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Jurassic Park started an evolution of cinema technology

With trailer: Nearly two decades ago in summer 1993, Jurassic Park changed the standard by which Hollywood blockbusters are gauged.
Jurassic Park is being rereleased in 3D, 20 years on for the original release date. STR New / Reuters
Jurassic Park is being rereleased in 3D, 20 years on for the original release date. STR New / Reuters

"I think we're out of a job."

The above is uttered by leading man, the palaeontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), when he first sees a Brachiosaurus in one of the film's early scenes. The line was taken from a quip that the special effects guru Sam Winston made when he first saw the computer wizardry that would work alongside his physical effects.

Winston was right - many of the dinosaurs were a mixture of animatronics and computer animation, but an industry that was once dominated by make-up and puppetry now had a new canvas to work on. This film was by no means the first to use CGI; however, it was the first grand-scale blockbuster to both blur the lines between what was real and what was not and to truly explore what was possible.

It's easy to see the effect this has had on cinema, be it James Cameron creating another planet in Avatar, Jeff Bridges acting alongside his younger self in TRON: Legacy, or a Hulk tearing up Manhattan in The Avengers. With Jurassic Park, the envelope was pushed to the point that studios no longer wondered what could be done using computers, but what couldn't.

Fantasy island

Along with the revolutionary CGI, Jurassic Park was also notable in terms of balancing the plotline and special effects.

The plot, about a park where genetically resurrected dinosaurs are the main attraction, explores many themes beyond the average monster movie - one notable scene features Dr Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) debating the danger of scientific discovery without considering ethics, ending with the memorable line, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn't stop to think if they should."

A richer viewing experience, certainly, for the audience, but for Hollywood, it meant a great deal more: a giant, commercial blockbuster film that could also tell an involving story. Several filmmakers who had been wary of special effects in the past began to embrace change. Most notably, Stanley Kubrick was so impressed with the film that he approached Spielberg to help direct A.I. Artificial Intelligence , a sci-fi project that The Shining director had previously thought too complex to fully imagine on film.

The ability for effects to help tell the story, rather than drown it out, also meant works of fiction that were too ambitious before were put into motion. In 1995, young New Zealand director Peter Jackson seemingly had his choice of projects after the success of his horror film The Frighteners . Yet, after seeing the advances made in Spielberg's film, he knew a visually ambitious yet story-driven project was possible. That project became The Lord of the Rings.

A marketing monster

The release also embarked on an unprecedented marketing campaign. Jurassic Park's poster simply featured its distinctive logo, and the famous teaser trailer (something of a first for a movie that wasn't behind schedule) showed only the discovery of the mosquito frozen in amber used in the film. The prehistoric stars of the show were eventually revealed, just in time for the over 1,000 licensed products (including toys, fast food meals and lunch boxes) to be released. Such "slow reveals" are now commonplace in cinema, perhaps most memorably for 2008's The Dark Knight , where anticipation for the "reveal" of Heath Ledger as The Joker was heightened by a teaser trailer that featured only his voice.

Even now, as technological advances mean the very nature of what is computer and what is actor is brought into question (such as the debate surrounding Andy Serkis's performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings), one can trace back the modern practises of filmmaking back to that summer when the world's most famous director created a movie moment that will be remembered long after he has hung up his clapperboard.


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Updated: April 2, 2013 04:00 AM