipped as the film’s failed to really recapture the magic of the first, and the franchise laid dormant until Colin Trevorrow was somehow, able to revive it. I think, for me, one of the reasons for the series growing quickly stagnant was that the films didn’t really try anything new; we were always back on an island, with the same dinosaurs only with a bigger, more vicious carnivore each time and when they did try something new, it was either ridiculous (like weaponizing dinosaurs) or not as big a part of the plot as it should’ve been…like dinosaurs free in the world.

Owen and Claire are drawn back into the world of dinosaurs when Maisie is kidnapped.

I’d like to say that Jurassic World: Dominion bucks this trend but that’s not entirely true. Like the ending of the second and third films, the movie is framed around the idea of dinosaurs no longer being confined to a faraway island, but this plot point isn’t explored in any great detail. Instead, a newscast and a few scenes throughout the beginning set the stage, showing that these genetically resurrected creatures are caused sporadic havoc and deaths across the glove as humans and animals alike struggle to adapt to their presence, but it’s not long at all before we’re back in an isolated jungle and contending with new carnivores. Since the last film, Owen and Claire had retired to a secluded cabin where they keep Maisie Lockwood (Sermon) isolated in order to protect her from the government and malevolent corporations like Biosyn Genetics, who would seek to study or destroy her since she’s a human clone. Naturally, she’s a typical rebellious teen; tired of being cooped up and their lack of trust, she often defies them to journey beyond her limits, but she forms a bond with Blue’s asexually-produced baby, which she names “Beta”, which the two are found to be nesting nearby. While struggling to find a way to be good parents to Maisie, Owen and Grady are horrified when Biosyn mercenaries kidnap both Maisie and Blue and waste no time in calling in old favours and accepting help from pilot Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), who is seeking to atone for her part in the kidnapping.

Characters old and new must join forces to survive Biosyn’s newest and biggest dinosaur yet.

Their quest first takes them to Malta, where they witness first-hand the cruel depths of the dinosaur black market and clash with dinosaur smuggler Soyona Santos (Dichen Lachman), who has weaponised Atrociraptors who attack anything they’re directed to via a laser pointer to give us an excuse for a thrilling chase through the claustrophobic streets (and to still have antagonistic ‘raptors, but it wouldn’t be a Jurassic film without that). However, while the likes of the Mosasaurus and Apatosaurus cause a bit of a nuisance, the real threat to our society ae these genetically-engineered locusts; spliced with dinosaur DNA to be much bigger and aggressive, these ugly bugs have been swarming across the country devouring any crops that aren’t manufactured by Biosyn, raising concerns for the returning (and now divorced, in one of a handful of all-too-brief nods to the second and third films) Doctor Ellie Sattler (Dern). Having been invited to Biosyn’s secluded dinosaur preservation facility by chaotician Doctor Ian Malcom (Goldblum), who has been working closely with Biosyn director Doctor Lewis Dodgson (Scott), to keep the dinosaurs safe and study them for medical purposes. Ellie brings along her old flame and associate, Doctor Alan Grant (Neill), reuniting the original Jurassic Park trio for the first time since 1993, and the three investigate Biosyn, which is secretly manufacturing the locusts. Malcolm, and his protégé Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie), have been working to scupper Dodgson’s plot to profit from his monstrosities, and the group infiltrate his facility to acquire concrete proof of his illegal activities. Dodgson was also behind the kidnapping of Maisie and Blue, though this was primarily the will of his lead geneticist, Doctor Henry Wu (BD Wong); having spent a lifetime recreating dinosaurs and cobbling together genetic abominations, Wu seeks to study Maisie and Blue’s unique genetic properties in order to destroy the locusts, though naturally the original protagonists are less than trusting of him due to his previous acts.

Unfortunately, we don’t really get to explore how dinosaurs have impacted the wider world.

