Jurassic Park Revisited

Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler, welcome …..  to Jurassic Park

I remember it as vividly as if it had happened just yesterday. With great enthusiasm, my father had suggested that we go watch the film at the cinema in our town. They screened foreign films dubbed in Hindi back then and it was no deal breaker for a kid who was just coming to terms with whatever little English he could pick up from dog eared comics of Phantom and Tintin. We were to be disappointed though, as they had removed the film from the screens just the previous week. “Never mind”, consoled my dad and we came back home.

20 years since, I have watched the movie multiple times and not for a single instance (and I generally dislike re-watching a movie) has there been the slightest dip in my enthusiasm. “An adventure 65 million years in the making..” ran the tag line. Not stupendously brilliant, but not hideously cliched either. It does sound grand and magnificent though, just like the spectacle the film turned out to be. I remember my dad remarking “How many times will you watch the damn movie” during a TV screening. I must have lost count, was my honest answer.

If you are watching it in a theater with an excellent sound setup, do not by any chance, miss the opening sequence. The logo of ‘Universal’, accompanying a single beat of a drum, is as ominous-sounding as it can possibly get.

The introduction to Isla Lubnar, preceded by John Hammond’s “..there it is“, consists of a breathtaking visual of the helicopter flying towards the island, first over choppy waters and then over green hills and valleys and miles of untamed forests. John Williams’ THX certified epic soundtrack, hiding in the background till then, rises to a crescendo and shares equal space with the stunning visuals. The scene makes my hair stand on end every time, partly due to the beauty of cinema unfolding in front of me and partly in anticipation of the thrilling adventure that is about to follow.

The helicopter scene in Jurassic Park
The helicopter scene…magnificent cinema !
Jurassic Park's Isla Nublar
Kauai island’s Na Pali coast in Hawaii is Isla Nublar in the film

(Aside: You can read about Kauai island here and a wiki post on the fictional Isla Lublar here)

Minutes later, when the tourists to the island have their first glimpse of a real life specimen in the Brachiosaurus, Alan Grant almost collapses to the ground and Ian Malcolm’s jaw drops in half-disbelief and half-delight. I love to imagine that that same expression must have echoed on audience faces around the world in 1993 for the first time when that Brachiosaurus must’ve dropped its forelegs to the ground and seemingly made the ground beneath Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler shake. How other-wordly the use of CGI and Stan Winston‘s robots must’ve seemed back then !

Ian Malcolm
Malcolm’s first view of a dinosaur – the gigantic Brachiosaurus

It is with great gusto that we, as movie watchers, tighten our seat belts for the pre-historic ride (“The voice you are now hearing is Richard Kiley, we spared no expense!“) along with Grant and co. Along the way, we start believing in Malcolm’s skepticism of the whole thing with his beliefs of chaos theory, debunking Hammond’s control over nature as anything but profound (“..Life, uh, finds its way“). And we start cheering for the laconic and dour Dr. Grant as he guides the children through the park, running from most of the dinosaurs, educating them one moment and saving them from danger the next. And we admire Sattler’s courage in deciding to go outside the bunker all by herself (“We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back”) and her tongue-in-cheek take at Malcolm’s view of the park’s future (“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth“).

Without a doubt though, the film belongs to the dinosaurs. It all begins pounding inside your head when ripples form in the water in the glass inside one of the Ford Explorers. From then on, the T-Rex and the raptors and the sound effects play havoc with your adrenaline – the pupil dilation scene, the T-rex with the kids sequence, the jeep chase scene, the raptors in the visitor center sequence. And I will never forget where I first saw “Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear“.

I am gushing so much, it must be frothing at my mouth too, you’d say. But then, one night while walking along the pavement book sellers of Mumbai, I chanced upon the book (No e-commerce back in those days). The book though, pans out on a scale that can only be screened by your brain inside your head. Full of theories from biology and genetics – DNA combinations and the processes required to create dinosaur DNA, to enable the management to control the breeding and eating habits of the dinosaurs (depriving them of the ability to manufacture the amino acid lysine) on to mathematics – chaos theory explanations, normal distributions depicting population and evidence of breeding among all-female dinosaurs,  to advances in modern science and computing.

Unfortunately, the film does miss out on a lot of narratives featured in the book. For instance, the failure on the management’s part to notice that the park has been running on auxiliary power after Dennis’s mischief, an event which leads them to realize in horror that the electrified fences separating the dangerous dinosaurs had remained off all that time. Then there is Grant leading the kids through the park. They come across almost-tame triceratops, they study sauropods in the open, they are chased by a T-rex down a lagoon and they walk through an aviary that is not a part of the original tour, but is inhabited by pterodactyls. The final sequence has them facing raptors inside the visitor center too, with Grant using toxins to kill the raptors. Some sequences, like the little girl being bitten by a procompsognathus and the aviary sequence were depicted in the 2nd and 3rd installments of the film trilogy. Finally, in the book, when they are deported off the island, Grant is informed by a Costa Rican doctor of some strange patterns of lysine-rich crop consumption inside human cultivated lands by mysterious wild animals.

Quite an engrossing work by the late Michael Crichton, that book led me to read “The Lost World”, “Congo”, “Prey”, “The Andromeda Strain” and almost all of Crichton’s works. In terms of science fiction content and similarity, The Lost World is a must-read if you liked Jurassic Park. Congo is also very similar in the kind of settings the plot is based in.

Digressions apart, the movie does come close to delivering as great an impact as the book, which is saying a lot for any screen adaptation. And the latest 3D version means I can finally watch it on the big screen and be mesmerized yet again, in the way it was originally meant to be seen.

I hope it will be the same decades later as well, when I become a parent and have kids who are fascinated by dinosaurs (who aren’t ?). And I do cherish a hope, as millions of kid harbored in their hearts once, that they do succeed in recreating those big animals in the future. That would make an old man with the heart of a kid, if he is not extinct by then, very very happy.

P.S. More of my tribe: here and here

P. P. S. Interesting documentary on the making of the film here. Watch it to get an insight into how Spielberg and the team at ILM made a path-breaking film that was far ahead of its times.

More documentaries here and here.

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