The summer of '93 was an import one for me as a movie geek. Of course I had grown up with Steven Spielberg's work like Jaws and the Indiana Jones films and Close Encounters and ET, but I had never been caught up in one of those as an “event.” They had simply existed, either on cable or VHS. I did go see Last Crusade opening weekend with my family, but it was just a cool thing to do, not necessarily a landmark moment.
The evening of Friday June 11th, 1993 I was at my grandparent's house. We were watching the news after dinner and the big story were the lines around the block for Jurassic Park.
I was so pumped to see the movie, but also nervous. I was supposed to go see it the next morning, but could I even get in?
My grandparents very rarely went to the movies with me. Grandpa Vic would often say “I want to keep my shoes” when I'd ask him to go watch movies with me, referring to the sticky floors of the theaters. But they encouraged my movie habit and bright and early Saturday morning my Grandmother dropped me off at the domed Century Theaters in San Jose, California.
I walked up to the ticket booth while my Grandmother waited to make sure I could actually get in and sure enough I was able to buy a ticket to the first screening that morning. No lines, no problems. I vividly remember getting a Coke and some Red Vines, thinking all that stuff on the news was overblown and then I entered the theater... a buzzing, packed theater.
Somehow I hit the sweet spot between sold out and lining up hours in advance and just kinda slid on in. I remember sitting off-center and being perfectly happy with my seat and then the usher came in and asked everybody to scoot towards the middle so the next wave of people could have easy access to remaining seats.
When all was said and done I somehow ended dead center, middle of the theater. It's like fate put me in that seat. Then the movie played and I was hooked in a way I had never been before. Some of it was the buzz of the crowd, some was the technical majesty of the effects, both practical and digital, on the screen, some of it was the charisma of all the actors, a good deal was John Williams' score and there was also a little bit attributed to the state of the art immersive screen I was watching it on.
The Century theaters were domed, with curved screens so it felt a little bit like I was surrounded by the movie. Not only that, but this was my first experience with Digital Sound. The DTS logo is super cheesy now, but at the time it blew my mind (and my eardrums).
I was so into the movie. A 12 year old boy in 1993 was already the perfect mark for Jurassic Park and when you add in the fantastic presentation to the mix you get something life-changing.
I'll always love Jurassic Park thanks to that screening. That summer I was boy obsessed. I both read the original Michael Crichton novel and listened to the audio book (read by John Heard). I collected Jurassic Park trading cards, I bought the making of book, I listened to the soundtrack on repeat, I pumped countless quarters into the Jurassic Park pinball machine. And I dreamed of petting a real life dinosaur.
Cut to 24 years later and I found myself in the jungles of Hawaii, about to enter a tent filled with animatronic dinosaurs. Twelve year old me was very much on my mind in that moment.
But lets back up a second. I got the call asking if I wanted to visit the set of the Jurassic World sequel after I had booked a much-needed vacation to New Zealand in that same timeframe. However you must remember that whole page of backstory I just made you read. A little thing like vacation wasn't going to keep me from getting to visit a Jurassic park in real life. The way it all worked out I flew from Austin to LA to Aukland to Wellington (roughly 20-ish hours of travel), got to sleep for a night and then got on an airplane and headed about 10 hours back the way I just came and I did so with a smile because there was a chance I was gonna see some goddamn dinosaurs and for that I'd fly around the world three times over.
One of the perks of getting to touch down in New Zealand first was I happened upon a bag of limited edition Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Doritos that was only available in the Southern hemisphere. The chips were green colored and “Gamora themed” and I said “Screw it, I'm going to gift these to Chris Pratt if I get the chance.”
So, me and my movie tie-in junk food ended up in Hawaii where I found out the set visit was very limited. It was just me and Slashfilm's Peter Sciretta there, which made the whole thing feel intimate and less junket-y where you're herded like cattle from one part of the visit to another. Don't get me wrong, those visits are fine, too, but this kind is way better.
Our first stop was the destroyed Main Street of Jurassic World, built up off of Police Beach on the North Shore of Oahu. This exterior set was totally cool to be exposed to the elements because in the story for the sequel the Park has been abandoned for years. They've given it back to the dinosaurs and thus everything is overgrown, broken down, unkempt and probably filled with a bunch of dino doo-doo. I didn't see any, but I'm sure it was there.