If you were a fan of Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and Doctor Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) from the last film then you’ll be disappointed to learn that they only get a brief cameo at the start of the film before disappearing entirely; in their place is Kayla, a mercenary pilot who inexplicably develops a conscience because she draws the line at kidnapping. Dodgson (who you may remember from his brief scene in Jurassic Park where he was played by Cameron Thor) is now this quirky, Steve Jobs-esque character who presents the image of a benevolent philanthropist but actually seeks to profit from the research he stole from Jurassic Park (many of the dinosaurs are from both islands and that can of shaving cream finally makes a reappearance). The real story, as ever, is the dinosaurs; this time around, we get to see how cruel they’ve been treated as poachers and other undesirables chain them up for sport, sell them, and even cook them up on the black market, though they’re allowed to roam freely at Biosyn’s secluded hideaway, where they’re even fitted with special chips to call them back to base in the event of an emergency. This time around, Wu has managed to (somehow…) resurrect a few dinosaurs in their purest form, without the need for other DNA to fill in the gene sequence gaps, meaning dinosaurs like the Pyroraptor now sport feathers; one of the most impressive shots of the film is dedicated to the mammoth Dreadnoughtus; and the entire site is also protected by a vaguely-defined air protection system that keeps the Quetzalcoatlus’ at bay (and, when it’s deactivated, they cause a pretty intense, if unbelievably survivable, plane crash). In addition to the long-awaited (for me, anywhere) return of the venom-spitting Dilophosaurus and the series staple, the Tyrannosaurus rex, was also get some fearsome new dinos: a bunch of vicious Dimetrodon stalk Grant, Ellie, and Maisie in the cave sunder the facility, Claire has a close encounter with the horrific long-clawed Therizinosaurus, and Biosyn have even brought back one of the largest and most aggressive carnivore ever known, the Giganotosaurus, which acts as the film’s primary dinosaur antagonist to rival the T. rex in the same vein as its predecessors, the Spinosaurus and Indominus rex.

The Nitty-Gritty [SPOILERS!]:
Pretty much all of Jurassic World: Dominion’s marketing focused on three key elements: dinosaurs out in the world, the return of the original protagonists, and the rescue of Beta. Unfortunately, the film struggles a bit to juggle these elements in a satisfactory way; it almost feels like there’s two scripts stapled together as Ellie and Grant’s side mission feels a little tacked on to the primary concern of  simple kidnapping plot, and both of these take precedence over the concept of exploring what it means to have dinosaurs roaming through cities and suburbs. Sadly, this latter aspect is barely touched upon; we get some cool shots of them flying between skyscrapers and lumbering alongside elephants and such, and the stuff with the black market and the lip service of his disruptive it all is there, but it’s largely secondary compared to the locust swarm, which just isn’t as interesting when you’ve got Allosaurus’s stomping around. While it’s great to see the original trio back (and Goldblum toned his performance down a little), it does feel like a bit of a rewrite could’ve seen Franklin and Zia (or even Claire) will their role; I appreciate the filmmakers going all-in with trying to make this the biggest Jurassic film ever by bringing them back and having them team up with their younger counterparts, but their interactions are a bit weak (Ellie and Claire team up to reset the facility’s power, much like in Jurassic Park, while Grant reluctantly helps Owen and Maisie capture Beta to take her home) and all of them inexplicably survive the most unbelievable situations (with Malcolm now able to not only stand his ground against a Giganotosaurus but even toss a flaming spear into its mouth).

While the locust and kidnapping plots don’t land too well, the dinosaurs look as fantastic as ever.

So, while Biosyn’s facility might not be on an island, we are effectively back in Jurassic Park/Jurassic World for the majority of the film as Dodgson has built an advanced laboratory and sanctuary for the wild dinosaurs so he can study them alongside his team of scientists. Thankfully, the dinosaur effects look fantastic; there were some moments where it was clearly CGI, but others where I wasn’t so sure and there appeared to be a decent amount of animatronics and physical effects used throughout the film. While it’s hard to believe that Claire, Owen, and Kayla survive half the stuff they endure as they’re being chased, ejected, or crashing and there’s numerous times when the protagonists ae able to dodge, outrun, and even fight back against not just the smaller dinosaurs but the bigger ones too, there’s a decent amount of tension applied in certain scenes (particularly Claire’s escape from the Therizinosaurus). This time around, much of the carnage could’ve been easily avoided were it not for Maisie once again wreaking havoc by releasing a dinosaur, in this case Beta, even though Wu is clearly trying to atone for his mistake with the locust by studying the two (a fairly invasive and simple procedure, if the ending is anything to go by). Instead, her actions cause a chain reaction that see Dodgson reluctantly incinerate his locusts to cover up his involvement, which causes a forest fire when they are bizarrely able to stay flying and functional when ablaze. Though he tries to escape, he’s set upon by the Dilophosaurus’s and the protagonists are caught between another gigantic showdown as the T. rex and Giganotosaurus duke it out to decide which is the alpha male. Thankfully, the Therizinosaurus is also on hand this time to ensure that the T. rex remains the undisputed king and the film ends basically the same way as all Jurassic sequels do: the dinosaurs live on in the remains of the sanctuary as protected species and life will just have to find a way to co-exist with dinosaurs in the world.

