“Life, Uh, Finds A Way” (#42)

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“Remind me to thank John for a lovely weekend.”

Dodgson! Dodgson! We’ve got Dodgson here! Does the fact that Jurassic Park is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month make you feel like a dinosaur? Or does the impending release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom have you ready to RRRUUUUNNN toward the nearest cineplex all over again?

You don’t have to be a clever girl to know that the original holds up — Steven Spielberg’s monstrous masterpiece is arguably the definitive blockbuster of the 90s. The When We Were Young podcast spares no expense in recounting the film’s lengthy development and risky production, also touching on Jeff Goldblum’s rock star nerd allure, the iconic score by John Williams, and how those once-groundbreaking CGI effects hold up 65 million years later.

But chaos theory kicks in once we extract 1997’s The Lost World from amber and dig up the fossilized remains of 2001’s Jurassic Park III. Are these sequels one big pile of dino droppings, or do they, uh, find a way? Turn the light off, hold onto your butt, and say the magic word, because we have a T-Rex, we bred raptors, and they do not happen to be vegetarians. Who’s hungry?

Listen to the podcast here.

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JURASSIC PARK
June 11, 1993

Budget: $63 million
Opening Weekend: $47 million
Domestic Total Gross: $357.1 million
Worldwide: $1 billion
Metacritic: 68

I can’t say definitely that Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time, because what does that even mean? I have lots of favorite movies — some of them move me more than Jurassic Park does, others make me think more.

But nothing thrills me the way Jurassic Park did, and nothing ever will. That’s partially thanks to the fact that I was the perfect age to go gaga for a big blockbuster about dinosaurs in 1993. I can’t pretend that I’m even the slightest bit objective about this movie. When I hear anyone claim that Jurassic Park is bad, or even “just okay,” I have no choice but to conclude that they’re an insane person. Jurassic Park is perfect entertainment from start to finish. Every single aspect of every single moment holds up. The story. The score. The special effects. That T-Rex sequence is still jaw-dropping. This is popcorn moviemaking at its very finest, brought to us by the master of that. 

Part of my nostalgia is that I had to work for it — Jurassic Park was in theaters for three agonizing months before my parents finally relented to my demands to take me. Literally, the moment they handed me those tickets may go down as the happiest moment of my entire life. I couldn’t have been any more excited than if they had taken me to an actual theme park full of dinosaurs. (An invitation which, frankly, after seeing five Jurassic Park movies, I’d probably have to decline.)

I could dive in further to every aspect of this film, but I did that on the podcast, so I’ll sum it up with the one observation I had anew this time around — the degree to which the Hammond character reminds me of Spielberg himself. Michael Crichton’s Hammond was a greedy old son of a bitch who met a nasty end. Spielberg softened him, and let him survive — however misguided Hammond was, all he really wanted at the end of the day was to put a smile on children’s faces. Spielberg essentially made my childhood by making this movie, so mission accomplished.

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THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK
May 23, 1997

Budget: $73 million
Opening Weekend: $72 million
Domestic Total Gross: $229.1 million
Worldwide: $618.6 million
Metacritic: 59

I may be in the minority, but I still really enjoy The Lost World, and I’m not ashamed of that. It’s certainly not Jurassic Park, but it wasn’t really trying to be. The first Jurassic Park was a spectacle, bringing something we’d never seen before to the big screen. It was Hitchcockian with its slow building of suspense. 

The Lost World is more of a monster movie, a throwback to King Kong, as well as a nod back to an even older adventure story, taking its name from a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Jurassic Park does many things masterfully. The Lost World does most of those things competently. It’s still a Spielberg film, with a handful of exhilarating suspense sequences — the T-Rex trailer attack, the T-Rex attack on a camp at night, the velociraptors’ nighttime hunt, and of course, the T-Rex’s unlikely arrival in San Diego.

The Lost World doesn’t go out of its way like Jurassic Park did to make its story feel plausible. The T-Rex’s transport to the mainland United States and inevitable escape are tacked on to a completely different story. But for someone who really, really wanted to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping down suburban streets, it delivered. It nicely undercut Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, released the following summer, which was a much worse Jurassic Park rip-off with none of Spielberg’s style. The Lost World embraces its B-movie potential with the same A-grade technique as the first film.

Thematically, this film is about something, even if Jurassic Park‘s themes are far more compelling. This time, we’ve got big game hunters and corporate greed versus scientists and naturalists, and while that approach remains fairly surface-level, it furthers Spielberg’s desire to present dinosaurs as animals, not monsters — which later sequels forgot to do. I like the wiser, more mature Dr. Ian Malcolm, his risk-chasing girlfriend, and his feisty daughter (gymnastics notwithstanding). I wouldn’t go so far out on a limb to call The Lost World a great film, but it has thoroughly entertained me each and every time I’ve watched it (which is often). It’s still the only Jurassic Park sequel that feels spiritually and tonally similar to Jurassic Park.

But yes, Jurassic Park is way better.

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JURASSIC PARK III
July 18, 2001

Budget: $93 million
Opening Weekend: $50.8 million
Domestic Total Gross: $181.2 million
Worldwide: $368.8 million
Metacritic: 42

In my memory, Jurassic Park III was “meh,” a ho-hum sequel sorely missing Spielberg’s magic touch.

But it’s so much worse than that.

This is a big step down from The Lost World in every way. The plot makes way less sense, the characters are much more insipid, the special effects are far inferior to the first two films, and they kill off the T-Rex in the beginning of the movie. The best thing Jurassic Park III has going for it is the novelty of the pterodactyls in the aviary sequence, the only moderately rousing part of this movie.

But to get to that, we have to suffer Tea Leoni and William H. Macy’s painfully cloying divorce subplot, a dream sequence with a talking velociraptor, and an abrupt, unsatisfying non-ending. Unforgivably, Jurassic Park III also wants us to buy that brilliant paleontologist Alan Grant has suddenly become one of the dumbest men to ever walk the Earth.

I can turn my brain off and enjoy Jurassic Park III for what it is, I suppose, the way I’ve been a mild fan of both Jurassic World movies. But there’s a world of difference between Jurassic Park and the later entries in this series, one that only highlights how massively effective that first film is. Spielberg is the master of bringing awe to the screen, and Jurassic Park mirrors that in Alan and Ellie’s fantastic first sighting of that brachiosaurus when they are stunned into silence, mouths agape. It’s exactly how I want to feel at the movies, and exactly how I do feel every time I watch Jurassic Park. And it makes me very happy indeed that a movie can still make me feel that way after more than 25 years, after dozens of viewings.

So yeah…. maybe it is my favorite movie.

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