Steven Spielberg gathers up the plot, characters, situations and themes of the famous, thoughtful novel by Michael Crichton and turns them into a great, old-style horror adventure with great new-style special effects. Broadening the appeal of the book, he delivers a classic monster movie and a great scare ride in the wake of King Kong or When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.
Scientists in a mine in the Dominican Republic discover six-million-year-old mosquitoes full of dinosaur blood preserved in amber and, extracting the DNA, clone embryos from which they grow real live monsters, all females for safety. Then on Isla Nublar, a small remote tropical island 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, the slightly bonkers, rich old Scottish doctor John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) populates a heavily-guarded Disney-style theme park with them.
But he’s understandably having security and safety problems. So he comes to Montana in America to hire the services of youngish palaeontologists Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and assistant Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who are uncovering the fossilised remains of a velociraptor. He bribes them to come to work with him on his island to endorse his project and persuade the lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) representing his nervous investors that the theme park is safe for visitors. The duo team up with chaos theorist mathematician Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to speak up against the whole idea of breeding dinos and keeping them in captivity on both safety and genetic grounds.
Attenborough’s so carried away with his absolute faith in the safety of his project that he helicopters in his young grandkids Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) to look around with the others in a safari-like tour of the fortified compound. But Attenborough’s crooked worker Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) wants to steal dino embryo samples to sell to crooks and shuts down the park’s crucial safety security systems and the huge electrified fences to get them. And very soon the monsters escape and go on the rampage, terrifying or eating up most of the cast who have to run for their lives to survive.
There’s a lot of humbug, hokum and scientific mumbo-jumbo in the script by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, but it’s very effective and quite informative too. Its generally jokey, high-spirited tone helps to keep the movie always entertaining and a load of general-audience friendly fun, instead of being the extremely nasty horror movie it could easily have become.
The decent performances by the extremely nice cast are also a big help. Neill, Dern, Goldblum, Attenborough, Peck and Knight, all in their prime, are a lot of fun. Even if his Scots accent comes and goes badly, Attenborough makes a good antagonist, a capitalist more misguided than evil, a character unusually layered in a mix of motives. Ditto Neill as the hero, a bit edgy and prickly, but nice and fatherly with the kids, American accent coming and going. Dern’s attractively gung ho and feisty, Goldblum’s funny (till he’s wounded and the role peters out) and Knight’s amusing too as the story’s real arch-villain.
The two child actors are outstanding, too, especially the 10-year-old Mazzello, with plenty of screaming and running around to do. Other roles are cardboard thin, and good actors can’t do much with their roles: Ferrero, Samuel L Jackson as Attenborough’s chain-smoking technician Ray Arnold, Bob Peck as park warden Robert Muldoon, or B D Wong as scientist Henry Wu.
Spielberg’s enormous brio with the suspense and shock sequences lift it to incredibly spirited popular entertainment. The first half is all suspense and the second half all shocks. There’s a long, talky build-up, which Spielberg manages to keep entertaining, with character development and situation and scientific explanations. All this is fine, really well handled, especially as so little actually happens. But then half way through, after an hour, the movie starts up as a full-on horror film as one nailbiting great set piece follows another in quick succession, non-stop.
Script, direction, sets and cinematography are first rate, but what set it apart most of all back in 1993 were the breathtaking visual effects (Denis Muren) and animatronic effects (Stan Winston). They still look pretty amazing after all these years. You really can believe you’re seeing a T Rex wrecking the tour vehicles, eating and terrorising the heroes. The T Rex attack, kill and chase set piece is certainly the movie’s most thrilling sequence. It’s awesome stuff, brilliantly handled. Nedry’s encounter with a venoms-spitting dilosphosaurus is its most spine-tingling creepy.
In fact the film’s aged well, very well, especially as it’s a science-based and computer and gadget-based yarn. It gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, like seeing old photos, as you enjoy relish the dinos once again and enjoy seeing the fresh-faced cast in their heyday.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary in 2013, it is re-released converted into 3D in IMAX cinemas. They’ve made a brilliant job of the 3D transfer, with the images really coming out at you. It’s basically a great excuse to see the movie again in a cinema, and it looks a treat on the huge IMAX screen.
It’s got a PG certificate, but it’s definitely a horror film, and it contains scenes which may be particularly disturbing to younger children or kids of a nervous disposition. The much-deserved winner of three technical Oscars: best sound, editing and those great visual effects.
Sequels: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001). Jurassic Park IV is planned for 2015.
Re-released in 3D in IMAX cinemas in the UK on Friday 23 August 2013.