Ink & Pixel: Jurassic Park
Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at email@example.com so we can discuss it further.
If you're anything like me, you've been wishing since the Summer of 1993 that Jurassic Park could be a real, live theme park. Oh sure, there's a high probability of the dinosaurs getting loose and running amok, but there's still a large part of me that feels like it'd be worth the risk. After all, I feel like Epic Death by Dinosaur would be one hell of a bullet-point on my after-life admission paperwork, don't you agree? Ghosts would be like, You really are a special kind of stupid, but tell us all about it! I'd be invited to all the best parties, for sure.
Alas, for the foreseeable future, an honest-to-goodness dinosaur theme park is still very much a work of fiction in both concept and proper execution. In the meantime, however, we have Steven Spielberg's JURASSIC PARK. Based on author Michael Crichton's novel of the same name, Spielberg's action-adventure creature feature depicts a cautionary tale of what happens when mankind meddles with the biology of beasts long thought lost to extinction. Originally, Crichton fashioned a tale about a gifted graduate student who, upon discovering the means for creating a dinosaur, then aims to create a theme park as a way in which he can share his creature with the rest of the world. Obviously, this idea was then augmented and elaborated upon for both the novel and the film.
Crichton, whose success as a best-selling novelist had earned him the ever-watchful-gaze of Hollywood's biggest studios, experienced a rush of bids from four different studios before the dino-disaster novel was even finished. In the end, Universal Studios - alongside Spielberg - snatched up the film-adaptation rights to the tune of 1.5 million. With that settled, Crichton began penning the screenplay with the aid of David Koepp one of Hollywood's most successful screenwriters. Together, both men tailored the story and its characters to resemble more of a summer blockbuster film than an exposition-heavy glimpse into the hubris of humankind.
Spielberg's JURASSIC PARK gives audiences a focused down version of Crichton's novel, in which John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the founder and CEO of InGen a mega-corporation that specializes in bioengineering invites a group of specialists to the isolated tropical island of Isla Nublar to marvel at the realization of his life-long dream of bringing dinosaurs back into the world. At the start: mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), lawyer Donald Gennaro, (Martin Ferrero), paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil), and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are left awe-struck by the monstrous marvels of Hammond's yet-to-open Jurassic Park.
That is until a mass of storm clouds forces the tour to be postponed, and it's during that weather delay that the visitor center's own computer programmer, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), disables the park's security system with the hopes of stealing valuable dinosaur embryos and then selling them to a rival corporation. As one can imagine, things go to hell rather quickly shortly thereafter. With his niece, Lex (Ariana Richards), and nephew, Tim (Joeseph Mazello) to protect, Hammond enlists the help of his accomplished guests and staff to usher everyone left on the island to safety, and perhaps even salvage what remains of his vision of a place where families can experience the wonders of a world left 65 million years in our past.
There's no denying that the casting director did a fine job in assembling the actors that would go on to fill the mud-caked boots of Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, and the rest of the human characters found running for their lives in JURASSIC PARK. That said, let's be honest and admit that what we really came to this movie for is to be wowed by its dinosaur effects! More than anything, Spielberg desired the use of practical effects and animatronics wherever possible in the making of this film, so for that he turned to effects legend, Stan Winston. Winston, excited as ever to be considered for the project, instructed Mark Crash McCreery (as well as other key members of his staff) to begin work on creating drawings and mock-ups of the many dinosaurs to be featured in the film hoping that the designs would meet Spielberg's expectations and then some.
In an effort to assure that the dinosaurs look and feel as real as possible, Spielberg called upon the expertise of Paleontologist Consultant, Jack Horner. As a matter of fact, not only has Horner served as the dinosaur expert for all the Jurassic films in the franchise so far, the character of Dr. Alan Grant is based partially on the famous paleontologist himself. In his career, Horner has been responsible for many discoveries regarding the lifestyles of dinosaurs including, but not limited to how the beasts managed and cared for their young.
