You’ve never seen anything like it. So goes the hype about Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, and technically, it’s true: The best of the computer-enhanced dinosaur shots pack an unprecedented wallop. But step back from the beasts a moment, and you’ll find some familiar Spielberg ingredients shrewdly gene- spliced into the mix: * The Wide-Eyed, Slack-Jawed Look-of-Wonder Reaction Shot Usually it’s an immobile gaze at some ghastly or beatific sight, as when Richard Dreyfuss first sees the mother ship in Close Encounters. Typically, the character goes on to mutter ”My God,” ”Oh, my God,” or just, ”God.” But Jurassic one-ups the standard Spielberg stare in a scene where Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) first see a brachiosaur. Grant doesn’t merely stand and gape; he pulls off his hat and sunglasses, then forcibly turns Ellie’s head to get her to look too. By the time she sees a sick triceratops a bit later, she’s so overcome she cries.
*The Slow-Camera-Move-Forward-Until-We’re-Tight-on-the-Speaker Shot Spielberg’s yellow highlighter. It tells the audience, ”Pay attention here-you’re about to hear a Lengthy, Very Significant Speech that will matter later on.” Like a vehicle equipped with automatic transmission, Jurassic slips smoothly into this gear whenever impresario John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), or park systems supervisor Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) begins to pontificate about what’s right or wrong with the park.
*The Knowing Visual Nods to Genre Classics Just as he drew on Hitchcock for 1971’s Duel and mimicked old serials in the Indiana Jones trilogy, Spielberg borrows parts of Jurassic wholesale from other sci-fi and horror flicks. The island visitors have to pass through a big Skull Island-style King Kong gate to see the dinos, the T. rex chomps a human victim headfirst in homage to the Rhedosaurus in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and the cunning velociraptors smash through ceiling grills just like the beasties in Aliens-not to mention the speckled, venom-spewing ‘saur right out of Spielberg’s Gremlins. Buffs will be tracing his tracks all summer.
*The Spoonful of Disney Spielberg has said that among his first moviegoing experiences were reissues of early Disney cartoon features, and he pays them special homage in his films. Close Encounters has Richard Dreyfuss entreating his kids to see Pinocchio, and the big finale unfolds to the tune of ”When You Wish Upon a Star.” In 1941, a general cries while watching Dumbo visit his imprisoned mom. E.T.’s forest is Bambiesque, right down to the resident deer, and the title creatures in Gremlins take over a movie theater playing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In Jurassic, Spielberg salutes not Disney animation but the Disney theme parks. He pictures a welcome-to-Jurassic Park attraction very much like an existing dinosaur ride at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center and the script throws in jokey lines about other Disney park attractions.