For a brief moment, in the summer of 1993, dinosaurs once again ruled the earth. You saw them everywhere. In fast food restaurants. Plastered on billboards. Painted on t-shirts. There were dinosaur candies, toys, commercials; you couldn’t escape them if you wanted to. All because of Jurassic Park.
I had just barely missed seeing it in the theaters and even then I was caught up in the excitement of it. What child of 10 doesn’t still love the idea of seeing a real dinosaur. And what you saw on the commercials was the closest thing anyone had ever seen outside of a painting. 28 years after its release the special effects in Jurassic Park still look good. But 28 years ago they were dazzling. Mind blowing. Just seeing them made you a bit giddy.
At that time my parents had a cabin in the woods in the middle of Missouri in a small but rapidly growing community. We would go there for weekends in the summer. There was a lake to swim in. Trails to walk. And a small outdoor theater.
It was just a large plywood screen painted white that sat in a field, surrounded by trees, at the edge of farm. Movie goers parked on the grass and brought their own blankets or chairs and waited for the sun to go down. The people running it sold small bags of popcorn and cheap soda in a can. Occasionally the dramatic tension of a scene would be broken by the mooing of a cow, irritated that it was roused from sleep. The sound system wasn’t very good and always had a sort of tinny echo to it and you were lucky if you left the movie without mosquito bite or two. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the greatest movie theater I’ve ever been to.
They typically played movies that were a year or so out of rotation at the theater. But, that summer they played Jurassic Park. Since the 1950’s theaters have tried to immerse the viewers more deeply in the movie going experience. 3D goggles. Moving seats. Even, yes, Smell-o-vision which pumped scents into the air that correlated with what was on screen. And I dear readers, truly know why. It isn’t just a gimmick. Or maybe it is for some- but for others it can be, if you will forgive the pretentiousness here, a transformative experience when it works.
If you don’t already know, and I don’t know why you’d be reading this if you didn’t but, the rising action of the movie comes in the form of a great storm. A near hurricane force, beast of a storm off the coast of Isla Nublar sweeps in and knocks out the power to a park full of man-eating dinosaurs. Said dinos then wreak havoc for the next 60 minutes or so. And it was at that moment in the film, as the characters were talking about the dangers of the storm and I was surrounded by darkness and forest as far as the eye could see – that the wind picked up.
The tips of the tress began to sway and you could smell rain coming. Still far off but coming without any doubt. Midwesterners are accustomed to storms. Tornados are common enough that the warning sirens are tested the first Wednesday of every month. Great whooping air raid sirens that can be heard clearly in almost any condition. If you’ve spent any amount of time in the American Midwest you know that when the weather gets warm the storms roll in.
So, suffice it to say that I have watched my fair share of movies at that theater in the rain. Not raging down pours mind you, but steady sprinkles. Still the crowed usually thins out fast once coming rain moves from a chance to a promise. Not a single person left that field before the credits rolled.
How could you? Steven Spielberg has made a career that would make Houdini jealous. Simply put he makes magic and Jurassic Park is him at his most astounding. Dinosaurs! Not quite living, almost breathing, dinosaurs right in front of you.
Its not just the dinosaurs though – its everything. John Williams score is one of the best he’s ever written amongst a career of staggering magnitude. The script is smart, the editing sleek but understated, the acting – even the kids- is phenomenal. The movie is so good that you don’t even notice that the “science” of the movie is mostly gobbldy gook and if you did notice you didn’t care. It is the rarest of films that is both an artistic wonder and a general crowed pleaser.
As the credits rolled so did the thunder of the coming storm. It came on with a wild suddenness. The wind whipped and howled as the crowd scrambled to their cars; blankets and coat draped over them as ineffectual umbrellas.
As luck would have it my parents had leased a Ford Explorer that year to accommodate the growing nature of our family. So, there we were, driving through a torrential down pour in the very car that had featured in Jurassic Park in the deep dark woods.
My eldest brother and I scrunched next to one another looking out the window. With each flash of lighting expecting to see a T-Rex burst through the trees. Both of us old enough to know better but young enough not to care. It was exhilarating.
I spent the rest of the summer imagining dinosaurs in those woods and the rest of my life saying things like “Clever Girl” and “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
It wasn’t just this experience that engrained the film into my mid. As I said before – this is one of closest things to real magic humans of my generation will ever see. But driving back to the cabin that night made me realize something. These stories aren’t just ways to kill time. Movies aren’t just entertainment. They are experiences. Watching a truly great film, and Jurassic Park is a truly great film, is not a passive thing. It stays with you and in doing so changes you a little. It is something that becomes a part of you.
The theater is no longer there. But that cabin is. And I go there from time to time, now with my own kids. And whenever I pass by that field I think of the painted plywood, the make shit snack stand, watching movies under the stars, and of course I think of dinosaurs.