On an island one hundred and twenty miles off the coast of Costa Rica, there is a new project being completed, but quite how safe it is will be another matter as one of the workers has already been killed. Not that the world at large is aware of that, and the director of the business involved, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), has kept it quiet for his own financial reasons; he's not about to tell paleontologists Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his partner Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) about it either. That's because he wants their opinion, or rather he wants their blessing - for Jurassic Park.
For a while until Titanic happened along, this was the most successful movie of all time, and though those figures were not adjusted for inflation nevertheless in 1993 Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Michael Crichton's bestselling novel was impossible to escape. Naturally with all this hype there was going to be a significant number of people unimpressed, and so it was when the reviews came in: oh, nice effects, the consensus was, but look at the same year's Schindler's List to see this filmmaker at his best, far more serious in subject matter and intent than a simple popcorn flick he is frittering away his talents on. But Jurassic Park was just as serious about its themes as the Holocaust movie had been.
Those themes concentrated on the then current interest in chaos theory, and how it applied to the world in general, which in its way was a tale of survival as well. Once the scientists reach the island where the naive but money-minded Hammond has developed his theme park attraction, they are curious to know what he's up to, and initially aghast at the dinosaurs he has grown in the lab from preserved DNA, yet only because they're so impressed: Stan Winston's creature effects had a similar influence over audiences. But then their regard changes to fear, as they worry what the commercially savvy businessman has gotten into without really thinking it through, thus demonstrating the central theory in terms a layman could understand: there are too many factors in play to control something as complex as nature, even nature which had become extinct.
Of course, this would be rather trying if it were some dry scientific tract, and as with Crichton's previous work Westworld, which this bore some plotting connections to (even in the Gunslinger equivalent), there were some excellent setpieces to keep the tension up, so much so that the film was criticised in many territories for being too scary for the family audiences it was aimed at. As if encouraging this, Hammond's grandchildren Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) are introduced into the mix and Richards especially had a fine line in looking terrified to really sell the suspense sequences. The first appearance of the Tyrannosaurus Rex in particular was one of the greatest instances of pure tension in Spielberg's work, giving lie to those who claimed he was operating on autopilot here.
With stretches of things going horribly wrong this could have been a souped up rejigging of the mad scientist movies of yesteryear, but took its hypothesis deadly seriously - not so stuffily that Jeff Goldblum as fellow boffin Dr Ian Malcolm couldn't offer up a few well timed quips (he's a highlight) or Dern couldn't put her flair for looking anguished into practice to underline what was at stake for the characters, but there were lessons here. Mankind is part of the chaos too, and the impossibility of taking care of every factor was utmost in the narrative, whether it be the industrial espionage agent (Wayne Knight) messing up the electronics to escape, or the famed velociraptors being far more intelligent than their creators gave them credit for. You could say the same for this film, as natural science such as evolution or reproduction (Alan is won over to the necessity of children and their care) is held up as worth preserving while simply exploiting them for oodles of cash was not. Pretty cheeky coming from a film this lucrative, but how else to get the message across as accessibly as possible? Music by John Williams.
His best films combine thrills with a childlike sense of wonder, but when he turns this to serious films like The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Bridge of Spies these efforts are, perhaps, less effective than the out-and-out popcorn movies which suit him best. Of his other films, 1941 was his biggest flop, The Terminal fell between two stools of drama and comedy and one-time Kubrick project A.I. divided audiences; Hook saw him at his most juvenile - the downside of the approach that has served him so well. Also a powerful producer.