Jurassic Week has come to an end. Colin Trevorrow’s polarizing Jurassic World is now in theaters, and we’re about done running articles on the prehistoric franchise. To cap it all off, however, we asked our staff to drive a DayGlo-painted Ford Explorer down memory lane and share with us their stories about the first time they saw Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking 1993 blockbuster. Read along and share your own dusty adventures in the comments below.
Justin Gerber: Everything seemed so big.
I was 12 when Jurassic Park hit theaters back in the summer of 1993. I was well-versed in Spielberg, having seen the likes of Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters, and the Indy films at a very young age. Most of my experience with Spielberg had been through video rentals and purchases, with the occasional taped airing off of HBO. Jurassic Park came at a perfect time for someone who was but a few years away from diving headfirst into the world of cinema. Oui oui!
My family and I saw the movie at AMC Pleasure Island in Orlando, back when it had maybe 10 screens. It was about five years away from becoming a 24-theater behemoth and had no stadium seating (gasp!). Adult admission was $6.25. It was a different time and a wildly different era. I remember all of this because it was an unforgettable viewing experience. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time, seamlessly mixing together CGI with animatronics and puppetry. We all screamed when Newman was torn apart in his car, trembled to the surround sound of the incoming T. rex, applauded when that same T. rex saved the day. The dinos were just so big up on that screen. It’s stuck with me.
A lot of this is down to fuzzy childhood memories, but much of it has to do with the fact that Jurassic Park was a great movie then as it is a great movie now.
Don Lewis: The year was 1993, and my hometown of Petaluma, CA, was gearing up to open a brand-spanking-new, state-of-the-art multiplex. The only other movie theater in town used to have two screening rooms, but they sliced those into five screening rooms. So, yeah, not ideal viewing circumstances. Being a hip cat, always knowing the inside scoop on movies even back then, I heard a rumor that even though the theater wasn’t set to open until July, they were going to soft open and bring in the big guns with Jurassic Park when it opened in June. Coinciding with this information was the fact I was crushing hard on a girl, and I knew her dad was really excited to see the film, as was I. What could be better than a little family bonding over giant dinosaurs trying to slaughter humans?
Since I’m over 40 now (barely!), I still remember what it was like to go to big movies as a kid in a single-screen theater. You waited in a big line outside, and when you finally got into the theater, the smell of popcorn and excitement was so palpable it really felt like it hit you. Waiting in the line for an exciting new movie theater with a girl I liked, with her dad there highly impressed I knew about this sneak peak (we barely had Internet back then, don’t ask me how I found out the movie was going to play) to see a new Spielberg movie with state-of-the-art effects, well, it was really thrilling, and that in and of itself was unforgettable. I felt like a kid again even though adulthood was creeping in on me.
When we finally got inside the theater, I had little interest in looking at the swanky snack bar or the freshly carpeted lobby. I wanted Jurassic Park, and I wanted it now. Once inside the theater, we all realized there was this new thing called “stadium seating,” and thus, there was nary a bad seat in the house. We got middle section, kind of low, and the wait began.
I don’t really recall specifics of the film experience that day, but I clearly remember flipping out over just how real the dinosaurs looked. Granted, my senses were heightened from girl love and a brand-new theater, but still, the effects looked really, really real. Plus, it was nice and loud, and everyone was just stoked to be there, seeing a new movie as the first people in a movie theater that no one had ever been in. The whole night was just so awesome, and when the movie was over, we all streamed out into the warm summer night feeling exhilarated at a movie, which is the dragon all us film nerds chase.
About a month later, that girl slept with my friend at a party at my house, and about five years later, that movie theater closed, was knocked down, and a low-end department store went in. But I’ll always have that Jurassic Park memory!
Randall Colburn: I remember it was a sunny day. I remember leaves and trees. I remember being in the back of my parents’ minivan, and we were pulling out of the Anchor Bay High School parking lot. I don’t know why we were there, as I wasn’t remotely close to being in high school and didn’t go to school there, but we turned right and were off to the theater. And I went in thinking I was about to see the greatest movie ever made, and I left feeling as if I’d just seen the greatest movie ever made. I remember being in Sears a week later and seeing the book. It was an “adult book,” but my dad bought it for me anyway. It took me a long time to read it, but I read it. And I loved how bloody it was. And I started writing my own book, about a theme park on a tropical island that was filled with “monsters” (though one was a raptor). It was called Death in the Making, and it ended up being 125 pages. It was the first thing I ever wrote, and it’s the reason I’m still a writer today. So, yeah, Jurassic Park was a pretty big deal to me.
Clint Worthington: Like most pasty, white dudes in their late 20s, I have vague-but-fulfilling memories of seeing Jurassic Park with my family in a dark theater in my hometown. In my case, the place was the now-defunct Cinema 1 & 2 in Macomb, Illinois, and my intrepid film-watching entourage was my mother, father, and my cousin Kyle; I was the tender age of eight. I’m sure that I’d seen E.T. and the Indiana Jones films before, but I likely didn’t have the cognitive ability to recognize the name Steven Spielberg as someone I needed to pay attention to, or that he was doing Jurassic Park. Still, after walking out of this film, I’m certain I knew better than to ignore Spielberg ever again.
