The true magic of “Jurassic Park” isn’t lurking within the film’s VFX, the most effective in cinematic history, nor is it glistening in the blue eye of Steven Spielberg, the world’s most gifted adventure storyteller of any platform. What makes this dino-horror extravaganza a surefire classic is the fact that each of its actors completely engross themselves into the admittedly goofy source material, and that each of the characters are highly-educated individuals capable of profound good and devastating destruction.
Every single person in “Jurassic Park,” from the realistic skeptics to the straight-up usurpers, has some sort of advanced degree or expansive knowledge about an area pertaining to the park. Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), the ethically absent IT slob arguably most responsible for the dinos getting loose, is still so advanced in computer programming the park literally cannot function without his Snickers-stained fingers smudging away at his keyboard. Donald Gennaro, the capitalist coward who gets caught with his pants down before turning into T-Rex chow, still has a law degree in the pocket of his blood-stained dockers. Even the children Lex and Tim, initially presented as more liabilities than Isla Nublar commodities, still pack swaths of crucial dino and techno knowledge into their pre-teen brains. Dr. Grant learns to love them not because they’re kids, but because they’re smart, even in spite of them being kids.
The thrill of “Jurassic Park” comes from these injured intellectuals fleeing from dinosaurs, but the story satisfaction stems from how their advanced knowledge combat and conflict. Problems are solved and risks deescalated when characters are forced to teach what they know to others. Forward-thinking billionaire Jon Hammond (Richard Attenborough) cannot turn the park back on his own, so he has to instruct Ellie (Laura Dern), a paleobotanist whose spent her life studying remnants of the past, to do so on her own. Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) is able to determine that the dinosaurs are breeding not from searching leafing through his mind’s expansive fossil files, but because of accidental lessons learned from the geneticists at the park. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a chaos theory whiz who accurately predicts the downfall of the park, finds himself in dire straights by mimicking Dr. Grant’s actions and movements with the T-Rex without following Grant’s explicit instructions, a more deathly version of building an IKEA cabinet without reading the manual first. This theme is echoed beyond the humans, since the true threat of “Jurassic Park” isn’t that there’s dinos on the loose, but that the dinos are free and they’re learning.
Without this profound theme of the value of education and teaching lessons, both requested and accidental, to one’s species, “Jurassic Park” would still be an exemplary film with the finest visual effects in history, true to classic confined horror movies like “The Thing” and “Jaws” with technological breakthroughs that would make “Star Wars” and “Aliens” blush. But this deeper theme about knowledge, education and evolution, where characters take their expertise, expand upon it, and share it to ensure growth and survival, shows the true majesty tucked beneath the gates of “Jurassic Park.” Proponents of cloning believe there’s nothing wrong with making an identical copy of an already living thing. But viewers of “Jurassic Park” know that the best way to stave off extinction isn’t to remake yourself, but to pass along what you already know.