They built Main Street on an old WW2 airfield and it looked identical to the one you see (in much better shape) in the first Jurassic World even though that original set was built in New Orleans. The production design team was able to recreate it in exacting detail from the construction drawings, 3-D scans and photos taken on set the first time around.
I didn't see any evidence of it, but I'm hoping we see a skeleton holding margarita glasses in each hand somewhere in this scene.
While that's wishful thinking on my part, what I can say is that this location doesn't play a huge part of the movie, but I was told that it serves a pretty big moment that sounds like it mirrors the original Jurassic Park.
When our heroes return to the island they find more dead dinosaurs than alive dinosaurs. Bones, carcasses, etc. I mean, the dinos have been left to their own devices so naturally the meat-eating meatasauruses have been eating the veggiesauruses and they don't tend to clean up after themselves.
Apparently our heroes come to Main Street and see their first sign of life: a Brachiosaur walking amongst the ruins. Like I said, it sounds like a callback to the original moment when Grant sees the Brachiosaur for the first time. There's still awe and majesty even as this island is about to go up in flames.
One of the big characters that has been kept out of pretty much all advertising is Ted Levine's character, Wheatley. We didn't get to see him work, but we heard a lot about him. Ted Levine is a very great and intimidating character actor probably best known as Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs and his character here is apparently a real son of a bitch. He's a hard-ass military style dude on the ground to organize the extraction of the very specific species he's tasked to grab and from the sounds of things he's a little bit of a mix of Pete Postlethwaite's Roland Tembo and Peter Stormare's Dieter Stark from The Lost World in that he'd rather hunt the dinosaurs instead of saving them, but he doesn't seem to have Tembo's respect for the animal. He's a little more cruel about it and like most cruel people in the Jurassic universe things probably aren't going to end too well for this dude.
While the production was very secretive about what happens after everybody gets off the island we did get filled in on some of the key on-island locations. We know that our group is trying to find Blue and to do so they need to journey to a radio tower on the island where they can plug in and track the dinosaurs (remember they all had tracking devices implanted). I assume there is where Justice Smith's character comes in since he's a computer dude who is deathly afraid of literally everything on the island.
We've all seen the trailers by now so you know they find Blue. What you might have missed is that Blue has made her nest in the overturned jeep that the T-Rex messed up so beautifully in Jurassic Park. I was told later that the idea to do that came from Mondo, of all places. You may remember their teaser poster print they did for Jurassic World depicting a Raptor on top of the ruins of the car. Apparently that image stuck with the creative team and they couldn't find a place to put it in the first film, so they wrote that into the sequel.
And speaking of Blue, I guess it's time to talk about losing my mind and petting a real, living, breathing dinosaur.
I'm jumping forward a little bit here, but before the final part of our set visit, Peter and I got to step into the SFX tent and see some of the animatronics involved in the movie. We missed the biggest animatronic build of the shoot, sadly. They built a full sized T-Rex all drugged out and in her container, but that wasn't brought to Hawaii so I didn't get to see her.
I did get to see a baby stegosaurus and Blue in all her head to toe glory, though, so I'm not complaining.
The stego was a partial build. The body wasn't fully animatronic as the scene it's in apparently calls for it to be fairly stationary. The head, though, was articulated and puppeted by two guys, one controlling the rig that made its head move around in a surprisingly big range and the other using a remote control to make the eyes blink.
Working together they made this head on metal skeleton come to life. It sniffed at my leg and nudged my outstretched hand like a big, goofy dog. Even though I could see the illusion thanks to the physical body not being in that tent at the time I still bought into it thanks to the animation happening before my eyes.
The raptor didn't require as much suspension of disbelief. Blue was a full build. She was groggy, laying on the ground, but fully articulated. Her legs could push out, her arms moved, her ribcage expanded and contracted with each breath, her head could raise up off the ground and move around, her eyes opened and closed and could follow you, her mouth and tongue were working. In short, she was alive. In that tent at that moment, with a huge team of puppeteers behind her, Blue was a living thing.