Let’s get down to some harsh truths, guys – until the helicopter trip to the island, any kid under the age of 11 was probably bored out of their mind. Sure, there was the vaguely fun horror-film opening with the velociraptor in the cage, but from there until Jeff Goldblum gives his hypnotically musical laugh (har-HAR-har-HAR), it’s all grown-ups droning at each other about starting families and giggling at shaving cream cans. Most kids consume films chiefly through visuals – a skill many of us oddly lose as we get older – and the numerous scenes of exposition and getting the film’s players to the island aren’t usually what we remember when we think back on Jurassic Park. No knock on the film, but for me, Jurassic Park didn’t truly start until that first shot of the helicopter, if not the first time my still-innocent eyes glimpsed a living, breathing brachiosaurus right on my cinema screen.
Looking back on my experience, another thing I realize is how much I miss directly relating to kids in films. I know many film fans who automatically hate child characters once they appear, just on principle. In many ways, I understand that sentiment, but I remember feeling I was right there with Tim and Lex when the T. rex assaulted their Jeep – terrified and mentally shouting at Dr. Grant to save them. In an adult context (and when less expertly done), these kinds of scenes can feel artificial and stakes-less, kid characters becoming these patronizing crutches we have to drag around and occasionally save, when we’d be perfectly happy to let the adults handle the problem. The eight-year-old me would likely disagree; Tim and Lex are crucial to the tapestry of Jurassic Park, offering kids the visceral experience of the film’s adventure and adults the chance to see these wonders through a child’s eyes, even in the midst of all this danger.
With Jurassic Park, and Spielberg in general, it’s important to reconnect with our own childlike natures. After all, the concept of Jurassic Park is based on a child’s fantasy – What if dinosaurs were real? – making it crucial that we experience its horrific follow-through through their eyes. Tim and Lex’s erstwhile attachment to the father-figure Dr. Grant is a Spielberg staple (the broken family that is created/repaired due to a fantastical crisis) we now poke fun at as adults. But as a kid? I wanted nothing more than to sit with my dad on top of a great tree and watch the brontos graze. In a lot of ways, Jurassic Park taught me that dinosaurs were freaking cool … but when the fun was over, I needed my parents to make sure I got home safe. That and a faster Jeep. Must go faster. Must go faster.
Dominick Mayer: A part of me got really, really bummed out when this question was sent out, because unlike most everyone else on the CoS film staff, I don’t have any profound memories about Jurassic Park, at least initially. See, I was a deeply cowardly child. My phobias, nearly innumerable, included Little Caesars’ Greek mascot, the cover of the Goosebumps novel The Haunted Mask, and the 30 or so seconds of The Shining that shows during Twister. This also manifested in my filmgoing; while by the age of four I already wanted to watch anything and everything, that didn’t extend to include scary movies. Jurassic Park was one such movie, and my biggest memory of it involves sitting on the floor of a family friend’s old house, watching the first big T. rex reveal sequence through my fingers, refusing to see it for fear it’d linger in memory. So I sort of half-watched Jurassic Park then, and for the next several years. Good movie, though.
Rebecca Bulnes: There are only certain details I can remember about the first time I saw Jurassic Park. I remember sinking into my blue denim couch, cowering away when musical cues told me to, trying unsuccessfully to just stay cool Rebecca when shit hit the fan. I remember trying to focus on how cool the dinosaurs looked in efforts to cancel out how scary they were. It hardly worked. But despite being scared, I clearly recall thinking about how I would handle the whole situation so much better than that damn Lex Murphy. Every time she’d scream out I’d think, No, don’t do that, that is so stupid. You are so stupid.
Obviously, as a small child, I was already turning into a real asshole.
In fact, the kids were actually my least favorite part of the movie, even though they were the ones I was supposed to relate to most. Besides the dinosaurs, there were really two things that marked a lasting emotional memory upon my first viewing: how funny I thought it was when the lawyer got eaten on the toilet and how hot Jeff Goldblum was. I felt like I had never seen anyone so cool. Those glasses and that leather jacket and that science? Oh, baby. I was developing a type. I could watch him cynically ramble about natural selection all day. I probably didn’t even understand what that meant, but it sounded sexy. This is what Jurassic Park has done to me. This is what I’m left with.
Collin Brennan: I first saw Jurassic Park at a drive-in movie theater, back when those were something more than a novelty. My parents had a strange rule about potentially terrifying movies: we could see them at the drive-in, but not at the multiplex. I guess they reasoned that there are fewer places to hide in a dark room than in the backseat of a Toyota Previa.
Memory is a fluid construct, and it’s generally not to be trusted. With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s what I remember: a stormy night, a massive parking lot, and a T. rex that literally ripped open the screen and started flipping over cars. My five-year-old mind was apparently not quite ready to distinguish between real and fake, and so I learned the hard way. The plus side is that, in my own imagination, my family and I had somehow lived through a T. rex attack. Compared to that, middle school was kind of a breeze.
