After nearly 30 years of watching the Jurassic Park/World franchise grow in quantity but wither in quality, it’s difficult to view as anything other than entirely superfluous. That’s not to say the sequels haven’t had their moments — 2015’s Jurassic World was a fun (albeit cash-grab-driven) start to the sequel trilogy — but it comes across almost flippant to lump the franchise’s inaugural classic in with the whole bunch. Whereas newcomers to the double-trilogy mostly serve as reiterations of their predecessor’s anti-greed sentiments, Steven Spielberg’s classic is the only entry which can proclaim itself a pioneering and complete cinematic staple, both in its ideas and execution.
Adapted from the 1990 Michael Crichton bestseller, Jurassic Park stands out as an example of Spielberg’s mastery of the blockbuster film, and quite possibly his best work. It follows the stories of paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) as they are flown out to a small island off the coast of Costa Rica. On the island is a new theme park owned by the billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who, after the suspicious death of one of the park’s workers, needs Grant and Sattler to verify its safety. Joining the pair on their journey to the island is the eccentric mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).
Even in a film whose main selling points are undeniably its thunderous dinos, these beasts are utilized just enough to amaze the audience while also never feeling overstuffed; Spielberg manages to create a true sense of wonder and awe with these creatures that (even almost 30 years after the fact) still exudes true movie magic. Instead of special effects overload, the main focus is absolutely on the characters. And it really does feel like the story is told through the wide eyes of these characters first and foremost — it’s not difficult at all to put yourself in their shoes and feel those same feelings.
It helps that the performances are so memorable across the board. Sam Neill gives the cynical Alan Grant a heartwarming and endearing arc as he steps up to protect young Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) once things start hitting the fan in the park; Laura Dern delivers a criminally underrated role of fierceness and tenacity; and Jeff Goldblum is… well… Jeff Goldblum (‘Nuff said). Beyond that, we get Samuel L. Jackson spouting iconic line after iconic line as Ray Arnold; Wayne Knight’s slob of a traitor, Denis Nedry; and Bob Peck’s intensely raptor-weary hunter, Muldoon. The ensemble cast in Jurassic Park is easily one of the best ever put to screen.
It really is a wonder then, that even with its sizable cast, all of whom are very well-written and intriguing characters, Jurassic Park has further room for some bold scientific and corporate criticisms. It explores the greed of the already obscenely rich; the human desire to create, control, and play God with nature; and ponders how far science can be taken — and how far it should.
Overall rating: 10/10