Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): Jurassic Park
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)]
This time around I’ll be examining the Jurassic Franchise! The fifth installment in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is right around the corner. With that in mind, let’s go back to the film that started all 25 years ago this month; Jurassic Park!
In The Making of Jurassic Park (1995), James Earl Jones dubbed Jurassic Park, “The first film of the 21st century.” Specifically, Jones was referring to the cutting-edge techniques and technologies utilized to make the film. Sure, such a statement sounds like a sentiment that could be attributed to the hype-machine hyperbole of the day. However, a quarter of a century later, I find that Jones’ statement holds true. Even after the cinematic advances of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1979) and T2- Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), bringing dinosaurs and men together in a realistic fashion on the silver screen was an ambitious goal. One which surely seemed impossible to some, if not most.
Adapting Michael Crichton’s hit 1990 sci-fi thriller novel to film was no small feat. In fact, had the task of adapting the story landed it the wrong hands, I dare say Jurassic Park might not have made it to filmed fruition. Despite the challenges Crichton’s novel presented, the movie rights were swiftly shopped around Tinseltown. All-in-all, six studios, and directors considered the property. Warner Brothers stepped up to the plate, with Tim Burton as director. Such a pairing would have been a logical choice. Particularly considering the success WB and Burton had with Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). While Burton’s presumably gothic take on the material might’ve been interesting, I don’t think he would’ve been the best choice. Can you imagine, pasty white dinosaurs with dark circles around their intimidating reptilian eyes? Had Columbia Pictures obtained the rights, Richard Donner (who would later go on to direct an adaptation of Crichton’s novel Timeline in 2003) would’ve helmed the picture. Fox also expressed interest, attaching director Joe Dante (Gremlins)
Also around that time, James Cameron (Avatar) said he wanted to do the film with frequent collaborators Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) as Grant, Bill Paxton (Aliens) as Malcolm and Charlton Heston (True Lies) as Hammond. Now, I’ll admit that it’d have been interesting to see the late, great Bill Paxton play Ian Malcolm. However, I’m glad Cameron didn’t get to take on the project as I feel it would’ve resulted in Jurassic Park being a much colder film. Most-likely, one much closer in tone to its source novel. Finally, there was Universal Pictures, and Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One) and both parties were very passionate about adapting the book. Hoping to avoid a Hollywood bidding war, Crichton told his agents to put a set price on the film rights, and he could decide who was more likely actually to get the film made. Ultimately, the author agreed to sell the rights to Universal and Spielberg, whom he revealed later was his first choice anyway. Of course, the rights weren’t free; far from it as Crichton was paid two-million for them, plus a percentage of the grosses. Beyond that, the author also wrote the first draft of the screenplay for Jurassic Park.
Following the completion of the first-draft screenplay by Crichton; Spielberg started to put his touch in the story. In doing so, the director brought in his frequent collaborator and screenwriter David Koepp (who will soon again work with Spielberg on the upcoming DC Comic adaptation, Blackhawk.) Together, Koepp and Crichton collaborated on further drafts of the the script. All which were written with broad oversight from Spielberg, of course. During the adaptation process was when Jurassic Park became more “Spielbergian,” as they say. As a result Jurassic Park’s narrative went from pseudo-scientific and cold to be a pseudo-scientific, but magical adventure. You see, Spielberg’s approach was quite simple. The director said, “It was very important to me to to be a kid (when) directing Jurassic Park,.” Thus, the film focuses on the whimsy and potential horror of man and dinosaurs coexisting. Granted, the film doesn’t forget to bring up the scientific and moral implications of such attractions.
Now, in case you’ve been living under a sixty-five-million-year-old rock; here’s the plot of the film in review. Jurassic Park is unlike any other theme park in the world. Its main attraction are dinosaurs: which include a Tyrannosaurus-Rex, velociraptors and various other dinosaurs, including herbivores. While these animals are facsimiles of dinosaurs, derived from mosquito and amphibian DNA; they still function just as those prehistoric reptiles would. As such, an incident soon occurs while preparing the park.
Because of that incident, insurance companies and legal teams (understandably) want proof that it’s safe to open Jurassic Park to the public. To facilitate such evidence, owner, and founder of the park, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) arranges for a group of experts to take a weekend tour of the park. This group of experts that get flown down to the island of Isla Nuba includes paleontologists and couple, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern); and mathematician and Chaos Theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Other weekend guests include Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex (Arianna Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazello). Things are going swimmingly for all involved until a complete power outage occurs. Then, all Hell and dinosaurs break lose to reign over the island!