With the design details of the dinos approved, it was time for Winston and his team to begin work on assembling maquettes (scale models) for inspection by Spielberg and his team of puppeteers. Several maquettes of each dinosaur were design and manufactured before moving on to the final phase of constructing the models that would participate in the actual film. Spielberg, upon inspecting the Tyrannosaurus Rex for the first time, had this to say about the incredible craftsmanship of Winston and his team of artisans: I love it. It's a nightmare. The first time I saw the T-Rex was in Stan Winston's shop. I had a chance to actually operate it myself, which was a thrill. The movements were so smooth, so authentic. You know, when it would snap its head around, it didn't have a recoil. The head would go as fast as you could imagine, and would then come to a complete stop, and look right at you. It's eyes would stereo-focus right on you. That was absolutely frightening to watch.
Having said all of that, if JURASSIC PARK was to be the film that Spielberg had dreamed of creating for most of his life, it was going to take a lot more than animatronic dinosaurs to make it happen. For the larger dino-driven set pieces, Steven asked his friend Phil Tippett to lend his masterful stop-motion animation skills to bring the dinosaurs to life. However, after extensive screen testing, it became obvious that they would need to kick things up a notch. It was then that Spielberg got a call from Dennis Muren at ILM (Industrial, Light & Magic), wherein Muren said that he believed he could create authentic visual effects for the dinosaurs using a series of complex CGI programming. Intrigued, Spielberg asked for a demo reel and received one in which Muren produced a galloping herd of Gallimimus, running through a stilled photo of an Hawaiian valley. Spielberg, astonished by the clip, proclaimed that what he had just seen was the future of special effects film-making and immediately requested that Muren go full steam ahead with his latest contribution to the industry.
Industry-altering-revelations aside, the reality of JURASSIC PARK evolving into a digital effects project was quite devastating to Tippett and the rest of his staff. This technological change, brilliant as it was, essentially rendered the stop-motion work that had been going on for months during the film's production, obsolete. However, rather than throw in the towel and secure a place in the proverbial unemployment line, Tippett and his crew stayed on the picture - at Spielberg's insistence - as their input was considered essential to making the newest method of special effects a success.
To quote Randy Dutra, JURASSIC PARK's senior animator, The reason that Steven still wanted, obviously, Phil (Tippett) involved was because he realized that his crew has information and experience that was just as important. It's just the toolbox that changed. So what was developed was the DID, or Dinosaur Input Device, which was a traditional stop-motion armature with motion encoders which would translate anything we animated into a computer model. So it bridged the gap of stop-motion animation into the digital age.
After all the running and the screaming in theaters died down, JURASSIC PARK let loose a victorious roar inspired by its $1,029,153,882 world-wide box-office total. Not too shabby, eh? Let's throw another log on the information fire by considering that the film was made using only a budget of $63 million. That's a $527,084,612 return, and just in box-office receipts alone! JURASSIC PARK was also a juggernaut in the toy, video game, apparel, and theme park markets. In fact, on June 21st, 1996, a Shoot the Chute-style ride opened at Universal Studios Hollywood. During the ride's 5:30 minute duration, passengers were invited to travel through sections of Jurassic Park via a floating jeep, with the menacing T-Rex in hot pursuit. The ride concludes with a full-on attack by the Tyrannosaurus, followed by an 84 foot drop into a bed of freezing cold water. Fun Fact: My family and I were among some the ride's first passengers during the week of its grand opening. Much of the ride appeared to be broken that day, but it was still a lot of fun.
I'm just going to lay it all on the line, right now. JURASSIC PARK is hands down one of my favorite films of all time. I'm not quite sure where the film would land on a numbered list, but you can bet that it'd be somewhere among my Top 20 personal favorites. For me, Speilberg's film shines with an over-whelming sense of majesty, an element that the Jurassic sequels (THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, JURASSIC PARK III, JURASSIC WORLD) are sorely lacking. I can still recall the pounding of my heart in the moments when the T-Rex first escaped her enclosure: that ripping twang as the cables gave way, the mud bubbling up and collecting around its mighty feet, and that deafening roar of the beast as it announced its freedom. Ugh! I'm thinking about it right now, and it's still so awesome! There's no doubt that JURASSIC PARK changed the face of effects-driven cinema, and I'm certain that it will go on to be a film that's enjoyed by generations to come. See you next time.
|Extra Tidbit:||Oh, we're not done yet., No Jurassic Park article is worth its salt if fails to mention the genius that is Weird Al Yankovich's "Jurassic Park" - a parody that spoofs Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park". Want more? Tool founder and guitarist, Adam Jones, is just one of the many effects technicians that helped bring the dinosaurs of JURASSIC PARK to life. Boom!|