Hasitha Fernando revisits Jurassic Park as it receives a 30th anniversary re-release…
How does one begin to talk about one of the most iconic films of all time? The quintessential blockbuster movie of the last few decades, Jurassic Park’s impact on pop-culture and the film industry in general is something that cannot be simply summed up in a few words. However, with its 30th anniversary, there is a need to honor the astounding legacy left by this trendsetting box-office juggernaut, and after going through a fair share of documentaries, behind-the-scene footage and other source material we have compiled a list of interesting facts from the legendary flick for your reading pleasure…
Universal Studios acquired the rights to Jurassic Park when it was an unpublished manuscript
Yep. You’ve read that correctly. An actual bidding war between multiple studios took place to acquire writer Michael Crichton’s unpublished manuscript. Warner Bros. and Tim Burton, Colombia Pictures and Richard Donner as well as 20th Century Fox and Joe Dante put their hat into the ring to bid the rights. Spielberg got to hear about it when he and Crichton were discussing the script for what would later become the award-winning television drama ER in the fall of 1989. Drawn to the groundbreaking material and how it offered “a really credible look at how dinosaurs might someday be brought back to life alongside modern mankind”, Spielberg took part in the highly competitive bidding process and eventually won the rights for the IP with the assistance of Universal Studios for a whopping $ 1.5 million.
The script underwent multiple revisions until Spielberg was satisfied
Like any movie that goes into production the script of Jurassic Park underwent multiple revisions until the director and producers were happy. The original novel penned by Crichton was a dark techno-thriller aimed at an adult readership, but for his feature film adaptation Spielberg wanted to go for a more family friendly affair in order to appeal to a broader audience. With this in mind the visionary filmmaker persuaded Universal to hire Crichton to adapt his own novel, and the script turned in by him had only 10 to 20 percent of the original source material’s content. At Spielberg’s request the violence in the book was toned down dramatically but also trimmed were certain scenes for budgetary reasons.
Hook scribe Malia Scotch Marmo began a five-month rewrite of Crichton’s draft but it was the contribution by up-and-coming screen writer David Koepp that brought in the humor and alterations in characters that we all know and love. For example, in the book John Hammond was a ruthless, gutter mouth venture capitalist but in the film, he was depicted as a mild-mannered entrepreneur. Ian Malcolm’s hilarious flirtations with Dr. Ellie Sattler, as well as, Lex and Tim’s character swap were other notable changes included in Koepp’s script revision.
A test footage video changed the course of history
When we talk of Jurassic Park three decades later, one of the key aspects that still gets highlighted is the mind-boggling visual effects showcased in the movie. However, computer generated imagery or CGI weren’t Spielberg’s go to choice for bringing extinct animals back to life, during the early stages of the film’s production. Spielberg was of the opinion that the way forward should be a combination of effect modalities – using animatronics and puppetry for close ups and go motion for wide shots. The best of the best in the industry were assembled to achieve the ambitious task and they included – Stan Winston to create the animatronics, Phil Tippett to craft the go motion dinos, Michael Lantieri to supervise the on-set special effects and Denis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to head the digital compositing.
All was proceeding according to plan but where Spielberg & company hit a proverbial snag was with achieving a ‘realistic motion blur’ for the dinos movement through go motion. It was at this moment, when all ideas had been exhausted, that Muren and his team volunteered to create a simple animatic – first of a walk cycle of a T-Rex and then of a T-Rex chasing a herd of Gallimimus – and the rest, as they say, is history. Spielberg was so impressed with what he saw it prompted him to say, “You’re out of a job”, to a dumbfounded Tippett who in turn responded, “Don’t you mean extinct?” This particular exchange was later included in the movie during the conversation between Grant and Malcolm at the beginning, by Spielberg as a nod to the historic moment.
Casting the key players was no walk in the park
Being the perfectionist that he is, Spielberg took his time in casting the key players for his movie. But of course, in certain instances, like in the case of Laura Dern where she was the director’s first choice, the process didn’t take much time at all. Actresses Robin Wright Penn and Juliette Binoche were considered, but Spielberg had his eyes set on Dern from the get-go. Jim Carrey auditioned for the role of flirty chaotician Ian Malcolm, but once Spielberg and compnay saw Jeff Goldblum, they knew that was the guy they were looking for. Before character actor Sam Neill was offered paleontologist Alan Grant’s role, both William Hurt and Harrison Ford were taken into consideration, but none were interested so Neill nabbed the part and became part of the Jurassic Park legacy.
Production was hampered greatly by inclement weather
After nearly two-years’ worth of pre-production Jurassic Park began filming on August 24, 1992 at Kaua’i one of the islands of Hawaii. However, a mere two weeks later on September 11 the set was hit by Hurricane Iniki, one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit Hawaii in its recorded history. The hurricane completely destroyed a set that was meant be used for a lengthy death scene involving Samuel L. Jackson’s character by Raptors. To sidestep this inconvenience the sequence was completely rewritten so that the death in question took place offscreen. The biblical proportion and ferocity of the storm can be seen in the movie, as some of the storm scenes were actual footage of the hurricane that were recorded by the crew.
An iconic scene in the movie was inspired by an 80s band
The source of inspiration for the iconic ‘ripple in the glass of water’ scene featured in Jurassic Park, was actually an unusual one. It happened one fine day when Spielberg was in his car listening to some music from the band Earth, Wind and Fire. The bass rhythm of one the band’s songs and the vibration it made in the car got Spielberg’s creative cogs working, and the talented auteur decided to replicate a similar effect to function as a preamble to T-Rex’s memorable entrance. Of course, achieving this proved to be a challenge for Michael Lantieri until he thought of placing a glass of water on a guitar he was playing, which achieved the desired effect Spielberg was looking for.
The animatronic dino posed some challenges
The dinos of Jurassic Park were brought to life using a combination of techniques and animatronics was one such method. Designed and built by Stan Winston studios, the group had their work cut out for them but nothing quite prepared them for the woes that came with the film’s physical shoot, chief of which concerned the T-Rex animatronic. Although its endoskeleton was a solid, metallic structure the surface was composed of textured foam rubber which absorbed water like a sponge, leading to malfunctions in the animatronic dino. And since the entire T-Rex SUV attack was set in the rain this proved to be problematic. To counter the issue, Stan Winston’s crew worked around the clock in between takes to dry the model with shammys.
The dinosaurs take up only a small fraction of the film’s runtime
Although Jurassic Park got famous because of its onscreen dinos, they are only featured in the movie for roughly 15 minutes of the film’s mammoth 127-minute runtime. And out of those 15 minutes, the CGI animated dinos courtesy of ILM are featured for only a mere 6 minutes, while the rest are taken up by Stan Winston’s animatronic wizardry.
Spielberg was pulling double shifts while filming Jurassic Park
Spielberg is well-known in Hollywood for being the one of the most time-efficient filmmakers out there, often wrapping production way ahead of schedule and Jurassic Park was no different. However, that year was different because during the post-production period of Jurassic Park Spielberg started shooting his magnum opus – Schindler’s List. To say Spielberg singlehandedly dominated the following year’s Academy Award ceremony would be fairly accurate, since both Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park ended up sharing a staggering ten Oscar awards between them!
The teaser trailer features no footage from the movie
That’s right. The original Jurassic Park teaser trailer featured absolutely no footage from Spielberg’s film. Releasing such a minimalist first trailer for such an ambitious, high-brow concept feature would be simply unheard of nowadays, but it was a calculated risk that did what it was supposed to do brilliantly – tease the audience.
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Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.