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JURASSIC UNIVERSE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 22, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: As ‘Jurassic Park’ celebrates its 25th anniversary, and the fourth sequel opens this weekend, let’s take a look back at interviews I took part in with many of the film’s principles. This feature was published in the Deseret News on June 11, 1993, under the headline, ‘Jurassic Park finally arrives.’ (Note that routine Thursday-night ‘previews’ were not yet a thing, and that calling ahead about which theaters would be showing a film at what time was unique. Also, there were no reserved seats back then; it was first-come, first-served, after standing in a long line for hours. In contrast, ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ had Thursday ‘previews’ and opened Friday in just about every multiplex in the country, more than 4,600 North American screens, with showings every half-hour or so. This after having already racked up $372 million on foreign screens over the past two weeks.)

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – “Jurassic Park” is big.

How big is it?

Bigger than the tyrannosaurus rex that crunches cars and snacks on park visitors.

Bigger than the brachiosaurus that sneezes on a young girl in a tree.

Bigger than Steven Spielberg’s imagination.

We’re talking big!

No movie in recent memory has elicited so much pre-opening excitement and enthusiasm, and certainly no other film has had people calling about theaters and showtimes two weeks in advance.

As a result, movie houses added late Thursday showings, which should help ensure that “Jurassic Park’s” box-office receipts are also big — and Universal Pictures hopes, record-setting. (The film opened Friday on just over 2,000 screens across the country.)

The $59-million movie is based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel and was directed by Steven Spielberg, whom actress Laura Dern calls “the maestro of movie magic.”

And “movie magic” is exactly what this picture is all about. “Jurassic Park” may feature human actors — Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough in the lead roles — but it’s really about those genetically cloned dinosaurs stomping around in a theme park, located on a fictional island near Costa Rica.

Dern, who has never made a big-budget special-effects extravaganza before, prefers smaller, character-driven dramas. So, when she saw “Jurassic Park” for the first time, she had to tell herself, “This is a dinosaur movie — sit back and enjoy yourself.” But she adds, “I think it’s a very hilariously funny movie.”

Spielberg did not show up for preview screenings or newspaper and television interviews, as he is shooting a new film in Poland, the black-and-white artsy drama “Schindler’s List.”

But several cast members did subject themselves to press scrutiny, along with author/co-screenwriter Michael Crichton, producer Kathleen Kennedy and the four primary special-effects artists — Stan Winston, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett and Michael Lantieri.

     

A crew places dinosaurs on the set of 'Jurassic Park' (1993).

“FOR ME, IT WAS a dream team,” said Winston, referring to the collaboration of these Oscar-winning effects experts, all considered tops in their respective fields.

Winston (the “Terminator” films, “Aliens”) was in charge of the live-action dinosaur models on the set. Muren (the “Star Wars” films, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”) created the full-motion dinosaurs, using computer graphics. Tippett (the “Robocop” films, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”) adapted his sophisticated stop-motion process to coordinate dinosaur body movements. And Lantieri (the “Back to the Future” films, “Death Becomes Her”) constructed complex riggings for the action surrounding the dinosaurs.

“From a computer graphics point of view,” says Muren, “we had to make it completely transparent, so it would look like a real dinosaur out there. And it also had to be able to perform.”

The four agreed that “Jurassic Park” offered them more pre-production time than they had ever had on a film — approximately 18 months. “There were extensive sessions that went on for months,” said Tippett. “It was very elaborately thought out.

“From the very beginning it was Steven Spielberg’s design that the dinosaurs appear to be real, not just monsters that chase people and snap at them. One of the ways that this new, fantastic technology has allowed us to create more of a believable illusion is that it allows us to do extended performances, develop relationships between (several) characters.”

“He was also adamant that everything be paleontologically correct, and he got Jack Horner, one of the leading paleontologists in the United States, as a consultant on the set. We worked very hard to make everything as accurate as possible.

