by Michael Sohcot
If I had been asked 20 years ago whether a glass of rippling water would become one of the most iconic and recognizable images in cinematic history, I probably would’ve said, “No way.” But then again, I guess that’s not really a question you would ask an eight- year-old.
Even though Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park wasn’t the first movie I had seen, it is one of my earliest filmic memories, which automatically makes it a great one. I used to always beg my dad to take me to the movies, scanning show times and pleading incessantly. But sometimes the best theatre-going experiences are the ones you don’t plan in advance.
Imagine my surprise to be sitting in class in Hebrew school one afternoon and seeing my parents show up unannounced to pick my brother and me up early to take us to the movies. At last, we were being rescued! (No offense, Rabbi.) As much as I would have loved to stay and learn about tales of the Torah, I much preferred stories of the Jurassic era.
I have seen the movie countless times and in many incarnations since its initial release — theatrical, VHS, DVD and soon IMAX 3D — but it wasn’t until recently that I actually stepped back to fully appreciate the aesthetic and technical aspects that went into the production.
When Sam Neill’s character Dr. Grant sees his first dinosaur, his face registers disbelief at something off-screen. Instead of immediately cutting to a POV shot, Spielberg and the masterful Michael Kahn, A.C.E., build up the tension by having a slow push- in on the jeep and then another shot of Grant rising to his feet. To ratchet up the suspense even more, we then get three shots of Laura Dern’s character talking to herself in the passenger seat, further delaying the big reveal. She too then stands in the jeep and stares off-camera, a look of amazement on her face. The audience not actually hearing the dinosaurs’ footfalls or guttural sound until a second before we see the visual is genius, and further postpones the iconic image of the once-extinct creature roaming freely in our world.
Whether it’s the frenetic editing of the raptor attack in the opening scene or the parallel cutting of characters scaling a deactivated electric fence as power is being restored, the film showcases a variety of styles and techniques that offer something for everyone. Even the scene of two characters conversing over melting ice cream has a beautiful, calming quality to it, one of the many subtler pieces to contrast the adventure aspects of the film.
There’s no arguing that watching the movie as an adult makes me feel like a kid again. Watching Grant listen to the sick triceratops breathing or the brachiosaurus “singing” brings back feelings of childhood wonderment. Upon seeing the brachiosaurus for the first time, even the no-nonsense Grant utters the same observation you would expect from a five-year-old: “It’s a dinosaur.”
The scientific basis for the cloning technology is presented so realistically that it lends more plausibility to the concepts of the film. So it was very disheartening to see headlines this past October that an actual “Jurassic Park” would not be possible given the real-life longevity of fossilized DNA. Even though I knew it was just a movie, I was nevertheless disappointed when I saw the news.
It seems that every day in our industry we’re breaking new ground, whether it’s with 3D, motion capture, camera workflows… the list goes on. But years before the bullet-time technology or the photorealism of faraway planets, the artists behind Jurassic Park made the movie come to life with Stan Winston’s full-size animatronics and good old-fashioned puppetry, in addition to the incredible work done by Industrial Light & Magic. What results is a film that still holds up and looks as fresh as ever.
I count myself incredibly lucky to be living and working in the city that revolves around movies. When I attended a Jurassic Park trilogy-marathon at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, it seemed like an everyday occurrence. And every year since I moved to LA, I’ve gone to see John Williams conduct the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Sure it’s fun seeing countless light-sabers rattle the air to the beat of “The Imperial March,” but it’s just as memorable hearing my friends shout, “Play the one when Nedry steals the embryos!” Hearing the opening notes of the brilliant score immediately takes me back to the island.
The film supplied great memories to mark my childhood: from board games to video games, comic books, trading cards and even a Halloween mask of a dilophosaurus. Nowadays, I even find myself tapping my foot in the same rhythm as the velociraptors’ talon in the kitchen scene! Perhaps it’s appropriate that when released, the movie was advertised as “an adventure 65 million years in the making.” Because to me, it truly is timeless.