How ‘Jurassic Park’ Changed My Life (and Probably Yours)
Every movie fan has that moment that transforms them from a casual viewer into a full-blown fanatic. It’s the screening that resonates with them for the rest of their life, where you enter the theater and re-emerge a few hours later as a fundamentally different person. They will probably never reach that high again, but that’s okay. The moment was your moment. That screening was your screening. That movie was your movie. Your name may not be in the credits, but it belongs to you.
For a generation of moviegoers, that experience was Jurassic Park. I know because I belong to that generation; this movie is bonded with my DNA. I carry it with me whenever I watch another movie. And yes, that is awfully unfair to most other movies.
The problem with falling in love with a movie at a young age is the question of whether or not the movie will grow up with you. Nostalgia is a powerful drug and it’s led a lot of smart people to stubbornly hold on to garbage because it reminds them of their childhood. This is a not a problem with Jurassic Park, a movie that manages the tricky task of playing great for young kids while ushering them into premature adulthood through sheer, unrelenting terror. Perhaps that is why so many youngsters in the early ’90s took to the film. Here is a fun adventure filled with wonder and awe that refuses to talk down to you. It never feels the need to condescend. Jurassic Park is a major studio release about dinosaurs running amuck that lets the kids in the audience feel like they’re getting away with something.
I still remember returning to school in the months after Jurassic Park’s June 11, 1993 opening and having hushed conversations with my friends about the scene where the T-Rex eats the lawyer and the jump scare when Ellie Sattler discovers Ray Arnold’s severed arm. Surely our parents had looked away during those scenes! How else were we allowed to see something like that in a movie theater? It felt like we were getting away with something. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that people of all ages were impressed by the film. I had long-since claimed ownership of Jurassic Park. It was mine. To a dumb kid, learning that a movie that connected with you on such a personal and visceral level is also one of the biggest and most popular movies of all time is a genuine surprise.
Over the years, I realized that Jurassic Park is a great movie because director Steven Spielberg is a genius. I began to understand how those groundbreaking special effects were so delicately integrated into the storytelling. I found its similarities to Jaws, which also showcased remarkable restraint in its big moments, waiting for maximum impact. Spielberg is a wizard and he makes Jurassic Park, a straightforward adventure without a single ounce of fat on its bones, look easy.
In an era of laborious blockbusters, the simplicity and elegance of this film feels revolutionary. It connected with kids, it resonated with adults, and it’s aged like a mosquito trapped in amber. It’s a little pocket of perfection, preserved forever. The sequels extract the DNA and try again, but things are bound to go wrong. Jurassic Park is a force of nature. It’s alchemy, lightning in a bottle captured by a master filmmaker who knew that, more than anything else, kids want to be treated like adults and adults want to feel like kids.
Jurassic Park is the rare film that truly succeeds in being all things to all audiences. It pops up when I least suspect it. I can’t go for a hike in the wilderness without humming John Williams’ theme music to myself. When my cat gets the drop on me, I say “Clever girl” and resign myself to getting mauled. I cannot count the number of times I have paraphrased Jeff Goldblum’s “You do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour?” to express my disappointment with something. Like nerds of a previous generation pouring over Star Wars, I dedicated an unsettling amount of my time becoming familiar with every frame of Jurassic Park.
I have since explored as many corners of cinema as I possibly can. I went through my film snob phase, but I emerged intact and well-rounded in my movie diet. It’s been years since I’ve described Jurassic Park as one of my favorite movies and if I made a list of my 50 favorite films of all time, it probably wouldn’t make the cut. Top 100, maybe. Yet I recognize its genius, its ferocity, and its skill. There is no film more important to me and no film better represents the hopes and dreams and loves and fears of Young Me. Jurassic Park is my everything, my turning point ... and it also happens to actually be a great movie. How often can you say that about a nostalgic favorite?
Talk smack about my favorite movie. Do it. It’s okay. That’s, like, your opinion, man. Talk smack about Jurassic Park and watch me roll up my sleeves and prepare for fisticuffs. That’s my movie, sir, and no one talks about my movie that way.