This year is the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park, the Steven Spielberg film that defined dinosaurs for an entire generation. Jurassic Park from 1993 is based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton and a screenplay written by Crichton and David Koepp.
The film is set on the fictional island of Isla Nublar, located off Central America’s Pacific Coast near Costa Rica, where billionaire philanthropist John Hammond and a small team of genetic scientists have created a wildlife park of cloned dinosaurs. When industrial sabotage leads to a catastrophic shutdown of the park’s power facilities and security precautions, a small group of visitors, along with Hammond’s grandchildren, struggle to survive and escape the perilous island.
Jurassic Park was groundbreaking in its use of computer animation in tandem with animatronics. Stop motion expert Phil Tippett brought in as dinosaur supervisor 1991, he had previously worked on Star Wars. Then Dennis Muren and his CGI team at Industrial Light & Magic created animated test footage of a T-Rex that Spielberg loved.
Muren, along with Steve Williams and Mark Dippé, helped to usher in a new age of computer-generated imagery with the CG dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. Steven Spielberg had intended to use go-motion for the dinosaurs, but quickly changed his mind when shown a test of a CG T-Rex
When Tippett was told that Jurassic Park dinosaurs would be computer-generated, he was shocked, exclaiming “I’ve just become extinct”, but far from being extinct, Tippett evolved as stop-motion animation gave way to Computer-generated imagery or CGI, and because of Tippett’s background and understanding of animal movement and behavior, Spielberg kept Tippett on to supervise the animation on 50 dinosaur shots for Jurassic Park.
The team also brought on paleontologist Jack Horner who worked as a technical advisor and served as a partial inspiration for one of the lead characters of the franchise, Dr. Alan Grant, played by New Zealand actor Sam Neill. Joining him was Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough and Laura Dern.
Jurassic Park won three Academy Awards and was the highest grossing film of all time until Titanic stole the crown in 1997.
The film owes more to the proficient author Michael Chrichton than anyone else. Crichton’s novels, including Jurassic Park, have been described by The Guardian as “harking back to the fantasy adventure fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Edgar Wallace, but with a contemporary spin, assisted by cutting-edge technology references made accessible for the general reader”.
Jurassic Park was that cinematic rarity: a science fiction film that succeeded in influencing the science it was fictionalizing. The story of a theme park populated by resurrected dinosaurs, it offered a portrayal of Mesozoic fauna that was as close to authentic as could then plausibly be achieved. Although, in order to clone a dinosaur you would need the whole genome, and not even a little bit of dinosaur DNA has ever been found.
All you need to bring dinosaurs bach is a little DNA from a microscopic drop of dinosaur blood, preserved for 65 million years in the gut of a mosquito trapped in fossilized amber. Carry out a bit of trickery involving chaos theory, frog DNA, and Jeff Goldblum. Then insert the dino genome into the yolk of a crocodile’s egg and leave to incubate. Soon you’ll have a thriving zoo of once-extinct beasts roaming the jungles of someone’s private theme park or Hawaiian islands. The 1993 Hollywood blockbuster and Michael Crichton novel of the same name may not have invented the idea of “de-extinction” but they certainly put it out there as a concept.
Welcome to Jurassic Park
This moment may just be one of the most iconic moments in cinematic history. Everything came together and we all watched in awe as dinosaurs roamed on the big screen. It is truly one of the most memorable scenes in science fiction of all time.
Much of it is to do with the performances from Laura Dern and Sam Neill, their somewhat adorable disbelief echoing our own; much of it is to do with John Williams’ iconic score as it swells to fever pitch; most of it is to do with the majesty of the brachiosauruses themselves standing up to all our scrutiny in the sun-drenched landscape.
If you saw this for the first time in the cinema back in 1993, it’s likely a moment you will never forget.
Welcome… to Jurassic Park.
– John Hammond
This article is part of the series Iconic Scenes from Science Fiction