The Summary [SPOILERS!]:
I went into Jurassic World: Dominion just hoping that it’d be better than Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and, thankfully, it was…but not by much. As I say, the law of diminishing returns and normalising the dinosaurs to such an extent that it’d not even worth properly exploring what it means to see them out in our world rather than confined to an island really keeps the film from properly living up to its potential and exploring new avenues. We almost get that when Owen and Claire are tracking Santos, but it’s not long before we’re basically back in Jurassic Park again and going through the same beats as the first and third movies. The larger plot of the locust swarm is pretty weak and seems to be a ham-fisted way of tackling global concerns regarding food and the environment; even though they’re posing a real threat to our survival, no amount of locusts is every going to be as visually impressive or interesting compared to friggin’ dinosaurs! Seeing Grant, Ellie, and Malcolm return to the franchise, and in prominent roles, was great; they slipped back into it nice and easily and had some fun interactions with their younger counterparts, but again this really does feel like forced pandering and a way to cash in on nostalgia. The new dinosaurs, particularly the sadly under-utilised Pyroraptor and the pretty horrific Therizinosaurus were great additions, but the Giganotosaurus really didn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before from the Spinosaurus and Indominus rex besides giving the fan favourite T. rex something new to chomp away at. In the end, Jurassic World: Dominion is a decent enough action/monster film; it drags a bit a suffers from pacing issues, and there was some weird lines and delivery sprinkled throughout, but the effects were pretty awesome and there was a lot off an service laced throughout. I, personally, would’ve liked to see more explicit references to the second and third film and feel it could’ve done with being a bit shorter, or spending more time exploring the impact dinosaurs have had on our world, but it was enjoyable enough for what it was and a decent enough note for the franchise to finally (hopefully…) go out on.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Jurassic Park: Dominion? Did you enjoy seeing the original cast come back or did you think they were a little unnecessary to the overall plot? What did you think to the threat of the locusts and do you think it was a mistake to not focus ore on the dinosaurs’ impact on the world? Which of the new dinosaurs was your favourite and were you disappointed to see the film was effectively set in another dinosaur park? Are you a fan of Jurassic Park’s sequels or do you consider the first one to be the best? Would you like to see another film in the franchise or do you agree that it’s time to let it die? Whatever your thoughts on Jurassic Park, sign up to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies [Dinosaur Day]: Jurassic Park


Sixty-five million years ago, dinosaurs ruled the Earth. These massive beasts existed for about 180 million years and came in all shapes and sizes, before finally going extinct following a cataclysmic event that forever changed our world and rendered these creatures mere fossils to be discovered and studied. Fittingly, “Dinosaur Day” is actually celebrated twice a year, giving dino fans the world over ample opportunities to pay homage to this near-mythical titans.


Talking Movies

Released: 11 June 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Budget: $63 million
Stars:
Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, and Richard Attenborough

The Plot:
Wealthy eccentric John Hammond (Attenborough) invites a group of scientists and experts to his private island, where his team of scientists have created a wildlife park populated by genetically engineered dinosaurs! However, when industrial sabotage leads to a catastrophic shutdown of the park’s power facilities, a desperate bid for survival and escape ensues when the dinosaurs run amok across the island.

