Growing Up Jurassic
Do you remember the first time you saw Jurassic Park? For many, it’s a defining moment, like your first kiss or your first time on a rollercoaster, a moment of true importance, a moment you’ll never forget. This is my story of such a moment.
I was at the YMCA, looking at a local paper, The Western Star. Peering at the film page, this image caught my eye of three characters, one adult and two kids, whose names I’d soon learn and never forget, Dr. Alan Grant, Lex, and Tim. But there was a fourth character, the most important character, a Brachiosaurus.
Captured in this still was a moment of pure wonder. The Brachiosaurus had a gentle presence. The characters, small enough to be snack food to this colossal creature, weren’t afraid. Each face captured a look of pure joy and everyone, including the adult, had a smile as wide as the Brachiosaur’s.
I could hear my father talking about the controversy surrounding the film, how parents were complaining because it was frightening their children. My eyes went back to the image, to the friendly dinosaur. Could this really be scary?
I should tell you, at this time, on June 11, 1993, I didn’t know what Jurassic Park was and what I did know came from the decorations at McDonald’s, advertising their “Jurassic Park Extra Value Meal,” Happy Meal toys, and souvenir cups. I knew it had a tribal vibe —I could sense as much from the jungle trees, torches, and large monolithic gate — and I knew it had dinosaurs. The rest of Jurassic Park was a mystery, an alluring mystery.
I was nervous, but struck with anticipation as I soon discovered we were ditching the Y, heading straight to the movies.
The Colony Square theater was a small establishment located in a trenched portion of a bland shopping center connecting an Odd Lots and a Kroger. It only had two screens, eventually upgraded to seven. Walking in, you could smell the buttery aroma of slightly burnt popcorn. The ticket desk was to the immediate left, while the snacks and auditoriums were on the right.
But none of this existed at the moment. Framed above me and catching my eye was the Jurassic Park poster. It’s a simple design, a bright yellow and red logo set against a pure black background. How could your eyes not be drawn to it?
The more you look at it, the more interesting it gets. The red circle at first brings to mind a sunset silhouetting the palm trees as the dinosaur roams the island, representing the film’s more majestic moments. But like a “blood moon,” the color red inspires a foreboding sense of dread, conveying the suspenseful, dangerous tone of the film’s later acts. But at the time, I just thought it was a cool poster!
We entered the auditorium in the far right. The floor was flat, the chairs were spine-crunchers that squeaked like dying squirrels, and the room was crowded, with nearly every seat occupied by children and adults alike. Was it really going to be scary, I asked myself again. I learned the answer quicker than you can clock a T-Rex’s speed.
Edited by Michael Kahn, the opening death sequence is fast-paced, brutal, highly erratic. I spent most of the scene with my eye closed. Suffice to say, Jurassic Park was scary, but I didn’t let that scariness push me away. In fact, it kept me in the theater.
Jurassic Park was a “coming of age” experience for me. Being around 8 years old, I can 100% confirm that I did not watch a single scary frame of my showing of Jurassic Park. In fact, I spent much of the film’s central T-Rex sequence with my eyes facing the sticky, candy-stained floor. At one point, I heard a burst of laughter from the entire audience. What were they laughing at? Come to find out, the lawyer, the poor sap, had been attacked while on the pot.
This sat with me. I knew it was time to face my fears, to stare into that cold, dark abyss, to watch a man get eaten on the toilet.
So I saw it again, and again, and again, each time braving more and more of Jurassic Park’s scariness, face up, handsfree. But it wasn’t just the shocks and frights that kept me coming for more.
There was something magical about the Jurassic Park experience. For us kids, it sparked our imaginations. We were drawing dinosaurs instead of paying attention in class, going to our friend’s house, acting out our very own Jurassic Park sequel. Of course, there were the video games, toys, and trading cards helping to fuel that inner spark. But there was something more.
These prehistoric creatures were everywhere in 1993. The Land Before Time, Was Not Was, an ABC sitcom, we had seen many dinosaurs, but we hadn’t really seen a dinosaur until Jurassic Park. So when John Hammond, that great showman, is introducing us to our first dinosaur, we were floored. As the Brachiosaurus towers over the characters, their mouths agape, we are right there with them, wide-eyed and jaws dropped, staring in awe. The skin, the texture, the way it moved, it looked real, it felt real. To us, it was real.
Adding to the magic was a winning mixture of suspenseful chase sequences, engaging scientific debates, memorable character interactions and quips, topped off by John Williams’ unforgettable score.
Jurassic Park had an obsessive hold on me. Wherever I was, whether it be the grocery store, the classroom, the lobby at the Cincinnati Museum Center, or little league baseball practice, all I think was, I have to see Jurassic Park again. That feeling never went away.
Film studios, publishers, and toy makers were more than happy to capitalize on that feeling and soon after, we were bombarded with, you got it, more dinosaurs! Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment quickly served us a number of dino-themed follows up, including We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, The Flintstones movie, and a sequel to The Land Before Time, the first of many. Our appetite was also fed by the Dinozords of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a short-lived animated series titled Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, and a number of cheaply made, direct to video movies, including Carnosaur, three Prehysteria! films, and a buddy cop romp starring Whoopi Goldberg, called Theodore Rex.
A number of these appetizers briefly held our attention, but apart from Power Rangers, a phenomenon in its own right, none of them held a candle to the main dish. In the coming years, Jurassic Park’s popularity didn’t waver, it still had its grip on us.
When it wasn’t the toys, when it wasn’t the video games, when it wasn’t the movie, it was the sequel. What would it be? What dinosaurs will we see? We were dying to find out. When The Lost World: Jurassic Park came out in 1997, it was good in its own right, as were its marketing and toys. But still that feeling lingered, the one that never goes away, the one I never want to go away.
Sequels followed, time passed, and I got older, but to this day, the Jurassic Park franchise is thriving as ever. That’s a beautiful thing. Soon the latest sequel will be upon us. I’m ready to hop in that theater, to see what new things it has to offer. In the meantime, I have a temptation I refuse to ignore. Steven Spielberg, that great showman, has created a world of thrills and entertainment, where the oldest wonders of the world are now the latest wonders of the world, and it’s calling me. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me, I have to see Jurassic Park again.