Jurassic Park (1993) | Sci-Fi Saturdays

by Jovial Jay

Is this the best movie about dinosaurs? You bet Jurassic is.

Jurassic Park takes the wonder and awe of films like King Kong and Godzilla and combines that with a Michael Crichton script about the dangers of science to create a marvelous movie that breaks new ground both thematically and technically. The ripples of this 1993 Steven Spielberg film are still being felt today.

First Impressions

The trailer for the film is short and sweet. Someone has created a biological park inhabited by dinosaurs. At first it seems wondrous but things start to go wrong. The narrative reminds audiences this has been 65 million years in the making. And also that it’s a Steven Spielberg film. Let’s engineer dinosaurs for a theme park. What could go wrong?

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Sci-Fi Saturdays

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park title card.

The Fiction of The Film

After a man dies transferring some sort of animal at a wildlife preserve called Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar (120 miles west of Costa Rica), InGen Lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) visits the Mano De Dios Amber Mine in the Dominican Republic looking for John Hammond. The investors want some experts to sign off on the park before it opens, and Gennaro needs to get Hammond to focus on the important aspects. Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is instead in the Montana Badlands, where paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are excavating a Velociraptor skeleton. He invites them to visit his park by promising to fund their research for three more years.

Elsewhere, in San José, Costa Rica, InGen computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) is meeting with Dodgson (Cameron Thor), an executive from a rival tech firm. Nedry agrees to steal an embryo of each of the 15 species on the island for some easy money. Back on Isla Nublar a high-tech helicopter flies into the verdant jungle and lands by a waterfall. Grant, Sattler, Hammond, Gennaro and chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) are taken to the park’s headquarters, and see a live Brachiosaurus on the way. They are seated in a theater where Hammond shows them a film starring Mr. DNA, an animated strand of DNA that explains to visitors how scientists were able to clone the dinosaurs and create Jurassic Park.

Grant, Malcolm, and Sattler extricate themselves from the theme-park attraction seats and walk into the birthing lab where Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) shows them a baby raptor hatching from an egg. Malcolm is concerned about the dinosaurs mating in the park, outside of the control of the scientists, but Wu assures him that they used frog DNA to fill in the holes in gene sequences and ensured that all the dinos were female. Hammond is giddy about his park, while Gennaro states they can charge any price they want. But Hammond reminds him the park was built for everyone, including children, which is why his grandkids Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) are there to take the tour with them.

Jurassic Park

An introduction to the life of paleontologists with Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler (amongst others) at their dig in the Montana Badlands.

Malcolm is even more concerned about the park. His basic tenet in chaos theory is that one should expect the unexpected, and that trying to contain nature will only make things worse. Hammond downplays all the concerns, excited to show these people real-live dinosaurs in a theme park. During the automated jeep ride, the visitors are less-than-impressed by the lack of dinosaurs–seeing nothing in the Dilophosaurus or Tyrannosaurus Rex paddocks. They encounter a sick Triceratops and Sattler stays behind to investigate. Meanwhile, chief engineer Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson)  is trying to get the computer system debugged with Nedry, as they also evacuate people to the mainland. A large storm is coming, and there’s little time. Nedry uses the storm as cover and shuts down the computer system, turning off security measures to the paddocks, including the Velociraptors.

As night falls and the rain begins, the T. Rex attacks the two tour vehicles and eats Gennaro. Malcolm is injured and Grant, with the two children, escapes into the jungle, spending the night in a tree. Nedry, attempting to get to the East Dock in the storm, drives off the road and is attacked and killed by a Dilophosaurus. Hammond, concerned for the safety of his children–and beginning to see the problems inherent in creating both a zoo and a theme park–begs game warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) to find them. Sattler goes with him in the park jeep and they find Malcolm, but are soon chased by the T. Rex, who can run up to 32 miles per hour. The next morning Alan, Lex and Tim start to hike out of the jungle, when Grant finds a clutch of hatched eggs and realizes that somehow the dinosaurs are breeding.Back at the control room, Arnold reboots the computer system in an attempt to re-enable the power for the paddocks and the locks in the visitor center.

After Arnold fails to return from the main power station, Sattler manages to get the power back on, finding both Arnold’s arm and an angry Velociraptor. At the visitor center Tim and Lex, who are recuperating from their night in the jungle, are stalked by a pair of Raptors. They lock one in the freezer, and run to the control room where Lex realizes she understands the computer code. Lex helps the adults engage the locks, before she and Tim, Hammond, Malcolm, Grant, and Sattler flee from more Raptors. In the main atrium of the visitor center they are cornered by two intelligent Raptors. Luckily they are saved by the T. Rex who smashes the smaller dinos into a T. Rex skeleton, eating one of them. The six survivors fly away from the island as Grant tells Hammond that he has decided not to endorse the Park, to which Hammond states that he has as well.

