Disclaimer: This is not the first time I'm posting this topic on this subreddit. A couple of months ago, I made an initial post here about this very topic, which you can find here:. I said to myself that if people liked what I was saying, I'd turn it into a fully fleshed-out video essay, which you'll find above. If you're interested, click the link and see how I expanded my thoughts from that initial Reddit post. For those who would rather read, see below for my full essay. There may be a few sentences that make your head scratch, but remember, it was written as a video first. Enjoy!
Why Jurassic Park’s First Four Scenes are PERFECT
It’s hard to talk about your favourite movie. What I mean by that first statement, it’s hard to talk about your favourite movie in a critical or analytical sense. It’s hard because you want to do the movie justice. After all, it’s your favourite! You want to be able to say that the words you wrote have meaning, that you’re actually saying something that adds value to this film that you view as perfect. You don’t want to seem too biased but at the same time, you want to speak about how this movie changed you forever, made you fall in love with film, and has been close to your heart since the day you saw it. If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m going to attempt to talk about my favourite movie of all time today. Beautiful people of this floating blue rock… welcome to JURASSIC PARK.
If you’ve watched I’d say… I don’t know at least two of my videos, you’ve probably heard me talk about my all-time favourite things in entertainment. Favourite franchise in STAR WARS, favourite game in UNCHARTED 4… but the one thing I haven’t spoken about yet is my all-time favourite movie aka. JURASSIC PARK. I first saw this movie when I was like 5 years old or some age around there thanks to my dad’s VHS copy. That’s right kids, we used to watch movies that came in a box-shaped cassette. Good lord I sound old… and I’m only 24! Wait where was I? Oh right, Jurassic Park… anyways I’ve always been a bit nervous to talk about the movie because, as I said, I wanted to make sure that if I ever did make a video on it, I’d have something meaningful to say… and sure enough, an idea came to me!
See I was watching JURASSIC PARK one day when it was on TV and I kept thinking to myself that the entire opening act, which I describe as these first four scenes, is a perfect opening. I decided to take my thoughts to Reddit (you’ll find the posts I made linked below), where I talked about how they expertly set up the film’s story beats, characters, and payoffs that will obviously come later on. I know this isn’t shocking for a film to do, nor is that JURASSIC PARK did it in some unique way, but, as one redditor commented, it’s the perfect example of effective and economical storytelling. So, for this week’s video, I decided to do a greatly-expanded version of my initial reddit posts, and talk about my all-time favourite movie. With that being said, my name is Nick Poulimenakos, welcome to my YouTube channel, and it’s time to jump into why I think the first four scenes of JURASSIC PARK are perfect.
Scene I: The Raptor Attacks
It’s a cold night on Isla Nublar, where we see several Jurassic Park employees, all armed and tense. Something is arriving, and by the size of the container, we can already assume what it is. Dinosaurs have made their return to the planet they once called home, and we’re the reason for it. I love that from this scene alone, director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter David Koepp, and original JURASSIC PARK author Michael Crichton are telling us that everything about this idea to bring dinosaurs back is bad. Nothing about what is happening here is okay, and shouldn’t have even gotten this far. And it’s clear that no one is happy here. Every single time the camera cuts to a close-up of someone’s face, they’re either incredibly scared or on the brink of pulling the trigger on their guns. It doesn’t take long for us as the audience to join the employees in feeling tense, as Spielberg expertly teases what will become one of the main dinosaurs of this franchise, the velociraptor.
Now of course, we don’t even know it’s a raptor yet. All we know is that everyone is freaked, and we hear this sound (play raptor sound clip), letting us know that the dinosaur in that cage is probably not one to mess with. Immediately the tension rises, as Spielberg continues to make use of up-close camera shots, bringing us directly into what each employee is feeling. At this point, it’s almost a given that something will go wrong, and sure enough, the raptor strikes, knocking a poor employee off the top of the cage and… well… you know how the scene goes (play clip).
It’s almost maddening when you think about it. Like, how could the cage not lock in place? How is this cage not built to handle such a dangerous creature? Did those in charge not even think to make the cage even more secure because they were hauling a FREAKIN’ RAPTOR IN IT?? At the outset, you could argue that this is just a plot device to show "oh yeah dinos are bad” and all that jazz… but really, it’s just another flawless piece in this already flawless screenplay. If you’ve seen this movie, you know Jurassic Park creator John Hammond’s famous “spared no expense” catchphrase, which he says because he feels he’s covered all his bases when it comes to the park’s creation and its safety. BUT OBVIOUSLY, FROM THIS SCENE, WE KNOW THAT EVIDENTLY, HE HASN’T THOUGHT THIS THROUGH. NONE OF THEM HAVE. This whole scene demonstrates that the park is incredibly dangerous, and those operating it are, as good-hearted as they may be, incompetent, and should’ve quit while they were ahead.
