Today is both the best and worst day of my life. Today, there is a new Jurassic Park movie.
(Before moving on, I’d highly recommend listening to this piece from the soundtrack while you read.)
When I was a kid, there were two things on my mind: aliens and dinosaurs. If there had been a way to combine them, it might have ruined me. Looking back at my youth, there are two moments in film that stand out to me, sequences that are forever burned into my mind.
One, the awful abduction sequence from Fire in the Sky, which remains scary as hell in 2015.
(My love for The X-Files sent me down some dangerous roads, readers.)
Two, the first time we met a dinosaur in Jurassic Park.
The lengthy build up seems to take forever. Movies these days would have cut right to the chase and showed you dinosaurs—any dinosaur at all—as soon as possible. Instead, Jurassic Park refuses to show off its main attractions until you’re well into the film. Steven Spielberg knows you’re here for the dinosaurs, but as he demonstrated with Jaws, it’s worth making the audience wait.
In the movie’s opening minutes, also known as “shoot her,” we’re given the biggest tease ever.
In both that intro and even more so during the big brachiosaurus reveal, the camera focuses on the people. Their emotions, their reactions. It’s The Spielberg Face, one of the director’s well-documented tricks.
When Jurassic Park came out, I was 9 years old. I’m 30 now. As Dr. Grant took off his sunglasses, my prepubescent self was flipping out. I knew him to be cool, collected, and likely a big fan of naps. Not much would prompt him to break out the shock-and-awe face.
The camera never cuts away. It stays laser-focused on the characters taking in the scene, slowly drawing out their reactions, and putting the audience in a tizzy. Our imaginations are running wild.
I remember my eyes bugging out. My fingers were scraping against the theater chair. My friends were looking around at one another, wondering what the hell was coming.
This was an age before computer generated graphics had taken over cinema, when it was still easy to be dazzled by filmmakers bringing your imagination to life. What made Jurassic Park special was that we in the audience knew dinosaurs weren’t imaginary. They were real, once. I’d read about them, seen their bones, touched their skeletons.
Then came the big moment:
Even now, aging CGI and all, it gives me goosebumps. Watching a clip on YouTube, I got a bit teary-eyed. I can’t quite tell you why. Maybe it’s nostalgia for years gone by, maybe it’s the way the music swells at just the right moment.Maybe it’s just because dinosaurs are cool as hell.
Some don’t hold up when you watch them as an adult. Turns out they weren’t all that good, they were better left as fond memories.? Jurassic Park isn’t like that for me. Every time I watch it, I’m transported back. Every time, my heart soars when I see that brachiosaurus walking around a world just like ours.
I feel about Jurassic Park the way lots of other people feel about Star Wars. Spielberg’s film drove me. For years, I was convinced it was possible to bring back dinosaurs using their spliced DNA. (While dinosaurs are out of the question, it turns out other animals are not.) The first major reading I did outside of school assignments was diving into Michael Crichton’s original novel, and soonI was having my first arguments with friends over what bits the movie screwed up. I devoured all of his other novels, too. Chances are Michael Crichton was the first author I could name that wasn’t R.L Stine. Jurassic Park even inspired me to pick up a video camera and try to make my own stupid videos with my friends, learning basic shooting and editing in the process.
Oh, and thanks to Jurassic Park, The Lost World was the first time I experienced crushing personal disappointment. I can trace it to a single moment: when that gymnast girl kicked a raptor in the face.
Jurassic Park was everywhere in my life, whether it was video games or toys.
This one was my absolute favorite. I can’t remember if it made a sound or not, though?
We even had our own Jurassic Park games. Not video games, mind you—games we made up ourselves. In the basement, we’d flip off the lights, and folks would hide. One person would be the T-Rex, waltzing around with your hands tucked under your armpits. The goal was to make it out of the basement without the T-Rex grabbing you.I can’t imagine what it all must have been like for my parents. I hoped they like dinosaurs, too?
All that brings us to today. Jurassic World is now in theaters. I’m ready to be disappointed, and I’ve made peace with that. Jurassic World can’t match Jurassic Park; that’s a task that I doubt Spielberg himself could pull off. However good or bad it winds up being, Jurassic World couldn’t possibly undo the magic of Jurassic Park. I’m not 9 years old. But I am 30 years old, and I still think dinosaurs are cool.