Frames of Time: the cinematic brilliance of the “Welcome to Jurassic Park” scene

Frames of Time is a series of essays that invites readers to revisit and delve deeper into some of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. With a keen eye for detail and a profound appreciation for the artistry of filmmaking, each essay dissects a classic cinematic moment, exploring the intricate dance of direction, performance, score, and cinematography. From Spielberg’s thrills to Hitchcock’s suspenseful masterpieces, Frames of Time offers a nuanced understanding of these timeless snapshots, paying homage to the enduring magic of film. Uncover the stories behind the scenes and experience your favorite films as if for the first time through this analytical and affectionate exploration of classic cinema.

The first time I watched the scene, “Welcome to Jurassic Park,” I was seized by a sense of profound awe that left goosebumps tingling along my arms. It sounds crazy, but every now and again I watch that scene and I’m transported to my 13-year-old self.

That scene, nestled within the iconic 1993 film “Jurassic Park,” represents an indelible piece of cinematic magic. A grand orchestra of cinematic elements work together in a powerful symphony: Steven Spielberg’s masterful direction, John Williams’ evocative score, Sam Neill and Laura Dern’s sincere performances, and Dean Cundey’s immersive cinematography. This scene is a perfect example of world-building that remains unparalleled to this day.

The scene sets off with an upbeat tone. Jeeps meander through a lush landscape, their journey accompanied by a playful tune that fosters a sense of adventure. This lightheartedness, however, is abruptly interrupted by the emphatic command of John Hammond, played with infectious enthusiasm by Richard Attenborough.

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As the vehicles come to a standstill, the whimsical music fades, making way for a suspenseful melody. This stark shift in tone hints at a dramatic revelation that’s about to unfold.

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We initially see Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler, engrossed in the leaves of a prehistoric plant. Cut to a wide that turns into a dolly shot of Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant getting up and taking off his sunglasses, his facial expressions shifting from disbelief to awe as he processes the sight before him. His iconic reaction gif is something that has been etched into pop culture. Alan interrupts Ellie’s fascination with the plant by turning her head and she rises to join him, her face mirroring his disbelief turning into wonder.

Just as we, the audience, begin to understand the enormity of what’s happening, Spielberg cuts to a distant roar and the thunderous sound of a Brachiosaurus stomping feet perfectly matching the crescendo of ‘The Theme from Jurassic Park.’

The simultaneous occurrence of these moments is no coincidence; it’s a testament to Spielberg’s masterful storytelling. This grand reveal marks the characters’ and the audience’s transformation from skeptics to believers.

The camera recedes, revealing the magnitude of the park, an echo of the swelling score. The viewer is plunged into a visual spectacle that triggers both a sense of being overwhelmed and thrilled. Like our protagonists, we are left awestruck by the scale, drawn into the narrative world that is both vast and exhilarating.

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The scene culminates in a masterstroke of editing, as Spielberg, with a keen sense of rhythm and pacing, weaves the elements together into a seamless fabric of cinematic storytelling. From the initial hum, through the crescendo of the score, and ending with the reveal of the park, the audience is taken on a roller coaster of sensory experience. It’s a scene that leaves you floored, basking in the afterglow of cinematic magic, ready to embark on an unforgettable journey.

In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter about a year ago, Sam Neill discussed his experience shooting this scene under Spielberg’s direction. Neil was asked if he recalls Spielberg giving notes or directions, and he said, “Not particularly. I think he pretty much left it to us – such as Alan Grant taking his glasses off. He told me to screw Laura’s head around so that she could concentrate on what was going on, but the reactions he pretty much left to us.”

Neill also opened up about his approach to the role and his character’s reaction to seeing a dinosaur for the first time. With a chuckle, he shared, “I suggested something, which is an illustration of how I was never an action hero. I said to Steven, ‘Look, after a lifetime of imagining dinosaurs, to actually see a dinosaur, Alan Grant just might flat out faint.’ And Steven said, ‘Yeah, OK.’ So that’s why you see me stagger around and I have to sit down and put my head between my legs. I thought, ‘That’s actually a human reaction,’ so I’m glad he was open to that.” This tidbit shows that even in the grand spectacle of cinema, sometimes the most human moments can shine brightest.

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Spielberg said in an interview that it was very important to him being a kid directing Jurassic Park, that he made the film for all dinosaur lovers. Whether it’s your first time or the hundredth, the magic of this cinematic moment never fades.

In the “Welcome to Jurassic Park” scene, Spielberg and his team have orchestrated a perfect storm of storytelling elements that serves as an entrée into a world beyond our wildest imaginations. It is a testament to the power of cinema, a demonstration of how multiple elements can coalesce into a moment of pure movie magic. Whether seen for the first time or the hundredth, it remains a cinematic tour de force that continues to captivate and inspire, a testament to the enduring brilliance of Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.”