When it comes to reviewing Hollywood, these are the days of orderly miracles and pragmatic wonder. A gritty, fastidious realism often takes over Hollywood’s biggest marvels, and we analyze it as such. Why would Superman leave vapor trails in the sky? Would Sandra Bullock really be able to use a fire extinguisher in space? Is Hugh Jackman Wolverine in real life? Around 1944, there was a golden age of Italian Cinema known as Neorealism. It was a national movement, a reflection of the grim horrors of WWII, and the films often depicted real characters (and real people) in tough moral and economic situations. Audiences sought, and perhaps yearned, for poetic realism in a harsh time.
Whether we’re in a new, technological age of poetic realism or not, I think Jurassic Park was kindling to its own fire. I think a generation of imaginations stirred and devoured oxygen as the credits—a black screen under an eerily prehistoric font and the deep boom and flutey, feral-jungle sounds—rolled for the 1993 Spielberg film. Few films have reflected our young wonder so sharply and poignantly as Jurassic Park, and it wouldn’t have happened without the score.
There’s one scene in particular. We’re journeying to the island. The music shifts with excitement in its seat, moving in step with the audience's anticipation. We follow Dr. Grant as they jeep into the explosively green jungle, and they pull to a stop in a wild field. I’ll never forget the moment: Dr. Alan Grant, played by the brilliant Sam Neil, peels off his sunglasses and stands. His eyes are brimming, wonderstruck.
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In that moment John Williams’ score, which was previously racing and surging and thundering like a supercell, settles. Swells. “It’s a dinosaur.” It’s a goose bump moment, one that sends a message directly to the kid inside. Watching it then and now, it feels freeing. Like we’ve been given permission to truly, wholly suspend disbelief. It feels like nothing, not even archaeological realism, could debunk this moment.
The whole score surges on like that, walking through imagined walls in step with the dinosaurs. There’s the soaring trumpets that mark the theme of the island, and the dazzling chimes during the hatching of that tiny velociraptor. The sleepy, dream-sequence-like strings when the Brachiosaur sneezes. The score is something tangible on its own. Years later, it’s potently easy to visualize the moment you saw the T-Rex ripping through that de-electrified fence when listening. You can hear the eerie scene where Dennis Nedry steals dinosaur DNA. It paints an adventure. I grew up on the score (and the film), and if you ask around, I think others did too.
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In the superb opening credits of Gareth Edwards’ recent Godzilla, a film that has exciting homages to Jurassic Park, the history of the monster plays out under a wild, feral theme by Alexandre Desplat. As “Godzilla” fades down on screen, a helicopter is flying over heavy forest in a shot that nods towards Spielberg. The music is raw, prehistoric. And we, the audience, shift in our chairs with excitement as we did back in 1993.
JURASSIC WORLD opens worldwide this week. The full score, by Michael Giancchino, is available here to stream, and it certainly captures some magic.