The stories we tell about the stories we’re told

“It’s a flippin’ big dinosaur!”
“It’s a flippin’ big dinosaur!”

The following post is three years old and was originally written in 2013 to mark the launch of my free e-book about Jurassic Park, From Director Steven Spielberg: Jurassic Park

It recounts my personal experiences with Jurassic Park: how it was one of the first films I saw at the cinema, and how it made me fall in love with film and, specifically, the films of Steven Spielberg. I’m republishing after a great Twitter conversation with three of Switch Sisters, whose superb blog you really should check out. It was all about films, music, books (any kind of art really) and how we all have stories to tell about how we’ve encountered the stories told to us.

Anyways, point is: this is an old blog I’m republishing due to a new conversation, and I’d love to hear about your personal experiences with films in the comment section.

I fell in love with cinema when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. The year was 1993, I was 10 years old, and Jurassic Park had just been released at the cinema. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I’d heard of the film through playground whispers and billboard posters bearing that iconic logo. A videotaped news report from the UK premiere gave me my first glimpse of the film itself and I became transfixed, watching, rewinding, and watching again the shot of the Tyrannosaurus Rex peering into the touring car window. It had mystery, it had atmosphere, it had…

A FLIPPIN’ BIG DINOSAUR!

This was The Most Important Thing In My Life. No mere film – oh, no, no – Jurassic Park was An Event. Not an event like everything is an event nowadays, but a genuine, never-before-seen, hold onto your butts kinda event. I mean, come on, somebody had actually resurrected dinosaurs, built a dinosaur theme park and then made a film about it. My addled 10 year old brain actually believed that for a brief time (films never lie… right?), but even when I learned The Terrible Truth, it didn’t change a thing. Jurassic Park still had A FLIPPIN’ BIG DINOSAUR and I wanted in.

Sadly, my sister got there first. She went off to see Jurassic Park with a friend on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I was left to stew, looking forlornly at my Dad in a subtle bid to guilt him into taking me, before quickly getting bored and taking the more direct approach: nagging. It worked and soon I was on my way to the local cinema to watch what I was convinced would be the greatest film of all time. I wasn’t disappointed. Back then, Jurassic Park was my Citizen Kane. Just better because, y’know, it had a lawyer getting eaten on the toilet. Literal toilet humour and dinosaurs? What more could a boy ask for?

It’s very easy to be cynical about Jurassic Park as an adult; it’s a film made for kids by a director who felt it “was important to be a kid” while shooting the film. It’s sense of wonder is entirely sincere, lacking entirely the cynicism that seems so popular nowadays, and anyone who was my age around the time it was released will understand exactly what it was like to watch it for the first time. It really was more than just a film, more even than an event. It was (and I know how horribly pretentious this sounds) an experience.

When the film was over and I stumbled out of the cinema, the world looked different. Actually, properly different. Me head was spinning, my eyes couldn’t focus, everything was blurry and weird. I asked my Dad what was wrong, he just said it’ll pass, like I’d caught a slight chill. Had he not seen it? Had he not seen the FLIPPIN’ BIG DINOSAUR!?

Whatever ‘it’ was, it didn’t pass. It hung around and grew. I became obsessed with Jurassic Park, humming the theme tune, replaying key scenes in my head, reading and re-reading the Junior Novelisation (into which I drew, with reverential care, the iconic JP logo). With no transport or money of my own, a repeat trip to the pictures was out, so I shot my own version. Alas, uncooperative action figure actors and rapidly deteriorating papier mache sets put paid to my Jurassic Park dream, but my passion couldn’t be diminished.

I bought every action figure, every trading card, every magazine I could lay my hands on if it had something to do with Jurassic Park. Even if it didn’t, I’d find a link. We had a Super Nintendo game called Tiny Tunes Adventures: Buster Breaks Loose, and I began playing that obsessively. Sure it didn’t include dinosaurs (although there was a pretty cool Star Wars-esque last level), but it was based on a cartoon series produced by the man who brought the dinosaurs back to life. So I played it. Just because it was, in some way, related to Spielberg.

“Where are your dinosaurs?”
“Where are your dinosaurs?”

I suppose that’s the key here. Before the film I was all about the dinosaurs, but after it, I wanted to know about Spielberg. Who was this guy? How did he do it? And why did it have such a profound effect on me?

I needed answers, but none were forthcoming. Spielberg’s next film was a black and white film called Schindler’s List. Today, it’s one of my favourite Spielberg films, a towering masterpiece that underlines just what a distinct and brilliant film-maker he is. Back then though, all I could think was: where’s the Triceratops? It took four years, FOUR LONG YEARS, for Spielberg and his dinosaurs to return, and sadly by that point, I was at the age where having a Velociraptor pencil case made me a laughing stock. (Not that it stopped me buying one – come on, it’s a Velociraptor pencil case!)

Ironically though, it’s Schindler’s List, rather than Jurassic Park, that lead me on the path to From Director Steven Spielberg: Jurassic Park. Well, Schindler’s List and some zombies. Back in 2004, I had just finished my second semester at university – minus, alas, Velociraptor stationary. The academic year was winding down and I was considering topics for my third year dissertation. Though my degree was a joint English and History degree, rather than a full Film Studies degree, I’d taken a course in Cinema and Psychoanalysis earlier in the year, and was keen to write at length about cinema. As I was studying a joint English and History degree, something that blended the two, and worked in Film Studies as well, seemed a good idea, so I got to work on researching a paper about the influence of social and political incidents during the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s on American horror films of that period.

The dissertation went down well, and I had such a good time writing it that I couldn’t resist the chance to write about film again when asked to pick a subject for an extended essay in my third years Representing the Holocaust class. Schindler’s List was an obvious choice, and I took to studying it with the same excited glee I took to Jurassic Park all those years earlier. The lack of dinosaurs still bugged me, but studying Schindler’s List had very much the same effect on me as watching Jurassic Park did. My head span, my vision got blurry. I discovered so much about Spielberg during the weeks I spent writing that essay, and every day since then, I’ve wished I could go back to the days of research.

From Director Steven Spielberg: Jurassic Park is, in part, an attempt to do that. I wanted to delve deep into one of Spielberg’s films, and really find out what makes it tick. Jurassic Park seemed like a great choice not only because of the nostalgic resonance it holds over me, but because it’s one of Spielberg’s most popular, but most dismissed films. As I mention in the essay, we all marvel at the film’s wondrous special effects, but discard everything else. From Director Steven Spielberg: Jurassic Park is an attempt to redress the balance, and explore what I believe are the hidden thematic depths of what I think is one of Spielberg’s most interesting films.

“Your book makes no sense.”
“Your book makes no sense.”

What it’s not though, is the work of a professional. I can’t stress this enough. FDSS:JP took a long time to write (probably about a year and a half taking research and development into account), but it was nonetheless written in evenings, during lunch hours and across weekends – in other words, around a full time day job. It’s a work of dedication and passion, but still the work of an amateur. I am sure there are typos and other such errors, and I’m sure you’ll read some sections with a bewildered WTF expression etched over your face – much like Mr. DNA up there!

However, I also think there are some interesting points, so hopefully you’ll forgive the WTF moments and enjoy the illuminating parts. Most of all though, I hope reading From Director Steven Spielberg: Jurassic Park can help spark a love of the film as deep as the one I experienced when I first watched it, and a love of studying film as deep as the one I experienced when writing about Schindler’s List.

And if it doesn’t, then hey, here’s a picture of a FLIPPIN’ BIG DINOSAUR!

FLIPPIN’ BIG DINOSAUR!!!!
FLIPPIN’ BIG DINOSAUR!!!!
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