Sixteen years ago today, I had a life-changing experience.
It happened on a bright summer afternoon. I was about twelve days shy of finishing third grade. There was a movie coming out, one that I had heard all about and was desperate to see as soon as I possibly could. I had been counting down the days to its release. It was all I could think about, all I could talk about. When that day finally came, I all but ran home from school and begged my father to take me to the next available showing. By this point, I’m sure he had already decided to take me; after all, why else would he have been home at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon? But to my young mind, this was still something he might say no to. After all, the film in question was rated PG-13. But much to my abundant joy, he granted my request and off we went, my best friend and neighbor in tow, to the Sunrise Mall Cinemas in Massapequa.
I remember the lines snaking through the mall into the theater. I remember sitting on the right hand side of the theater, which I don’t recall being terribly large, about a dozen rows back and a few seats in off the aisle. My dad was to my left, my fellow third-grader Lauren on my right. The theater was obviously filled. I don’t think we had snacks with us. Even back then, I had neurotic rules about consumption during movies; I refused any beverage for fear of having to pee and thus miss any of the action.
Eventually, the lights went down. There was applause and cheering from the excited crowd. No one was more excited than me.
I was nine years old and I was at an opening day screening of Jurassic Park.
I had read the Michael Crichton novel that the movie was based on (as much as any third grader can read a mass-market popular fiction paperback), so I knew the story. But nothing could prepare me for seeing it come to life. I remember kneading the armrests of my seat with each drum beat of that foreboding opening credit sequence. I remember pulling my legs up off the floor and onto my seat when the first mysterious attack began. And I remember my jaw dropping and my eyes tearing up, perfectly in sync with the actors’ reactions on screen, when twenty minutes into the film the camera panned away from the two little Jeep Wranglers and on to the sight of an enormous, living, breathing, dinosaur.
I had been one of those dinosaur kids for as long as I could remember. In fact, I’m fairly sure I was the dinosaur kid. By the time Jurassic Park was released, I had already spent untold hours on the fourth floor of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Even today, I have retained an unnerving amount of knowledge about the Mesozoic Era, and dinosaurs still fascinate me. But when I saw Jurassic Park, my world was changed forever. Before seeing the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, I wanted to be a paleontologist. After seeing them, I wanted to make movies.
I saw Jurassic Park another eight times in theaters that summer. I became obsessed with everything about the film: the cast, the crew, the score, and of course the director. I rented every Steven Spielberg film that was available (yes, this was back in the days of video stores), and watched them in our basement on our giant television, trying to replicate the movie theater experience. The man quickly became my hero. I even had his official computer game, Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair, in which the maestro himself guided you, his latest protege, through the production of your debut film for his studio.
Clearly, the film holds a special place in my heart. But let’s also acknowledge the fact that Jurassic Park is an exceedingly well-made film. It has a fascinating premise; compelling themes about the responsibility and limits of discovery; a tightly-written script populated with fully realized characters; exquisite pacing, with moments of awe-inspiring wonder, nervous humor, and terrifying suspense; and one of the greatest, most memorable scores in cinema history. Jurassic Park is also one of the most important films of all time, in that it revolutionized the special effects industry in a way no film had since the original Star Wars. Building upon the baby steps in digital animation taken by James Cameron in The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Spielberg and his team of effects wizards brought the science of computer-generated imagery to the forefront of modern filmmaking. Nothing would ever be the same. Interestingly, few uses of CGI would ever be as effective. Take a look at the scene below, one of my favorites from the film. Sure, the quality on this capture leaves something to be desired, but the interaction here between real objects (including people) and computer-generated ones is among the most convincing I’ve ever seen. Make no mistake; Jurassic Park may be a straightforward sci-fi action/adventure romp, but it changed Hollywood forever.
Jurassic Park remains my favorite film of all time. It thrilled me, it chilled me, and most of all it inspired me. It certainly wasn’t the first movie I’d seen, nor is it my earliest recollection of being in a movie theater; but it remains my most vivid and my most treasured. Jurassic Park is why I fell in love with movies. There have been other equally life-altering discoveries since that day (the first time I watched Star Wars, the first time I saw a Broadway show, and rediscovering baseball two years ago ,to name a few), but I can still point to the memory of my first glimpse of that graceful brachiosaurus and count it as one of the main reasons I pursued a career in show business. I wanted to be in the business of giving other people that sense of asbolute wonder and astonishment, of excitement and inspiration. With business currently as slow as it is, there’s no better time for me to remember why I got started in the first place. So perhaps this weekend, if I have some time between my top-secret adventures (all to be recapped here on the blog, of course, when the time is right), I’ll put Jurassic Park in the DVD player, turn off the lights, and–for the thirty-something-th time–feel like a kid again.