Monday, May 3, 2010

Big Jurassic Park Post

Over at the ever-dependable Dinosaur Tracking, Brian Switek recently listed his top five dinosaur movies of all time. Topping it was Jurassic Park. I agree.

I have to admit, since committing myself to write about dinosaurs every day - even if just a little bit - I've started to feel some serious ennui regarding Spielberg's B-movie-on-roids. For the better part of twenty years, it's been the rare pop science article about dinosaurs that doesn't mention JP. And that fact has been magnified for me since starting LITC. I read a heck of a lot more than I used to: articles and news briefs and blurbs and remixed press releases from writers running the gamut from dedicated science journalists to bored interns. If a link can be drawn to JP, no matter how tenuous, many writers seem unable to resist. But for a moment, Brian's post made me consider Jurassic Park again. It was my favorite by default, but why?

I put myself in the shoes of 16-year-old-me. And this is what I came up with. This is why.

That shot. That one shot. Not T. rex eating Gennaro. Not the raptors stalking the kids in the kitchen. Not Nedry getting spanked by Dilophosaurus. Not Jeff Goldblum quipping about the size of a pile of Triceratops feces. Nope, it was a wide shot of a Parasaurolophus herd gathering at the side of a lagoon as a happy pair of brachiosaurs amble back to shore after a bit of a dip. When I think of Jurassic Park, this is the image that pops into my head.

Jurassic Park was my Star Wars, really. I was a big Star Wars fan, too, but I was born only a few months before the first movie was released. I don't lay claim to the collective experience a generation shared when ol' beard n' plaid's space opera hit the screens. It was something I came to know through video cassettes, role-playing games, and novels.

Not so with Jurassic Park. The road to my own Star Wars moment was paved with a fascination with dinosaurs going back as far as I could remember and repeated readings of Crichton's novel. The moment seared into my memory, when a movie actually made me see the world differently, was the first time I saw that shot. Certainly, Mr. Brachiosaurus showing off by standing on two legs was impressive. Absolutely marvelous. But it was just a set-up. When that shot was projected onto the screen, it was a punch to the gut. Suddenly, dinosaurs were alive again, and how I'd always dreamed of seeing them: casually going about their lives. Moving like animals move, with weight. Rendered a bit hazy by the distance. Put into better perspective by little white specks of birds flying over sparkling water. As if I was out hiking, and happened across the scene upon cresting a hill. It was a rush. A deep, satisfying realization of a wish I knew was foolish. And I realized it as it was happening: this is the closest you'll ever get to it.

That one shot is why, as obvious a choice as it is, Jurassic Park is my favorite dinosaur movie. That one shot is enough to forgive the movie's excesses: the ridiculously smart faux-Velociraptors, the majestic orchestral swells, goofy dialogue, actors doing the "Spielberg gawk," mysteriously reincarnated ancient plants, all culminating in an ending that could be described as deus rex machina. And though I do get tired of it being trotted out over and over again in articles, the fact is that JP is a big reason dinosaurs get the level of media exposure they do, and that's a good thing. As long as writers use it as a springboard to solid science content written clearly, there's nothing really to complain about.

You know what else was awesome? The Gallimimus stampede. And the goat leg scene. And when the girl beats the raptor with gymnastics in The Lost World...


  1. David,

    yours was the first blog I read this morning, and it definitely made my day. I also, very distinctly, remember seeing that scene for the first time in theaters and actually shedding a tear at the thought of how beautiful and majestic it was. I still get a little watery eyed every time I watch that part of the film.

    Thanks for a very insightful post, and happy Monday.


  2. Hey, thanks! I appreciate it. Glad to know I'm not the only softie out there...

  3. Bizarre- I was just talking with Gary Vecchiarelli from Project Drypto today about how sweet Jurassic Park is and how people seem to be giving it a lot of attention recently. Methinks a resurgence of interest in this movie is a symptom of a bigger trend in renewed dinosaur appreciation. Great post- I'm with you on that one scene; breath-taking (better than Avatar).


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