Jurassic Park Was My Star Wars

Last week, trailers were released for both a new Jurassic Park movie and a new Star Wars movie, two of my favorite franchises of all time. It wasn’t always that way, however. A lot of writers and filmmakers cite seeing Star Wars as a kid as being the number-one inspiration for their work as an adult, but I didn’t become a Star Wars fan until later in life. The original trilogy was released before I was born, and I had a weird aversion to old movies, so I avoided watching Star Wars. There was something about those 1970s hairdos that turned me off. I remember renting Return of the Jedi on VHS from Blockbuster because it was the newest of the three Star Wars films, but for whatever reason, it didn’t really capture my imagination at the time.

Jurassic Park, on the other hand, came out at the perfect time in my life. I was seven years old when the movie hit theaters in 1993, and what seven year old boy doesn’t love dinosaurs. Not only did I love the movie and re-watch it multiple times, but I also collected Jurassic Park dinosaur action figures, had a Jurassic Park lunch box and folder for school, wore Jurassic Park t-shirts, and played the Sega Genesis Jurassic Park video game and the Milton Bradley Jurassic Park board game. Jurassic Park made me so obsessed with dinosaurs that I wanted to change my name to Rex, after the Tyrannosaurus.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World came out four years later, when I was eleven years old — still too young to recognize its flaws. I loved the sequel just as much as the original, mainly because it had stegosauruses and multiple T-Rexes. Jurassic Park III came out when I was in high school — when I was old enough to recognize its flaws. I at least enjoyed getting to see some new dinosaurs, especially the flying pterodactyls. Jurassic Park isn’t really a true trilogy with one continuous story like Star Wars, which might explain the drop in quality. Each of the sequels had their moments, but neither film was able to match the magic of the original.

So what was it that made Jurassic Park so great that it captured my imagination so fully as a child and has maintained it as an adult?

1. Crichton’s Concept

Dinosaurs and humans never coexisted, so you need to be creative to come up with a believable scenario in which humans and dinosaurs can share the big screen together. Michael Crichton’s ingenious idea about dinosaur DNA being preserved in mosquitoes trapped in amber has just enough science behind it that it sounds possible. Dinosaurs are cool in and of themselves, and the human characters are fairly developed, and the idea of a theme park is intriguing, but what made Jurassic Park transcendent was that initial amber DNA concept that transported dinosaurs to the present day in a believable way. I read the Jurassic Park novel for the first time this past year, and not only does it hold up after all of these years, it’s one of the rare instances where both the book and movie are equally great.

2. Spielberg’s Vision

Crichton’s book was terrific, but it must have seemed unfilmable at first. Steven Spielberg did the impossible by bringing the book to screen and including all the dinosaur action without making cost-cutting sacrifices. He added unforgettable audio-visual moments like the vibrating water from the T-Rex footsteps. Most impressively, Spielberg managed to convey both the wonder and terror of the giant prehistoric creatures. I was frightened as a kid every time a velociraptor popped up on screen — I wanted to look away, yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

3. ILM’s Effects

Jurassic Park never would have worked if the dinosaurs didn’t look real. What Industrial Light & Magic accomplished is nothing short of… well, magic. The movie is twenty-one years old now, and I’m still amazed at how realistic that T-Rex looks. The key was using actual life-size models, animatronics, and puppets, then adding CGI judiciously to make the dinosaurs look, move, and sound more realistic. A lot of movies today over rely on CGI and aren’t able to capture that same lifelike feel that Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs had over two decades ago.

4. John Williams’ Score

No blockbuster movie is complete without memorable music, and who can forget that swelling John Williams song that played over the ocean as Alan Grant and company flew away from Isla Nubar in that helicopter.

5. DINOSAURS! DINOSAURS! DINOSAURS!

Did I mention the dinosaurs? They were the real stars of the franchise, after all. The movie featured a nice variety of dinosaurs with different sizes and characteristics, but with a limited number of species, you got to really know each dinosaur in depth. Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor became household names, but in my household, it didn’t stop there. I knew everything there was to know about Raptors, the T-Rex, Dilophosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Triceratops, Gallimimus, Parasaurolophus, plus dozens of more dinosaurs that didn’t even make it into the movie. If Star Wars inspired a generation of astronauts and astrophysicists, then Jurassic Park definitely inspired a generation of paleontologists.

In high school, I finally went back and watched the entire original Star Wars trilogy, and I loved it. Star Wars has been a huge inspiration for me since then, but the galaxy far, far away was absent from my childhood. I didn’t collect Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader action figures or play with toy lightsabers and Millennium Falcons like so many other children of earlier generations. Instead, Jurassic Park filled that void in my life.

Many die hard Star Wars fans claim the prequel trilogy ruined their childhoods and their memories of the original trilogy. I don’t know if Jurassic World will be good or not, but I know one thing for sure: It can’t ruin my memory of the original Jurassic Park — Jurassic Park III already did that. Just kidding — kind of. But seriously, nothing can ever take away or tarnish the childhood experience I had with Jurassic Park. I still have many of my old Jurassic Park toys, and I still love watching the movie just as much as the first time I saw it at age seven. And above all, I still love dinosaurs.

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Originally published at timbarryjr.com on December 2, 2014.

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