Steven Spielberg is often credited for inventing the template for the modern summer blockbuster, and is certainly responsible for some of the best movies of that type over the course of his career. One such example would be Jurassic Park, which was the biggest-grossing film of all time when it came out in 1993 (a title it only held for four years until Titanic came out), launching a lucrative franchise (two sequels followed, with another out next year) and enjoying an enduring popularity to this day (it’s not for nothing that Alan Partridge uses it as a superlative). Although it follows the formula for such crowd-pleasing films right down to the letter, it’s carried off with such an endearing charm and sense of wonder (as well as groundbreaking special effects which still look stunning even today) that it’s impossible not to enjoy it – its financial success was no accident; if there’s one thing Spielberg knows how to do, it’s how to give audiences what they want.

The original novel by Michael Crichton is where the brilliant concept came from – and although it’s a shame to have lost much of its arresting mixture of harsh violence and applied maths in the transition to the big screen, you can see why such things had to go. The mathematical philosophy is fascinating on the page but pretty much impossible to translate across to film (although Jeff Goldblum is giving the task of voicing much of this out loud, something he somehow manages with real panache), and the more gruesome stuff would have knocked out that PG rating which helped bring in the box office dollars. Not that it’s a complete whitewash – there are some pretty gory moments here, as well as some extremely tense set-pieces that Spielberg pulls off with his usual flair. There are too many of those to name – but the extended sequence where the T-rex attacks two jeeps in the pouring rain at night is one of the director’s finest.

The jewel in the crown of this film however, is something often loudly complained about when they’re not good enough – the special effects. If nothing else, Jurassic Park is an absolute landmark in that regard, one of the finest examples in the history of film of how that magic combination of computer-generated images, outstanding puppetry and model work, and selectively chosen usage of them both by a director on top of his game can bring to life things which had hitherto only been imagined. Even now, in 2014, the effects still look convincing, which almost doesn’t make sense given how quickly such things can get dated. Stan Winston and his team deserve every plaudit under the sun for their work here, particularly for building life-size animatronic dinosaurs that are tangible and imbued with enough character and personality that you feel like they deserve a credit amongst the rest of the cast, like an animal actor.

There are other technical things to admire – the sound work for example, such as the T-rex roar which seems to actually move your guts every time you hear it, adds a vitally important element to the suspension of disbelief – but this is more just an opportunity to show off Hollywood’s razzle dazzle. Spielberg’s ability to keep his audience where he wants them is, as usual, perfectly judged here – the cartoon that explains all the DNA science to park visitors functions as a recognisable plot point to anyone who’s ever been to a theme park and gets all the novel’s complex biology out of the way in minutes, you get the director’s usual recurring motif of questionable father figures thrown front and centre as Sam Neill’s protagonist finds himself thrust into the role of reluctant babysitter, and those ripples in the glass of water are a suspense device Hitchcock would have been proud of. All of these are very human elements that Spielberg brought to the table himself, to tremendous effect.

He also came up with the film’s conclusion, which makes little sense in the cold light of day but is one of those movie moments that you just go along with, because that’s how you enjoy films like this. Spielberg understands this intrinsically, perhaps more so than any other director alive. What makes this even more impressive was that the post-production work on all the film’s effects and editing was done while he was in Poland filming the astonishing Schindler’s List – quite how you go from shooting subject matter like that during the day to spending your evenings looking at digital dinosaurs is beyond me. 1993 was a hell of year for him, and anyone who likes to criticise him should consider how he made those two movies in less than twelve months. There’s much more to praise – I haven’t even mentioned yet another iconic John Williams score – but as such a perfect demonstration of his particular talents it’s hard not to lay most of the accolades at Spielberg’s feet.

One of the finest examples of the application of special effects in the history of film10
Losing much of the novel's themes and characterisation6
Spielberg's ability to convey a genuine sense of awe and wonder10
Spielberg's ability to perfectly judge an audience's requirements of a formulaic summer blockbuster9
Making this film and Schindler's List almost simultaneously10
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
9Overall Score

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