This week marks the 20th (!) anniversary of “Jurassic Park,” Steven Spielberg‘s adaptation of the Michael Crichton best-seller that would go on to become (at the time) the highest grossing movie of all time and a true technological breakthrough that would influence the way movies are made and exhibited to this very day (it was the first movie with a fully digital theatrical soundtrack). The movie is so ingrained in the hearts and minds of a certain generation that the 3D re-release earlier this year felt redundant – there are some of us who could easily act out every moment from the movie from memory. It’s hard to even imagine but there were several wildly different variations on “Jurassic Park” that almost made it to the screen, and we’re here to dig those up like a long forgotten mosquito inside a chunk of amber, dust them off, use the blood from inside the mosquito, and resurrect these versions. Welcome to the “Jurassic Park” you’ve never seen.
It should be noted that most, if not all of the quotes from this piece are pulled from three sources – the amazing “Making of Jurassic Park” book by Don Shay and Jody Duncan that still proves indispensible to this day (our copy is all ragged and falling apart but still came through), the supplemental materials on the recent “Jurassic Park” Blu-ray box set, and a phone conversation we had with Joseph Mazzello, who played the young Tim in the movie, on the train from New York to our home in Connecticut. And whether or not the currently on hold “Jurassic Park IV” joins these stories remains to be seen…
The Version At Another Studio
At the time of the initial development of “Jurassic Park,” Michael Crichton had some experience in Hollywood, both as a novelist whose work was constantly being optioned and adapted (most notably the stylistically bold “Andromeda Strain,” directed by “West Side Story” filmmaker Robert Wise) and as a filmmaker himself, of cultish favorites like “Westworld” (whose plot shares certain similarities with “Jurassic Park”), “Runaway” and “Looker.” Like “Jurassic Park,” almost all of Crichton’s major works took place in the dangerous, morally grey intersection where technological advancement meets human arrogance.
Crichton had been badly burned when 20th Century Fox optioned his 1980 novel “Congo,” before the book had even been written, for what as then an unthinkable $1 million, only to see it never get made. It was subsequently produced after “Jurassic Park” by Paramount, and utilized many of the same artists and filmmakers, with ‘Park’ producer Frank Marshall directing, and visual effects guru Stan Winston creating the murderous apes. Soured by the “Congo” experience, when Crichton completed “Jurassic Park,” he instructed his agent to offer the film rights at a set $1.5 million so the author “could assess whatever interest might arise with fiscal dispassion.” The studios, unsurprisingly, swarmed anyway. And what’s more – the final four studios that were in contention had their filmmaking talent already lined up. 20th Century Fox, who were admittedly pushing their luck with Crichton, had Joe Dante poised to direct; Warner Bros. wanted it for their golden child Tim Burton; and Gruber-Peters Entertainment, in conjunction with TriStar Pictures, had Richard Donner in mind for their proposed version. But it was always going to be Spielberg and Universal who took home “Jurassic Park.”
Years earlier, when Crichton and Spielberg were working on a project that would eventually become the long-running television series “ER” (Crichton’s script for the feature-length version was turned into the initial three episodes), the author slipped Spielberg an early galley version of the novel (this could have been an early version of the book which was told primarily through the point-of-view of the two young children). Crichton was clearly more interested in the movie getting made than the movie getting optioned, and told Spielberg he would sell it to him if he promised to direct it himself. “But then the agency got ahold of it; and they, of course, encouraged a bidding war, even though Michael had kind of promised me the book privately,” Spielberg said. “Before long, it had been sent out to every studio in town, and the bidding was fast and furious.” Of course, less than a week after it went on the auction block, the book was confirmed for Universal and Spielberg (with his Amblin Entertainment co-producing). The initial $1.5 million price tag was inflated to $2 million, with Crichton issuing a first draft of the screenplay for the additional $500,000. None of the filmmakers who flirted with “Jurassic Park” would ever return to the land of dinosaurs, although one of them certainly tried.
