Released in theaters 25 years ago on June 11, 1993, Jurassic Park smashed box office records. That it was such a big hit was no surprise to most involved; Universal Studios outbid numerous studios and producers to win adaptation rights to Michael Crichton’s novel before it had even been finished. That Steven Spielberg was attached also made it a safe bet. For Spielberg, this was returning to familiar territory, as an opportunity to revisit Jaws but on land. This meant that while it’s more sci-fi adventure, there are also a lot of horror elements that lends to a tense thrill-ride that helped solidify Jurassic Park as an enduring classic that no sequel has quite been able to match.
Crichton adapted his own novel, toning down some of the gore and violence, and David Koepp (Death Becomes Her) reworked the script further. Having just completed Hook, Spielberg fulfilled a promise to cast young actor Joseph Mazzello in a future project, who had screen-tested for Hook but was considered too young at the time; he cast Mazzello as Tim in Jurassic Park. Casting Mazzello led to changing the role of Lex to an older sister, rather than younger, and making her the computer whiz kid. Ariana Richards was then cast based on her impressive screaming ability. Harrison Ford was offered the role of Dr. Alan Grant, but he felt it didn’t suit him so he turned it down. Sam Neill, who hadn’t read the book or knew anything about the project, was cast just a few weeks prior to shooting. A large part of what makes Jurassic Park so great is its cast; from Neill, to the kids, to Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm and Laura Dern as the ever-endearing fan favorite Ellie.
Ironically, the biggest draw of the film, the dinosaurs, wound up only featured in roughly 15 minutes of actual dinosaur footage. Even still, what an impact those few scenes made. Spielberg assembled an all-star roster of special effects masters to create the dinosaurs; Stan Winston and his team built and operated the animatronic dinosaurs, Phil Tippett created Go Motion dinosaurs, Michael Lantieri handled the interactive elements on set with the dinosaurs, and Dennis Muren lead the Industrial Light and Magic team to handle the digital compositing. Jurassic Park holds up well for its use of practical effects, but it was also groundbreaking for its use of CG. The CG dinosaurs make up about 6 minutes of those 15 on screen dino minutes, and it can be difficult to tell.
Aside from the groundbreaking special effects, and the innovative way the dinosaurs moved, Spielberg once again demonstrated his uncanny ability to craft nail-biting suspense with the film’s more predatory dinosaurs. The Velociraptor became a household name after the film’s release, thanks to some terrifying scenes that featured the surprise scene-stealing dinos. Jurassic Park may not be outwardly considered horror, but it consistently has featured on “scariest movie of all time” lists by critics associations and film institutes. The scene in which Lex and Tim are slowly stalked by a pair of raptors in the kitchen continues to be cited as one of cinema’s scariest movie moments.
Jurassic Park’s legacy didn’t just bring dinosaurs back to the forefront of pop culture. Beyond the sequels, merchandising, and theme park attractions, Spielberg’s movie completely revolutionized film. It had a major impact on computer-generated effects. Subsequently, it inspired George Lucas to start on the Star Wars prequels (for better or worse), Stan Winston to join with James Cameron to form new special effects company Digital Domain, and Peter Jackson to get in touch with his inner child to eventually bring The Lord of the Rings trilogy to life.
From the quotable dialogue, the characters brought to life by its talented cast, composer John Williams earworm score that instantly invokes fond memories of the film, the overall sense of wonderment, and of course, the dinosaurs, Jurassic Park remains an all-time highlight of Spielberg’s impressive career. Here’s to 25 more years in Jurassic Park.