But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” – Ian Malcolm

Jurassic Park

Dennis Nedry is a wonderful comic foil, whose greed and apathy sets the plot in motion

History in the Making

Jurassic Park was Steven Spielberg’s return to the science-fiction genre after ten years of making drama (The Color Purple, Empire Of the Sun), fantasy (Hook, Always), or adventure (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) films. His previous sci-fi film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial coincidentally held the record highest-grossing film. That is until the release of Jurassic Park, which shattered the original record. Jurassic Park would hold onto that record for a mere four years until James Cameron’s Titanic was released. This was Spielberg at the zenith of his first wave of films. He had been directing (and producing) almost non-stop since 1975s Jaws. His follow-up film, which he left Jurassic Park during the editing phase to begin filming, was Schindler’s List–his most ambitious and critical lauded film from this era. Released only five months later, Schindler’s List was Spielberg’s last directing credit for four years, until his return with The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

This film also marks the next evolution in the visual effects arena with Industrial Light and Magic creating believable computer-generated dinosaurs and inserting them believably into real world locations. After the breakthrough of CGI created water (The Abyss) and a humanoid (Terminator 2: Judgment Day), ILM was asked to bring the past to life by creating the full body movement of at least four different types of dinosaurs. Not only did they create apparently living and breathing monsters, they inserted them into plate photography shot without the use of the extremely locked-down motion control rigs, like the Tondreau system used in the Back to the Future sequels. But ILM was not alone in their endeavor. Stan Winston and his crew were tasked with making actual life-sized versions of all the dinos seen in the film, save the Gallimimus. His crew created their largest puppet, a pneumatic T. Rex that could move at the speeds needed to create the action and terror implied by the script. If that dinosaur was not running, it was the 17,500 pounds animatronic version. Winston Studios also created a full body Triceratops, several Velociraptors, the Dilophosaurus, and the head of the Brachiosaur. This marriage between digital and practical effects made audiences believe that dinosaurs lived again, and would lead to even greater digital creations later in the 90s.

Jurassic Park

Alan and Ellie’s (and the audiences) first look at the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. The wizards at ILM once again created something unbelievable.


Originally conceived as a novel by sci-fi author/director Michael Crichton, and released in late 1990, the Jurassic Park novel was a universally acclaimed success for Crichton, whose previous books included The Andromeda Strain (adapted in film in 1971 by Robert Wise), Congo and Sphere (which would both be filmed later in the 90s after the success of Jurassic Park). He had also directed his original stories Westworld, Looker, and Runaway. The novelization and this film remain some of the best and most acclaimed stories in Crichton’s pantheon. And while the book and the film share many similarities, there are also many differences. This article will be looking at the elements that the film draws from the history of dinosaur cinema and other references it capitalizes on.

At first look, Jurassic Park shares a lot in common with Crichton’s previous story Westworld. Both involve the advent of a new type of theme park–one with real living, breathing dinosaurs, and the other with realistic robotic gunslingers. In both cases, things within the park do not go as planned. The other main story that Jurassic Park borrows from, at least in the overall sense of dinosaurs still being alive, is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 book The Lost World, about an area of the Amazon basin where dinosaurs still survive. This story builds off of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth which contains several dinosaur creatures living within the hollow Earth. Doyle’s story had two previous adaptations (prior to 1993), a 1925 and 1960 film version.

Hollywood has always loved films about dinosaurs, so there were many other films that influenced the look and creatures of Jurassic Park. The biggest similarities probably come from the two greatest monster movies of all time: King Kong and Godzilla. Both films captured audiences’ imaginations about the encounters of larger than life creatures interacting with man. Kong fights off several prehistoric beasts in his film, while Godzilla is very much a mutated dinosaur beset on the destruction of the modern world. In Jurassic Park, the large wooden gates to the park elicit a similar setup on Skull Island (seen in both the 1933 and 1976 films), while the T. Rex attack (and sound effects) very much remind audiences of the wrath of Godzilla. Two other dino-related films that come to mind as potential influences include The Valley of Gwangi (1969), about cowboys finding a Forbidden Valley with all types of dinosaurs, and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), a prehistoric adventure film in the vein of One Million Years B.C. The latter even got a direct shout-out in Jurassic Park as the phrase on the banner in the theme parks visitor center. Spielberg also referenced his classic monster film Jaws in several ways throughout the film, including the T. Rex attack in the car, and Ellie finding Mr. Arnold’s severed arm in the electrical shed.

Jurassic Park

Ellie, Ian, and Alan muse on the philosophical ramifications of bringing dinosaurs back to life.

Societal Commentary

Part of the enduring charm of Jurassic Park is its multifaceted look at the ethics behind the creation of cloned dinosaurs. The story begins with audiences on John Hammonds side, excited to see the interaction of dinos and human beings. It’s a fun idea. But soon the reality of the situation, as presaged by Ian Malcolm sets in, and the entire wonderful idea becomes terrifying. It raises the bioethical questions about recreating extinct life. As Malcolm’s quote above illustrates, no one asked if they should bring dinosaurs back into the world. Hammond tries to justify the discovery by comparing his work to cloning a condor, which is near extinction. Malcolm points out that this is a poor example since the condors are going extinct due to the expansion of humans, not a species that was selected for extinction by nature. Hammond set a goal and threw money behind it without allowing the science to stop and reflect on the possible implications of the work.

