I have two dogs.  The older one has figured out how to jump up and hit the lever shaped door handle with her paws and open the back door and let herself in.

My wife and I joke about this saying “the raptors have let themselves in” or “the dog velociraptored the door again.  This is, of course,  a reference to the 1993 classic, Jurassic Park.  Which stands as one of the greatest movies ever made.

I dare you to challenge me on that.  That movie is 27 years old and still holds up like it was just released.  It’s one of those movies that when I see it on TV, I’m going to watch it.  It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it, I don’t get bored of it.

There are some movies that are supposedly “great movies” that to me are a chore to watch.  Casablanca, La Dolce Vita, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, all bore the pants off of me.  Jurassic Park, Silence of the Lambs, Apollo 13, Jaws, The Fugitive, Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, The Untouchables, I could watch those on a loop.

Back to Jurassic Park…

The dogs let themselves in again this morning and we told the boy “the velociraptors are in, close the door.”  He is a dinosaur fanatic and an extremely literal child and explained to us in no uncertain terms that dogs are not velociraptors, velociraptors are dinosaurs.

We apologized and said it was in reference to a dinosaur movie that he was not old enough to watch yet.  That spun off into a conversation about how old we were when we were first allowed to watch Jurassic Park because tody the Jurassic Word franchise is aimed at kids, with toys and action figures and all sorts of other stuff.  The main protagonist of that series is Chris Pratt, who also is Star-Lord in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s obvious that Hollywood is trying to capitalize on his appeal to younger kids with the MCU to draw younger kids into Jurassic World.

Jurassic Park, by contrast, was clearly not a kids’ movie.  I can’t think of a kids’ movie starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, or Richard Attenborough made before 1993.

The question arose, at what age is it appropriate to see Jurassic Park, since by today’s standard, it’s a kids’ movie.

My parents didn’t take me to see it in theaters.  They saw it and then decided I could watch it rented on VHS from Blockbuster (I am so old) when it came out, I was eleven.  My wife saw in theaters, so would have been eight.  I feel that nine or ten is appropriate for Jurassic Park.  Then said that I do not want to expose my children to Jurassic World, that series has been poisoned for me.

This lead to a discussion as to why Jurassic Park, and to a slightly lesser extent The Lost World: Jurassic Park are the only two good ones and the rest can die in Hollywood fire.

There is a scene in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that ruined the Jurassic World franchise for me.  The bad guy, played by the excellent Ted Levine, gets his arm ripped off by the Indominus Rex.  This was horrifically graphic because you see him sitting there, bleeding, drooling, crying in obvious shock and agony before the dinosaur kills him.

There is no comparable scene in Jurassic Park or Lost World.  You see people get eaten, but it’s not as graphic.  It’s implied off-screen.  It’s obscured by vegetation.  Or it’s done in low light, wide-angle, where the character getting eaten is just a small part of a big shot including the whole dinosaur and background.

This is clearly the work of Stephen Speilberg, who made Jaws, one of the greatest and scariest movies ever made, about a shark that eats people, and you hardly ever see the shark, and you only see it eat one person.  Speilberg left the shark munching up to your imagination and did the same with the dinosaurs as much as possible.

When Nedry gets eaten, you only see the Jeep shake.  When Muldoon gets eaten, you only see palm frons and the top of an animatronic velociraptor. You don’t see John “Ray” Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) get eaten, and the movie is better for it.  The most graphic death is of the lawyer picked off the toilet and it’s dark, it’s raining, and he’s tiny on the screen.

Jurassic World created dinosaur torture porn, and I hate torture porn.

It did this because the nature of the Jurassic World morality play shifted.

Jurassic Park, both the novel and the first draft of the screenplay, were written by the fantastic Michael Crichton.  Crichton is one of the best science fiction authors of the later part of the 20th century.

He often gets discounted as a paperback pulp author, but he’s not.  His take on science fiction is different and was very pertinent to the era he wrote in.  Great sci-fi teaches a lesson.  It uses technology to illustrate a point.  I love Starship Troopers, which was a political treatise on Western Freedom (the Terran Federation) vs Chinese Communism (the Bugs).  Farenheight 451 was about the dangers of oppressive government and ignorance.  The Forever War was a treatise against the Viet Nam war and the troubles of soldiers returning home from war to a society that was changing on them.

For Crichton, the fictional technology was the threat itself.  One of my favorite Crichton books is The Terminal Man, about the dangers of playing around in the human brain.  Westworld and Prey were about the dangers of AI.  Jurassic Park was a lesson in the hubris of man playing god with genetic engineering.

The people getting eaten were not getting eaten because of their specific actions, but as representatives of the human race which has played god by resurrecting the dinosaurs.  Ian Malcolm gives that speech over a lunch of Chilean sea bass.

In Jurassic World the morality play was different.  The dinosaurs were victims and the people were evil.  The people who died deserved to die because they were bad.  This both justified torture porn, and took away the suspense of who would get eaten.  Bad guys get eaten, good guys don’t.

There were other things as well.  In Jurassic World, the bag guys were clearly stereotypical Hollywood bad guys.  Vincent D’Onofrio was a military contractor, i.e., Blackwater, so not just military but miliary for hire.  In Hollywood, the military are either heroes or sociopathic killers.  Military contractors are sociopathic killers because they do it for money.

Ted Levine’s character wasn’t just a military contractor but a psycho who pulled the teeth from dinosaurs to make a dino tooth necklace.  To Hollywood, he deserved to die a horrible and suffering death.

