For film remembered for winning the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, the dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park film only show up on screen for a minimum of 15 minutes in the 2 hour runtime. For any one growing up with the movie, it felt like there was more, but much of that is due to Spielberg’s natural talent. Much like how Jaws is so much scarier because of what the viewer doesn’t see, allowing their imaginations to conjure up whatever frightening images they can dream up, in Jurassic Park as soon as viewers know there are dinosaurs on the island, their minds start running in thousands of different directions.
Further a total of seven dinosaurs are actually seen in the film. This includes four of the most popular dinosaurs: the Brachiosaurus, the Triceratops, the Parasaurolophus ( duck-billed dinosaur) and the T-Rex, two of the more obscure dinosaurs the Galimimus and Diloposaurs, and the films breakout stars the Velociraptor. A quick scan of the embryos in cryostorage on the park fills the gaps as it lists other dinosaurs they don’t see. Despite how imaginative it may be, the dinosaurs still “look” like how we always imagine them to be, as if they stepped out of our collective consciousness and into the silver screen, grounding it in a certain “hyper-realism”. As Spielberg noted in an interview about the making of Jurassic Park with Empire Magazine in 1993.
“This movie is not Alien, where they can take whatever form your imagination suggests. These are dinosaurs that every kid in the world knows.”
Further, unlike the Zenomorph in Aliens or the myriad of extra-terrestrial beings that appear in science fiction, the dinosaurs have the power to bring out the child in everyone. This is best seen in the big “money shot” in which Spielberg first shows us a dinosaur for the first time. Already he’s established a sense of dread in the opening five minutes as the park technicians bring a new and mysterious creature into its cage, only for one helpless worker to be dragged in and devoured alive while the hunter Muldoon orders those on sight to kill the beast to no avail. However that scene is counter balanced a half an hour later when Hammond arrives on the island with Grant, Ellie, Malcolm, and Generro.As they round a bend Grant silences her as he sees something that takes his breath away. A real live, Brachiousaurs. The music rises to a crescendo and the adult professionals are all of a sudden like kids on Christmas morning. For a brief moment Dr. Grant and Dr. Settler have their wildest dreams fulfilled, the skeptical Malcolm believes, and Gennero, like that one brat on Christmas who wonders how much he can hawk his gift for on eBay, sees the dollar signs. This creates a sense of awe and wonder that makes the park feel magical. Now at last we see it, there are dinosaurs on this island, and in having the adults act like kids for a moment, made the viewers feel like children again.
Since their discovery dinosaurs have fascinated millions around the world, and their popularity as not seen any decline. The first dinosaur skeleton to be discovered was the Iguanodon in 1825. The 19th century would also see the discoveries of other popular dinosaurs including the Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and Apatosaurus. Then in 1905, the most recognizable of all the dinosaur species would be discovered: The Tyrannosaurus Rex, or every astute kindergartner will remind you, The “T-Rex” for short.
These early discoveries would provide fuel for an entirely new crop of stories, and it is not hard to see why. Children, especially are drawn to these long dead prehistoric creatures. The novel Jurassic Park lampshades how much of an expert on dinosaurs children can be, when Alice Levin, a lab assistant for a doctor in San Jose investigating strange lizard bites a young girl acquired insist that based on the picture the girl drew that it is a dinosaur, despite the small size of the creature the girl described,
“…There were little dinosaurs back then…Believe me, I know. I have two boys, I’m an expert. The smallest dinosaurs were under a foot .Teenysaurus or something, I don’t know. Those names are impossible. You’ll never learn those names if you’re over the age of ten.”
The unending enigma that surrounds these behemoths is fertile ground for the most imaginative of story teller, Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg being among some of the many. Crichton noted in an essay on his website,
“I first started writing the book in 1981, and I put the project aside because at that time, there seemed to be an enormous mania about dinosaurs in America, and I did not want to book to appear to ride a current fashion. But the fashion never went away. Finally I realized that the fascination with dinosaurs was permanent. It is always there…I suspect children have always been fascinated by dinosaurs. To go to a museum and see a young child, barely able to walk and talk, shrieking “stegosaurus” and “tyrannosaurus” as they see the creatures, is a very striking thing. Why does it happen? What is going on in that child’s mind, shouting out those complex Latin names? I have thought about it a great deal and I conclude I have no idea why it occurs. But dinosaurs seem to excite the imagination of both adults and children everywhere in the world.”
