Many film critics preface their lists of notable cinema with the term “the best.” The best movies of the year, the best movie of all time. It makes for dramatic copy, but it’s also highly inaccurate. It would be better for them to simply say that the list contains their favorite films of the year, but that makes less attention-grabbing reading and removes the gloss obscuring the fact that all moviegoers, even critics, are subjective viewers. Only through consensus over time can anything have a claim to be “the best.” Everything else is just “my favorite.”

This explains why occasionally you’ll see a moviegoer or critic defend their love of a particular film (as the late Roger Ebert notoriously did with Burt Reynolds’ Rent-a-Cop) despite the fact that it’s nowhere near perfect cinema. A favorite movie is like a favorite car or a favorite pair of jeans–you love it for what it is, warts and all.

I recently realized that my favorite movie, at least insofar as I can name one, is 1993’s Jurassic Park, an assessment reinforced by its recent reappearance on the big screen.

Jurassic Park is in many ways a synthesis of other things in its director’s oeuvre. It combines the broad optimism evident in E.T. and the unrelenting horror from Jaws into something that’s its own beast, apart from the book and the many, many creature feature imitators that followed. There’s action, adventure, laughs (mostly courtesy of Jeff Goldblum, much more effective as a scene-stealer than a lead in the sequel), and a real human element as well.

That’s one criticism that “serious” critics leveled at the film that I never agreed with–that the special effects are great but that the characters are cardboard. I don’t think anyone was robbed at Oscar time, but Grant and Hammond have significant character arcs. Grant, the curmudgeonly character who hates kids, is forced to come to terms with his parental side by guiding the kids through the park; willing to scare a kid to death for insulting a dinosaur at the beginning, he’s ready to give up his life to protect one by the end.

And Hammond (a much different and more sympathetic character than in the book) has his idealism and showmanship tempered by harsh reality. Not only the controller who’s lost control, but an old man faced with the sobering reality that his dream may have cost the lives of the people he loves. My favorite scene in the film doesn’t involve any dinosaurs or special effects, but rather Richard Attenborough musing quietly on his life of showmanship over bowls of melting ice cream.

I’d be the first to agree that Jurassic Park isn’t a perfect movie. Several subplots from the book are shoehorned in and left dangling, most notably the mystery of the sick triceratops and the “lysine contingency.” Despite its screen time we never learn that the triceratops was becoming sick by eating West Indian Lilac as a crop stone, and the throwaway mention of the lysine contingency adds nothing to the picture other than a hurdle for future sequels to grapple with or ignore. The conceit that all the park workers except the main characters leave the island due to the storm (or perhaps daily, it’s not clear) strains credulity.

But still, I find myself as thrilled and engaged by Jurassic Park now as I was in 1993. Even a few notes of John Williams’ magnificent score are enough to make me want to pop in the DVD. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s perhaps my favorite.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!