Thursday, April 4, 2013

20 Years Later: Welcome (Back) to Jurassic Park

I was seven years-old. I was afraid of The Little Mermaid, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Fern Gully, and the My Little Pony movie.

But I loved, loved, LOVED dinosaurs, and I wanted to see Jurassic Park more than anything in the entire world. So after seeing the movie for themselves, my parents finally gave in. I could see the movie, on the condition that I would let them take me out of the theater if I got too scared (which they were probably betting on, given my track record).

So it was Summer 1993. I sat in the theater, getting ready to watch my first ever big-screen PG-13 thriller, wondering if it would help explain that bizarre McDonalds commercial I kept seeing on TV. Just before the movie began, my mom told me I could hold her hand if I needed to do so...

...but as it turned out, I didn't need to. For the little girl afraid of nearly every other movie ever made, I had only awe and amazement at watching dinosaurs run around eating people on the big screen in front of me. In fact, it was my mom who grabbed my hand during one particularly jump-worthy scene (even though she'd already seen the movie and should've known it was coming--it was when the raptor bursts through the piping after Ellie gets the power restored). She later claimed it was a preemptive hand grab to keep me from getting scared, but even at seven years-old I knew better than that. ;)

Jurassic Park instantly became my favorite movie. I was enamored. I'd been announcing my life goal of being a paleontologist since I was in the first grade, so maybe it shouldn't have been such a surprise to anyone that to me, Jurassic Park wasn't scary. It was fascinating. I remember a conversation in the schoolyard as a kid, where I was explaining to people why I wasn't scared of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. "Dinosaurs are just animals, and they need to eat. That's not scary." (Octopus-women who grow gigantic and laugh ultra-evilly, though...that's a whole 'nother story.)

I couldn't wait to own the movie for myself. I had to make everyone I knew watch it repeatedly, including my poor little sister who genuinely was afraid of it. I had to own the soundtrack. I had to have the posters. I had to tape record the "making of" documentaries whenever they came on TV. One year after starting piano lessons, I had to learn how to play the theme for myself, which you can watch below in all its awkward glory. And for my 10th birthday party, I had to have a Jurassic Park sleepover, complete with Pin-the-Lawyer-in-the-T-Rex's-Mouth and, of course, a late night, all-light's-off viewing of the movie (that scared the pants off some of my party guests).

Long story short, tomorrow night I get to see this movie in theaters for the first time since that original, magical experience. I'm even going to put up with 3D, which I can't stand, just so I can get the full IMAX screen.

Through the years, my love of Jurassic Park hasn't diminished one bit. I'm lucky to have found a whole clan of people through my job who also obsess over this movie, and we annoy everyone else in the office by quoting it incessantly. 

But I think the pinnacle of my Jurassic Park fan-life was made just this past month, at my museum's Dinosaur Day symposium.

I'd spent two year's putting this event together, and we had many fabulous paleontologists attend. The biggest name, though, was Jack Horner.

Jack Horner was one of the consultants for Jurassic Park, and it's said that Dr. Grant was partially based off of him. This guy was basically one of my childhood heroes, and not only did I get to work with him, something pretty amazing happened at the dinner event that marked the end of the symposium.

Jack Horner was saying a few words to all the dinner guests about how they're working on genetically reverse-engineering chickens to look more like classic dinosaurs. A person at one of the dinner tables near the back asked what he planned on doing with these engineered dinosaurs. My co-organizer, who was sitting next to me at the table closest to Dr. Horner's podium, shouted, "Theme Park!"

Jack replied, "I don't know. Where would I put it?"

And, without even missing a beat, in front of a room full of VIPs, scientists, and the president of my museum, I burst out with: "On an island off the coast of Costa Rica!"

And Jack laughed. And I laughed. And then I'd realized I'd just cracked a Jurassic Park joke with Jack Horner, and I had to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Most of the room had zero idea why we were laughing, but I didn't care. The seven year-old me had just attained ultimate wish fulfillment, and that was all that mattered.

So I think I'm ready. It's been twenty years. In that time, I've been a paleontologist, I've dug up fossils, I've become our museum's go-to dinosaur girl, and I've even worked with Jack Horner himself. Seven year-old me would be delighted beyond comprehension to have known all of that was in my future.

And, as cheesy as it sounds, I just can't help but wonder if any of this would've happened to me if it wasn't for this epic movie. Would I have taken the same path? Would I be a different person today?

I guess I'll never really know. Maybe I should just listen to Ian Malcolm and trust that life...finds a way.

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