So, how can these long dead creatures captivate the imaginations of the young and the young at heart? James Orville Farlow and Michael Brett-Surman note in the book The Complete Dinosaur,
“The popularity of dinosaurs can be explained quite simply: Dinosaurs represent everything we loved as children-adventure, power, time travel, science, mystery, lost worlds, and even a certain ( and somehow pleasing) “inner chill.”
The thing that makes this “inner chill” so pleasing is based on one simple, indisputable fact: dinosaurs are extinct. In contrast to other predators there is a buffer of safety that exists with dinosaurs. Save for wolves or tigers who bare a familiarity with a beloved family dog or cat, most children fear wild animals because of they might do. Not so with dinosaurs. As Brain Switek notes in “For the Love of Dinosaurs” from the National Geographic,
“(D)inosaurs are so attractive because they are big, fierce, and extinct…The dental equipment of a Tyrannosaurus Rex could slam down on you with over 12,000 pounds of force, splitting you in two. At that point, the dinosaur might toss one chunk or the other over fifteen feet into the air with a surge of its neck muscles before catching the morsel again and swallowing. Since the tyrant has been gone for 66 million years, though, the petrified remains of the carnivore are not especially threatening. Hence the culprit of such ancient carnage, and its diverse compatriots, are a respectable source of speculative fixation for kids who admire the hints of prehistoric power and may aspire to wield such formidable force themselves as they try to imitate their favorite monsters. The imaginary bloodshed of an Apatosaurus at the jaws of an Allosaurus is not so terrible if the event can never reach beyond the realm of daydreams and nightmares.”
The first mention of a dinosaur in fiction came not from a maestro of science fiction, but from the pen of Charles Dickens in his novel Bleakhouse, in which he described foggy, grimy, and dingy the city of London was and said how it would not be wonderful to see a Megalosaurus waddle through the streets. Later, along with envisioning an almost accurate depiction of a trip to the moon, or a submarine capable of going to the bottom of the sea in From the Earth to the Moon and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne would be among the first luminaries in the genre of science fiction to feature dinosaurs, in his 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. Then in 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series, would publish his novel The Lost World in which Professor Challenger lead an expedition to a hidden land in South America where Dinosaurs still roamed the earth. J.R.R. Tolkien would even describe in his letters that the winged fell beast that the Witch-King of Angmar road upon was akin to Pterodactyls.
Thus, much like the dragon, they quickly proved that along with the dragon they could be like a treasure, an adversary and an obstacle all rolled into one. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle noted in his book The Lost World,
“It was surely well for man that he came late in the order of creation. There were powers abroad in earlier days which no courage and no mechanism of his could have met. What could his sling, his throwing-stick, or his arrow avail him against such forces as have been loose tonight? Even with a modern rifle it would be all odds on the monster.”
With the development of movies, it only made sense that the dinosaur would make it to the silver screen as well. As Rebecca Hawkes notes in “Costumed Pigs, Iguanas and Raquel Welch: the evolution of movie dinosaurs “ from a 2015 issue of The Telegraph that looked at them to long Cinimatic history of the dinosaur in anticipation not only for Jurassic World but Disney/Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur,
“More than any other prehistoric creature, dinosaurs “belong” to the public; they are our monsters; to cherish and resurrect again and again. For the past century…they’ve also been cinema’s monsters. Scientists can tell us what dinosaurs looked like, painstakingly reassembling bodies from fragments of bone, but it’s on film that these creatures really come alive: where, with varying degrees of accuracy, they stretch and eat and roar and amaze and frighten us to equal extent.”