In Fallen Kingdom, one of the people who was eaten was a rich guy who wanted to buy a dinosaur as a pet for his daughter.  But he’s rich, which is bad, and he wants a dino to be a pet, which is animal exploitation, so he had to die.  This was unnecessary and cruel.  A loving father doesn’t deserve to die because he wants to get his daughter a pet.  I wonder how the Hollywood executives who have horses for their daughters to ride on their ranches in Sonoma feel about that?

Moreover, the contractors were stupid.  Crichton didn’t write stupid characters.  Muldoon was a professional hunter and safari guide.  Him getting eaten by a raptor was supposed to show how smart the raptors were.  By the time you get to Jurassic World, dino security are idiots who get munched like popcorn.  It’s ridiculous to have one dinosaur take out a squad of guys.

Jurassic Park was better because the cast was small.  You could identify with each character, there were no Red Shirts or Stormtroopers to be dino-fodder.  This made getting stalked by dinosaurs more realistic and scarier.

A dozen nameless ex-special forces soldiers with M4s and Stormtrooper level accuracy shooting into the trees to be taken out by raptors isn’t scary, it’s dumb.  The dinosaurs stop being animals and become invincible.

Spielberg and Crichton were an amazing combination that made a truly great and scary movie about the hubris of man biting him in the ass, literally, in the form of engineered dinosaurs.  That movie stands the test of time and when my kids are my age, and I sit down with my grandkids, that movie will still hold up.

Generic Hollywood has made mediocre moralizing torture porn with dinosaurs that is more of a two-hour commercial for toys than anything else, that isn’t worth watching a second time.

 

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By J. Kb

12 thoughts on “On Jurassic Park”
  1. I only have one quibble with this otherwise excellent essay, sir.

    Crichton. His name is Michael CRICHTON.

    Also, ironically, Muldoon survives in the book and Hammond is killed.

  2. I was born in ‘81, read the book on summer vacation in ‘91, and saw the movie opening week in ‘93. I’m hard pressed to think of anything in the book or film that wouldn’t be appropriate for kids in the 10+ age bracket… Provided their parent(s) were watching it with them and know the kid isn’t especially sensitive.

    But, then again, my husband and I (and our parents before us) have always been very liberal when it comes to our children’s media consumption. We won’t make a kid read or watch something they don’t want to see, but we also don’t go to great lengths to conceal things from them either.

    1. My son is 5. I have nothing against a 10 year old seeing Jurassic Park. Jurassic World clothes and toys aged 5+ is a little outside my comfort zone.

  3. I pretty much have to agree with your list of good movies, but you forgot the best one: Bullitt with Steve McQueen. Everyone remembers the car chase, but the movie actually has a plot (find that today!), good acting by the whole cast, and great locations, from back when you could walk around in San Francisco without waders. Ah, nostalgia!

  4. I saw Jurassic Park in one the few remaining Cinerama theaters. When the coffee cup onscreen was rippling you actually felt the thumping of impending doom. JP really does lose something on TV.

    1. You just explained why you need to buy a booming surround sound system for your TV.

      Blame me when the wife complains.

      1. Who said I’d complain?

        I’ll only complain if you wake up sleeping children/me with the bass rumble.

  5. “That spun off into a conversation about how old we were when we were first allowed to watch Jurassic Park because tody the Jurassic Word franchise is aimed at kids, with toys and action figures and all sorts of other stuff. ”

    See also: The Police Academy franchise.

    From the first film that featured a speaker at a podium getting..er.. ‘oral ministrations’ from a..er…’Lady of the Night’ (among other such antics) ……to a gorramed ANIMATED SERIES AIMED AT CHILDREN.

    The first film was rated R fer cryin out loud. How did it build up enough of a children’s market to warrant an (arguably successful) animated series?

    1. TV Tropes would label it a combination of “Franchise Decay” and “Denser and Wackier.” The first film was a raunchy sex comedy the later sequels were slapstick-filled Loony Tunes-esque farces.

  6. Watched it when I was 6 or so… a little too early.
    Didn’t have nightmares but was afraid of the dark because of raptors sneaking in.

    Then my pragmatist asshole side took over and reasoned that there are more tasty people downstairs so I would either hear the dinosaurs in time or they would be stuffed and don’t bother me… oh well.

    The books where the first books I read in english.

  7. I too first saw Jurassic Park on vhs after it was out for some time at either 6 or 7, it was at my grandparents house where I watched it and it wasn’t a rental someone bought it… The vhs left with me later that day I have a very distinct memory of talking about that dinosaur movie that came out in the bust to/from kindergarten because my friend and I were both obsessed with dinosaurs. Funny that two of my earliest/earlier memories are about Jurassic Park.

    I don’t recall it personally fazing me in any particularly negative way or my brother for that matter; I think the coolness of it overroad any fear because of just how freaking cool it was and how stoked I was to finally see it.

    My parents were pretty liberal in allowing me to consume just about any media by the age of 10, excessive nudity was not allowed and pornography was an as yet unknown genre lol. By around 11/12 commando was one of my favorite movies for example.

    I’d larlgey agree with you one the new Jurassic Park movies. I saw whichever was the first and it was meh and haven’t bothered with the more recent, IDGAF.

    I’d say they went from thoughtful scifi movies to simply action movies with a scifi white wash hence the expendable red shirts and terrible writing the relies on everyone making 100% retarded decisions 100% of the time.

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