The Background:
In many ways, it’s fitting that director Steven Spielberg turned Jurassic Park into one of the most influential movies ever made as it originally began life as a screenplay by noted writer Michael Crichton; given how expensive genetic research is, his original idea to tell a story of a graduate student genetically recreating a dinosaur soon evolved into a cautionary tale about science, DNA tampering, and a theme park thrown into chaos when its star attractions get loose. Although I personally didn’t care for it, Crichton’s 1990 novel became a bestseller and easily his most celebrated work, and soon caught Spielberg’s eye as a thinking-man’s monster movie. Inspired by classic movie monsters like King Kong and Godzilla, Spielberg sought out special effects wizards like Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, and Dennis Muren to craft the complex animatronics, miniatures, and stop-motion effects needed to bring these long-dead titans to life. Although the special effects team produced high-quality results using “go-motion”, Spielberg made the bold decision to switch to computer-generated visual effects for many of his dinosaur shots, effectively creating many of the CGI techniques we still see in Hollywood today.

Inspired by Crichton’s book, Spielberg’s team used cutting-edge special effects to bring the dinosaurs to life.

Of course, the CGI is only half of the story; the effects still hold up so well today because they were worked alongside a series of practical puppets and animatronics, with the most impressive and complex being the mammoth hydraulic Tyrannosaurus rex created for the film; though this animatronic frequently caused trouble on-set, Spielberg recognised the T. rex as the true star of the film and changed the ending accordingly. Numerous changes were made from the source material, including excising other dinosaurs and changing the nature of some of the characters, and filming was also interrupted by the untimely arrival of a hurricane, footage of which can be seen in the film. Universal Pictures took advantage of the film’s lengthy pre-production period to accompany Jurassic Park with a merchandising campaign ironically not too dissimilar to the one seen in the film for the titular, fictional park, and the film went on to become the highest-grossing film released worldwide at the time. It grossed over $1.030 billion at the box office and was swamped with overwhelmingly positive reviews; critics praised it as a milestone picture and it was widely regarded as one of the greatest blockbusters of all time. Of course, Jurassic Park’s legacy speaks for itself: it was followed by two less-than-popular sequels before taking audiences by storm once more in 2015, and forever changed cinema with its innovative special effects and advances in CGI that became the foundation for many other films going forward.

The Review:
So, it’s only fair to preface this review with a couple of points. The first is that Jurassic Park was one of the first films I remember going to see at the cinema; I believe my parents took me and my sister for my eighth birthday, and I remember it not just because Jurassic Park and dinosaurs became the big thing in school and the media following the film’s blockbuster release, but also because we arrived about ten minutes late to the screening (not that it meant I really missed anything massively significant). The second point I need to make is that I’m really not a fan of the book upon which the film is based; I found it a slow, laborious text that was more concerned with the science behind the dinosaurs and the park than it was with the spectacle of dinosaurs being recreated. Many of the characters were very different in the book as well, and I found it a very impenetrable text in a lot of ways, so I was left disappointed that it wasn’t as thrilling as the big-screen adaptation.

Grant and Ellie are brought in to sign off on the park and end up in a fight for survival when things go awry!

Although Jurassic Park is very much an ensemble piece, palaeontologist Doctor Alan Grant (Neill) is the clear focus of much of the character development. Grant is a passionate excavator of dinosaur bones and remains who specialises in the ferocious Velociraptor; believing that dinosaurs eventually evolved into what we commonly know as birds and extremely respectful of the nature and instincts of the extinct titans, Grant is far more concerned with the traditional hands-on approach to his craft and emphasising how intelligent creatures like the ‘raptors were, but his efforts are stunted by a lack of funding and ignorant children. Hammond provides the key to both of these problems; not only is he willing to fund Grant’s research for another three years in return for his expert opinion and sign-off on Jurassic Park, but Grant’s trip causes him to meet Hammond’s grandkids, Lex (Richards) and Tim Murphy (Mazzello), forcing him to overcome his wariness of children by becoming a protector and surrogate father to them both when they’re left stranded in the middle of the dangerous park. As far as I remember, Grant is quite different from how he was portrayed in the book, where I believe he was a lot older and possibly a bit more cynical; one difference I definitely recall is that there was no romantic subplot between Grant and palaeobotanist Doctor Ellie Sattler (Dern) in the book but, in the film they’re very much an item. However, the two are portrayed far more as partners and scientific equals rather than being in a massively loving relationship; it’s clear that they are together, but they’re never shown kissing or really being that affectionate with each other. Grant’s difficulty with children is a point of contention between the two since Ellie is eager to have a child of her own, and she’s pleased to see that, by the end of the film, Grant has become much more comfortable with children. While Grant clearly gets more to do of the two, Ellie pulls her weight in other ways by deducing what’s made a Triceratops sick and quickly sets aside her amazement to admonish Hammond on the moral implications of his work, which has been fraught with assumptions and underestimation regarding nature.