In 1914 animator Winsor McCay, who would influence the likes of the Fleisher Brothers and Walt Disney, would release the first ever film about a dinosaur, a short 12 minute cartoon called Gertie the Dinosaur, while in 1925 Doyle’s book would become the first live action film to feature dinosaurs in 1925. As far as early dinosaur films go, the adaptation of Doyle’s novel would be among the few to accurately depict the Triceratops, Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus and Brontosaurus as herbivores at the time. Later in 1933 the film King Kong would feature Kong battling a T-Rex for Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow, only helping to cement the ape’s role as the film’s misunderstood hero. Other dinosaur related films would follow such as Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, One Million Years BC, Valley of the Gwangi, and Disney’s Fantasia, while the 1960s would see Hanna-Barbera studios animated domestic sitcom The Flintstones in which dinosaurs would be treated as pets.
However, it would be the late 1980s when dinosaurs would really take off in popularity in film and television. Steven Spielberg would team up with George Lucas and animator Don Bluth to produce The Land Before Time, a heartwrenching tale about Littlefoot the Apatosaurus as he leads his friends Cera ( a Triceratops), Ducky (a Duckbilled dinosaur), Spike ( a Stegosaurus), and Petri ( a Pteranadon) on a journey it The Great Valley that almost plays like a kids version of John Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress starring Dinosaurs. Jim Henson studios produce a sitcom in the 1990s called Dinosaurs about the family of dinosaurs named the “Sinclairs”, while Israeli-American television producer Haim Saban would import a Japanese action adventure series known in the states as The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers that featured five teens with attitude being given the power to control giant mechas of prehistoric creatures, including dinosaurs, known as Zords to combat the forces of evil. Then, in 1993, the year Jurassic Park debuted in theatres, would see a kid friendly alternative on PBS known as “Barney” a dancing, laughing friendly purple T-Rex who taught kids heartwarming lessons about topics like sharing, waiting your turn, and the number three.
In the Jurassic series, the dinosaurs are meant to be close approximations of these long dead creatures back to life. This means, like anything else in nature there are many different kinds with different behavior patterns. The Brachiosaurs is majestic, regal, and her call to her pod is almost like that of whales, projecting an air of tranquility. The Triceratops they encounter s sick, giving these creatures a sense of vulnerability. The Diloposaurus is on hand to give a generous dose of comeuppance to the thieving Nedry who is stealing embryos from the park to sell to inGen’s competitor. Last of all T-Rex and the Velociraptor are the antagonists for our human heroes.
Yet despite the danger of the “Spitter”, “Rexie” and the Raptors, the characters in the film can’t help but fine the majesty in any of these dinosaurs. Whether it’s hearing the heartbeat of the Triceratops, or listening to the songs of the brachiosaurus, or watching the Tyrannosaurus hunt and eat a Galimumus, there is something remarkable about each one of them. Even Muldoon can’t help but utter some words of admiration in saying “clever girl” as the raptors trick him by setting up a decoy for the other to spring on him and kill him. Like any other animal there is a beauty mixed in with the danger.
As Spielberg says in Empire Magazine in regard to the John Williams score for Jurassic Park and describing its haunting theme,
“It’s what you might expect to hear if you had a lot of respect for the oldest living creature in history brought back to life…You would take your hat off and watch it walk past with a tear in your eye, and say to yourself, ‘God did good work.'”
Apart from the literary and cinematic stories about dinosaurs, there have been no shortage of scientific discoveries made in the field of paleontology. In the book Jurassic World: Dinosaur Field Guide, Dr. Thomas R. Holtz Jr, and Dr. Michael Brett Surman note
“There are now over 1,200 named species of Dinosauria…since the “Dinosaur Renaissance” began in 1975, the number of professional dinosaur paleontologists…has risen from about 20 to over 200. This has led to an explosion of new explorations and discoveries. At one time, North America was the center for new finds. Now China and Argentina lead the world in finding and naming new dinosaur species. With about 40 new species named per year, scientists learn something new about dinosaurs each month.”
This of course has led to some discrepancies between the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the more scientifically accurate depictions. When the original movie first debuted in 1993, it was fairly accurate to how science envisioned dinosaurs. However as of today many theorize that some dinosaurs like the raptors and the T-Rex may have had something like feathers.
The movie Jurassic World acknowledges this fact, as Dr. Henry Wu one of the park’s leading scientists and engineers of the dinosaurs tells his employer Mr. Masarani,
“Nothing in Jurassic World is natural, we have always filled gaps in the genome with the DNA of other animals. And if the genetic code was pure, many of them would look quite different. But you didn’t ask for reality, you asked for more teeth.”
