4 Times The Making Of ‘Jurassic Park’ Was Pure Chaos
Unless you're a velociraptor or an underpaid I.T. guy, chances are you're a fan of Jurassic Park, the iconic 1993 blockbuster directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Jeff Goldblum's glistening chest hairs. Now, 30 years later, we're still getting sequels set in the Jurassic-verse, the latest being Jurassic World: Dominion – which, judging from early reviews, might be the extinction event of the franchise. But as beloved as the original may be, it wasn't exactly the easiest movie to make, starting with how …
The Animatronic T-Rex Nearly Ate a Crew Member
Jurassic Park is, of course, based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain and that book in which climate change is a hoax cooked up by eco-terrorists. Crichton originally envisioned the story as a screenplay about a grad student who "clones a pterodactyl from fossil DNA." After realizing that a theme park is a better location for a sci-fi epic than an academic's bachelor apartment, Crichton instead wrote Jurassic Park. While the list of potential directors studios pitched for the movie adaptation included everyone from James Cameron to Joe Dante to Tim Burton; eventually, Steven Spielberg and Universal landed the project.
To the confusion of Crichton, Spielberg seemed more concerned with fleshing out the story's characters than with figuring out how the hell he was going to make a movie filled with giant prehistoric monsters – which was no small task at the time, considering that other dinosaur movies of the era were … less than convincing.
For much of the creature work, Spielberg turned to legendary effects wiz Stan Winston, who was tasked with building a full-scale animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex – which is presumably only slightly easier than just getting your hands on fossilized mosquitoes and frog DNA and just making your own. The hydraulically-powered puppet was "36 feet long and 18 feet tall" and weighed a whopping 9000 pounds! It was so lifelike that the T-Rex even "scared the crap" out of the crew on set.
Unfortunately, the T-Rex's big scene takes place in the rain – and while the puppet was supposed to be strategically placed to avoid any "direct downpour" it ended up getting wet anyway. This was a problem once the fake beast's foam rubber skin started soaking up the rain, and despite the crew's best attempts to towel it off between takes, the T-Rex began "shuddering and doing everything you wouldn't want it to do." Also, controlling the T-Rex wasn't an exact science; sometimes, its head would slam into the Jeep way too hard, knocking out several of its teeth as if it were a giant reptilian hockey player.
Oddly enough, the closest anyone came to being physically hurt by the Rex came during pre-production; one of Winston's effects team members had to glue the skin onto the creature from the inside, running the risk of being seriously hurt if the Rex shifted from its "on" to "off" position. While everyone was well aware of this at the time, presumably because of chaos theory, the studio suffered a power outage at that very moment, and the poor guy had to be frantically yanked out of the dinosaur's jaws, thankfully unharmed.
The Groundbreaking CGI Was Allegedly The Result of an "Ambush"
For the wider dinosaur shots that couldn't utilize auto-erotica – or rather, animatronics – the plan was to employ the same technique that brought the Pillsbury Doughboy, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Lucifer to life: stop-motion animation. The production hired industry great Phil Tippett, who had previously worked on films like The Empire Strikes Back and Robocop (and would later direct 2022's craziest movie), to create Jurassic Park's miniature dinosaurs – which, judging from test footage, were pretty damn impressive.
But ultimately, Spielberg decided to replace the more traditional animation with digital creations. How this happened, exactly, seems to be a matter of some debate. As recounted by producer Kathleen Kennedy, she received a phone call from Industrial Light & Magic's Dennis Muren, who told her: "I think I have something you and Steven should take a look at," at which point he showed them test footage of a CGI T-Rex skeleton.
While Spielberg tells a similar story in various Jurassic Park documentaries, according to ILM employee Steve "Spaz" Williams, he was the one who pushed for this and was even forced to "ambush" Kennedy after Muren told him to drop the idea of CGI dinos; conveniently leaving his test footage playing on a monitor the day Kennedy toured their office – which naturally caught her attention. After impressing Kennedy and Spielberg, the team was ordered to further develop the technology, which was ultimately used in Jurassic Park – thus helping to kickstart the digital effects revolution that now allows filmmakers the creative freedom to overhaul their talking hedgehog character if the internet thinks it's ugly as hell.
The Cast and Crew Were Nearly Killed by a Hurricane
Then there were the tragic events of September 11 … 1992. Since John Hammond "spared no expense" and built his theme park on a Costa Rican island and not, say, the suburbs of Pittsburgh, much of Jurassic Park was shot on location in scenic Kauaʻi, Hawaii. Towards the end of the shoot, Kathleen Kennedy learned of a nearby hurricane that was "forming around four hundred miles from the island," telling Spielberg that it would only be a problem because they "might have some clouds" that day.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Iniki, a category 3 hurricane that resulted in six deaths, "turned ninety degrees" and hit them directly, forcing everybody to hole up in the hotel ballroom. While Laura Dern and Sam Neill worried that they "might die," Spielberg and cinematographer Dean Cundey decided to grab some footage of the storm to use in the movie before they were kicked off of the beach by hotel security.
While the cast and crew were able to weather the storm, the next day, all "Kaua'i had been turned into martial law." With the phone lines down, Kennedy literally jogged to a nearby airport in order to secure transport for the Jurassic Park team. Eventually, help came in the form of pilot Fred Sorenson who, oddly enough, had a small role as Indiana Jones' buddy Jock in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
There Were Multiple Controversies Once it was Released
Even after Jurassic Park came out, its troubles weren't totally over. For one thing, author Geoffrey T. Williams sued Spielberg, Crichton, Universal, and everyone involved with the project short of Mr. DNA. Why? Because in the mid-'80s, he published a series of children's books about a "futuristic dinosaur amusement park, fraught with danger and thrills." One of the young protagonists was even named Tim, as in Crichton's story. Perhaps not coincidentally, these books were also turned into a movie in 1993 – albeit a shorter one with a slightly more modest budget …
The court ultimately sided with Spielberg and company, noting the more "adult themes" of Jurassic Park differed from Lost in Dinosaur World and ruling that a "dinosaur zoo" was an "uncopyrightable concept."
More bizarrely, theatres showing Jurassic Park in 100 U.S. cities were reportedly picketed by the "anti-biotech activist" group the Pure Food Campaign – which seems pretty darn confusing, considering that the movie isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of genetic experimentation. That would be like a new Terminator movie being protested by anti-naked killing machine advocates.
Most prominently, though, there were concerns that the movie could be "dangerous to your child's mental health." Although it was rated PG-13, much of the film's marketing included kid-friendly tie-ins like Mcdonald's meals and (infuriatingly deceptive) toys. While one Amblin marketing executive claimed that they didn't want to "imply that this is for young children," as noted by the New York Times in 1993, the studio also licensed an avalanche of tie-in products "specifically aimed at those young children who, the studio says, shouldn't see the film." And even some kids at the time admitted that they were shocked by the movie's "horror" –
– while wearing a promotional button for the movie, because seriously, what kid in 1993 didn’t love Jurassic Park?
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Top Image: Universal Pictures