“That was a terrible idea,” our nine-year-old son P.J. exclaimed at the end of our Jurassic Park screening.
For a moment, I feared he was condemning our decision as parents to share Steven Spielberg’s modestly terrifying dino adventure with the kids. But when we asked him what was so terrible, he said, “Making an amusement park with real dinosaurs!”
So even at nine, P.J. understood what philanthropist John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) couldn’t figure out until it was far too late.
Spielberg’s movie, which turns 20 this year, is roaring back into theaters with an upgraded 3D and IMAX conversion, ready to transport audience members back to Isla Nublar… and right back to the edges of their seats. Park is the rare occasion where advancements in technology actually have improved what already was a near-perfect film, bolstering the computer effects used to create Spielberg’s dinosaurs (which were pretty impressive back in 1993) and enhancing David Koepp’s streamlined script with tense beats and entertaining sprints through remarkable set pieces.
Basically, Jurassic Park hasn’t aged a bit. If anything, it’s better now than it was 20 years ago, and it remains a must-see theatrical experience that – surprisingly – works for almost every member of your family.
We took a safer approach, introducing our boys – who are ages nine and five – to Jurassic Park in the safety of our living room. We thought it would give us an opportunity to pause the film if need be, and give them the chance to regroup (thinking mainly about Brendan, who actually has a much higher tolerance for on-screen creature scares and movie thrills than his older brother did around the same age).
We were being too cautious. Nothing unnerved them too much in Park, and watching it with them opened my eyes to a few deliberate choices I believe Spielberg made to help make his blockbuster more accessible.
Brendan’s favorite character in the film, after all, ended up being Tim, the adolescent dinosaur enthusiast played by Joseph Mazzello. The genius of Spielberg is that he counters the inherent terror of either the T. rex or the stalking velociraptors by making Tim and his sister, Lex (Ariana Richards), the heroes of the film’s finale. Brendan actually has reenacted the kitchen scene from Park more than a few times after our screening. Those sequences ended up being more exciting than terrifying for our kids.
The same goes for the T. rex sequence, an extended “attack” by a truly spectacular dino creation that had only one part – the chomping of the lawyer – that we felt the need to skip past. Again, Spielberg makes a wise decision to put the car holding Tim and Lex in danger, allowing Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to display tremendous courage and keep the children out of harm’s way. Once or twice we had to remind the boys that the dinosaurs were digital creations. It’s interesting that they are far more conscious of what’s manufactured by moviemakers for the screen. Sure, it creates a detachment from what’s happening in Spielberg’s story. The director probably would prefer that our kids fully believe in what’s happening on-screen. But if the safety buffer they create in their own minds allows them to revel in the popcorn thrills of a movie like Jurassic Park, I’m OK with that.
Outside of the inherent dinosaur chills that come with Park, the rest of the movie is pretty tame. Goldblum jokes about one big “pile of shit,” and calls Hammond a “son of a bitch.” The inclusion of a Mr. DNA cartoon to explain the science of Jurassic Park was pretty brilliant, as both boys pretty much understood the basic concept behind the creation of the park. Oddly enough, P.J. loved Dr. Malcolm. Goldblum, obviously, is written as a scene-stealing part, but it’s fun to see the actor's dry humor connect with a nine year old who is formulating his own unique sense of humor. We may try the Goldblum-centered The Lost World soon, even though it's darker than its predecessor.
Now that Jurassic Park is back in theaters in 3D and IMAX, you might not want to waste time showing it to your kids at home, only to have them sit through it a second time in a theater. My kids thoroughly enjoyed the movie at home, and haven’t pressed to check it out in IMAX.
But I did attend a 3D IMAX screening days after sharing it with our boys, and the theater was jammed with parents bringing children of all ages to experience the movie that blew them away two decades prior. And the kids sitting around me were enthralled, laughing and gasping on all the right beats. I actually believe Jurassic Park is far more universal than I might have thought prior to seeing it back-to-back almost a week ago. Our five year old handled it well at home. It likely will be OK for kids six and older in a theater, particularly if they’ve already tried other movies that use dinosaurs as digital threats (like Night at the Museum or even the Ice Age movies, animated though they might be).
As always, if you decide to go to Jurassic Park in 3D IMAX, drop me a line and let me know how it went.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.