Wednesday, June 11, 2008

When dinosaurs ruled the multiplex

On June 11, 1993, I went with my parents to see the movie Jurassic Park at the Tower Theaters in South Hadley, Massachusetts. I was ten. Although specifics of the day are hard to remember now, I do remember sitting in the theater and being utterly amazed when a living, breathing Tyrannosaurus Rex (an effect more real than anything I had ever seen) attacked a jeep and scared two kids not much older than me out of their wits. I liked dinosaurs as much as the next kid, but Steven Spielberg and his team of moviemaking wizards made them real for me. I spent the rest of the summer obsessing over every detail of Jurassic Park. I played with the toys. I read the "making of" book from cover to cover, and carried it around my day camp until it was practically falling apart. I ordered the McDonald's "Dino Size" meals. And I talked about it incessantly. By the time I observed that "the book had more dinosaurs," my dad had had enough. But the film captured my imagination so thoroughly that it became a seminal part of my childhood. Maybe it contributed to my desire to be a writer, to create stories that would enthrall and transport people just as Jurassic Park had done for me. The plot mechanics and dialogue will hardly win any awards; the film streamlines Michael Crichton's best-selling novel (which I dutifully read in advance of the release) into a fast and furious adventure lark, skimming over deeper philosophical commentary in favor of cliffhanging action. But what the movie lacked in characterization and subtlety, it more than made up for in sheer entertainment value. The appealing cast gave the material more weight than it might have had otherwise; as intrepid paleo-botanist Ellie Sattler, Laura Dern was easily my favorite character. Dern remains one of my favorite actresses, in part because I have such vivid memories of playing with her action figure and jokingly imitating her exaggerated jaw-dropping in the first dinosaur scene. Gay boys need their ass-kicking girls, and Ellie was one of my first. (The previous summer brought Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns; I'll have to write about that some other time.) I still revisit Jurassic Park on a regular basis, and think I'll do just that tonight, on the fifteenth anniversary of its release. Whenever I watch this movie (or even hear the John Williams theme), it takes me back-- to childhood, to a time when adventure occupied my thoughts and things were simple and fun. As an adult, it's easy to get caught up in bills, work, and stress. But the entertainment we enjoyed as kids can serve as a powerful reminder that it's still okay to play, and dream, and get swept away, back to a land where dinosaurs rule the earth.

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