I had a lot of questions as a 10-year-old boy. Why do I have to take math class if I’m so bad at it? Why do I have to go to Hebrew lessons if I’m just as bad at religion as I am at math? Why can’t I rent Terminator 2: Judgment Day ... even if I promise to keep taking math and Hebrew lessons? And so forth. But during the summer of 1993, one query overshadowed every other question I could think of: “Wait a minute ... can dinosaurs open doors?”
It was a thought that dogged my tiny, bad-at-long-division-and-Judaism brain that entire year, in the wake of experiencing the most summer-y of summer movies: Jurassic Park.
The thrilling, funny, tense and very-smart-but-just-as-stupid Steven Spielberg blockbuster asks its audience to believe a lot of ridiculous things, starting with the notion that dinosaurs can be brought back to roaring life with the help of a mosquito and a few billion dollars, and that anyone should trust a computer expert who looks like Seinfeld’s Newman. But the movie, famously adapted from Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel, also attempts to ground its many suspensions of disbelief with at least a dash of sure-sounds-plausible pseudo-science. All that blather about DNA and amber and frog genomes sure sounded like someone knew what they were talking about. So, if we’re to accept that humans can clone brontosauruses, then why shouldn’t we also believe that velociraptors can turn the handle of a door - in slow, extra-creepy-for-tension-purposes fashion, no less - to stalk their modern-human prey?
It was not a lot to ask. Yet, while first watching Jurassic Park one sunny June afternoon at the Cineplex Promenade in the depths of Thornhill, Ont., I couldn’t stop thinking about the dang door. Why wouldn’t the raptors just bust through the door like normal blood-thirsty animals who are hungry for some delicious Sam Neill? Do dinosaurs have opposable thumbs? Did anyone who made this movie care? Do you care, Mr. Spielberg? Should I?
All the many variations on the question, though, obscured the obvious fact that Jurassic Park was not so much a maddening movie as a gateway opportunity for cinematic obsession. In my decade of life up until that point, I had consumed and enjoyed likely hundreds of movies, some of which I was probably too young for (Another 48 Hours), others which I was woah-boy-definitely too young for (Reservoir Dogs; don’t ask me how I got my hands on it). But it was Jurassic Park, my summer of 1993 end-game, that sparked a habit which I still have trouble shaking today: re-watching a film over and over to understand just how it made its way into my reality.
If I couldn’t immediately answer the question about dinosaurs and opposable thumbs and doors, then I was just going to have to let the film’s fiction overwhelm and take over. Which is exactly what I did. By the end of that summer, I had seen Jurassic Park at least six times in theatres. I wasn’t alone - okay, I’m not sure how many people were fixated on the door scene, but clearly the film was able to appeal to other, broader sensibilities. Grossing almost US$1-billion worldwide at the time of its release, Spielberg’s film was an instant cultural touchstone.
By my sixth viewing - maybe my seventh; again, math wasn’t my strong suit - the door didn’t matter. Neither did Newman’s too-obvious villainy (I know the actor is named Wayne Knight, but he’s named Nedry in this movie, which is fair enough justification to forever call the man Newman; sorry, Wayne!). And neither did the film’s many narrative half-measures, such as its T-Rex Machina moment at the very end. Jurassic Park, and Steven Spielberg, taught a young boy how to never let a movie die. And that, turns out, opened more doors than I could have imagined.
Next week: Cliff Lee takes flight with his remembrance of 2002′s The Mothman Prophecies
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