Tripwire Magazine‘s Joel Meadows asked me to turn back the clock to the June of 1993 when I first saw Jurassic Park – twice, back-to-back! This is the resulting article, first published on Tripwire on 9th June, 2015…
I tell this story to as many people as I can to qualify my badge as a ‘film nerd’: I’ve seen five films on consecutive screenings, back-to-back – three of them on their debut screenings, first day of release.
First up: RoboCop, but my excuse for the rewatch was because I had technically missed the first ten minutes and as a precocious fifteen-year-old on a summer holiday and with time to kill, I had the means and the opportunity to see if I’d missed anything (…nope, I hadn’t, not really). Next up was Star Trek Generations (I know, I know, don’t ask), followed by The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers – oh GODS, now THAT was a long day! This is what happens when your parents have separated and they both happen to want to see a film with you.
Lastly, there was Inception, a film that I fell in love with when I was watching it and saw at the IMAX screen at the Media Museum in Bradford, a backbreaking auditorium whose seats have the power to destroy the posture of any man, which should go some way to explaining my recurring back problems.
Now, anyone playing the home game should notice there’s a film missing and it’s the one that I do talk about in public when admitting I’ve seen films in the cinema, back-to-back: Jurassic Park. I know the time I first saw it, I know the date, I know the cinema (Showcase Leeds, 9th June 1993, 10.30am and 2pm showings). I know that I walked out of the first screening that first day of release, saw the queue for the second, went and immediately bought a ticket and went straight back in for a second hit. I seem to recall I don’t even think I thought about it; I was in the queue before I’d even come to my senses.
Jurassic Park had the sort of impact on me in the way that only the cinema experience can provide: the total immersion in a world, as a viewer, you are in the palm of the hand of a filmmaker who can make you forget you are sharing it with a room of others. Steven Spielberg has the rare gift to draw you into his characters and his scenes. When Brody is hurling chub off the back of the Orca and the eponymous Jaws makes its big appearance, you are stood right beside the Martha’s Vineyard sheriff, bolt-still in fear. As the Mothership casts its shadow over Devils Tower, you are stood in between Neary and Jillian, necks craned back as the behemoth vibrates overhead. This is Spielberg’s power and talent.
And in Jurassic Park, you are faced with a more immediate threat: you are stood there, vulnerable and exposed in the park trail, with rain lashing down, as the T-Rex snaps through the cables of the powered-down electric containment fence, plants an authoritative paw into the mud and screams straight into the camera. That was the moment that I became truly lost in that film: when all of the bumps and rattles of the rest of the rollercoaster took over – it didn’t matter. I had been scared shitless by a real-life dinosaur. It was real. It was right there, for heaven’s sake!
It could’ve been so different. Master animatronic builder Phil Tippett pitched his ‘go-motion’ method of animation to Spielberg , putting motion blur into the painstaking stop-motion technique perfected decades before by Ray Harryhausen. But, as good as Tippett – or indeed, Harryhausen – could ever have had gotten it, you wouldn’t have been able to feel the air bellowing out of the lungs of that impressive creature, the muscles moving beneath the skin, or the claws digging into the ground for purchase. That was all the work of the masters at Industrial Light and Magic, under the direction of one Dennis Muren.
Muren had convinced Spielberg that they had moved visual effects technology on to a point where a CGI creature, composited into a shot filmed in the harshest conditions, would feel completely present in the moment. Spielberg wasn’t convinced and charged Muren and his team to produce a test reel in which a herd of Gallimimus trotted down a road, along with a T-Rex, surveying his terrain. The end result was crude but it was enough to set the team on a path which would change CGI forever.
And, yes, the seismic shift in movie special effects was that momentous. If you speak to anyone watching Jurassic Park today, twenty-two years later (TWENTY-TWO YEARS!!) and they will tell you that the effects of that film still stand up. For me, the Jurassic Park films have included shots which have made me dumbstruck at a cinema screen, shaking my head and asking how the holy hell they did it – in the first Jurassic Park film, it was that T-Rex scene, with the ravenous carnivore making its big entrance and then, a little later, standing on an upturned Jeep and tearing it apart with its jaws.
(In JP: The Lost World, the shot that first got my attention was the game herd which looked real and utterly convincing to me, with dust being kicked up and feeling adrenalin in the air – but that isn’t the ‘big one’ for me. It was the T-Rex rampage through the streets of San Diego with Mommy Tee side-swiping a city bus, knocking it away. I still don’t quite know how the hell they did that, or how they created the Rex stampede under the neon light of a garage, or showed it walk across a wet street intersection – the whole thing is completely convincing and that remains my favourite sequence of the whole franchise, containing possibly my favourite effects shots ever created in movies.)
Combined with masterful sound design from Gary Rydstrom, managing to incorporate disparate elements such as shotgun blasts and thundercracks with real animal noises to believably create the vocalisations of this creature, and subtle composite work from ILM – do check out the bonus features of the JP DVD to see the multiple layers and little details that solidify the final effect – the end result is something that feels like it really exists. You know it does, despite your brain screaming at you that it’s impossible, that it’s a creature out of time, your sense of logic battering itself in the recesses of your mind.
You know that that T-Rex is real. Of course you do. Because it’s right there in front of you, screaming into your face.