Malcolm openly questions Hammond’s morality, and the misguided entrepreneur is forced to acknowledge his mistakes.

Contrasting the more subdued and logical Grant and Ellie is mathematician chaotician Doctor Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), an outspoken and excitable advocate of the morality surrounding Hammond’s park who effortlessly steals every scene he’s in with his whimsical delivery and endlessly quotable lines. Unlike the others, Malcolm specialises in chaos-theory, the idea that small events can have massive consequences, and his theories regarding the return of dinosaurs potentially upsetting the natural balance of the world are routinely waved off by Hammond due to Malcolm’s aggravating personality and irreverent sense of humour. While the others are concerned with the financial implications of the park or the question of whether it was right to bring dinosaurs back, Malcolm is aghast at how recklessly Hammond upset the balance of nature and his inability to recognise that nature is known to adapt (as he puts it, “Life, uh…finds a way”) and is thus the only one to truly get that the park (and the ability to genetically engineer any creature) is potentially dangerous. In contrast to Grant, Malcolm is a confident (crucially, overconfident) womaniser with many ex-wives and children; he’s also much more impulsive, which leads to him putting himself in danger and ending up critically injured for most of the film (in contrast to his book counterpart, who clearly dies despite the awkward retcon in the second book). Industrialist John Hammond is the driving force behind Jurassic Park; contrary to his book counterpart, Hammond is far from a grouchy, gruff, self-serving old man and is much more of a benevolent, if misguided, grandfatherly figure. A wealthy entrepreneur who has long wished to captivate audiences with attractions that will instil a sense of wonder, Hammond is like an excitable child who is far more concerned with putting on a good show regardless of the cost. However, while he’s clearly a visionary, his park and the research conducted to make it a reality are not based in science that he has any real understanding of or claim to; as Malcom so eloquently puts it, Hammond has “stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as he could” in order to, essentially, sell a product without any appreciation for the implications of his actions. Consequently, Hammond is absolutely blinkered to the potential danger of his park and the moral question of bringing dinosaurs back to life; he is absolutely convinced that the park’s teething problems are a mere hiccup and is so sure of his state-of-the-art park and fool proof systems that he even has his grandchildren visit alongside his experts. However, when the park’s safety measures are disrupted by sabotage, Hammond is eventually, begrudgingly, forced to admit that his reach has exceeded his grasp and refocus on atoning for his actions by leading the survivors, and his beloved grandchildren, to safety and left morosely contemplating the consequences of his recklessness.

Grant is forced to become a protector to Lex and Tim when they’re stranded on an island full of dinosaurs.

Hammond’s grandkids, Lex and Tim, are unexpected additions to the weekend tour for Hammond’s guests. Young, enthusiastic children who are clearly besotted with their grandfather, they’re only too happy to visit the island and witness the technological and biological wonders their grandfather has built there over the last five years. For Grant, this poses a bit of a problem as he doesn’t really know how to talk to children, but things are made even more uncomfortable for him when Tim exhibits a hero’s worship of him and his writing (he even models his look on Grant’s) and Lex immediately develops a schoolgirl crush on him, much to Ellie’s amusement. Representing Hammond’s “target demographic”, Lex and Tim are absolutely blown away when they get up close and personal to a sick Triceratops but they (and the others) are left disappointed when the park’s main attractions fail to adhere to Hammond’s expectations and schedule. The two bickering siblings quickly get more than they bargained for when the T. rex bursts free from its paddock and attacks their van, an experience that leaves Lex severely traumatised and in a state of shock after lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) chooses to abandon them to their fate. Thanks to Grant’s knowledge of the T. rex, the kids are momentarily saved from danger, but he ends up stranded in the park with two shellshocked kids to look out for. This proves to be a surprising bonding experience for Grant, who comes to appreciate Tim’s dinosaur knowledge, and he repeatedly goes out of his way to keep the kids safe, teach them about dinosaur behaviours, and to encourage them to keep moving in order to get them to safety. The kids are also a little different from the book, as I recall, as Lex is now a gifted “hacker” and is instrumental in restoring Jurassic Park’s systems and safety protocols in the film’s final act and Tim proves almost as knowledgeable as Grant when it comes to dinosaur identification. While the two tend to descend into aggravating screaming and are often bratty and a hinderance to Grant, they’re surprisingly well-rounded child characters with a lot of personality and likeable qualities; Lex is a bit of a quiet introvert, whereas Tim is much more outspoken and cheeky, but both are left dazed and terrified by their experiences with the T. rex and ‘raptors, as one might expect. Still, while they squabble and bicker like all children and siblings, they work well as a team and look out for each other, which is most evident when they’re pinned down by two ‘raptors in the kitchen and must work together to outsmart and escape from the vicious carnivores.