Before we as an audience ever see a single dinosaur; Spielberg does two fundamental things. Firstly, he makes sure that the concept of bringing dinosaurs into the modern age is a believable (enough) one. Then, that concept is examined by logical and likable characters. Each of them representing different sides of the scientific and moral arguments surrounding the very idea of this park. While Hammond and his lawyer, Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) see the business potential in living dinos; they seem ignorant of the risk. On the other hand, Grant and Ellie see the beauty of it all. But as scientists, they are also understandably cautious of such sudden and radical advancements in genetic science. Lastly, there’s Malcolm who sees all this as nothing but a dangerous endeavor. Together, these characters help us as viewers find an opinion and/or character with which to agree. Therefore, we are invested in our human counterparts, and to me, that’s the second most important step in making Jurassic Park work. And it doesn’t hurt that every character was perfectly cast either.
Beyond these characters though, the real reason one watches this movie is for the magic and grandeur of dinosaurs! Initially, these main attractions were to be done in a traditional, stop-motion manner by industry legend, Phil Tippett (Howard the Duck). Alas, as the production progressed, it became clear that this old-school animation wasn’t going to be enough to sell tickets to Jurassic Park. Therefore, it was decided that these dinosaurs needed to be a mix of three things: The previously stated animation animatronics created by the late-great special-effects master, Stan Winston (Batman Returns); and visual effects created by Industrial Lights & Magic (ILM). By using these different visual and special effects in tandem, movie history was quite frankly, changed forever. Yes, they not only managed to create convincing looking dinosaurs. For better or worse, this was the film that finally gave George Lucas the push he needed to do the Star Wars prequels. More importantly, though, Jurassic Park was a gigantic leap for film technology in general. Without it, you can be sure that we wouldn’t have the movies we have today; comic book adaptation or otherwise.
After an extended post-production period, the world was welcomed to Jurassic Park on June 11, 1993. While the film had an excellent opening; it became a bigger hit than anyone expected. In fact, it was the film to gross over a billion dollars worldwide. A record which the movie held until Titanic was released in late 1997. Beyond the silver screen, Jurassic Park ignited a generation’s interest in dinosaurs; including my own. The movie and book upon which it’s based also inspired many folks to study paleontology. Most of though, Jurassic Park is a prime example of movie magic.
I discovered said magic in the Fall of ‘94 when the flick was released on VHS. The first time I watched it I was staying at my grandma’s with a group of older friends, who owned the videotape. Much like with Batman (1989), I was immediately entranced by Jurassic Park. At age five, I loved this movie and twenty-five years later, I still do! Now, I know what you’re thinking. “C’mon man, all you’ve done is praise the ‘Park.’” Yes, that’s true and with good reason.
Jurassic Park is not only one of my favorite movies; I think it’s one of the best films ever made on a technical level. Everyone involved in this film’s cast and crew was at the top of their game. As discussed previously, the effects were groundbreaking at the time, and 99% of them hold up just as well today as they did all those years ago. Moreover, Jurassic Park’s tight script, sets, dinosaurs, and actors were all beautifully shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey (Back to The Future). And last but not least, I feel that this is the last genuinely escapist and fun film that Steven Spielberg. Up to and at this point, the director/producer could use cinema to evoke joy in an audience more than any other filmmaker; even he was pandering to us.
Perhaps this is why even watch this movie as an adult; I get taken away by it. Despite the fact the dinosaurs are only on-screen for 15 minutes, I revert to a childlike state of joy. When I watch Jurassic Park, movies are magical again, and I don’t have another care in the world. Maybe this is why my eyes get glassy the first time we see those Brontosaurus and John Williams’ main theme kicks in. This movie is just as good now and fills me as much joy as it did when I was a kid. Twenty-five years later, I still think that Jurassic Park is nearly perfect.
Although, I admit that I was hard-pressed to find issues with this picture. For this reason, I only found two aspects of this movie to criticize. First-off, there are three or four shots in the film that are just slightly off to the modern CG-oriented eye. As such, I found myself just taken somewhat out of the film. However, such a hard crash to reality only last a few seconds before I’m pulled back into this cinematic adventure. Secondly, except for the moving main musical theme, which evokes all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions; I found this to be one of Williams’ lesser scores. Mind you; John Williams is still among the world’s best composers. But, I find this particular score to be a bit repetitive.
Ultimately though, for me, these small quibbles get lost in the wash. Jurassic Park was, is, and will always be a pleasure for me. Of course, such a box-office smash is also a marketing machine. Meaning that beyond all the tie-in merchandise and it’s own theme park section at both Universal Studios theme park locations and of course, it became a film franchise. Otherwise, why would I be writing about here? Will the sequels hold a candle to the flames over the gate of Jurassic Park?
Moreover, will it expand or implode? Find out as next time I will cover:
THE LOST: WORLD JURASSIC PARK!