This raises the next piece of commentary the film is famous for; that life will find a way. Arnold points out to Hammond that he not only has the problems of a major theme park, but also those of a zoo. The combination of these attractions is also invariably creating problems that are unique to Jurassic Park. Such as the poisoning of the Triceratops, due to it consuming plants that are poisonous. The biggest problem is the scientists being unsure of the natural traits of many of these creatures. While paleontologists can make assumptions about the behavior of Velociraptors or Tyrannosaurus Rex, they are untested. Malcolm argues that nature contained is nature evolving. The need for man to suppress the natural world into our categories and classes is limiting only for us. While that urge calms mankind and makes us feel in control, it creates profound upheaval in the natural world, and leads to unexpected situations. Hammond’s thriftiness in hiring Nedry led to the latter scheming for a way to make money from the former, which led to a shut down of the park’s security systems. The use of frog DNA to fill in the genome led to the dinosaurs having the ability to switch their sex and breed, something that was expressly thought of as impossible. Even the moment when Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm exit the introductory ride at the beginning of the tour (or jump out of the moving range rover) foreshadows the unpredictability of the park. If there’s a will, then there’s a way, and life will do what it needs to in order to survive.

Jurassic Park

Alan protects the kids from a rampaging T. Rex using only a flare.

The Science in The Fiction

The complexities of bringing a 65 million year old creature back to life are complex. Naturally. The novel gets into a lot of details about the process, which the film does as well. But rather than have characters explain the process, Spielberg and crew came up with a clever, filmic way to do so. Enter Mr. DNA. The creation of this animated film (with the use of John Hammond acting against his screen-self, a nod to the 1913 vaudeville film Gertie the Dinosaur) served to explain the process to the audience as well as being an in-universe example of how a park like this would operate. Scientists discovered fossilized dino-DNA inside mosquitos trapped in amber. This DNA was extracted, run through supercomputers to recreate the genome, with amphibian DNA inserted to fill out the strands. The DNA was then injected into unfertilized ostrich and emu eggs, denied hormones at the proper time (ensuring all babies were born female), hatched and put into the preserve. While this seems to make sense, from a filmic perspective, scientists have determined that the DNA from fossilized species, even if preserved in optimum conditions, would only last about 6.8 million years. About 58 million years too few for the re-creation of dinosaurs (thankfully)!

The other new and interesting science that Jurassic Park delves into is a branch of mathematics called chaos theory. This is, as Malcolm puts it so eloquently, the “unpredictability in complex systems.” This is another way of saying that life will find a way. Elements in a simple system are easy to predict. In a closed environment the interaction of several elements can be tracked and predicted. But the Earth is anything but simple. The thousands of factors that go into the biological preserve of Jurassic Park are unknowable and unquantifiable according to chaos theory. The weather, the foliage, the creatures, the topography, the humans, the technology,  and the interaction of all these things creates a complex system that can, and does, behave in an unpredictable way. Malcolm also calls it “the butterfly effect” which is also used as a term in time travel films for the unintended consequences caused by the time traveler. This too is chaos theory. It is usually exemplified by the 1952 Ray Bradbury story “A Sound of Thunder” where a time traveler to the distant past changes the world by simply crushing a butterfly under his boot. Jurassic Park was certainly one of the first films to deal with the idea of chaos theory, at least in a more complex way, rather than a shorthand description.

Jurassic Park

As a surrogate father for Tim and Lex, Alan realizes that children are nothing to be scared of.

The Final Frontier

While this film (and Schindler’s List) marked Spielberg’s brief hiatus from directing, it was not the last sci-fi film he would create. He returned to the genre in the 2000s strongly with A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Minority Report (2002), and the 2005 remake of War of the Worlds. Jurassic Park was also an important film for a number of other reasons. Besides being an important growth moment for CGI effects and Spielberg himself, it also reinvigorated a subgenre of science fiction that hadn’t had much going for it in the previous 20 years. It was nominated for three technical Academy Awards, of which it won all three:  Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects. It also created a new summer franchise blockbuster that audiences flocked to see. The films continued in 1997 with the Spielberg directed The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and the 2001 Jurassic Park III directed by Joe Johnston. While the franchise continued in comics, toys, video games, and yes, amusement park rides, it would be 14 years until new movies in the series continued. Jurassic World (2015), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), and the forthcoming Jurassic World Dominion (June 2022) returned to Isla Nublar with a new theme park that was now actually open to the public. New actors created new characters, but there were cameos from previous cast members, culminating in the return of Grant, Sattler and Malcolm in Dominion. The film created an exciting action filled thrill ride of fun moments, dinosaur attacks, and interesting characters. It also included a number of thoughtful ideas about the nature of the world that we live in and allowed audiences to wonder what might happen if man decided to meddle with things he doesn’t understand.

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