Tuesday, April 2, 2013

R.L. Shaffer: On seeing Jurassic Park 20 years ago...

This is the second of a handful of essays regarding your first (and second and/or third) viewing of
Jurassic Park twenty summers ago, as we brace ourselves for the film's 3D IMAX rerelease this Friday.  I'm sure every single one of my readers has such a memory so feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Memories of Jurassic Park:

By R.L Shaffer

I was a mere 12 years old when I first visited Jurassic Park.

From the very first teaser (seen above) I was hooked. As a self-professed lover of dinosaurs (or dino-sars as Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm pronounced it), it would be my duty to see any film about these mysterious creatures. I didn't know what I was going to get, either, but if director Steven Spielberg was going to take me there, I was more than willing to enjoy the ride.

It’s hard for me to think about Jurassic Park without remembering the film’s competition, the underrated action flick, Last Action Hero. For some reason my cousin and I ended up choosing sides as to which film would be the big hit of the summer. I picked Jurassic Park. He picked Last Action Hero. It started innocently, but quickly escalated. And like the HD DVD vs. Blu-ray debate of yor, we endlessly discussed and sometimes even argued our points, right down to which fast food restaurant (commercials below) got the rights to promote which film, and what that meant for the ultimate box office. For the record, Last Action Hero’s promotion sported some nifty cups. I still wish I had one, though I imagine it would be all gross and sticky by now, decaying from years of sugar abuse.

Obviously, we all know how the competition between these films turned out. Last Action Hero opened one week after Jurassic Park and under-performed, tucked deeply under the shadow of Spielberg’s latest hit. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, would quickly become a worldwide box office sensation, adored by children and adults alike, spawning two sequels, a 3D re-release that’s upon us now and a fourth chapter on the way.

I can’t really remember the first time I saw Jurassic Park. It was all a blur. I believe I saw the film with my mother and a few friends. It was the last day of school and my sixth grade class was going to take a day trip to Sea World Ohio. Mother nature, purportedly a fan of Jurassic Park, decided otherwise. A torrential storm broke out, not unlike the one you see in the film, and the trip was quickly cancelled before we even got on the road. The kids were sent home with their parents and my mother took me and a few friends to see Jurassic Park.

The rest is gone.

I can’t remember what the theater looked like, what it smelled like, how full it was or what my reactions were to what I had just seen. All I can remember was my unholy obsession with the film for the rest of the summer. I read Michael Crichton’s book several times. I read movie magazines that focused on the film. I played the games. I read junior novels, activity books, comics - you name it. If there was a Jurassic Park logo on it, I probably had it. I couldn't get enough of the film. I saw it three or four times in the theater that summer, at least, always sharing the experience with new friends.

Alas, my cousin, still bitter over the upset of Last Action Hero, decided to skip out on Jurassic Park. He was a stubborn brute and wasn't going to contribute to that film making any more money. He saw Last Action Hero two or three times instead. A noble effort for a solid early meta action film. But it just wasn't Last Action Hero’s time. That time would come later, as fans (like myself) would discover the film on home video and transform the Schwarzenegger yarn into a bona fide cult hit.

Believe it or not, Jurassic Park actually ran in theaters for two summers. There was the original June 1993 run, and some theaters were still playing the picture the following summer, ahead of it’s early fall 1994 VHS release. Finally, after many attempts, I wore my cousin down and got him to see Jurassic Park during this run.

This was the Jurassic Park experience I truly cherish. It was as if my mind had fogged out the other memories just so I could recall this one, and only this one. It was as if I was meant to experience the film with my cousin. After all, I knew he would love the film. And he did.

We walked in and immediately saw that the theater was empty. We waited for other patrons to arrive, but they never did. It was just us. The film started and the sounds echoed off the walls through the empty theater adding a disturbing chill to every thrilling sequence. I felt like the world had ended and we were the last people on Earth to watch Jurassic Park on the big screen. And what an experience it was!

We initially sat in the center of the theater, for the optimum DTS surround sound experience. After the opening moments of the film, I suggested we make our way down to the first row. We opted to lay on the floor. After all, why not? The place was empty. It was our theater. Our rules, tacky floor be damned. So there we laid, tucked beneath the mammoth silver screen, munching on buttery popcorn and sweet soda while enjoying the frights, fun and science fiction of Jurassic Park.

My cousin was marveled by the film, and almost ashamed he had missed it the summer of 1993. It’s almost ironic that he got to see the film in a similar fashion to how Danny Madigan got to experience Jack Slater IV in Last Action Hero. Alas, no raptors jumped out of the screen, though sitting that close it seemed like they would. And now in 3D, they just might.

Afterward my cousin apologized. It was probably the first argument or debate I recalled winning, but it was a bittersweet victory. Sadly, he has not watched Last Action Hero since theaters. He feels scorned by the film, which is a shame. Today, he is a Jurassic Park man, and he’s looking forward to taking his children to see the film in theaters on April 5th. I can only hope he’ll sit down in the front row and relive those fond memories while creating new ones with his kids.

1 comment:

Brandon Peters said...

Speaking of watching "everything dinosaur"...did you ever check out the straight-to-video (i'm not sure any ran theatrically) series Carnosaur? I feel now I should revisit those haha.

Jurassic Park also got me to not only read it, but Sphere and Congo as well.


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