Steven Spielberg's 1993 film transforms us all into awed six-year-olds, says Rebecca Hawkes
Is Jurassic Park the scariest, most exciting, most amazing film ever? While the rational answer is no, it probably isn’t, there’s something about Steven Spielberg’s adventure movie – especially, I suspect, for those of us who first saw it as children – that transforms us all into awed six-year-olds.
The film's technically magnificent, still impressive dinosaurs demand the superlatives preferred by children: biggest. Coolest. Scaliest. Sharpest. Hungriest. Pausing to analyse or reflect feels futile; it’s easier to just sit back and let the spectacle swallow you whole.
Jurassic Park, in fact, is very much a film about the act of looking. Before we see the Brachiosaurus, we see the expression of wonder on the face of Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) as he spots the herd. A frozen stare of horror pre-empts the reveal of a lurking Velociraptor. Because of this, it’s impossible not to be pulled in: we’re looking with the characters, seeing what they see, and trembling as they tremble.
Spielberg (in contrast to Colin Trevorrow, director of the more flamboyant 2015 sequel Jurassic World) also isn’t afraid to take a slow approach. After the dramatic opening shots, the first part of the film is restrained, taking time to craft the plot, teasing the appearance of the first dinosaurs until the audience is practically aching to see them. A similarly effective restraint heralds the arrival of the T-Rex. I suspect I’m not alone in having a love affair with scary films that can be traced back to a quivering glass of water, steady, thumping footsteps and a disappearing goat.
Those who sneer at the simplicity of the storyline – a basic “don’t mess with nature” parable, during which Dr Grant discovers his latent ability to act as a father figure – are missing the point. Jurassic Park is all about the big emotions: awe and terror, excitement and wonder. It feels very much like a big-screen film, even when watched on TV – and the 2013 3D release demonstrated that it had lost none of its potential to wow cinema audiences. The visual effects (groundbreaking in their day) still hold up remarkably well, and the performances are timeless.
Richard Attenborough, who died in 2014, will be remembered for many reasons – but, to a certain generation he will always be John Hammond, the man who dreamt of a dinosaur theme park.