Columns Film/TV

Jurassic Spark: The long and enduring legacy of Steven Spielberg’s dinofest

There's more to "Jurassic Park" than dinosaurs chomping on humans.

In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Claire Dearing — the doomed theme park’s former manager — asks “do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” 

I do. 

It was a Saturday night, I was six years old, and my parents had just purchased a VHS copy of the film. The cassette gets loaded into the player, and within seconds, I soon found myself transported to the lush jungle-filled island paradise of Isla Nublar.

The movie doesn’t show its dinosaurs right away — there’s a quick peek at a partially-obscured scaly face here, a flash of tooth and claw there — so when its glorious take on the prehistoric wildlife make their full appearance, the effect is nothing short of powerful: my heart leapt when Dr. Alan Grant and company first saw the brachiosaurus and the duckbills; I felt a genuine sense of awe when they got a behind-the-scenes look at the creatures’ creation; and yes, I screamed my lungs out the moment all hell broke loose.  

Rexy and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) face off in a still from ‘Jurassic Park’ | IMAGE via AMBLIN ENTERTAINMENT, UNIVERSAL PICTURES

By the time the film ended — a moment ushered by a clip of a Tyrannosaur roaring triumphantly with a banner reading “when dinosaurs ruled the Earth” draped across the frame — I was a changed person. 

At the risk of sounding like a hyperactive kid on a sugar-induced playground stupor, yes, Jurassic Park turned me into a full-blown dinosaur nut. 

I’ve known about dinosaurs even before that, of course — our shelves were filled with encyclopedias and back issues of National Geographic magazines, all of which featured entries and stories about those giants of old, not to mention the VHS tapes of The Land Before Time series that we had growing up — but watching those creatures come to life onscreen took everything to a whole other level: not only would I end up asking my aunts and uncles for dinosaur-related books and toys, I would also find myself memorizing and making mental catalogues of dinosaur species and the respective time periods they come from. I eventually put those mental catalogues to good use during a particular rage-filled internet debate regarding the scientific accuracy of the film’s Velociraptors, but I digress.

A pop culture phenomenon in every sense of the word, Jurassic Park — the live-action adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 1990 horror / sci-fi novel of the same name — famously went on to garner praise from readers and critics alike, with long-time New York Times film critic Janet Maslin calling the film “a true movie milestone, presenting awe- and fear-inspiring sights never before seen on the screen.” Esteemed British film magazine Empire even hailed it  as “quite simply one of the greatest blockbusters of all time.”

Not bad for a monster movie whose prehistoric monsters only appear for a grand total of 15 minutes.

Two of the island’s resident raptors sniff out Tim (Joseph Mazzello) in a still from ‘Jurassic Park’ | IMAGE via AMBLIN ENTERTAINMENT, UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Fast forward to 2019 and the same can be said for Battle At Big Rock — an 8-minute-long short film that sees a world transformed by the events of last year’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Emily Carmichael, Battle At Big Rock follows a young family — played by Andre Holland, Natalie Martinez and Melody Hurd — as they attempt to survive a trip marred by the violent intrusion of an Allosaurus and a Nasutoceratops.

The short film, which functions as a teaser of sorts for the upcoming third sequel in the Jurassic World franchise, earned enthusiasm from fans, as well as approval from critics who saw it not just as a welcome addition to the series’ established canon, but also as a return to form for the entire Jurassic Park series as a whole, considering the heavy-handedness and clunky storytelling the previous installments have become steeped in.

Stuart Heritage of The Guardian even called it “…by far the best in the [Jurassic World] series.” He’s not wrong.

Andre Holland and Natalie Martinez appear in a still from ‘Battle At Big Rock’ | IMAGE via AMBLIN ENTERTAINMENT, UNIVERSAL PICTURES

One can argue with me about this the whole day but  for all its massive set pieces and penchant for spectacle, the best thing about the original Jurassic Park movie was its heart. Yes, it was one smart and cerebral monster flick but it was never condescending towards its audience. Instead of bearing down on us with its smarts, it invited our empathy, it helped us understand others, it made us feel the characters’ fears, it made us work out all these ideas and theories, it made us think about the ethics and morals surrounding science and technology, it made us ponder on the effects of humanity’s hubris. Battle At Big Rock does that as well, by effectively tempering moments of pure horror with humanity: it makes us connect with the characters on a deeply emotional level, its dinosaur attacks — one scene is in fact, a direct callback to the original film  — fill us with a palpable and visceral sense of fear and tension, and its mid-credits scenes successfully makes us ask questions regarding humanity’s place within a new world order.

I watched the original Jurassic Park right after seeing Battle At Big Rock and to nobody’s surprise, Spielberg’s dinosaur-filled smash of a monster movie still feels fresh and riveting, 20 years after I first watched it that Saturday night: I still felt a sense of wonder during the visitor’s initial entry into the park; the T-Rex paddock scene still scared the living bejesus out of me; and yes, I still felt an overwhelming sense of dread during the raptor hunt. I loved it.

Awards and a killer box office take aside, Jurassic Park’s biggest success would have to be the fact that it introduced an entire generation of kids to well-written science fiction, and that it spurred in them an interest in science and its practical applications — a Jurassic Spark, if you will. 

If Trevorrow and Carmichael’s Battle At Big Rock is to be taken as any indication as to where Jurassic World III  is going, then we can all rest easy: the Jurassic Spark is safe, and it’s not going to go out anytime soon.

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