What makes ''Jurassic Park'' such a monster? It's a movie! It's a theme-park attraction! Already the biggest international hit of all time, now the box office behemoth is braced to loom equally large on video

By Glenn Kenny
September 23, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

What makes ”Jurassic Park” such a monster?

Have you heard the one about the 800-pound gorilla in Hollywood and where he sits? Well, besides being able to get the best tables, an advantage to 800-pound-gorilladom is immunity to criticism. Take Jurassic Park.

The giant-ape status of Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur epic is a well-known fact: It’s the most successful worldwide theatrical release in history, and its new video version is bidding to become the best-selling tape release ever, too. It seems pointless, then, to complain that the nondinosaur sequences are almost as boring as the nondinosaur scenes in, oh, Valley of Gwangi. So, rather than recap and critique Jurassic Park yet again, we thought we’d explore what made this movie the phenomenon it is and ever shall be. A top 10 list, then:

10. Anti-Star Power. Filmmakers of the post-Star Wars era have a knack for making the film the star. Similarly, the fact that the cast of Jurassic features no big box office draws has actually added to its appeal. No way the likes of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum are going to upstage the spectacle.

9. Jurassic Park: The Book. Say what you will about Tom Clancy and John Grisham. For sheer longevity, Michael Crichton is the king of cranky-white-male best-seller authors with multiple axes to grind. His 1991 Jurassic novel, a rip-roaring (and gory) adventure tale interwoven with another Crichton-type tract on science gone too far, had beach readers gasping, ”How the hell are they going to make this into a movie?”

8. Steven Spielberg. ”That’s how,” Hollywood answered. If ever a director and a story were made for each other, these two were. An industry unto himself as a screen magician, Spielberg has a track record of making moviegoers believe the impossible. And with the help of…

7.Unbelievably Sophisticated Special Effects. Spielberg was able to bring all those dinosaurs (T. rex, brontosaurus, whatever the hell those raptor things are) to life. It wasn’t just what he did, but how — using digital computer technology, effectively creating something frighteningly real out of nothing. Too bad the movie had to have actors and a plot. They drag the whole thing down.

6. Unbelievably Sophisticated Hype, Marketing, and Merchandising. It seems as if every man, woman, and child in the United States was replaced by a pod-grown replica of him- or herself, each with a mission: to plunk down $7.50 to see Jurassic Park in a theater at least once, to speculate on the date of its video release, and then to buy the video.

5. Old-Fashioned Shocks. Yeah, the quivering water made a great intro, and that enormous pupil made you jump right out of your seat. But so did Laura Dern’s finding that severed arm.

4. Lawyer-Bashing. Admit it: You cheered just like everybody else when T. rex chomped on that shyster.

3. Grimm Appeal. There’s a distinct fairy-tale feel lurking beneath the high-tech horror in this film. Certainly the climactic scene, with the raptors menacing the two children in the kitchen, has more than a slight echo of Hansel and Gretel.

2. Movie as Theme Park. Talk about a snake eating its own tail — this picture is about a theme park, and in its sheer hugeness, Jurassic functions as one. The video is your take-home souvenir.

1. Dinosaurs and Their Prey. This is the only reason that really counts: The movie has uncannily lifelike giant reptiles running around wrecking stuff, killing adults, attacking children. Anyone who was ever a kid once has delighted in the idea of a world where dinosaurs and humans coexist, and it’s the convincing tapping of this fantasy and its unprecedentedly lifelike simulation that has made this thing the big beast that it is.

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 127 minutes
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