Growing up with ‘Jurassic Park’

I grew up on Jurassic Park.

That is not an embellishment or hyperbole. Perhaps it was in my blood. After all, my parents first date was to Aliens (my old man must’ve been quite the ladykiller). As the years have passed, I’ve struggled to recollect anything before high school, probably not a good thing given I’m just twenty-two, but I remember watching Jurassic Park. Hell, I remember watching Jurassic Park every week. As a boy, I easily watched the movie over one hundred times. It’s a testament to the quality of VHS technology that my copy didn’t burst into flames. I was so goddamn familiar with that VHS that I distinctly remember, at the age of six or so, being able to pop it in and rewind or fast forward it exactly to the dino-scenes I wanted to see (remember, this was before scene selection).

Jurassic Park may have not been the first movie I ever saw –I had access to Disney movies and other “normal” stuff for small children- but it was certainly the first movie I experienced. I truly mean that. For 127 minutes, the movie transported your humble movie geek into a world only the imaginative mind of a child couldn’t have dreamt up (Spielberg always was and still a child at heart, right?). Jurassic Park made me fall in love with movies. It made me realize the power of film as both escapist entertainment and the backbone for a philosophical debate.

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Beyond film, I fell in love with dinosaurs and the science of them. I read countless books, watched specials on TV, etc. I fucking loved dinosaurs. I even wanted to be a paleontologist up until my teenage years when with puberty came the harsh realization that life is devoid of fulfillment and we’re not mean to do what we love (but that’s another topic for another day).

There have literally been books written about the impact Jurassic Park had on cinema as a whole. It grossed a billion dollars at a time when grossing a billion dollars was a remarkable achievement. What the film did with its animatronics and other visual effects inspired filmmakers such as James Cameron to start new companies focusing on technological developments, directly leading to innovations such as Avatar (though the visual creation of that film took a decade plus). Studying the sound design of the dinos, the T-Rex’s roar and the noises the raptors make remain perhaps the most iconic and heavily imitated sounds in cinema. The pacing of the original, we don’t actually see a dino attack anyone until an hour in, proved that blockbusters didn’t have to be non-stop in their approach to action.

8f0c3084ac0992a610cc48ce049e86b0030658b7bfb38ab8c1090b68657fc977While I feel the sequels, 1997’s The Lost World and 2001’s Joe Johnston-directed Jurassic Park III, get a bad rap, it’s easy to see their flaws. The former featured more Jeff Goldblum (always a good thing) and some truly spectacular action sequences, but it didn’t capture the childlike enthusiasm of the original. Jurassic Park III delivered upgraded dino-effects but little else. Neither film had the benefit of “awe factor” on its side like the original. We had already seen dinos on the screen, so simply seeing bigger and faster ones wasn’t going to wow audiences on its own. The new reboot/sequel/whatever Jurassic World has to contend with that times ten. In an age where computers allow artists to visually realize whatever they can dream up, are scary-looking dinosaurs enough to satisfy numbed audiences on their own?

So let’s talk about Jurassic World for a minute. It’s set 22 years after the original and exists in a world where the sequels never happened, where John Hammond’s vision of a fully functioning dino-themed amusement park has come to fruition. Steven Spielberg, who “serves” as an EP, gave the script and cast his stamp of approval, even going as far as to hand pick director Colin Trevorrow (a talented young filmmaker whose Sundance hit Safety Not Guaranteed is a must-see).

On a personal level, I couldn’t be more excited for this movie. After years in development hell I was beyond excited to see that Trevorrow and his screenwriting partner Derek Connolly are the ones taking us back to Isla Nublar. Chubby comedian turned supporting player turned A-list superhero Chris Pratt plays the male lead, a decision I was happy to hear about. To me, Pratt is the rare actor who possesses the combination of good looks, everyman quality, and comedic timing that made Harrison Ford the biggest movie star of all-time. The supporting cast features many of my favorite under-the-radar performers. Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of Ron, plays the female lead and while her filmography isn’t very impressive, it’s not exactly her fault. Ty Simpkins, the hilarious kid from Iron Man 3, is in the fold. Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, and Judy Greer are all in the film as well.

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I do everything I can to not read reviews for films I’m excited for until after I see them, and I’ve stuck to that with Jurassic World. But judging from the trailers and interviews with people involved, I expect a very self-aware film. It almost seems as if the film is going to be a commentary on our inherent desire for “bigger and better” entertainment, all while fulfilling the typical checkmarks that a $150M production budget mandates. I expect a very meta, even funny, film in that sense, not a self-serious one. But ultimately, none of that matters. I’m just excited to jump back into this universe and watch dinosaurs eat people.

Internet tracking indicates that Jurassic World is basically guaranteed to be a smash hit. Despite some leaks from the set, it’s been marketed with enough secrecy to keep the element of surprise in play. It’s already made serious money in just two days of international release. It’s expected to open with a whopping $120M domestically and should have a very good chance at crossing the $1B threshold.

I hope that Jurassic World does for some kids out there what Jurassic Park did for me. I’m trying real hard to tamper my expectations, or at least make them realistic. Jurassic World isn’t going to reinvent the modern blockbuster the way the original did. Hell, it may not even be one the most aesthetically pleasing blockbuster of the summer (Mad Max: Fury Road will be tough to beat in that regard). But if the film can lift me up for a couple hours and spark the same enthusiasm within me that that the original did years ago, it’ll have done its job.

I’ll be seeing Jurassic World this weekend, obviously.

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