“But the paleontologists, no matter how much we conferred with them, always said there was always a certain ‘fudge factor.’ They were always very adamant about saying, ‘Don’t worry about being too academic, because there’s a great mystery out there and we don’t know everything.’”

Winston adds, “There are four people here and four different teams but they all worked from similar blueprints — and they all worked under the direction of Steven Spielberg.

“This is a Steven Spielberg film and if you walk out loving it, it’s because he made a really terrific film and allowed all of us — and helped us — to put all of our energies together and create these dinosaurs like you have never seen before. But it’s the man at the helm and the film.”

“He was a cruel but fair master,” Tippett added with a wry laugh.

Asked about movies that provided the inspiration for their careers, the four answered separately but in rapid-fire: “King Kong.” “King Kong.” “King Kong.” “King Kong.”

“This was the benchmark,” Tippett said, “and I think that the one thing we can all say is that we are proud to have been involved in this project because finally, we have worked on the best dinosaur movie since ‘King Kong.’ ”

THE SENSE OF AWE that moviegoers may feel when they see these dinosaurs on the big screen will be no more than that felt by the actors when they encountered their first model dinosaur on the set.

For Neill, Dern and Goldblum, it was a sick triceratops in the jungles of the island.

“She was there and completely realistic and amazing and beautiful and life-like,” says Dern. “She breathed and teared and sighed and did everything a real creature would do. So, it was a rather amazing experience.”

Neill was equally impressed. “It was breathing and huffing and had a little tear coming out of its eye, and I found it very moving. It was not only so lifelike but it seemed to be kind of sick. And there’s nothing more moving than a sick creature.”

“It was one of these Stan Winston marvels,” says Goldblum. “It’s life-size, you know. And this was outdoors but in a kind of a bunker somewhere with 15 people operating it — one its breath, one its blinking, one its tears, one its tongue. So, you came upon this thing and for all the world there was this dinosaur. It was utterly astounding.”

     

Steven Spielberg, left, Laura Dern and Sam Neill on the set of 'Jurassic Park' (1993).

SOME OF THE SUPPORTING actors, who had death scenes at the jaws of the dinosaurs, seemed to feel their characters were a bit overwhelmed by their creature costars.

Martin Ferrero plays a lawyer who is snapped up by the tyrannosaurus rex. “When I read the script and realized the kind of death that I had, I thought, ‘This is wrong.’ I thought this was kind of an ignoble death and I wasn’t really interested in doing that. But you think there are going to be major rewrites when you get into a project. You think things might change. But they didn’t.”

Wayne Knight, a comic villain in the film, is more succinct: “I felt kind of like an hors d’oeuvre for a raccoon. That’s what it felt like to me. I was completely, soaking wet the entire time. A wet hors d’oeuvre for an animatronic. That’s one of the things I’ve been living for my entire life.”

Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a computer operator, has an off-screen death scene and noted that his role was shot entirely on a Universal soundstage, though many cast-members went on location to Hawaii: “I never considered my death scene, actually. Once I found I was not going to Hawaii, I forgot all about that. Once they took my plane tickets, I didn’t care.”

LAURA DERN’S MOTHER, three-time Oscar-nominee Diane Ladd (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore," "Wild at Heart," "Rambling Rose"), is also starring in a current dinosaur movie, the R-rated exploitation flick "Carnosaur."

Dern said she hasn’t seen it but her mother did tell her about it. “She called me once saying, ‘I’m doing a few days on a Roger Corman movie as a joke and it’s with dinosaurs — and this is hilarious.’ It was a joke to her, because she’s friends with Roger and she thought it was funny.”

YOUNG ARIANA RICHARDS, who spends a good deal of her time on screen screaming, had the opportunity of meeting the ultimate movie screamer, Fay Wray, star of the 1933 classic “King Kong.”

“She’s a close friend of Stan Winston,” Richards’ mother explained. “He invited her to the set.”