This is the main function of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park series. They are not meant to be “real” dinosaurs as much as they are meant to represent what we believe them to be. In the process, they also serve as an important symbol of humankinds own hubris in the light of an amazing scientific breakthrough in the area of genetics. The Prometheus stealing flame from the gods, or Dr. Frankenstein brining the dead back to life the cloning process to bring these dinosaurs back carries that same sense of forbidden knowledge that is too great for mankind. Early on when defending his vision, Hammond even points out that they probably wouldn’t have a problem if he were cloning an animal on the verge of extinction, only for Malcolm to point out that dinosaurs were not something that had gone extinct because they were hunted down or lost habitat. This is something that doesn’t seem like it could live in harmony with humans.
As Ian Malcolm so bluntly puts it in Jurassic Park,
“God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.”
At the very pinnacle of Jurassic Park, is the T-Rex known simply to the fans as “Rexie”. In fact Jurassic Park would have felt strangely empty without the dinosaur whom famed paleontologist, and consultant on the Jurassic franchise, Robert T. Bakker, said in the forward to the book Tyrannosaurs Sue about the discovery of the largest complete skeleton of a T.Rex,
“Dinosaurs are the most popular form of fossilized life the world over. And Tyrannosaurus Rex is the most popular dinosaur among people of all ages, all cultures, and all nationalities.”
While in the book we see lots of Rexie, we only get hints of her appearance in the film, and we don’t get to see the her until midway through the movie when the power is out and everything is about to collapse. Even then, the first hint we get at her is her tremendous foot prints that create slight tremors that make the water in a glass on the dashboard shake. Then she spits out a goat leg, tears down the fence and lets out her first mighty terrifying roar that would scare, and in most cases, delight school children everywhere.
As Brian Switek noted in a National Geographic article “Did the Real T. Rex Resemble the One in Jurassic Park?”
“Of all the dinosaur’s traits, the maw of T. Rex has probably inspired the most nightmares—and much of the cutting-edge science. The predator’s deep, reinforced skull was set with an array of thick, serrated teeth that evolved to pierce and cut simultaneously.”
The T.Rex became so popular that while filming the movie Spielberg actually changed the ending. Originally the humans were supposed to save the day but when he took one look at the test footage he knew that Rexie was going to be a huge hit. As Producer Kathleen Kennedy noted,
“I was sitting by the monitor one time with Steven on Jurassic and about halfway through the movie we killed the T. Rex. He was sitting there and he goes, ‘Guys, guys come here—we can’t kill the T. Rex!’ He had been watching the movie in his head as we’re shooting, and we’re halfway through the process and we’re nearing the moment where we’re gonna shoot the scene where we kill the T. Rex and he’s like, ‘No, the T. Rex is the star of the movie. We can’t kill him.’ So we called the production designer Rick Carter over and we, literally right by the monitor, started to talk about how we were going to change the next scene and the entire end of the film as we were making it, so that we could keep our leading actor, the T. Rex, alive.”
Part of Rexie’s appeal comes from the simple fact that the Rexie doesn’t engage in any behavior because she’s “evil”. She goes after the jeep because it looks like a stegosaurus or a triceratops and the light is shined in her eyes. When she eats the Galimimus , it’s only because she’s hungry, and they in turn only nearly run over Grant and the kids because they are trying to get away from her terrifying maw. It doesn’t even “save” our human heroes out of a sense of right or heroism, but again because it wants to hunt. Dr. Grant even tells Lex this when she is afraid of the Brachiosaurs after their encounter with the T-Rex that they aren’t monsters, but just do what they do.
As Tyler Wantuch notes in “Spielberg’s Triad of Doom” from First Showing.net,
“Just as Jaws was “trapped in the inlet,” an unnatural place which causes his violence, T-Rex is force fed goats, literally caged and seen as a beautiful animal.”