Dan Caffrey: I actually hadn’t heard or seen much about Jurassic Park when my parents took my sister and me to see it on opening weekend back in 1993. I knew it had something to do with dinosaurs, which appealed to me since, as an eight-year-old, I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up. But I also had a hard time pronouncing the title, and had learned that movies I couldn’t pronounce were often boring (namely the John Boorman films Excalibur and Zardoz, both of which I love as an adult). I know it’s weird that a kid who wanted to be a paleontologist wasn’t familiar with the term “Jurassic,” but remember, most of the more famous dinos are from the Cretaceous period. But anyway.
Needless to say, I loved the film. While it would be pointless to go into why it appealed so much to the reptilian side of my kid-brain (I mean, have you seen that movie?), I will tell you it made me want to become a writer. I had loved plenty of movies before Jurassic Park, of course. But none had riveted me to the point where I wanted to tell my own stories. My family and I drove home, still high from images of vibrating water and quivering Jell-O (funny how the culinary omens of dino terror are as scary as the dinosaurs themselves), and I got right to work on my very first story.
Like any new writer, I had to imitate before I could innovate, and my tale was a straight-up rip-off of the JP universe. In my story, however, scientists created dinosaurs by surgically mutating the animals they had evolved into. Was it scientifically accurate? Of course not. In my mind, antelope had inexplicably come from gallimimuses, so the doctors captured a bunch of the beasts — mammals no less — and altered them into long-extinct thunder lizards.
I would go on to write far better pieces, and I owe every last one of them to Jurassic Park. I used to want to be a paleontologist. Ironically, it took a movie about dinosaurs to change that.
Michael Roffman: Like any latchkey, nine-year-old kid back in the ’90s, I was dead-set on seeing Jurassic Park simply because of all the commercials. Whether it was for action figures, McDonald’s promotions, or the actual TV spots, I was hooked and obsessed and convinced I’d be the first to see it. (Though, I have a vague memory of witnessing the amber teaser in theaters a year prior, but who knows.) When the film actually hit theaters — so, June 11, 1993 — I was just finishing school and heading down to live with my father for the summer in Miami, Florida. I begged for us to go on Friday night, but he had worked late, and he had just driven me and my three-year-old brother all the way down from Ft. Lauderdale. “We’ll go tomorrow, Mike,” he assured, sounding exhausted. So, I went to the kitchen, grabbed The Miami Herald, and circled the time and place to see it: noon at AMC Bakery Center.
Here’s the thing you forget nowadays. You couldn’t just go online and buy tickets. So, we ate breakfast, drove over to the theater, and, well, you could imagine the chaos: every showing was sold out. Hell, you couldn’t even get tickets for Sunday. Knowing that he had work on Monday, I sort of panicked, which is actually an understatement. “How do we see it?” I asked. My brother also started getting excited, even if he had no clue what the hell was going on. My poor dad, though: Here he wanted to spend his first summer weekend with his kids, and now he had to race around finding tickets for some dinosaur movie. Luckily, he was resourceful enough to remember the Loew’s Riviera, this hole-in-the-wall cinema down the street. Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a better theater. It was so vintage and so ornate, complete with burgundy finishing inside the theater walls. And to our surprise, they had tickets still available, but only for the next showing, which was just starting.
In a hurry, my father found a few spots toward the front of the dark theater and went back out to grab sodas and popcorn. (Even now, he can’t enjoy the movie theaters without soda and popcorn. It’s like innate behavior or something.) Still, my brother and I were pretty young, so when the John Williams score started pounding and the truck began unloading the crate holding the Velociraptor, I felt a little tense. I kept watching the door, hoping he’d come back. A part of me didn’t want him to miss it; the other part of me was a little scared. That’s when I noticed all of the people: There wasn’t a vacant seat in the house, and there were even people sitting in the aisles, which meant the screening was likely oversold. All at once, screams filled the room, hands were up in the air, and my father came running in. He passed the popcorn and sodas to us just as Muldoon started screaming, “Shoot her! Shoot her!” I was relieved. I was elated. I was then glued to the screen.
After the movie, I couldn’t move from my seat. I watched all of the credits in a daze, hoping it would continue and that the helicopter would bring everyone back for a new adventure. Instead, the theater lights came on, and my father surprised us with coloring books he had found in the lobby. Thrilled and bewildered, we walked out of the theater and shuffled past a long line that had formed in the lobby, teeming with excited fans ravenous to experience the film themselves. An older woman and her son asked me how it was, and while I don’t remember what I said exactly, it was probably something to the effect of: “Oh, it’s my favorite movie ever!” Because really, at that moment, it was my favorite film, and I would go on to see it again in theaters 10 or 12 more times, both with friends and family. Yet never once did the film get old. In fact, later that summer, I snuck out of Free Willy during a field trip just to watch it again. My counselors loved that.
Out of all those experiences, nothing meant more to me than that first screening, and admittedly, a lot of that had to do with not knowing what I was going to see. But mostly, it went back to what I felt in those first few minutes, when apparently all I really wanted in the world was to see Jurassic Park with my father. The simple things, where’d they go?