Jurassic Park

Turning 1993 into the biggest year in box-office history (with Americans spending $5 billion at the movies) was Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the best-seller by Michael Crichton. Costing $63 million to produce, the movie grossed a record-breaking $870 million worldwide; and the approximate $346 million it earned domestically is second so far only to the $359 million brought in by Spielberg's own E.T. in 1982.

The June 11th premiere of the film launched the 1993 summer blockbuster-movie season. Even before the opening, though, consumers devoured Jurassic Park paraphernalia--action figures (with Dino Damage™ wounds), candy, posters, model kits, lunch kits, latex masks, playing cards, children's toiletries, videogames, and much more--due to the intensive, worldwide merchandise licensing of MCA Inc., parent company of Universal Pictures. The anticipation gave a boost to companies that had offered dinosaur merchandise for years, and countless other unrelated products, from frozen dinners to hotel rooms, were suddenly being pitched by "unofficial" cartoon dinosaurs.

Techno-fiction writer Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, and best known previously for Westworld (1973)--in which robots run amok in an amusement resort--was reluctant to cash in on dinosaur mania with his 1981 screenplay, which also suffered from being written from a child's perspective. He shelved the piece until 1989, by which time, since the mania had not waned and as Crichton had become increasingly concerned about the commercialization of genetic engineering, he revised the work as a novel, subsequently published in 1990 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Jurassic Park itself, situated (according to the story) on an island off Costa Rica, features live dinosaurs cloned from the DNA extracted from dinosaur blood preserved inside fossilized mosquitoes. Responsible for the planned amusement park is entrepreneur John Hammond, portrayed in the film (with more charm than the novel's character) by Richard Attenborough, Academy Award winning director of Gandhi (1982) who had retired from acting nearly 15 years earlier. For an inspection of the project, Hammond lures paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), his own grandchildren Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Alexis "Lex" Murphy (Ariana Richards, cast because Spielberg thought her screams reminiscent of Fay Wray's), chaos-theory mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and an ultimately disposable investment lawyer (Martin Ferrero). When the computer systems architect of the park (Dennis Nedry) shuts down power in order to steal dinosaur embryos, the electrified fences no longer protect the tour group from the animals, and soon the T-rex and velociraptors are terrorizing the guests.

From the start of the film project, Spielberg prioritized the realism of the dinosaurs, demanding as much full-scale footage as possible over stop-motion post-production, even if manipulating a convincing-looking dinosaur strained robotic capabilities. "Crunching" the book to a few key scenes around which to base the script, the screenplay by Crichton and David Koepp reduced the fifteen animal species of the novel to a manageable seven. Unlike the stately, lumbering reptiles seen in previous dinosaur movies, Jurassic Park would depict the animals according to up-to-date paleontological thinking--that dinosaurs were probably agile, warm-blooded, and birdlike. Spielberg also intended that the film not be another "slasher" dinosaur movie; but with the gradual elimination of scenes such as that in which Lex rides a baby triceratops, and despite a few surviving tranquil moments with dinosaurs, the film remains a tense creature feature.

Most of the action was shot on sound stages in Los Angeles and, for the scenery, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where in the Fall of 1992 the cast and crew faced Hurricane Iniki.

The real stars of the film are said to be Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren, and Michael Lantieri, leaders of the special effects teams. They created the vicious velociraptors (alternately animatronic puppets used for stationary shots, and humans in raptor suits for agile movements), the partially fictionalized dilophosaur with its expanding cowl (spitting venom--a Crichton fabrication--and shrunken from ten to four feet to distinguish it from the velociraptors), the brachiosaur (hydraulically operated by crane for broad movements of the body, controlled by cable and radio for facial movements), and the terrifying tyrannosaur (choreographed manually by using a scale model linked to the full-size rig through computerized interface).

Initially signed to do minor work, Industrial Light and Magic (founded by George Lucas for new visual effects in Star Wars) so impressed Spielberg with its computer graphics that the special effects budget was redirected to ILM's digital efforts. But for the liquid metal character in Terminator 2 (1991), Spielberg was not aware of this technology, and it had not been tried for generating realistic creatures. Ultimately, ILM was responsible for the vistas of grazing animals, the fifty-foot-tall grazing brachiosaur, the stampeding herd of gallimimus, and even some shots of the T-rex. Because of the success of the technology, Spielberg even revised the ending of the film so that the climax would offer a computer-generated showdown between the T-rex and the raptors in the park's visitor center.

Post-production included addition of the John Williams' score and a fuller vocabulary for the dinosaurs than mere repetitions of the same roar as in older films. Jurassic Park's dinosaurs bellowed with manipulated recordings of egrets, dolphins, humans, and many sounds culled from Australian rain forests. Noise for the T-rex alone incorporated sounds from an alligator, a penguin, an elephant, a tiger, a dog, and the blowhole of a whale. The film came in on budget and well ahead of schedule.

Although critical consensus held that the story and characterization were disappointing--merely flat characters running from monsters--and that the film was gimmicky in terms of programmed surface thrills, the dinosaurs themselves were universally considered impressive. Concern was raised over young children seeing the PG-13 movie, due more to its intensity than gore (which had actually been toned down from the book). The film also gave rise to questions, indeed some panic, about DNA cloning and the current state of molecular genetics. Responsible scientific voices repeatedly tried to calm the scare fueled by a sensational press. But, finally, it was the dinosaurs themselves that galvanized enthusiasm.

Mark Dippé, co-visual effects supervisor for ILM on Jurassic Park, asserts that "Dinosaur films have always been the classic effects films." Indeed, key special effects have been developed over the years specifically for dinosaur movies, beginning with Willis O'Brien's stop-motion techniques in The Lost World [(1925), based on the book by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)] and King Kong (1933). Stop-motion continued animating the dinosaurs in such films as Lost Continent (1951), The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), One Million Years B.C. (1966), The Valley of Gwangi (1969), and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1971). Photographically enlarged lizards, iguanas, and crocodiles have been used, with various fins attached and often to the outrage of the ASPCA, in One Million BC (1940), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and The Lost World (the 1960 remake). Even films relying on men wearing rubber suits, such as Unknown Island (1948), Godzilla (1956), Gorgo (1961), and The Last Dinosaur (1977), and those relying on puppets, like The Land That Time Forgot (1974), are more impressive than those which simply make use of stock footage from earlier dinosaur films: Two Lost Worlds (1950), Untamed Women (1952), King Dinosaur (1955), Teenage Caveman (1958), and Valley of the Dragons (1961). These effects, and the newer radio-control technology and cable-driven puppets, used in Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985), all may gradually become extinct due to the success and popularity of the full-motion computer animation first seen in Jurassic Park.

Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Pullman, Washington

Don Shay and Jody Duncan, The Making of Jurassic Park (NY: Ballantine Books, 1993); Gregg Kilday, "Hollywood Scores Big," Entertainment Weekly 21 Jan. 1994: 32-3; Denis Gifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (London: Hamlyn Pub. Group, Ltd., 1973).