Jurassic Park
directed by Steven Spielberg
(Universal, 1993)

What child hasn't dreamed of real, live dinosaurs?

Steven Spielberg brought that fantasy to life in a very big way with Jurassic Park, which set a new standard in big-screen creature features.

OK, so the science might be a bit sketchy. The details of some of the dinosaurs were changed for better screen presentation, and some of them didn't even fit into the proper prehistoric era. The specifics of a boy's encounter with an electric fence were completely wrong. But still, the pseudoscience behind the creation of dinosaur clones was certainly convincing enough for movie purposes; it beats all to heck notions of radioactive throwbacks and "hidden valleys" lost to time. Author Michael Crichton, who wrote both the novel and screenplay, successfully devised a scheme for resurrecting the dinosaurs which passes at least a surface inspection.

That's all fluff anyway, just the mechanics needed to get the dinosaurs into the park and breathing. And once there, they breath with all the gusto of real, solid life. There are enough hints and teases during the prelude that, once the tyrannosaurus rex stood revealed in all of her awesome glory, it's a heart-stopping moment in cinematic history. And, once the action begins, it's non-stop.

It is hard not to be swept away by the sheer, wonderful power of the T-Rex, the strange, clumsy grace of the long-necked brachiosaurs, the plight of the mighty triceratops and the pure malicious cunning of the velociraptors. They move, breathe and, unfortunately, feed with incredible realism. In fact, it's hard to believe the actors weren't truly interacting in some way with the beasts.

Jurassic Park is without question a special-effects feature, but even so, it has the added benefit of a good story and a solid cast. Sam Neill and Laura Dern, as archeologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, are unlikely action heroes, and that's probably why they work in the roles so well. Jeff Goldblum inserts a bit of sardonic wit as chaos theorist and ladies' man Ian Malcolm, and Richard Attenborough is very convincing as John Hammond, the moneybags behind the park who's driven, not by greed, but ambition.

Even the children, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello as Lex and Tim Murphy, do a good job as children in mortal terror (although Tim's character was mostly a nuisance, and I was sort of hoping he'd get munched by the end).

Jurassic Park is a visual treat, and Steven Spielberg deserves applause for bringing dinosaurs alive.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.