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Monsters and Masters

The original review for the Steven Spielberg classic 'Jurassic Park'

Ian Gavan / Getty Images

Steven Spielberg’s latest, Jurassic Park (Universal), is an eye-popper. What popped my eyes most was the stamina of a 9-year-old boy. In less than twenty-four hours, he is pinned beneath an overturned car, slides down a cliff, is pinned again under a car, cowers beneath a stampede of prehistoric animals, is blown off a fence when 10,000 volts suddenly electrify it, eats a huge meal and dodges two gigantic predatory beasts in a hotel kitchen. His 12-year-old sister shares most of these adventures. Next to the deeds of these two children, the special effects in the film don’t stack up.

Yet the special effects are there. For the dozen or so Americans who haven’t read Michael Crichton’s novel (I’m one of them), let’s note that the action takes place on a Caribbean island where a zillionaire entrepreneur has created a theme park of living dinosaurs. His staff of scientists has bred them from DNA patterns in the blood of dinosaurs found in mosquitoes that have been preserved in amber for 65 million years. (Got that?)

The plot, wrapped throughout with thick music, doesn’t need summary. The actors don’t need comment, though some of them are well-known—Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum. Several organizations worked on constructing the monsters and the computerized animation. The results make poor old King Kong look like something from a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Such is progress.

The picture, like the park, has a theme, of course: science can overstep the bounds of nature’s rightful domain and will suffer for it. I can’t see that this message will do children any harm, and the lifelike monsters ought to thrill and frighten them. The last is important—up to a point, anyway. Once I took a little girl to her very first film, a fairy tale with a witch. When the witch got nasty, my friend shrieked and covered her face with her hands. I was afraid that I’d made a mistake in bringing her until I saw that, though her face was covered, she had spread her fingers and was peering at the witch.

One detail bothered this non-child. The plot has a villain, a traitor. On the console at his desk is pasted a photo of J. Robert Oppenheimer.