When Burton obtained the rights to the Topps trading card series “Mars Attacks,” he also secured the rights to “Dinosaurs Attack,” a sort of sequel card series that came out more than twenty years later. Gory images splashed across the cards, like one where a Triceratops is impaling a bride and groom on their wedding day, the text at the bottom reading “Nuptial Nightmare”. The intention was for Burton to make “Dinosaurs Attack” first, but when “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” began pre-production, focus was shifted to “Mars Attacks,” with Burton optimistic that, after that film’s success, he would be able to make “Dinosaurs Attack” as its sequel. Of course, “Mars Attacks” was a critical and commercial disaster and Burton never got to make his bloody dino-rampage extravaganza.
The Version Without Ian Malcolm
The tangled pre-production phase of “Jurassic Park” would ultimately span the entirety of both Spielberg’s middling Peter Pan riff “Hook” and Spielberg confederate Robert Zemeckis’ pitch-black comedy “Death Becomes Her” (which would utilize many of the same artistic principles as “Jurassic Park,” including production designer Rick Carter, cinematographer Dean Cundey, and the visual effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic). It was during the notoriously torturous production of “Hook” that Spielberg met Malia Scotch Marmo, a screenwriter from New Jersey that Dustin Hoffman had brought onto “Hook” to beef up what he considered a tragically underwritten role. (This is the same production where Hoffman supposedly had Spielberg locked out of the set every once in a while – this is the reason why “Jurassic Park” is completely free of movie stars.) Spielberg and Scotch Marmo got along well enough that Kathleen Kennedy, a producer on both films and executive at Spielberg’s Amblin, offered her the job on “Jurassic Park.” Scotch Marmo gathered much of the preproduction artwork, Crichton’s initial draft, and even a copy of the novel that Spielberg had marked and annotated with his favorite passages and character moments, and went to work on an entirely new script. “I think the structure of Michael’s script was pretty close to the final movie. It was, after all, the structure of the book. The only differences were the streamlining that one writer might do as opposed to the other,” Scotch Marmo said. “I felt my job was to build up the characters, to give them more life and more purpose in the screenplay.”
Crichton admitted that both the original novel and his initial draft of the screenplay were light on characterization because he felt that more emphasis needed to be paid to the science actually being believable (“The first thing was to make compelling dinosaurs… That was my overriding concern”). Scotch Marmo worked on the screenplay for five months, sending Spielberg chunks of pages, getting notes back from him, tweaking her preexisting work, and then soldiering forth. The most dramatic (and, looking back on it, baffling) change Scotch Marmo made to the screenplay was the deletion of the Ian Malcolm character played by Jeff Goldblum, who serves as the cynical voice of reason amongst the band of scientific idealists and capitalist entrepreneurs. (The intent was to combine elements of Malcolm into the paleontologist Alan Grant character, played by Sam Neill.) “I tried to incorporate a lot of Malcolm into Grant, who was kind of underdeveloped,” Scotch Marmo said. “I wanted Grant to be completely opposed to the commercialization of science – which is a big biotechnology issue. And I felt we needed to find something with Ellie and Grant and the children that made sense, so at the end of this incredible journey there was something about the experience that made them different from when they went in.” This was never a feasible plan, though, considering that Malcolm was a stand in for both the audience and Crichton himself, who admitted that, “I don’t know if I would express myself exactly in his words… But the general sentiment, I think, is completely correct, that science is many ways over the top, particularly in its arrogance.”
After working for five months on the screenplay, Spielberg called Scotch Marmo and said, “I’ve read it twice and I think it’s a miss.” After the dismissal of Scotch Marmo, Spielberg turned to another member of the “Death Becomes Her” team – screenwriter David Koepp. Koepp didn’t read the Crichton or Scotch Marmo drafts and instead fashioned an entirely new script, removing at least one key sequence that both previous screenplays had incorporated from the novel – one in which Grant and the two kids are pursued down a river (and over a waterfall) by the T-rex, with the feeling that after the initial T-rex attack, “there should be total chaos.” “I thought the raft trip was rather redundant,” Koepp said. “It was an easy cut to make, especially since it would have been so monstrously expensive.” Koepp also created the tram-tour sequence, which streamlined much of the book’s tireless exposition, and resurrected the Ian Malcolm character, now embellished with some much-needed humor. After he delivered his script to Spielberg, he also received 12 pages of notes from Scotch Marmo that were “very useful.” Koepp’s version of the Ian Malcolm character was such a success that when Crichton set about writing the second book, he made Malcolm the central character… Even though he had been killed in the first novel.
