Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is a cinematic milestone, presenting sights never before seen on screen: the spectacular dinosaurs which haunt the screen dangerously. The film is simultaneously a monster/action movie thrumming with science fiction and a very human story, as it unravels the fury which descends when man tampers with higher forces of creation. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has created a tremendous theme park: a remote island stuffed chock-full with real-life dinosaurs built out of cloned DNA by Hammond’s team of expert scientists. Still tightening up the framework of the park, Hammond invites a team of experts to assess the park and testify its greatness to his lawyers and investors. The team includes renowned paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and chaos theory mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). The team—along with Hammond’s two young grandchildren (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello)—explore the park as a tropical storm hits, dinosaurs break free and everything goes wrong.
Jurassic Park is an immense experience and has entirely earned its place as a magnificent cinematic achievement. Spielberg has chosen the most influential aspects of science fiction and entertainment and combined them with wondrous forces in technological filmmaking and to create an eruptive, jaw-dropping, gigantic movie experience. Of course, at the time of its release, it was technologically shocking. The impressive likeness with which dinosaurs were created was outstanding. That, coupled with John Williams’s impeccably fitting score and Dean Cundley’s terrifying cinematography construct the most brilliant, fresh and ferociously gripping of films.
Most fascinating about Jurassic Park is its dive into chaos theory. Ian Malcolm’s ramblings initially seem almost like a sly way of shoving academia into the film. However, the ideas he proposes are closer to the central theme of the film than the random, philosophical deflections which they initially appear to be. Obviously, chaos theory predicts that a modern day society containing dinosaurs will result in catastrophe, but it also points to a greater meaning. The constant and ever-growing creation and exploitation of new technology to dismember and reconstruct the world around us. It is something which is palpable in all of our lives, even if we aren’t cloning and manipulating dinosaur DNA. This is one of the ways in which Jurassic Park is so human, it explores that very human curiosity and our unfortunate penchant for disaster. If given the chance to clone dinosaur DNA and to finally see what such magnificent creatures appear to be in real life, wouldn’t most feel that tiny pull at your heartstrings, that deep want to know. Curiosity is not a foreign feeling to any of us.
“Life will not be contained,” Malcolm says, “[it] breaks free, it expands to new territories and it crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously… Life finds a way.” This wonderful and transcendent belief is visible throughout the whole of the film. Life is determined, powerful and uncontrollable. This, by the way, applies to both the dinosaurs and humans featured in this story. Clambering over trees, dodging vicious Velociraptors, and falling into something equal parts awe and horror in the face of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the team proves that life truly does find a way. In the face of terror, our scientists are mostly sure-footed—at least outwardly—and do not fail to protect one another, as well as the children who trail fearfully behind them. Their quick wits, endless knowledge and most importantly their determination prove fruitful in their quest to return to safety in the midst of a ceaselessly spiraling disaster. They find a way, life finds a way.
Sharp and daring, Ellie Sattler brings brilliance and spirit wherever she goes. She refuses at all times to change herself to become more palatable, and even more than that she does not care. She does not care to alter her femininity, intellect or intuition for the satisfaction of any single person. For this, and more, I adore her. She has been one of my most treasured characters since I first watched Jurassic Park. Her bright spirit, uncompromising intellect, and ferocity are something I admire and love about her so very much. She is tough in her quietest moments. Dern gives an outstanding performance as always, and she truly captivates me. Dern is an incredibly intellectual actress, yet she never seems to tamp out her most brilliant instincts. I find myself in awe after every diverse performance of hers.
The rest of the cast proves equally as admirable and work together as a perfectly idiosyncratic group. Goldblum is entirely delicious as devil’s advocate Malcolm and Attenborough is wonderful as the exuberant Hammond. Neill as Alan Grant is the most excellent partner for Dern to bounce off of, both of them bringing bucketfuls of genuine banter as well as a seemingly authentic connection. The individuals within that pair become separate but conjoined hearts of the film, both bringing different and very much their own aspects of humanity and understanding.
Innovative, complex, adventurous, and eye-popping, Jurassic Park has rightfully earned its place among the greats of cinematic history. It raised the bar and remains a relevant masterclass in imagination, suspense, and sci-fi magic. With an excellently selected cast, technology that dared to be innovative, and a crew of amazingly creative and talented individuals behind him, Spielberg ushered in a new age of filmmaking and action.
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Jenna Kalishman is a freelance writer and cinephile based in Colorado who often focuses on female and queer perspectives as well as female-led projects. She spends much of her free time listening to Stevie Nicks and re-watching Carol. You can find her on twitter @jenkalish.