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From enjoyable spectacle to beloved classic: The surprising transformation of 'Jurassic Park'

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The release of Jurassic World has come saddled with one big expectation: Can it live up to the original Jurassic Park, or is it another summer sequel we’d rather forget?

In the years since its 1993 debut, Jurassic Park has become lionized as a classic: The film saw a 3D rerelease for its 20th anniversary, and it has celebrated for its practical effects work and moments of spectacle as the modern blockbuster has grown more and more CGI-dependent and explosion happy. 

But was Steven Spielberg’s film treated as the classic it’s become for many upon its initial release? Well, yes and no. The film received its fair share of praise, but it was by no means exalted as one of Spielberg’s best exercises in storytelling. “Steven Spielberg’s scary and horrific thriller may be one-dimensional and even clunky in story and characterization, but it definitely delivers where it counts, in excitement, suspense and the stupendous realization of giant prehistoric reptiles,” Variety‘s Todd McCarthy wrote back in 1993.

That seems to be one throughline of positivity for the film—Spielberg’s expertise at incorporating the dinosaurs. Many praised Jurassic Park for the first sight of the brontosaurus, the raptors in the kitchen, and the use of the T. rex. “The film is held together by the authentic wonder we feel in the presence of its splendiferous creatures,” EW‘s Owen Gleiberman said in his original review, giving the film an A+. (The original novel received a C+).

“They are indeed a triumph of special effects artistry,” Roger Ebert wrote in his three-star review, echoing that the film’s success stems from its spectacle, not its storytelling.

However, Ebert continued, “The human characters are a ragtag bunch of half-realized, sketched-in personalities, who exist primarily to scream, utter dire warnings, and outwit the monsters.”

Ebert wasn’t alone on that one. Fans may have fond memories of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Richard Attenborough’s performances—or of a shirtless Jeff Goldblum and Wayne Knight’s plight. But in 1993, critics saw Jurassic Park‘s human characters as flat and uninteresting, especially in comparison to characters from Spielberg’s previous works. The Los Angeles Times‘ Kenneth Turan, for example, compared Jurassic Park‘s humans to the humans of Jaws: “One looks in vain,  for performances as good as those of Robert Shaw or Richard Dreyfuss or patches of writing as memorable as Shaw’s monologue about a World War II shark attack.”

It would of course be unfair to say these reviews were overly negative (the film stands at a 93 percent on RottenTomatoes), and even when noting the film’s flaws, many of Jurassic Park‘s critics still found plenty to love about it. There’s a reason so many moviegoers rightly look favorably back at the film, but interestingly, Jurassic World, which has seen a much more varied gamut of opinions, has been receiving some praise and derision for nearly the same reasons as its progenitor. AEW‘s Chris Nashawaty points out, “Jurassic World is a blockbuster of its moment. It’s not deep. There aren’t new lessons to be learned … But when it comes to serving up a smorgasbord of bloody dino mayhem, it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do beautifully.”

It bodes well for Jurassic World that time has been kind to Jurassic Park. Though some originally thought Park “could have been so much more,” it proved to be much more—it just took some time. 

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