How Spielberg’s 1993 masterpiece reshaped pop-filmmaking as we know it.
There’s a reason the name Spielberg is a synonym to blockbusters. The term was coined in the mid-70’s to describe the blazing success of films like Jaws, and his buddy Lucas’ Star Wars. While none of Spielberg’s films had quite the zeitgeist re-writing influence Star Wars had, the consistency of his hits and quality levels speak for themselves. From 1975-98, no director dominated the discussion of popular films that also advanced the art form as Spielberg did.
Many modern films mimic Spielberg’s accomplishments for scenes, techniques and inspiration. However, Jurassic Park is the Spielberg film whose DNA flows most strongly through the current blockbuster eco-system. Let’s take a look at some of the ways its true and why.
Jurassic Park helped create the mindset of media having a built-in audience
Jurassic Park made $914 million worldwide in its first theatrical run. It was both the highest grossing film of 1993 and of all time at that point. Every producer in Hollywood wanted to reverse-engineer the secrets of its success. One result was the intensified use of the New York Times best-seller list as a kind of hunting ground for possible films.
We can thank Park, and John Grisham, for Life of Pie being a movie. They also encouraged a mindset amongst producers that built-in audiences are necessary if you want your film to make money. Jurassic Park and other successful adaptations helped lead to the comic book wave we are experiencing now.
Jurassic Park set milestones for special effects and movie budgets
Everyone agrees that Jurassic Park was and still is a towering achievement in the realm of special effects. Spielberg used a combination of Stan Winston’s brilliant creature shop and ILM’s then cutting edge computer animation to give us dinosaurs that felt real, and scary.
This allowed for films to bring to life ever more outlandish creatures convincingly. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, post 1999 Star Wars movies, and even Marvel movies owe them a debt.
In fact, the computer effects in 2013’s The Great Gatsby looked significantly poor compared to what Park managed in 1993. This shows the degree Spielberg’s classic is still a high-water mark for quality effects work.
No expense was spared in bringing the concept of the Dinosaur theme park to life. Jurassic Park budget was $63 million. It was the second most expensive film that came out in 1993. It cost 131% more than The Fugitive, the third most expensive film of 1993. That’s also almost double the 32.5 million Lucas had spent on Return of the Jedi 10 years earlier.
This wasn’t completely unprecedented. Terminator 2 had cost $100 million. However, Spielberg’s record-breaking success helped prove that films at that budget level could dominate the popular movie-going conversation. Taken together, these two movies caused the budgets of competing blockbusters to take on the qualities of an arms race. This year, Disney spent $321 million on Avengers: Infinity War. Almost 10 times what was spent on Jedi.
Jurassic Park’s pacing still works
I watch and re-watch a lot of old movies. I love them. However, some of them can feel a slack in the build-up to their iconic moments. This is especially true compared to stopwatch regulated modern Hollywood films.
That’s absolutely not true with Jurassic Park. It stages its first raptor attack within the first three and a half minutes. While it does spend nearly half the rest of the movie building to the next big set piece, every single conversation or event has a purpose. Park allows the characters to debate the movie’s themes, interact, and give them moments of awe at beholding living dinosaurs.
After that, the film becomes a non-stop set-piece set up and detonation expert. Five years ago, I screened Jurassic Park for an English corner for teenagers. I carefully watched them, curious to see how the then 20-year-old film played for their 13-year-old eyes. I tell you it played like gangbusters. Their attention was caught right away. None of them got bored before the first T-Rex attack. A girl taller than me jumped in her seat when the raptor’s try to catch Grant and the children in the air vents. They really enjoyed it, and I could tell that Jurassic Park still “worked” for them.
Jurassic Park is still a lucrative franchise
Like the dinosaur’s re-animated by reckless science, the Jurassic Park franchise came roaring back to life in 2015, to smashing success. It is both an influential original, and it spawned a franchise that’s currently relevant. People who were kids when the first two Jurassic Park movies came out are now old enough to have watched it with their children, and or to re-watch it through nostalgic eyes. The first five have collectively made nearly $5 billion dollars. A 6th and possibly final one is scheduled to be released in 2021.
To this day, multi-million dollar blockbusters hope to become phenomena to the same degree as Jurassic Park did in 1993. Some movies, like The Dark Knight, and The Avengers, actually get there.
With hindsight, we can see that Jurassic Park was the last great escapist Spielberg blockbuster. While he has since continued to produce entertaining films, none of them were as big a hit, as deliriously entertaining, or changed the Hollywood echo-system to the extent that Jurassic Park did.
It was the culmination of all of his crowd-pleasing instincts. It was one of two masterpieces that Spielberg released in 1993. The other one was Schindler’s List.