In 1990, Universal Studios bought the rights to Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park before it was even published. The idea of dinosaurs being cloned and brought into our modern world just works.
Starting with 1993’s Jurassic Park and across several follow-ups, including 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Jurassic World 3, announced for 2021, people can’t seem to get enough of these movies. Sure, they’re all about the same thing — you can’t stop dinosaurs from being dinosaurs — but for some reason, people just keep coming back to see these movies.
Steven Spielberg first learned of the novel while working on the pitch for the TV series ER with Crichton. To even get the rights, Universal had to pay $1.5 million and a substantial percentage of the gross to the writer, a fee that he would not negotiate on. Even better, he got $500,000 just to adapt his own book for the screen. They were hungry for a hit and after the film did well, even hungrier for sequels. Well, they got them.
Jurassic Park (1993)
John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, Magic) and his company InGen have figured out how to clone dinosaurs from DNA trapped in blood trapped in bugs trapped in amber. This science is inherently bullshit, but if that’s going to stop you from watching these films, you better just quit now.
He’s created a theme park called Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar that’s packed with several of his cloned dinosaurs. Never mind that one of the raptors has already killed a highly trained handler. The park’s investors demand that dinosaur experts visit the park and certify its safety.
How are there dinosaur experts that know how real live dinosaurs would behave? I mean, putting giant monsters around humans who act like people in a theme park? How can that go wrong? I’m not a dinosaur expert by any means, but I can sit here and tell you that this is amongst the dumbest ideas ever concocted.
Those experts are chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, who doesn’t just come from Pittsburgh but comes from our neighborhood), paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, Possession) and paleobotanist Dr. Elliw Sattler (Laura Dern, Wild at Heart).
Everyone is amazed to see real live dinosaurs, which would have to be a dream come true. I mean, once I realized that all the dinosaurs were dead, I didn’t want to be an archaeologist any longer.
That’s when they learn that every dinosaur is female and the park is using select breeding. But Malcolm believes that nature will always find a way to thrive. Spoiler warning: it does, because they used frog DNA to fill in the gaps and frogs will switch gender to keep breeding. I love that they have scientists smart enough to handle creating living creatures from ancient DNA, but they aren’t smart enough to realize that things like this happen. I blame B.D. Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu, who will go on to make every more monumental boners in the series. In fact, he fucks up so much that they are forced to make him a bad guy to explain just how much one man can screw things up.
You know what would be a great idea? To bring kids around these uncontrollable killing machines. That’s exactly why Hammond’s grandkids, Lex and Tim, are flown in. The first trip through the park goes bad, with most of the dinosaurs not showing up, other than a sick triceratops. A tropical storm is on the horizon, so everyone heads back to the base. Hammond is upset, but Samuel Jackson’s Ray Arnold character says that things could have gone worse. Yeah, no shit it could have gone worse. You built a death trap thrill ride in a place with the worst storms on Earth and let your pre-teen grandkids romp around in it.
Meanwhile, Newman from Seinfeld has sold out Hammond and has messed up all of the parks security systems so that he can steal dinosaur embryos and put them in a shaving cream can. Yes, Michael Crichton got paid $2 million dollars for that. Don’t worry — a dilophosaurus sprays Newman, something it never could do, and eats him. He leaves behind chaos, with a T. Rex breaking through its fence and attacking everyone, including eating a lawyer while he takes a fearful dump.
This sets up the basic action of every movie that will follow this one: raptors chase everyone, kids are put in danger and a man that is the worst parent type ever learns to love those children. Along the way, anyone that’s been trained to deal with these creatures gets torn asunder.
In the end, the T. Rex eats the raptors and everyone leaves the island. In the real world, lawsuits would decimate InGen, but this is the world of Crichton and Spielberg. They’re coming back. You know it. I know it. They know it.
My favorite parts of this film are when Sam Neill treats children with utter contempt, including dressing down a rotund tween and explaining how a raptor would tear him into pieces and leave his intestines in the dirt. It’s heartwarming. I also love that William Hurt was offered this role and turned it down, refusing to even read the script.
The special effects in this film blew minds when it came out 25 years ago and they still look good today. You can poke some holes in the CGI but this was groundbreaking special effects back then.
As for me, I was very much in the art school of film when this came out, sure that Spielberg had sold out the promise of early 1970’s Hollywood as he embraced the blockbuster. Watching it years later with the benefit of old man hindsight, it’s a decent summer film, a rollercoaster ride that demands that you probably shouldn’t think about too much, packed with great effects and fun characters.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
There’s another island. Isla Sorna is where the dinosaurs were raised and also where a rich little girl wanders into a compsognathus attack. From this opening, you know that you’re in for a much darker ride. It’s one of those movies where kindly Spielberg decides that he should have made Night Skies instead of E.T. and indulges all the meanness he has festering inside upon his characters.
John Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow is trying to use the island to fix the losses that Jurassic Park incurred. The old man has taken a dramatic change of heart, realizing that he should have never tried to open a theme park all those years ago and that these dinosaurs need to be protected. If you’re kind of taken aback by all of the character flip-flops here, buckle up. You know — because guys in their seventies suddenly stop being capitalists and suddenly start caring for the common man, like Peter on the road to Damascus. It can happen.
Ian Malcolm is the only one that comes back, save for cameos from his grandchildren. Turns out that Julianne Moore is in this, playing Ian’s girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding, and that she’s already on the island. For the last four years, Ian has been discredited and disbarred for speaking out on Jurassic Park. The last thing he wants to do is go back, but to save the girl he loves, he has to.
Ian joins the team of equipment guy Eddie Carr and documentarian Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn), as well as his daughter Kelly who has stowed away. Just as they catch up with Dr. Sarah, a whole new InGen squad shows up, made up of mercs and hunters. Chief amongst them are Pete Postlethwaite as Roland Tembo, a big game hunter who dreams of bagging a T. Rex, Fargo‘s Peter Stormare as Dieter Stark and Dr. Robert Burke, a dinosaur expert played by Thomas F. Duffy (the demeted Charles Wilson from Death Wish 2!).
Tembo’s plan is to tie up a baby T. Rex and use it to lure in the mother or father. And InGen wants to get as many dinosaurs as possible so they can open a new Jurassic Park in San Diego. None of these ideas are good and they blow up in everyone’s face.
There’s a great moment in here where all of Malcolm’s team’s vehicles plunge off a cliff and some nifty action pieces, but it all feels rather disjointed. By the time everyone teams up and gets off the island, I was kind of hoping the film was over, only to learn there was so much more movie left. It’s a very late 90’s style of blockbuster — give it more running time and more story versus more thinking.
At the end, the dinosaurs are placed in an animal preserve free from human interference. Hammond steals Malcolm’s line, saying that “Life will find a way.”
Spielberg eventually said that he didn’t enjoy making this film. It kind of shows. He stated, “I beat myself up… growing more and more impatient with myself… It made me wistful about doing a talking picture because sometimes I got the feeling I was just making this big silent-roar movie… I found myself saying, ‘Is that all there is? It’s not enough for me.'”
That said, the movie did big numbers, so of course, it was time for another one. This time, Joe Johnson (Captain America: The First Avenger and The Rocketeer) would direct.
Jurassic Park 3 (2001)
The first film in the series to not be based on a Crichton book or directed by Spielberg, who saw the films as “a big Advil headache.”
I hate watched this movie, to be perfectly honest. Why would anyone go near this park? Why would anyone be dumb enough to parasail with pterodactyls? That’s what we call thinning the herd. Come on, people.
It all starts when Ben Hildebrand takes his girlfriend’s kid, Eric Kirby, parasailing with the dinosaurs, as mentioned above. However, they are pulled toward Isla Sorna and Eric’s parents, Paul and Amanda (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) con Dr. Alan Grant into coming back to the island.
We learn early on that Dr. Grant screwed things up with Dr. Sattler and that she’s married to someone else. He’s a man alone, back on digs with an assistant that barely listens to him, Billy Brennan.
All the Kirbys say they want to do is fly over the island. However, the mercs on board knock out Grant and then it’s time to find Eric, who is actually the most resourceful of everyone.
Seriously, this movie felt like it went on forever, as they walked over the same ground trod upon by the other films. That said — the scene where Dr. Grant has the dream on the plane and the raptor talks to him? I could watch that over and over again.
There’s also a scene where everyone has to dig through dinosaur shit to find a satellite phone. That’s a first for the series and really the high point of this entire movie.
Jurassic World (2015)
14 years later and we have another sequel, planned as part of a trilogy. Set 22 years after the first movie, the theme park has now been open for ten years, but when a newly cloned dinosaur breaks loose everything comes full circle.
Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, Lady in the Water), the park’s operations manager, has brought her nephews to the park. She’s too busy to keep an eye on them as the pterodactyl shit hits the fan. There’s also her boyfriend, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy), who has been able to train the velociraptors.
Meanwhile, there’s an InGen security asshole (as always), this time played by Vincent D’Onofrio, who wants to use those dinosaurs for military use.
Then there’s that big bad indominus rex, which uses DNA from all sorts of horrifying beasts instead of frogs, like raptors. Who made this thing? Our old friend Dr. Henry Wu.
The best part of this film is the end and I don’t mean that in a mean way. I loved how the original T. Rex comes back and all of the dinosaurs have reclaimed their island, having defeated the new beast. There’s even a gigantic mosasaurus that gets a crowd-pleasing moment right before the conclusion.
I love that one of the plans for this movie was to prove that humans descended from dinosaurs. That sounds like more my kind of movie. However, the last Jurassic Park film may be the best. Until the new one comes out this week. And of course, I’ll be there, ready to wade through the brontosaurus shit.