The Version With Stop-Motion Dinosaurs
“Jurassic Park” will always be remembered for its photo-realistic visual effects, which brought centuries-old creatures back to life with a sophisticated marriage of computer generated visual effects and robotic puppets, but the road to get to this seemingly seamless combination was a long and bumpy one indeed. Spielberg was initially inspired by the King Kong attraction that had just opened up at Universal Studios in Florida, which featured a huge, room-sized Kong replica that shook the passing tramcar like it was Fay Wray. Spielberg actually contacted the manufacturer of the Kong robot, a man named Bob Gurr, who together with Spielberg thought that they could construct a 20-foot tall ambulatory T-rex. This proved, however, beyond the capabilities of Gurr and his team and so Spielberg instead employed Stan Winston and his talented team of artists (many of whom began producing work before being officially hired for the project), based largely on the success of his Queen Alien creature from James Cameron‘s “Aliens.” Spielberg wanted as much of the dinosaur effects to be captured in camera as possible, so that the actors would have something to play against, conveying the believability of the animals (they were never referred to as “monsters” or “creatures,” at Spielberg’s insistence) to the audience more readily. As Winston and his team began designing and constructing the physical versions of the half-dozen dinosaur species in the movie (whittled down from the book’s thirteen), using technology partially developed for use within the Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks, a more pressing issue arose: how to depict the full-scale dinosaurs.
From the outset, the creatures were going to be accomplished using stop-motion animation, a process used since the days of the original “King Kong,” wherein miniature puppets or models are painstakingly moved, 24-frames-per-second, in an effort to simulate a living, breathing character. “[It] was always going to be the old fashioned way,” Spielberg said in a retrospective documentary on the film’s Blu-ray release. This might have been how it was “always” going to be, but that didn’t necessarily mean that Spielberg was happy with the process. “Steven was not enthusiastic about using miniature puppets,” Rick Carter said, which was part of the reason why so much of what he wanted to do was being accomplished on-set. The team at Industrial Light & Magic, led by Dennis Muren, had come off of complex computer-generated visual effects on both “Death Becomes Her” and Cameron’s breakthrough “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and Muren thought he could at least give some of the dinosaur effects a shot using this new technology. Initially Muren and his team were just going to provide computer generated dinosaurs for a single sequence, one in which the T-rex chases a herd of galloping dinosaurs. “Creating herds of animals with puppets would be very difficult, so I thought maybe that was something we might be able to do with computer graphics,” Muren said. The team, at the time, was mostly there to clean up the stop motion effects that legendary artist Phil Tippett (“the best in the business,” according to Spielberg) and his studio were preparing for the movie (removing rods, smoothing out shots, etc.) Muren created a skeletal version of the long, ostrich-like dinosaur and created a run cycle for the skeletons, shooting a background plate and having the herd of dinosaurs careen through a valley. The results blew everyone away. But two members of Muren’s team, Mark Dippe and Steve “Spaz” Williams, thought even bigger: in secret they designed and animated a T-rex. The results were breathtaking. When Muren (and later Spielberg) saw the results, the entire nature of the visual effects changed.
Gone was the work that Tippett and his crew were slavishly toiling away on, replaced with an entirely new way of visualizing these animals. “At that point in time it was a big emotional moment. It was like when your dog dies,” Tippett explained on the same documentary. “You know your dog is going to die but when your dog dies, it hits you real hard.” Producer Kennedy said it succinctly: “We were onto a whole new way of looking at ‘Jurassic Park.'” But Tippett wasn’t quite extinct. Not yet. He and his team were utilized in two key aspects of the film’s production that cannot be overlooked or understated.
