Cyberlizard goes to the movies

Jurassic Park (1992)

Starring Sam Neill, Richard Attenborough, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum

The film Jurassic Park was based on the successful Michael Crichton novel of the same name and was quite hyped up before it hit our screens as the summer blockbuster of 1992. Steven Spielberg directed the movie, with Crichton on board as technical advisor, and Industrial Light and Magic created the special effects.

The plot

The film starts on the island of Isla Nubla, with a steel crate being moved into position in front of what looks like some sort of retaining pen. As the cage door is opened, the half-seen creature inside manages to push it away from the wall and seize one of the workmen, whom it then begins to pull inside. The bush-hatted figure in charge, Muldoon (Bob Peck) orders the creature to be shot, but too late to save the victim.

Following this accident, two palaentologists (Sam Neill and Laura Dern) are visited by cuddly Richard Attenborugh (playing Jurassic Park proprietor John Hammond) and asked to spend a weekend on his island. They are flown out together with chaos mathematician Jeff Goldblum and the lawyer Gennaro, and are joined there by Hammond's pre-teen grandchildren. Basically Hammond wants to prove to Gennaro that the site is safe despite a string of accidents, and sends the visitors on a dinosaur tour. Unfortunately the chief computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) has been bribed by Hammond's rival to steal some of the dinosaur embryos, and to do this he has to switch the security off, a move which also cuts the power to the electric fences that keep most of the dinosaurs (including T-Rex) safely confined within their paddocks. You can probably guess the rest.

The film

Right from the start I think it fair to say that this is primarily a film about dinosaurs and not about people. It was conceived as an action movie, and in that it succeeds. The animatronic and computer-generated reptiles are a brilliant success, especially the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex (in real life a huge working model) and the sinister and deadly velociraptors, the real 'villains' of the film, if animals can be so characterised. Some of the shots in the film are superb, especially one where Neill and the two children are passed by a large herd of fleeing hadrosaurs. Not all the dinosaurs are portrayed as monsters: there's a moving scene with a sick Triceratops, for example. But the T-Rex and the velociraptors are the real stars.

The cast are reasonably good, although to be frank I always find Spielberg's insistence on lumping two cute kids into the middle of his action movies annoying. (Some people I spoke to said they had half-hoped the kids would get eaten!). Sam Neill is always good, while Laura Dern is competent enough and Goldblum gives another of his nutty scientist performances. Richard Attenborough was also good but my main criticism is that he made John Hammond too nice and likeable: in the book, Hammond was a manipulative schemer who actually cared little about his grandchildren or anyone else. Bob Peck is superb as the dry hunter-cum-gamekeeper Muldoon, while Wayne Knight plays Dennis Nedry as a bit of a buffoon, although not too much so. The children play their roles well, given what Spielberg probably expected of them.

That brings me to perhaps the only less than satisfactory aspect of the film: it doesn't seem quite sure at times whether it wants to be a serious comment on the issue of genetic engineering and ecology, a dark film about monsters or a fun rollercoaster ride for children on summer holiday. Some of the dinosaur attacks are genuinely violent, but at other times Spielberg seems to be playing it for laughs. It's also worth noting that much of the novel has been sanitised, and the dialogues about the underlying issues of recreating prehistoric life have necessarily had to be somewhat condensed.

At the end of the day it's still a great film, though. See it at least once if you haven't done so, particularly if you like dinosaurs.

For those of you who are interested, click here for a summary of the main differences between the novel and the film.

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