Thanks to Nedry, many of the other supporting characters become prey to the voracious dinosaurs.

Other notable names include Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson), Jurassic Park’s chief engineer whose frustrations with the bugs and teething problems caused by the park are only exacerbated when industrial sabotage shuts off all the safety measures. Though cynical and crotchety, he works tirelessly to restore power to the park, which ultimately leads to his horrific offscreen death at the claws of the ‘raptors. Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) knows the dangers of the park’s attractions only too well; the resident game warden, he, like Grant, has an incredible respect for the intelligence and ferocity of the dinosaurs, especially the ‘raptors, and takes handling and caring for the creatures very seriously. However, despite all of this (and presumably being an experienced hunter), he also falls prey to the ‘raptors when he underestimates their intelligence. Following the death of a park worker, Donald Gennaro is incredibly concerned about the potential danger that the park poses and, at the behest of Hammond’s investors, he is charged with launching a safety evaluation of Jurassic Park and thus invites industry experts to evaluate the facility to appease both himself and the underwriters. Although initially seen as little more than a cliché, pen-pushing bureaucrat, Gennaro is awestruck by the financial potential of Jurassic Park and keen to reap the rewards of its unique attractions, which quickly override his initial concerns about safety and lawsuits. Pragmatic and officious, he shows his true colours during the T. rex’s escape from her paddock and receives easily the most shocking and brutal death in the entire film simply because he let his fear and panic overwhelm him. Easily the most significant of the film’s side characters is programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), a disgruntled and underappreciated member of Hammond’s staff who feels so underpaid and undervalued that he’s only too happy to sabotage the park and steal samples of the dinosaur DNA for Hammond’s rival, Doctor Lewis Dodgson (Cameron Thor). This, of course, is the catalyst for all of the troubles that befall the park as Nedry shuts down the security protocols and then stumps Arnold and the others with his “hacker crap”. Unfortunately for the selfish and egotistical Nedry, his escape from the park is hindered by a devastating storm and he ends up falling victim to a savage Dilophosaurus, thus meaning his betrayal of his employer was all for naught.

As spectacular as the dinosaurs are, the T. rex and ‘raptors are the stars of the show.

Naturally, the dinosaurs are the star of the show and, truthfully, what we all came to see. The sense of scale and wonder evoked by the creatures is perfectly captured right from the off as Grant, Ellie, Malcolm, and Gennaro are absolutely captivated at the sight of a massive Brachiosaurus and Parasaurolophus herds grazing on the open plains. Of course, we all came to see the true show-stealer, the T. rex; the undisputed king of dinosaurs is an elusive fascination for the first hour or so of the film but makes a dramatic and instantly memorable first appearance when she bursts out of her paddock to attack Hammond’s guests. A titanic, monstrous creature that exudes viciousness, her coming is heralded by the impact of her feet, the iconic rippling of water, and her screeching roar; the way she rips at the tour vehicles and charges relentlessly after her prey makes her a real and terrifying threat, made all the more tangible by the ridiculously impressive animatronic used during her first appearance. The T. rex remains a constant threat for Grant, Lex, and Tim as they make their way back to the visitor’s centre, slaughtering Gallimimus as they flee for their lives, but is rendered in a far more heroic light by the finale thanks to how fierce and calculating the ‘raptors have been in her absence. As massive and undeniably intimidating as the T. rex is, however, the Velociraptors are unquestionably the primary antagonists of the film and their threat is established right from the first scene. Grant also gives an intimidating lecture about how intelligent and dangerous the creatures were back in the day, a sentiment echoed by Muldoon, and it’s through both of them that the film very quickly and clearly establishes that the ‘raptors are highly intelligent and vicious creatures who used co-ordinated attack patterns to hunt down their prey. While the Dilophosaurus easily takes second place as a dangerous creature in the park and makes a lasting impression with its snake-like hiss, neck frills, and blinding venom, the ‘raptors are portrayed as surprisingly smart, incredibly fast and agile, and relentless pack hunters who quickly work out how to open doors by twisting handles, lure in prey using decoys, and claim the highest body count of all of the park’s attractions.