For one, Tippett and his team created two fully realized stop motion sequences for a pair of major scenes in the movie, used as what we would now refer to as “pre-visualization,” that give you a pretty good idea about what that original stop motion version of “Jurassic Park” would have looked like. (It also lets you see a couple of abandoned ideas, like the snakelike tongue on the raptors that would flick in and out of their mouths; and the fact that the T-rex attack was originally staged without rain.) The other way in which Tippett and his team were utilized was in the creation of a system called DID – or Dinosaur Input Device. It looked like a robotic skeleton version of the puppets that Tippett usually used, and when Tippett would move it, the movements would translate to the computer animators. So the animators at ILM were given the performance that Tippett would have delivered if the stop motion version had been given the go ahead, creating a seamless transition from the old to new school approaches to visual effects and created a seamlessness to the performances in both Stan Winston’s camp (since they had referenced Tippett’s pre-visualizations) and ILM (who would provide the final animation). In the end, there are only 15 minutes total of dinosaur effects in the film, with 9 minutes belonging to Stan Winston’s robotic creations and the other 6 utilizing ILM and Tippett’s computer-generated marvels.
The Version With The Baby Triceratops
On a movie as vast and complex as “Jurassic Park,” when things are deleted from the screenplay, they can have an outward ripple effect on the rest of the production. One such ripple was an eleventh-hour deletion of a sequence involving the kids riding a baby triceratops. This was something that the team at Stan Winston’s studio had been working on for months, and at the time of the scene’s removal were days away from finishing a fully mechanical version that the kids could actually get on and ride. Previous requirements for the dinosaur to run were no longer necessary when the production shifted to utilize more of the digitally created dinosaurs, even though Winston and his crew had prepared for a more active sequence using a chain-rig system developed for a previous project. Seven sculptors worked on the design of the five-foot-long baby triceratops. Project coordinator Shannon Shea said that, “We worked on it for more than a year… when the whole sequence was cut.” How close they came to filming the sequence is a matter of debate.
When we asked Joe Mazzello, who played young Tim in the movie, if he rehearsed the scene or got to see the dinosaur, he said, “This is the first I’m hearing about it.” Koepp said that the sequence went the way of the dinosaur when, late in the process, Spielberg became increasingly concerned with the film’s running time and the narrative’s internal logic. “Steven was very concerned about narrowing the focus of the script and tightening it down to two hours,” Koepp said. “We were always looking for cuts. So the triceratops ride was vulnerable from that perspective.” There was also the problem about where to put the sequence – if it happened before the T-rex attack, then it would slow down the pace of a movie that already took more than a half hour to really get going; if it came after the attack, well, according to Koepp: “why would this kid who had just been attacked by a giant lizard go and ride one?”
The reason why the sequence was so important in the first place was to show, for lack of a better word, the humanity in the dinosaurs and that they could elicit a real sense of awe instead of just blood-chilling terror. “We didn’t want this to just be another slasher movie where the slasher happens to be a dinosaur. We wanted the animals to be really innocent,” Koepp said. The basic intent of the sequence was transferred to another sequence: one in which Grant and the kids feed a kindly brachiosaurus in the tree. “I just hope it comes off as lyrical as it sounded when we wrote it,” Koepp said. Less clear is what happened to the back half of that sequence when Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) investigates a sick triceratops (she sees it, looks at its poop, decides to try and figure out what’s wrong with it, and we never hear about it again), although Mazzello said that he vaguely remembered them shooting another sequence with, “Laura Dern and the doctor guy.”
