Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

5Jun/150

We Spared No Expense

When Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park appeared on shelves in November of 1990, I was already a fan of his work. I plowed through The Andromeda Strain and Congo in one sitting each. I'm not saying his character development or environmental politics are worth emulating (State of Fear, Mike? How could you?), but in the late 20th century, he was the master of cutting-edge technological thrillers. I was an undergraduate with a lifelong passion for dinosaurs. Oh, trust me, I knew my apatosaurs from my ankylosaurids--big Tim the human piece of toast had nothing on me--so I devoured Jurassic Park. You remember where you saw the movie, perhaps, but can you remember where you read the book? I can. I was living in the so-called "Big House" in Ada, Oklahoma. I read the novel twice in a row.

When it was announced that Steven Spielberg, my idol, would be directing the movie, I was over the moon. (I would also have been fine with potential directors James Cameron or Joe Dante.) But it got even better. The movie would be released in June of 1993, a week after I graduated from ECU. In fact, it would come out on June 12th, my 25th birthday! My stars were aligning! I made plans to see the flick at Oklahoma City's General Cinemas Penn Square 10, the only theater in the state that'd install the new DTS digital surround sound system in time. With the understandable hoopla over the advent of photorealistic CGI, we tend to forget Jurassic's revolutionary soundscape. Gary Rydstrom's distinctive sound effects brought those creatures to life, and DTS deployed them around us in the dark. Did you know the original Star Wars was most people's first experience of Dolby stereo in a cinema? This would be the second time a revolution in visual effects was accompanied by a commensurate improvement in sound design and quality.

In May of 1993, my then-girlfriend and I went through a nasty breakup. In defiance of all common sense, I elected to take her back three weeks later. (We can chalk that up as one of my all-time worst decisions.) By way of re-earning my good graces, she volunteered to take me out for dinner and Jurassic Park at Penn Square on opening night. I said yes and looked forward to a night on the town.

Remember, this is a few years before Netscape Navigator made the Internet public. I'd never heard of email, the World Wide Web, or movie spoilers. Ain't It Cool News wouldn't go live for another three years. So when my good friend Shawn Martin came bursting into my house a few days before my birthday, he brought earthshaking news: Penn Square would open the movie a night early, around 7 p.m. on June 11th. Shawn wanted to attend the 9 p.m. screening and invited me to go with him. I mean--how could I say no to that? Shawn Martin is my brother in geeky arms. I'd rather see Jurassic Park with him than a barely-a-girlfriend any day of the week, even if she did pay my way in. "But there's a problem," I said. "We can't tell [name redacted: the girlfriend] we're going. In fact, we can never divulge I saw it with you a night early. It'd break her heart." In public, at least, I held fast to that agreement for 22 years. The statute of limitations has finally run out.

I remember the night of June 11th, 1993, like it was yesterday. Ada didn't have a Chinese buffet in those days (not that Oscar Chinese ever shorted anyone on food), so we drove to our buffet of choice in Oklahoma City. Fortified by egg rolls and sweet-and-sour pork, we arrived at Penn Square around 8. Our friend Rick was in the 7 o'clock screening, still in progress. Shawn and I were first in line for the 9 p.m. showing. (Imagine that! We were only an hour early but still first in line. That never happens anymore. Thank the movie gods for reserved seating.) Alive with anticipation, I drifted down the hall and hovered close to the door. I could hear violent animal screeches clear as a bell. I came running back to Shawn and said, "Oh my God, it's like they're right there in the room." Even the popcorn tasted better.

Rick came out with his jaw dragging the carpet. "That's the coolest movie I've ever seen," he stammered. Whoa, Nelly.

As in Jaws, the creatures are revealed only slowly, when an attack victim gets yanked around with superhuman power. The first CG dinos don't appear till minute 20. But the science seems plausible, the characters are stronger than in the novel (again, as with Jaws), and John Williams's score is among his most breathtaking. Then, when the tyrannosaur snaps through the fence an hour and three minutes into the film, the movie goes to a whole other level. Watch that scene again. It's a masterpiece of suspense and primal terror. Not since the Star Destroyer had movie audiences been so floored by technological innovation in the service of visual storytelling. I'm not sure they ever would be again, frankly, at least not to that extent. We're impossible to wow these days. We've gone past the event horizon. It was obvious Jurassic Park would be the biggest moneymaker of all time before the T. rex even claimed its first human victim. When it did, snapping lawyer Donald Gennaro off a roadside toilet, Shawn jolted to his feet with his fist in the air. "Yes!" he cried joyfully. "Take no prisoners!"

The next night, it took all of my acting and improvising skill to pretend I'd never seen the film before, but I didn't have to fake my enjoyment of it. For the generation after mine, it's easy to see why Jurassic Park holds the same place of reverence as Star Wars does for Gen-Xers. I've seen Jurassic dozens of times over the years, including its 2013 re-release in 3D. It still holds up like a champ. I'll watch it with friends again tonight. Hold onto your butts!

I'm thrilled, of course, about the upcoming release of Jurassic World. It too has an official release date on my birthday, and yes, it will sneak a night early. I, sad to say, will not be able to attend either night. My wife and I have roles in Tartuffe, which, heavy sigh, opens June 12th with a sneak the night before. Am I tempted to see Jurassic World at midnight Thursday or early the next day? I am. Of course I am. I'm a geek. Trouble is, so's my wife, and I'm devoted to her. She has actual work during weekdays, and has to be up by 7 a.m. So instead, I'll be seeing it Saturday--with, you know, the riffraff, meaning folks who have jobs and lives and probably children to boot. But at least there'll be popcorn and egg rolls, and really, when you get right down to it, it's only a movie. Did I just say that? Ye gods, I don't know what I even stand for anymore.

I guess, in the end, this is a story about how grown-up lives change our priorities. I miss my friends in Oklahoma. I do. I miss the days when my most crucial appointment was a dinosaur movie. I traded those commodities for a life I enjoy more, with another hand sharing my popcorn. It's an adventure 22 years in the making.

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