The Lost World takes this further as the mama and papa T.Rex only get enraged when their baby is stolen. Later, the male T.Rex goes on a rampage in San Diego, not out of some thirst to destroy and conquer, but because he has been drugged up, it’s baby is missing, it’s hungry, it’s thirsty and it is in a strange and frightening place. It has more in common with Kong, or the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms who were lost and confused in the human world, than the T-Rex from King Kong or Valley of the Gwangi who deliberately wanted to harm humans.
In direct contrast to Rexie, the most dangerous of the dinosaurs is the Velociraptor. The Raptor and its hunting pack are the ones who displays a sense of intelligence as it hunts in packs, stalks its prey relentlessly, and communicates with other members like a killer whale.
As the dino trainer Muldoon says to Dr. Grant,
“They show extreme intelligence, even problem-solving intelligence. Especially the big one. We bred eight originally, but when she came in she took over the pride and killed all but two of the others. That one… when she looks at you, you can see she’s working things out. That’s why we have to feed them like this. She had them all attacking the fences when the feeders came.”
Not only does Muldoon reveal that the raptors continually study the fence to look for weaknesses, it can trick the humans and even spring up on them without notice. Then there is the almost sinister look on the raptors faces, some critics even go so far as to compare them to Jack Nicholson’s character in the Shining, delighting as it goes in for a kill. In many ways with that sneer upon their faces and their cunning minds the raptors are akin to the description of the Serpent in the book of Genesis, chapter 3, verse 1,
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.”
In fact after one of the raptors kills and eats Muldoon, we see one hiding in the bushes as a snake slithers by on a log, almost hitting home the Raptor’s serpent like qualities. However, much like Rexie, they only engage in their natural tendencies, and thus they become less sinister in the sequels due to them receiving more natural and positive interactions with other Raptors. Jurassic Park III, Grant sees them being just as protective of their own family as Rexie, and sees them once again as magnificent, intelligent pack hunters. Later, in Jurassic World, Owen Grady shows that they can be trained, so long as they bond with him as infants.Hammond even informs Grant and company durring their tour of the original park that they are capable of forming such bonds, so long as they imprint on the first person they encounter upon birth.
However as bad as the raptors are, The Indominous Rex is perhaps the first true dinosaur bad guy in the franchise. While many critics and fans have drawn attention to the Frankenstein parallels in the Jurassic Park franchise, it is the I-Rex that is the true Frankenstein monster of the pack. T-Rex, the Raptors, and every single other dinosaur is simply the genetic left-overs of long dead creatures with some frog DNA to complete the gaps. The I.Rex however, like Frankenstein’s being is fashioned from several dead bodies, is cobbled together from other genetic material of other dinosaurs.
The Jurassic World website lists the among the DNA sources for the I.rex are the T.Rex, Abelisaurs,Carnotasauus, Majungasaurus, Rugops, and Giganotosaurus. The film reveals they also included the Raptors tree frogs and cuttlefish in this giant Jurassic soup, creating a dinosaur that was not only big, loud, terrifying, and intelligent but able to camouflage itself, and so deadly that it would kill for pleasure, not food. Thus, when the I.rex broke free and created havoc on the park, and no human could contain the creature, it ended up falling to Rexie and a Raptor named “Blue” to engage in a no-holds barred epic Jurassic tag-team as the two of them face off against the Indominous Rex in Jurassic World.
Whether it’s Raptors learning to open doors, T.Rex being brought stateside only to create pandemonium in San Diego, or I.Rex killing for pleasure, ultimately, the scientists at Jurassic Park never fully learn with their dinosaurs are beyond their control.
As Dr. Grant noted in the film Jurassic Park,
“The world has just changed so radically, and we’re all running to catch up. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but look… Dinosaurs and man, two species separated by 65 million years of evolution have just been suddenly thrown back into the mix together. How can we possibly have the slightest idea what to expect?”
What ever chills and wonders await fans in the next installment of the franchise is anyone’s guess. When you throw in dinosaurs, people, children, and of course scientists with a God complex who never learn their lessons until their hubris brings them low, anything can and will happen. One things is for sure, this summer the gates to the park will reopen and dinosaurs will walk the earth once again and no one will be able to control what will happen.
As Dr. Malcolm predicted in the first Jurassic Park,
“Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”
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