Jurassic Park

I was nine years old. My brother was six. We were both with my parents in Austin where my dad was attending a conference of some sort. I don’t know if it was for his job as a high school football coach or if it was for his other job as the coordinator for the adult education program in our region. That’s beside the point though. What matters is that one afternoon during the conference, my mom took my brother and me to see Jurassic Park.

The movie had been out for a few months by that point, and my parents, ever the avid movie-goers, had seen it shortly after it was released. Initially, given the reported amounts of terror in the film, my parents didn’t think it was appropriate to take their toddlers along. After seeing the film though, my mom realized that Jurassic Park was more than your run-of-the-mill monster flick. Jurassic Park was cinematically significant. It was, and still is, a film that demanded to be seen in theaters on a field of vision engulfing screen surrounded by bone shaking speakers with as many other people as possible. Though it might terrify us, seeing Jurassic Park in a theater was, presumably, a unique life experience that my mother made sure my brother and I didn’t miss.

Of course, my mom was wrong about one thing – 1993 wasn’t the only chance we would have to see Jurassic Park in a theater. Life (or rather the market) found a way to give movie goers that opportunity once again. Jurassic Park has been re-released in theaters in IMAX 3D (and in regular 2D if you closely check your megaplex’s showtime schedule) in “celebration” of its twentieth anniversary, though they really should have waited until June to launch the celebration. Releasing it now is a bit like having a birthday party two months before your birthday (Surprise!), though your birthday never has to compete with studios’ summer tent-pole movies.

The real reason to go see Jurassic Park again isn’t for the 3D. The film is already one of the most visually impressive of all time. The question of whether 3D conversion enhances Jurassic Park is best answered by that joke they tell about lingerie at bridal showers – it fits best when it’s left on the floor.

The real reason to go see the movie again is for the big screen and especially for the big sound. The film feels frozen in time. It is a perfect mix of practical and digital special effects. No matter what John Hammond tells the lawyer, there are animatronics involved in Jurassic Park, unlike most big budget spectacle movies today which opt for only digital effects, and the careful mixture gives the movie it’s teeth. My two favorite frightful moments in the film are animatronic. The first is when the t-rex comes through the sunroof of the jeep while trying to eat the children. The glass wasn’t supposed to break, so the terror the kids show is real. The second is when we first see a velociraptor in the power shed. That’s a “real” dinosaur head pushing aside the cables to pop out behind Dr. Sadler.

Jurassic Park both shows us something we’ve never seen before and makes us believe it’s real. The movie perfects Hammond’s flea circus illusion, and more than anything, that’s the legacy of Jurassic Park. At Reel Spirituality, we spend a lot of time talking about story and theme and meaning, but often there is better theological ore to be mined in the filmmaking process than in the moral of the product. A film’s place in movie history is sometimes more important than the content of the film itself.

Jurassic Park‘s morals – something about humanity’s inablity to control life or humanity’s need to “evolve” to care for others – are all well and good, but Jurassic Park‘s method – showing audiences something impossible – proved far more compelling. The film is packed with shots of people being amazed at what they see. Spielberg is famous for his shots of faces caught in moments of visual wonder. Jurassic Park is wall to wall (fence to fence?) awe.

That’s the part of Jurassic Park that got carried out into the world. While there had been earlier sparks (Young Sherlock Holmes, Labyrinth, Terminator 2), Jurassic Park set fire to the imaginations of filmmakers the world over. George Lucas, who oversaw post-production on Jurassic Park while Spielberg went to work on Schindler’s List, realized technology would now enable him to make the Star Wars prequels he’d always wanted to make. Seeing Jurassic Park convinced Peter Jackson that his beloved Lord of the Rings books could finally be translated to the cinema.

Movies, because they have the ability to show us in seemingly real ways things we never dreamed possible, have the potential to inspire us to create new worlds. Sometimes those worlds involve dinosaurs. Other times they involve even more fantastic things like forgiveness, mercy, peacefulness, and compassion. Just as George Lucas and Peter Jackson took Jurassic Park seriously and created Naboo and Middle Earth, so we all can take it seriously and better respect life and care for others.

Twenty years ago, my mom took me to see Jurassic Park and showed me that movies matter. Twenty years later, I’m learning more and more why and how. She wanted me to see something remarkable, and I did. The more I watch, the more I see how very remarkable the movies can be.