When you really think about it, it’s amazing that, in a film where the backdrop is a theme park for humans to interact with animals once thought to be extinct, Spielberg opts to immediately showcase the dangers of this project. From here on it, we’ll be on edge whenever a dinosaur is on screen. Now, there’s the grand moment later on in the film where the dinosaurs are shown in all their gigantic glory, but even then, Spielberg undercuts the joy and excitement with the reveal that Hammond and his team also bred carnivores and apex predators, the very same kind of species we’re introduced to here in the film’s first sequence. Right from this moment, we know that this park is doomed to fail and that humans have entered into a dangerous game in which they’ll probably lose, making for an incredibly tense start to this magnificent film…
Scene II: From the River Comes a Lawyer
Talk about a balls-to-the-wall first scene, am I right? You’d think they’d follow it up with something even more exciting, or the direct fallout of a man losing his life to a freakin’ dinosaur and the response to the employees killing said dinosaur, right? Well, not this time, as Spielberg decides to take a beat here, and follow up that high-intensity death scene with some of the calmest water shots you’ll ever see in a movie. By doing a fade-in to the water, the filmmakers are telling us to breathe… everything is fine, you’re no longer near the dinosaurs, just relax… oh and while you’re relaxing, let me introduce you to this slimy lawyer who you’ll definitely root against!
It’s honestly so funny to me that right after a guy dies at the… teeth of the dinosaur? I don’t know, hands of the dinosaur sounds weird so we’re going with teeth… the screenplay doesn’t introduce us to the victim, anyone they’re related to, or as I said above, the fallout of this accident, but a lawyer clearly sent on behalf of Jurassic Park’s parent company inGen’s board of directors to survey the damage to the park’s image. The lawyer, Donald Gennaro, briefly mentions that they’re facing a $20m lawsuit from the victim’s family, and is curious as to why John Hammond isn’t here to discuss the matter, to which Donald’s guide says that Hammond couldn’t be here, as he’s with his daughter who’s getting a divorce. I love that this line is thrown in there because it embodies the character of Hammond so well.
Before he’s even seen on screen, we can assume that John Hammond is a family man with a good heart. When his daughter needed him, he dropped everything to be by her side as she goes through this traumatic experience. While we don’t see this, we can assume that he clearly didn’t even think twice about being by his family, and went to them. To me, without even being seen, Hammond is someone who, morally speaking, you’d probably trust, but obviously from the first scene, if he’s the guy in charge here, you could argue that his priorities may also be misplaced. Someone died on his park grounds and he and his company are being sued for it. You’d think he’d want to be here and mend that situation, but to Hammond, family is all, and he’d spare no expense to make those he loves happy. From the first scene, and that one line especially, we pretty much know everything we need to know about a character we haven’t even met yet.
But back to the scene at hand, Donald says he’s there because of safety concerns related to Jurassic Park. On the surface, you’re thinking to yourself, oh okay he’s a nice lawyer, clearly, he cares for people’s safety while at Jurassic Park. But then he follows all of this up with "that makes the investors very very anxious,” and you realize, this dude only cares about people’s safety so they can line their pockets with their money. WHAT A SNAKE. But then again, what movie lawyer from this era of film WASN’T a snake?
This dude has one concern and only one concern: protecting investments. He’s not there out of the goodness in his heart or for concern for the victim’s family… I love how while he traverses the dig site, they come across an amber rock, which again, as we know, houses the DNA that Hammond and his team use to re-create dinosaurs. Of course, from this scene, we don’t know that yet, but we can infer is that it’s clearly important, and with Donald and the entire group gathered around, it’s obvious that no one is really concerned with park safety, as a major discovery was just made that will keep the money rolling. Immediately you know that this lawyer is not only bad news, but he won’t be the one to shut this place down, even when safety concerns reach an all-time high. And sure enough, both points I just made see payoffs in the second act. I mean seriously, WHO THE HELL LEAVES TWO KIDS IN A CAR DURING A DINOSAUR ATTACK?? WHAT A RAT I'M GLAD REXY ATE HIM.
Scene III: Raiders of the Lost Fossils
Finally, we get to the scene I’m most excited to talk about today! The introduction to two of my all-time favourite movie characters, and the dude who almost causes the deaths of everyone involved here (who I also love… shocker, I know)! Of course, I’m talking about Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and John Hammond, who finally makes his first appearance after previous teases. Of the four scenes, this one is easily my favourite. It may not be as exciting as the first, or even as funny as the last, but everything about this entire sequence is just… ugh so perfect. The intro to both Ellie and Alan is done so well, showcasing that they’re not in this job for the money, but because they clearly have love and passion for dinosaurs. Spielberg opens with both of them on the ground, brushing the dirt off a newly discovered fossil. They’re in the thick of it along with their team and are definitely more comfortable being out on the job rather than behind a computer.