The Version With The Raptor Finale
In the final version of “Jurassic Park,” after the wonderfully terrifying kitchen sequence, where the two kids are menaced by a pair of cunning raptors, the survivors (among them: Laura Dern and Sam Neill) ascend into the visitor center’s air ducts and out into the main veranda, where they have to climb down a T-rex skeleton while the raptors are still in pursuit. (It’s worth noting a major change from the novel evident in this sequence, which is that the park isn’t as finished as it is in the book. Rick Carter theorized that the film takes place about a year before the book does, where the investigation into the park’s safeness is spurred not by a workman’s death but by tiny dinosaurs getting off the island and eating human babies on the mainland – yum!) In the finished version the T-rex steps in and ostensibly saves the day, killing the raptors and letting the human survivors flee to safety. But this wasn’t always the case, and until very late in the game an alternate ending, focusing solely on the raptors, was in place.
In this version, the raptors actually clamored up the skeleton along with the humans and Grant somehow maneuvered them into the skull of the T-rex. When its moorings come apart, the skull crashes down and kills the raptor (another one was impaled by an oversized rib bone). “Jurassic Park” was meticulously storyboarded (Spielberg says he followed them “religiously”), mostly so that nothing was wasted in terms of the on-set utilization of Stan Winston’s robotic characters, but it was well into production that Spielberg decided to alter the ending. “When I saw how wonderful and commanding the T-rex was, I began to feel that the audience would be disappointed if she didn’t make a return visit. And it seemed fitting to me, since this movie is really about nature succeeding and man failing, that it is the T-rex that saves the day.” Kennedy said, “The T-rex is our star.” The decision was also prompted by the early tests of the computer-generated T-rex that Muren and his team had devised, and the nature of the sequence made it impossible to utilize Winston’s full-sized version. “Stan’s T-rex weighed several thousand pounds,” Kennedy said. “So it was not something that we could easily move around. Also, the visitors’ center was not designed to accommodate the T-rex. Al of the T-rex shots at the end had to be CGI.”
Both Kennedy and Spielberg were slightly nervous about turning over the climax to the movie to such unproven technology. “It was kind of a scary, seat-of-the-pants decision, but he had about a month to prepare for it,” Kennedy said, diplomatically. Spielberg was more open about his fears: “I didn’t know if it would work, but ILM displayed confidence that they could do it. All I had was their word – but I had relied very heavily on ILM’s word throughout the entire production.” Rick Carter asked Spielberg how the T-rex got into the building, especially considering the visitors’ center as pretty finished and nobody saw or heard the giant beast coming. “I was thinking, How did the T-rex get in the building but he had described how the T-rex had got into his movie, not now it got into the building – from the top of the frame.” The movie was also, at one point, furnished with a haunting moment that punctuated the survivors’ escape: the image of Hammond (Richard Attenborough), as he’s left behind on the savage island, with the helicopter ascending into the sky without him.
Extra credit: There were a number of tweaks that the movie went through, including one in which the older child character was a boy (just like in the novel), which was changed because Spielberg wanted to work with Mazzello and Koepp wanted to add an element of Lex (Ariana Richards) having a crush on the much older Grant. There were design elements that came and went, too, like a chromed-out nursery for the baby dinosaurs and the raptors featuring fierce, tiger-like stripes. And at least once during the actual production it was proposed that Ian Malcolm die like in the novel, which would have been a bummer for a number of reasons, and made the sequel make much less sense, with Goldblum claiming that he gave the character some of his more selfless, heroic shading.
But none of the proposed versions of “Jurassic Park” even come close to what was being conceived for the fourth film. Based on an idea of Steven Spielberg’s, the fourth movie, which had a script initially by “The Departed” screenwriter William Monahan (with later work done by John Sayles, who has a creature feature background thanks to his terrific scripts for “Piranha” and “Alligator“). This version of the story saw a team of genetically engineered dinosaurs, whose molecular makeup included both human and dinosaur DNA (they could talk and conceivably curse), who were sent on various missions by human authorities to, say, thwart kidnappings or bring down drug cartels. They used guns and stuff, too. No. This is not some flight of fancy, this was actually being worked on – and at least got to the design/model phase. How any of this would have translated is really beyond us, but it sounds so insane that it just might have worked. Don’t expect any of these elements to be involved in the fourth movie, currently being worked on by “Planet of the Apes” writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and directed by Colin Trevorrow from “Safety Not Guaranteed.” Roar!
Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.