E Street Cinema, D.C.’s local arthouse theater, has only three movies left in the year for its Midnight Madness showcase. This week’s entry, Jurassic Park (1993), is the oddest movie they’ve ever played in the series. It certainly isn’t a cult film (it’s Spielberg after all). It just stands out like a sore thumb being stacked up against the likes of The Room (2003) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), last week’s and next week’s respective entries.
In the early 90s, the writings of Michael Crichton would swamp the entertainment industry. He was a writer/director in the early 80s but had stuck with writing novels until the Jurassic Park and Rising Sun (1993) properties were bought up by Hollywood. Then an influx began: Disclosure (1994), Congo (1995), Twister (1996), Sphere (1998). As much as the public wanted to, they couldn’t escape another Crichton offering. It’s been a sad, downhill trek after opening his film career by writing and directing Coma (1978) and The Great Train Robbery (1979).
Rising Sun was a better film, and had moderate success. But Jurassic Park was a phenomenon, raking in more money than any other film that year. It had the pedigree: Steven Spielberg behind the camera, an all-star cast, great special effects. Perhaps all it needed was a better writer. So, David Koepp was called in to smooth out the rough edges of Crichton’s script. The result is a how-to guide of scriptwriting. It follows every cliché and every workable set-up and solution from Screenwriting 101: Set up wooden characters, present problem to characters, give characters tools, have characters solve problem with tools, have characters celebrate solving the problem and maybe learn a life-lesson from it. To be fair, Jurassic Park’s writing doesn’t even get that deep.
The best moments are all from Spielberg’s decisions. In another director’s hands, some of the films best scenes wouldn’t have as much power (particularly the kitchen scene with the raptors). Back in the 90s, it was a jaw-dropping event to watch CGI-rendered dinosaurs walk across the screen. Nowadays, that sort of work is seen in almost every major studio release. The feeling of wonderment that accompanied hi-res special effects may be gone now, but luckily, the CGI in Jurassic Park doesn’t look dated. You’re still looking at real dinosaurs.
The film begins with a billionaire (Richand Attenborough) giving a trial tour of his new, unopened theme park featuring real-life, dinosaurs. The patrons are his two grandkids and three scientists who have been chosen to verify the park’s safety. The film’s go-to villain is an angry computer programmer (Wayne Knight…”Newman!”) who has plans to sell stolen dinosaur embryos. To do this, he has to shut down the power to many a dinosaur cage to get his spoils across the island to a waiting boat. Oh, and there’s a storm coming in too. When the security system to the dinosaur’s pens goes out, all hell breaks loose on the island.
The film would go on to spawn two sequels, countless video games, and a veritable cornucopia of merchandising. There seems to be a market for Blockbuster re-releases. The Lion King 3D proved that, grossing over $140 million worldwide this year. Disney learned a potentially game-changing lesson here, as Beauty and the Beast 3D was announced with a January 13 release date with other titles soon to follow. Now that Disney has thrown open their vault doors and dusted off their classics, perhaps other large studios should take a note. The E Street Cinema screening of Jurassic Park is just a midnight movie at one theater, you can imagine how much money they would make if the studio cheaply reissued this and other films into a wide release.
Jurassic Park will play E Street Cinema’s Midnight Madness showcase on Dec. 2 and 3. The theater’s website is here. The film is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray. On the same night and time, the theater will also be showing Citizen Kane (1941) in its Capital Classics showcase. I recommend you see that instead. A fourth film in the series, presently titled Jurassic Park IV, has been announced.