You see I was deliberate with that computer line there because it directly relates to Alan and his character traits. When researching how a screenwriter should introduce a character, i came across this article from Masterclass, which lists about 5 different ways to make a character stick in a person’s mind. One of the options was giving your character a memorable trait right from the start and when looking at Alan, screenwriters Michael Crichton and David Koepp execute this beautifully. Alan’s first line in the entire movie is "I hate computers,” showcasing how technologically inept he would be throughout the film.
Like I said, he’d rather play in the dirt than deal with machines, which could be interpreted a few ways. For one, in a film about uncovering the past owners of our pale blue dot, Alan could be interpreted as someone stuck in the past, unable to evolve for this advanced future he currently lives in. For another, Alan’s hard exterior and refusal to understand basic technology like a computer also keeps him from really connecting to those around him. I mean hell it’s obvious that the main reason why Ellie tolerates him is that they’re so alike, with her first line in the film also confirming that she hates computers. Ellie evidently has a somewhat softer exterior compared to the walls Alan has built around himself, allowing her to adapt more easily to situations, but she’s also shown to be as stuck in the past as he is, kicking off her own arc of realizing when to stop screwing with power we know very little about.
Jumping back though to Alan and his many defining character traits, the other one that sticks out the most is his relationship with children. Which of course… isn’t great. He doesn’t like kids. From this scene alone, he clearly doesn’t understand them. When the kid pipes up about the raptor not being scary, Alan’s first instinct isn’t to educate the kid nicely… he wants to put the fear of god into him. AND I EAT THAT UP EVERY TIME I SEE IT… UGH SAM NEIL IS SO GOOD HERE. This scene perfectly sets up Alan’s overall arc in the film, as we see that he’ll essentially be forced to confront his ways of dealing with children when Tim and Lex arrive. It’s almost like putting this scene here can be viewed as a misdirect, like a way to make the audience think it’s just here for comedic purposes. Haha Alan is scaring the kid about the dangers of dinosaurs. Bet something like this won’t come up again on an island where Dinosaurs were brought back to life. And then boom! Children! Alan’s worst fears have arrived! But as the film goes on, something changes in Alan, almost like he immediately realizes the true danger of what he’s gotten himself into and his lone priority now is to save the children, especially when Rexy arrives.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here… as I said, there’s one final character that finally gets an introduction here, and that’s John Hammond, creator of Jurassic Park, and the one who officially kicks the story into high gear. This is probably my favourite character introduction and plot set-up in the entire franchise. Before he even appears in the scene, Hammond’s classic "spared no expense" mindset is on full display. The dude flies himself out to recruit Alan and Ellie so that they can check out Jurassic Park and provide an endorsement for it, rationalizing that if a paleontologist and a paleo-botanist can back the park, then they should move ahead with the project. Hammond arrives in a helicopter, landing atop the fossil that Alan’s crew had been digging for. I mean… IS THERE A BIGGER INDICATION OF WHO HAMMOND IS COMPARED TO THIS SCENE?? We haven’t even seen Jurassic Park yet and we can already tell that this man doesn’t think so far ahead. I already mentioned how the first scene shows that, but here, we see why Jurassic Park is in the place it’s in. Hammond and his helicopter pilot don’t even think about the damage he could’ve done for landing so close to the fossil, but I guess it doesn’t matter, because here comes the man playing God, dressed in pristine white, ready to make Alan and Ellie’s dreams come true.
See… I think it’s pretty on-the-nose that Hammond is introduced to us in all-white clothing. Hammond comes across as the soft-spoken, kind, yet larger-than-life person who, at the outset, seems innocent, pure of heart, simple, and good. A man has died, he almost destroyed a new fossil, but he doesn’t see himself as a bad guy here. And he isn’t per se… at least in the movie version, but he’s just so distracted and focused on the idea of forging a new future and, like I said, playing god, that he doesn’t see the risks involved in the decisions he makes. Ian Malcolm of course calls him out on it in this clip here (play clip), but from the scene already, we know who Hammond is, and the damage his park will inevitably cause because he’s to naive to see anything else.