The Nitty-Gritty:
If you can’t suspend your disbelief to accept the science of the film then you’re probably better off reading the book, which devoted entire chapters to detailing the scientific process behind the dinosaur’s resurrection. The film makes things much more audience friendly thanks to an animated sequence in which the park’s mascot, Mr. DNA (Greg Burson), very simply explains how InGen’s scientists extracted dinosaur DNA from fossilised mosquitos, mapped the genetic code, and filled in any gaps in the DNA sequencing with frog DNA to create the park’s dinosaurs. The man behind all this is Doctor Henry Wu (B. D. Wong), who explains that Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs are carefully monitored and engineered to prevent unauthorised breeding by making them all female. Malcolm’s scepticism regarding this later turns out to be true as Grant discovers life has indeed found a way and some of the dinosaurs have spontaneously changed sex in order to breed like “some West African frogs”, but it’s also stated that Hammond’s scientists implemented a “Lysine Contingency” to ensure the dinosaurs can’t survive without regular doses of Lysine. I think it’s only fair to point out that the film never claims that their dinosaurs are 100% scientifically accurate; it’s openly stated that they’ve have been genetically altered, thereby explaining any physical or behavioural differences. What isn’t quite as easily explained is how Grant, the unquestionable expert on Velociraptors, isn’t able to recognise a baby ‘raptor when one is in his hands, but it’s a small issue compared to how entertaining the rest of the film is. So revolutionary is Hammond’s research that it attracts the attention of rival company Biosyn, whose head of research, Dr. Dodgson, pays Nedry an extortionate amount of money to steal viable dinosaur embryos from Hammond’s laboratory. If I remember right, Dodgson had a much larger role in the book (or maybe it was in the follow-up; it’s hard to remember as the books were so dull) but, in the film, Dodgson is simply a mysterious figure who wants to catch up to (and, presumably, overtake) InGen’s genetic engineering research. Although it’s only a small role, Dr. Dodgson can thus be seen as a dark opposite of Hammond since both took shortcuts to get ahead, but neither of them really got what they wanted in the end as Hammond loses faith in his vision for Jurassic Park and Dodgson is denied the embryos after Nedry is killed.

The CGI stands the test of time thanks to the incredible animatronics used to bring the dinosaurs to life.

I think it’s only fair to offer some praise to John Williams’ orchestral score, which is almost as iconic as the film’s much-lauded special effects and perfectly captures the sense of awe, amazement, and spectacle offered by the film. Indeed, “spectacle” is the most appropriate one-word summation of Jurassic Park; even comparatively trivial things like the arrival on Isla Nubar and the massive, King Kong-like gates are treated as a marvel, to say nothing of the sense of grandeur offered to the dinosaurs. It should be no surprise considering Spielberg’s body of work, but Jurassic Park does a wonderful job of building tension and anticipation to the reveal of its dinosaurs; the opening sequence is a pretty horrific snapshot of just how ferocious the ‘raptors are but it takes some time before we properly see the dinosaurs in full. Even after we’ve had a taste of the park’s residents thanks to the dramatic reveal of the Brachiosaurus, the guests (and Hammond) are left disappointed when the dinosaurs fail to appear during their tour, which only increases the anticipation of the dinosaur’s appearances. Of course, as fantastic as the CGI is, it holds up so well even today thanks to the incredible animatronics used to bring the dinosaurs to life; when Grant and the others tend to the sick Triceratops, it’s a fully practical effect that really helps to sell the weight and believability of the creatures. The special effects on show were not only pioneering and game-changing for cinema, but also forever set the standard for how dinosaurs are portrayed in media going forward; even now, the look, sound, and depiction of dinosaurs still takes a lot of its influence from Jurassic Park, despite how scientifically inaccurate a lot of the creatures are. Sure, we know now that Velociraptors were much smaller and had feathers and even the book debunked the belief that the T. rex was a purely visual hunter, but this was unquestionably the closest depiction of dinosaurs ever put to screen and it remains a genre and industry standard thanks to the ground-breaking special effects.

