Jurassic Park

Turning 1993 into the biggest year in box-office history (withAmericans spending $5 billion at the movies) was Jurassic Park,directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the best-seller by MichaelCrichton. Costing $63 million to produce, the movie grossed arecord-breaking $870 million worldwide; and the approximate $346million it earned domestically is second so far only to the $359million brought in by Spielberg’s own E.T. in 1982.

The June 11th premiere of the film launched the 1993 summer blockbuster-movieseason. Even before the opening, though, consumers devoured JurassicPark paraphernalia–action figures (with Dino Damage™wounds), candy, posters, model kits, lunch kits, latex masks,playing cards, children’s toiletries, videogames, and much more–dueto the intensive, worldwide merchandise licensing of MCA Inc.,parent company of Universal Pictures. The anticipation gave aboost to companies that had offered dinosaur merchandise for years,and countless other unrelated products, from frozen dinners tohotel rooms, were suddenly being pitched by “unofficial”cartoon dinosaurs.

Techno-fiction writer Michael Crichton, author of The AndromedaStrain, The Terminal Man, and best known previouslyfor Westworld (1973)–in which robots run amok in an amusementresort–was reluctant to cash in on dinosaur mania with his 1981screenplay, which also suffered from being written from a child’sperspective. He shelved the piece until 1989, by which time, sincethe mania had not waned and as Crichton had become increasinglyconcerned about the commercialization of genetic engineering,he revised the work as a novel, subsequently published in 1990by Alfred A. Knopf.

Jurassic Park itself, situated (according to the story) on anisland off Costa Rica, features live dinosaurs cloned from theDNA extracted from dinosaur blood preserved inside fossilizedmosquitoes. Responsible for the planned amusement park is entrepreneurJohn Hammond, portrayed in the film (with more charm than thenovel’s character) by Richard Attenborough, Academy Award winningdirector of Gandhi (1982) who had retired from acting nearly15 years earlier. For an inspection of the project, Hammond lurespaleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (LauraDern), his own grandchildren Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Alexis”Lex” Murphy (Ariana Richards, cast because Spielbergthought her screams reminiscent of Fay Wray’s), chaos-theory mathematicianIan Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and an ultimately disposable investmentlawyer (Martin Ferrero). When the computer systems architect ofthe park (Dennis Nedry) shuts down power in order to steal dinosaurembryos, the electrified fences no longer protect the tour groupfrom the animals, and soon the T-rex and velociraptors are terrorizingthe guests.

From the start of the film project, Spielberg prioritized therealism of the dinosaurs, demanding as much full-scale footageas possible over stop-motion post-production, even if manipulatinga convincing-looking dinosaur strained robotic capabilities. “Crunching”the book to a few key scenes around which to base the script,the screenplay by Crichton and David Koepp reduced the fifteenanimal species of the novel to a manageable seven. Unlike thestately, lumbering reptiles seen in previous dinosaur movies,Jurassic Park would depict the animals according to up-to-datepaleontological thinking–that dinosaurs were probably agile,warm-blooded, and birdlike. Spielberg also intended that the filmnot be another “slasher” dinosaur movie; but with thegradual elimination of scenes such as that in which Lex ridesa baby triceratops, and despite a few surviving tranquil momentswith dinosaurs, the film remains a tense creature feature.

Most of the action was shot on sound stages in Los Angeles and,for the scenery, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where in theFall of 1992 the cast and crew faced Hurricane Iniki.

The real stars of the film are said to be Stan Winston, Phil Tippett,Dennis Muren, and Michael Lantieri, leaders of the special effectsteams. They created the vicious velociraptors (alternately animatronicpuppets used for stationary shots, and humans in raptor suitsfor agile movements), the partially fictionalized dilophosaurwith its expanding cowl (spitting venom–a Crichton fabrication–andshrunken from ten to four feet to distinguish it from the velociraptors),the brachiosaur (hydraulically operated by crane for broad movementsof the body, controlled by cable and radio for facial movements),and the terrifying tyrannosaur (choreographed manually by usinga scale model linked to the full-size rig through computerizedinterface).

Initially signed to do minor work, Industrial Light and Magic(founded by George Lucas for new visual effects in Star Wars)so impressed Spielberg with its computer graphics that the specialeffects budget was redirected to ILM’s digital efforts. But forthe liquid metal character in Terminator 2 (1991), Spielbergwas not aware of this technology, and it had not been tried forgenerating realistic creatures. Ultimately, ILM was responsiblefor the vistas of grazing animals, the fifty-foot-tall grazingbrachiosaur, the stampeding herd of gallimimus, and even someshots of the T-rex. Because of the success of the technology,Spielberg even revised the ending of the film so that the climaxwould offer a computer-generated showdown between the T-rex andthe raptors in the park’s visitor center.

Post-production included addition of the John Williams’ scoreand a fuller vocabulary for the dinosaurs than mere repetitionsof the same roar as in older films. Jurassic Park‘s dinosaursbellowed with manipulated recordings of egrets, dolphins, humans,and many sounds culled from Australian rain forests. Noise forthe T-rex alone incorporated sounds from an alligator, a penguin,an elephant, a tiger, a dog, and the blowhole of a whale. Thefilm came in on budget and well ahead of schedule.

Although critical consensus held that the story and characterizationwere disappointing–merely flat characters running from monsters–andthat the film was gimmicky in terms of programmed surface thrills,the dinosaurs themselves were universally considered impressive.Concern was raised over young children seeing the PG-13 movie,due more to its intensity than gore (which had actually been toneddown from the book). The film also gave rise to questions, indeedsome panic, about DNA cloning and the current state of moleculargenetics. Responsible scientific voices repeatedly tried to calmthe scare fueled by a sensational press. But, finally, it wasthe dinosaurs themselves that galvanized enthusiasm.

Mark Dippé, co-visual effects supervisor for ILM on JurassicPark, asserts that “Dinosaur films have always been theclassic effects films.” Indeed, key special effects havebeen developed over the years specifically for dinosaur movies,beginning with Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion techniques in TheLost World [(1925), based on the book by Arthur Conan Doyle(1912)] and King Kong (1933). Stop-motion continued animatingthe dinosaurs in such films as Lost Continent (1951), TheBeast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), One Million Years B.C.(1966), The Valley of Gwangi (1969), and When DinosaursRuled the Earth (1971). Photographically enlarged lizards,iguanas, and crocodiles have been used, with various fins attachedand often to the outrage of the ASPCA, in One Million BC(1940), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), andThe Lost World (the 1960 remake). Even films relying onmen wearing rubber suits, such as Unknown Island (1948),Godzilla (1956), Gorgo (1961), and The Last Dinosaur(1977), and those relying on puppets, like The Land That TimeForgot (1974), are more impressive than those which simplymake use of stock footage from earlier dinosaur films: TwoLost Worlds (1950), Untamed Women (1952), King Dinosaur(1955), Teenage Caveman (1958), and Valley of the Dragons(1961). These effects, and the newer radio-control technologyand cable-driven puppets, used in Baby: Secret of the LostLegend (1985), all may gradually become extinct due to thesuccess and popularity of the full-motion computer animation firstseen in Jurassic Park.

Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Pullman, Washington

Don Shay and Jody Duncan, The Making of Jurassic Park (NY:Ballantine Books, 1993); Gregg Kilday, “Hollywood ScoresBig,” Entertainment Weekly 21 Jan. 1994: 32-3; DenisGifford, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (London:Hamlyn Pub. Group, Ltd., 1973).