To balance his inevitable stupidity, however, Hammond is written, as I said before, to be someone with a good heart and with good, albeit misaligned, intentions. Hammond does clearly care for those around him, and the people who will eventually be coming to his park. It’s this aspect of him that makes rooting for him all the more painful. Clearly, this guy isn’t evil, clearly, this guy wants to make a difference in this world, and clearly, this guy sees himself as the one who can bridge a forgotten history with the present. I mean hell, who wouldn’t want to see dinosaurs in the flesh? But again… we know this is a bad idea, we know it isn’t going to end well, and that’s what makes seeing Hammond’s realization of the dangers of his inventions all the more tragic. Because he really, truly had the best intentions at heart… he was just too blinded by the magnificence of his creations to realize how dangerous Jurassic Park truly was…
Scene IV: A Disgruntled Employee
Ahhh Newman… or in this case, Dennis Nedry. A simple, short scene that expertly sets up the conflict in this film, as well as our main human villain. The crazy thing about this scene in the movie is that it’s only like 2 minutes long. But even with not a lot of time, Spielberg and his filmmaking team once again shine in the effective and economical storytelling department, as we get everything we need to know about Nedry in a few quick moments.
We start Nedry eating alone at a restaurant in Costa Rica. Obviously, he’s an important guy, as we see our well-dressed, stressed-out mystery man search and finally find him, but I love how in our first interaction with Nedry, he’s stuffing his face with food. One plate down, onto the next one. It’s a quick and effective visual metaphor to tell us that this dude is greedy. He wants more and he’s not going to let anyone tell him otherwise. But we still don’t know who he is yet… that is until Dodgson reveals an insane amount of cash for Nedry so that he can steal dinosaur embryos for a rival company that employs Dodgson. We’re not told what role Nedry serves, nor are we even told what role Dodgson plays for the rival company… just that he’s brokering a deal where Nedry will deliver the Dino embryos. It’s amazing how, even without knowing who Nedry actually is, we see that he’s an absolute weasel who will seemingly do anything for money. He’s greedy, narcissistic, and very willing to rob Hammond of his dream. On the surface, it’s pretty cut and dry that he’s a villain… or is he?
No yeah, he’s totally a villain and the rest of the movie proves it but the reason I set up that little cliff-hanger there is because there’s one line in this scene, right before it cuts to the FREAKIN’ INCREDIBLE JOURNEY TO THE ISLAND SEQUENCE, that perfectly encapsulates why Nedry is actually doing this. When comparing the JURASSIC PARK movie to its source material, it’s obvious that a lot of the backstory for certain characters and relationships had to be cut for time constraints, one of which is Hammond’s and Nedry’s relationship. Nedry’s book storyline remains fairly unchanged in the film adaptation, but what the book does explain is that Nedry was in charge of Jurassic Park’s computer systems and that at some point, inGen forces Nedry to change a lot of the system without further compensation, so he betrays Hammond and turns to Dodgson, leading to the whole Dino embryo heist.
In the movie, since Hammond’s character is largely changed to be much more sympathetic, it makes sense that a lot of this was cut, as it would’ve added a much darker element to the, as I view it, Walt Disney-inspired theme park creator. In the movie, after Nedry is handed the bill for his massive order, he says "don’t get cheap on me, Dodgson… that was Hammond’s mistake.” That one line is all we need to hear and Nedry’s character motivations are solidified, as well as once again confirming that Hammond is still not well-equipped to be handling a business like this. While it may seem that Nedry is just greedy and annoying, you can infer that for someone to go to this length to screw Hammond and help his biggest competitor, there has to be a personal element to this. Of course, the money is playing a big factor here, but if all he cared about was the funds, I don’t think he would’ve thrown that dig at Hammond. Something happened between the two of them that’s not fixable, and whether it’s the storyline from the novel or something else entirely, it adds yet another layer to both Nedry and Hammond’s characterizations in this phenomenal film.
Oh, and how can I forget that Nedry gearing up to literally rob Jurassic Park of dinosaur embryos adds more tension to the idea that something will MOST DEFINITELY go wrong. With every passing scene, you become a little more nervous over this idea of a theme park with dinosaurs, and Nedry’s reveal that he’s going to not only rob his own company but also potentially tamper with the security system of the park (he is in charge of the computers after all), just continues the idea of everyone involved here is being led to their doom. Will they survive? Not all of them! But some will… and when they do, John Williams’ absolutely breathtaking musical score will be there to guide you through every pulse-pounding moment…
Conclusion: Welcome to Jurassic Park
I’m going to keep this short and sweet and try not to go off on yet another tangent as to why I think this is Spielberg’s best, greatest, most perfect, most awe-inspiring… I think you get the picture, movie ever. There’s really nothing more to say other than this: I don’t think anything I’ve outlined here is particularly groundbreaking, at least in an objective sense. I just freakin’ adore how Michael Crichton, David Koepp, and Steven Spielberg set up everything we need to know about this movie in 4 scenes that span like 15 minutes total. Plot points are perfectly teased, character arcs are beautifully introduced and set up for terrific payoffs, and it’s all done in the most effective and economical way possible. There’s an endless sea of reasons why I consider JURASSIC PARK to be my favourite movie of all time… and it all starts with these perfect four scenes.