With the power restored, all that’s left is for the T. rex to make a last-minute save so the survivors can escape.

Jurassic Park is very much a mixture of genres; it’s primarily a sci-fi cautionary tale, but Spielberg does a fantastic job of weaving interpersonal dramas and morality tales into the narrative, as well as framing dinosaurs like the T. rex and ‘raptors as creatures ruled by their instincts but filmed in a way that evokes horror and monster movies. This is obviously most explicitly seen in the T. rex’s paddock escape, a harrowing sequence where the human characters are rendered defenceless, powerless bugs compared to the size and might of the T rex. Their only means of survival is standing completely still and quiet, something the kids obviously find near impossible to achieve given how terrifying the situation is, and Grant is constantly having to find ways to distract and get around the T. rex as there’s no question of being able to fight back against the mighty titan. Although the ‘raptors are smaller and the protagonists have weapons that could conceivably be used to kill them, they never get the chance to really fight back; Muldoon, the most experienced person on the island, is killed off before he can fire a single shot and the others are more concerned with survival than trying to fight off their attackers. This goes some way to explaining why Ellie didn’t use the shotgun to shoot the ‘raptors; she’s a palaeobotanist after all, not a game hunter. Ultimately, despite restoring power to the park, the survivors end up pinned down by the voracious ‘raptors but find an unlikely saviour in the T. rex, which shows up for a dramatic last-minute “rescue” of sorts that allows the survivors to slip away to safety and fly away from Isla Nubar forever changed by their harrowing experiences with the reborn dinosaurs.

The Summary:
There’s a reason that Jurassic Park has stood the test of time. It’s actually kind of crazy how well the CGI holds up even to this day and the reason for that is not just the meticulous attention to detail and tireless efforts of the team at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) but also the incredibly realistic and complex animatronics used to bring the dinosaurs to life. The blend between the two is largely seamless and I’ve seen modern-day movies that can only dream of this kind of flawless digital composition. The spectacle on offer here is, quite literally, timeless and Spielberg crafted an instant classic based on the thrilling concept alone. However, it’s not simply a mindless monster movie and there’s more on offer than just the dinosaurs; the characters are all very well realised, with nuances and unique aspects to their personalities that make them all very believable and relatable. Even experts like Grant and Ellie are terrified when the dinosaurs are set loose, and I think it was a smart decision to frame the narrative around survival and the insignificance of man compared to these long-dead and dangerous, near-mythical beasts. There’s a fantastic blend of wonder and horror here, with the dinosaurs being awesome, remarkable creatures but also ferocious and surprisingly intelligent hunters. They’re portrayed as being both extremely gentle and terrifyingly vicious, acting purely on instinct and able to adapt to the then-modern world in ways that make them incredibly dangerous. Alongside this is, of course, the introspective commentary on our place as the dominant species of the planet, the morality of using science to play God and restore long-extinct creatures to life, and the ferocity of nature, with the overriding message being that man should never exceed his grasp lest he underestimate the consequences of his actions. Compared to the book, which was a tedious read from start to finish, Jurassic Park is an absolute thrill all the way through; the spectacle alone explains why it performed so well and remains a modern classic, and even the far less memorable sequels can’t dilute the allure of this original masterpiece of digital and practical effects wizardry.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts and memories of Jurassic Park? If you saw it in the cinema when it first released, what was your reaction at the time and how do you think it holds up today? Are you a fan of the book and, if so, did you still enjoy the film or was there too much changed in the adaptation process? Which of the human characters was your favourite and were you shocked by the amount of blood and death seen in the film? What’s your favourite dinosaur, either in this film or in general? Are you a fan of Jurassic Park’s sequels or do you consider the first one to be the best? How are you celebrating Dinosaur Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Jurassic Park, and dinosaurs in general, sign up to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.