This post isn’t a review or anything. It’s a bit different from the sort of thing I usually write, delving into personal territory, but I wanted to write it to give everyone an impression of where I’m coming from when I publish my Jurassic World review this week. I was five years old when Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was released in the summer of 1993. I was already super into dinosaurs like a lot of kids, and was so excited the prospect of seeing this film by its striking poster alone. However, at this point I’d only seen animated movies in the cinema, and my parents, neither of whom are avid film watchers, felt that I was too young to see this “horror movie”. The film had, in retrospect quite surprisingly, been awarded a PG rating in the UK (I’m certain it would get a 12A now) so there was no legal issue with allowing me to see it. Even though several of my friends saw it that summer, my parents didn’t take me, deciding that it would be too scary. I’ve often wondered how I would have reacted had I seen it in the cinema back then, I’m fairly confident that I would have been terrified by parts of the film and enthralled by others, but maybe they were right. I don’t hold it against them.
Instead what I was given was a children’s book version of the movie, which had numerous accompanying stills from the film. I must have read this countless times, staring at the images of the dinosaurs and imagining what the sequences would look like in motion. I actually found a picture of this book online (Jurassic Park: The Movie Storybook) that quite resembled what my copy looked like before it was inevitably thrown away in a clear-out (on the left!).
I can’t place a date exactly on when I finally saw the film, but it wasn’t much long after this. Probably a few months, the kind of time that feels like forever when you’re a young child but nowadays flies by. My grandmother, aware of my dinosaur fixation, bought a pirate video of it (along with one of Disney’s Aladdin) when on holiday in Cyprus. While movie piracy’s as common as anything nowadays, back then it seemed more akin to “mockbusters”; intended to dupe well-meaning grandparents into buying the wrong thing, as indeed it did here (bless her, she didn’t know they were pirate videos). So the next time my brother and I visited our grandparents’ house, after getting up early in the morning and having some cereal, we sat down and put in the VHS. At this point my parents didn’t own a VHS player (they got one about a year later) so getting to watch a video was always an exciting part of going to my grandparents’ house.
I also was at that stage unaware of the fact that it was a pirate video, having never encountered one before. The sound quality was terrible, near inaudible. There was a large static bar that took up the bottom section of the screen, both distracting from the main picture and blocking a significant portion of it. I imagine what I could comprehend from the tape had just as much to do with me putting together pieces from my storybook than what was recognizable onscreen. I can’t remember if we watched the movie all the way through or just gave up at some point. I know I tried to watch it a few more times on later dates, hoping it was just some problem with the VCR but alas, it was not to be.
The first time I felt I truly saw the film was probably a year or so later, I was visiting a friend’s house and his parents had a legitimate VHS copy, I know my first memories about how good the film was stem from this viewing. Subsequently, I recall watching the film every time it was shown on the TV. I remember taping an advert-free BBC showing and watching it multiple more times. When I was 13 years old and on holiday with a friend in Spain, we were thinking about going and doing something active one evening, then saw that Jurassic Park was about to start on the TV. We’d both seen it plenty of times but still stayed in and watched it once more. My family first got a DVD player in 2001, and not long afterwards I had enough money saved up to occasionally buy DVDs I wanted. The first batch I bought (around 6-8 movies I think) included the then-recently released box set of Jurassic Park and its first sequel. My parents questioned why I would buy something I’d already seen so many times, but as soon as I watched the DVD, with its noticeable quality improvement over every previous version of the film I’d seen, I had no regrets about forking out £20 for it. I even got my parents to finally see it too. My teenage years were the time when I first began to seek out as many movies I’d never seen before as I could, but Jurassic Park remained one of several I’d happily watch at any time. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the film, but I know for certain that it’s the film I’ve seen the most. I also read Michael Crichton’s original novel in this period.
I’ve actually even jokingly developed a “theory” about this movie and its influence on pop culture and science when at university. Similar to the infamous internet adage ‘Godwin’s Law’, that “As a discussion involving dinosaurs grows, the probability of Jurassic Park being mentioned approaches 1″. I studied Biology at University and took a couple of modules involving dinosaurs. Every lecture I attended proved me right on this, as have all subsequent talks I’ve heard online.
In 2013, Jurassic Park’s 20th anniversary was looming. I hadn’t seen the film in a good while, probably the longest time since it came out actually. Time had been kind, the film was approaching the status of a beloved modern classic, and critics were beginning to respect it not just as a technical landmark for its ground-breaking visual effects, but as a legitimately excellent movie in its own right. I was beginning to have a few reservations though. I’d grown up in a time when I could witness several popular-yet-awful eighties movies become lionized by critics and fans who couldn’t detach their childhood affection from the film’s actual quality (see: Sixteen Candles, Top Gun, The Karate Kid etc.) I had some concern that my generation may well begin to do the same for certain types of nineties films; I can watch similar fantasy movies like Jumanji or the Roland Emmerich Godzilla and nostalgically enjoy them but I’m not going to pretend they’re great movies. Jurassic Park was going to be getting a shiny, 3D IMAX re-release to mark its 20th, and for the first time, I actually had an opportunity to see it in the cinema. I was beyond exited, I turned up to the first showing in the city two hours before the film started to make sure I got a good seat (only about half the seats ultimately sold). Now here’s the funny thing; even though I knew everything that was going to happen in the film, and could quote large chunks of dialogue before they were spoken, the IMAX screening was almost like seeing the film for the first time again. I began to appreciate how good a piece of filmmaking it was in a whole new manner. The first act introduces every character in such a masterful fashion before we even reach the park. And what characters they are, everyone has a distinct personality and memorable dialogue. When we get to the island, and the brachiosaurus first walks onto the screen from the left; it’s a moment of pure cinema magic that’s near-unrivaled. The T-Rex’s first attack is one of the best action scenes I’ve ever seen. The film has so much going for it, this is one of our all time greatest filmmakers working at the top of his game. There wasn’t a moment in the screening when I was anything less than enraptured with joy. I wasn’t just fondly remembering this film from childhood; it’s a masterpiece. I saw almost every big blockbuster movie in the summer of 2013, and despite being 20 years older, Jurassic Park stood head and shoulders above every single one of them. It’s without question one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in a cinema.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with making ‘best of’ movie lists, I used to seek them out when I was younger as they often acted as a gateway into many great movies, but at the same time every time I see a voted ‘best movies of all time’ list that includes Star Wars at the top spot I despair for humanity. There’s no such thing as the ‘greatest movie ever made’ of course, but Jurassic Park never appeared in conversations like these when I was younger, yet is starting to now, deservedly so. We may soon be approaching a time when young directors may deliver excellent movies, then cite Jurassic Park as the one that first inspired them. It’s probably where my love of cinema first stems from too. Similarly never been a fan of ranking my own favourite films; I have a decent sized group of films I consider my all-time favourites but putting them in an order? No thank you. I also, like many aspiring young film fans went through stages of trying to prioritise more obscure, or older movies over big Hollywood ones, but there comes a time when one must just be honest with oneself; put a gun to my head and ask me ‘What’s your favourite movie?’ The answer is Jurassic Park.