When Steven Spielberg took on Jurassic Park, there were plenty of suitors. Tim Burton, Joe Dante, and Richard Donner were all in the mix. Michael Crichton had more than enough credentials to demand a seat in directing chair. Yet Spielberg had Industrial Light and Magic, as well as George Lucas, in his back pocket. It became a fairly obvious choice and, thirty years later, the right one.

It’s hard to say what Jurassic Park means to me personally. I was two and a half years old when I watched it in theaters. It may not have been the first film I ever saw on a big screen, but it is the one I remember. The shocking images of Velociraptors and the T-Rex burned into my brain. The nightmares were so vivid I still remember them. Yet I forced my parents to take me back on multiple occasions. A cinephile had been born, even if I would not realize it until college.

There are far worse films to fall head over heels for. The technological marvel of Jurassic Park endures to this day. Icons like Phil Tippett were initially brought in to stop-motion animate the dinosaurs, but the arrival of CGI changed the game. Not only did Lucas cry, but Tippett made a joke about going extinct, a line that would later be placed in the film. Tippett would later direct features himself, and the visionary special effects artist was ultimately correct. With only 55 special effects shots in Jurassic Park, we had scratched the surface of what was possible and reached the pinnacle of practical effects.

Watching the film in 2023 brings with it some unusual baggage. Questions about control, computer hacking, and what to do with the power you’ve discovered seem more relevant than ever. As Artificial Intelligence and Chat GPT grow in adoption, we are culturally at another precipice. Like Nedry, many are unaware of what dangers lie ahead, but we press on to make a quick buck. There may be no more obvious illustration of “standing on the shoulders of geniuses” than AI Art.

Of course, Spielberg would later question what it means to be human and if AI could achieve that status. It’s funny how an idea as simple as “losing respect for the power you wield” feels essential thirty years later. Yet it’s always been on Spielberg’s mind, from criminals on the run to his autobiography. It’s no wonder a man obsessed with tech would create enduring films with a foundation in that world.

However, the philosophical and cultural ideas of Jurassic Park are not the only reason it endures. Questions about growing up, from children wowed by animals to an adult understanding children, remain at Jurassic Park’s heart. The flamboyant Ian Malcolm, created by Jeff Goldblum, did not exist on the page. It was Goldblum’s endearing comedic ruminations that made Malcolm a nerdy Adonis. Just a year before he redefined his career, Samuel L. Jackson pops off the screen with his no-bullshit attitude. Even the “progress is a sheer act of will” capitalist John Hammond (played by the brilliantly warm Richard Attenborough) feels relevant today as billionaires fly to space (without regard for the power they wield).

In the heart of the jungle, Spielberg lets Sam Neill grow a heart. Swapping lousy knock-knock jokes and feeding a brontosaurus changes how he looks at children. A young paleobotanist becomes a voice of reason while Laura Dern turns into a one-time action hero. It’s a shame no director pushed her into that mold again. Their relationship becomes the heart of Jurassic Park, and as pseudo-parents to a pair of teenagers, they fight for survival.

This ultimately became the most crucial aspect of Jurassic Park‘s legacy: its malleability. The ability to transition between a half dozen genres makes it one of the most complete films in the history of cinema. It can crack jokes with the best action spectacles but never feels overwritten. The T-Rex attack and Velociraptor chases are thrilling and work as horror sequences. The creature feature DNA allows other dinosaurs to amaze as docile giants. The action set pieces are massive, and dramatic moments work on every level. Jurassic Park appeals to any viewer and has the visual ambition of few films in history. It’s why it will always be my favorite movie and a true standout in the history of cinema.

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