This was the moment I had dreamed of since I was a wide-eyed kid sitting in that movie theater watching dinosaurs come to life.
The SFX crew told us that this particular build breaks down into three parts that when connected makes a seamless, full body Velociraptor and that it typically takes 11 puppeteers to bring her to life. Some will operate individual limbs, some the bladders built in that make it look like she's breathing, some on her face.
The SFX team, lead by Star Wars' Neal Scanlan, didn't just create living dinosaurs. Nope, there's lots of dead ones as well. Near Blue's nest, out in the jungles of Hawaii, they built a full scale, dead adult Stegosaurus. This thing was massive. Sixty feet long, 15 feet tall, and immaculately detailed. Leathery, drying skin hanging over an exposed ribcage... It was sad and beautiful at the same time.
There were a good dozen more dino carcasses scattered around the landscape. We went to visit the Radio Tower location, which is near where they shot the Gyrosphere Valley sequence in the first Jurassic World, at a place called Kualoa Ranch, which has been the location of a ton of movies and TV shows. When Hurley was golfing in Lost or when Lex, Tim and Dr. Grant were running from the Gallimimus in the original Jurassic Park, the Kong skeletons scene from Skull Island... that was all shot at Kualoa, a giant gorgeous amazingly beautiful reserve. I'm also told the Obamas frequent the event center.
One of the locations in this huge natural wonder is a steep green hillside and the Radio Tower was down at the foot of that. They had rigged the whole area with gas pipes so they could pump out fire for a big lava sequence and they even dotted the landscape with those dino carcasses. From the tower location you could easily see for miles and they had a bunch dotting the landscape and like the Stego these aren't just bones, but fully detailed decomposing carcasses.
The scene in the trailer where Chris Pratt is running down the hill yelling “RUN!” is from this location and it looks way more steep and treacherous in person than it does on camera, let me tell you.
We saw very little actual filming, but our last stop of the day did take us to the active set.
The scene is the finale of the big island escape and involved Justice Smith and Chris Pratt and a speeding truck racing down a dock, trying to make it to a boat being chased by lava and probably a dinosaur or two. I don't know about that last part, but it is a Jurassic movie, so if someone's running odds are there's a dinosaur involved somewhere.
Instead of getting to watch the scene unfold we instead spent our time at this location interviewing many of the key players, including legendary producer Frank Marshall, Justice Smith and Chris Pratt. I've run all those interviews separately and will list them at the bottom of this article. I highly recommend you give them a read if you want to know more about the movie and hear some fun filming anecdotes.
This was my first time meeting Pratt and he was every bit the joking, charming leading man type I expected from his film work. Of course within seconds of him entering our interview tent I bestowed upon him the gift of limited edition Doritos that had his face on them and to my delight he was super over the moon about it.
There was a debate about whether or not he was going to “smash them” that night or hold on to them for posterity's sake and eat them in 20 years. That spurned a quick conversation about just how high you could get eating 20 year old movie tie-in Doritos and then we calmed down and had a nice chat about Jurassic stuff.
Before we left we got a visit from Bryce Dallas Howard, who was in the tent next door to the one we were doing interviews in. We had interviewed her earlier in the day and since she knew she had two full blown geeks she asked us if we had any thoughts about her dad signing on to do the Han Solo movie. Of course we did and we listed off a few words of geek wisdom that she rapidly typed into the notes app on her phone and she said she was going to send them on to her dad. Whether or not she did and whether or not he took any of them to heart I have no idea, but it was a pretty cool moment nonetheless.
And that ended the big trip. The next day I got back on a plane and went back to enjoy my vacation knowing that I had gotten to bond with a real life dinosaur. The SFX guys could explain all the servos and components that made Blue look alive all they want, but I'm pretty sure they just cloned a real life dinosaur. That's my story and I'm sticking with it!
Thanks for following along on this crazy adventure. Hopefully you know a little bit more about this crazy new Jurassic movie. If not now you know about limited edition Doritos, so I guess it's a win either way.
If you want to read full transcripts of the interviews with the main players then here you go: