Jurassic Park is one of the most iconic movies of the 90s. Maybe of all time. And while the entire film is a masterpiece of action-adventure storytelling, there is one scene in particular that stands out above the rest. It’s a scene filled with tension, heroism, amazing visual effects, and, of course, a T-Rex. Join us as we delve into the PERFECT scene from Jurassic Park and examine all of the little details that make it so special.
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The ’90s are often regarded as a high point for the world of cinema. After all, it’s the decade that gave us timeless classics like Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, The Shawshank Redemption, Goodfellas, and Jurassic Park. And while all of those films are phenomenal, it’s Jurassic Park that stands out as a crowning cinematic achievement. The film’s use of animatronics and CGI to recreate dinosaurs in such a convincing way was something that audiences had never seen before. Prior to this, Dinosaurs had typically been portrayed in film through the use of stop motion animation. Like in the original King Kong classic from 1933.
While the Jurassic Franchise has had its ups and downs, the original film remains unmatched. There are countless moments that make Jurassic Park so memorable, but one scene stands out above the rest. It’s thrilling and terrifying. It’s a visual masterwork that sets the tone and themes for the remainder of the film while furthering the development and arcs of its main characters. It’s… perfect. You know what scene I’m talking about. The T-Rex escaping from its enclosure… Of course.
Jurassic Park is a 1993 action-adventure film masterfully directed by Steven Speilberg. It’s adapted from a 1990 novel of the same name written by Michael Chrichton. Crichton is no stranger to having his books adapted for the screen. His novels Twister, Congo, Sphere, Timeline, and numerous others have all made their way to theaters. But the film studios knew that Jurassic Park was something special. So much so that there was a bidding war for the film rights before the novel had even been published, with Universal Studios eventually landing the rights for $1.5 Million.
There were a lot of changes made with the jump from page to screen. Some characters were left out and others were drastically changed. None more so than John Hammond, played by Richard Attenborough. In the novel, John is a narcissist. His one and only care throughout the book is the success of the park and making as much money as possible, no matter the cost. He’s willing to put people’s lives in danger, even his own grandchildren if it means Jurassic Park will succeed. While that’s somewhat the case in the film, it’s to a much lower extent. Richard Attenborough brings a kindness and sincerity to the character, despite his grandiose and dangerous aspirations. When his grandchildren are in danger, it’s his determination to protect them that drives his efforts to regain control of Jurassic Park. And his grandkids are in danger… A LOT.
Dennis Nedry is a Jurassic Park employee, played to perfection by Wayne Knight who’s best known as Newman on Seinfeld.
Unknown to, well… anybody else, Dennis has a plot to steal the dino-DNA and sell it to make a quick buck. And in doing so he inadvertently launches the park into chaos by killing the power. It’s greed and a fascination with playing God that launches the park and its inhabitants into a nightmare scenario, and those themes would continue through the film and its sequels. But, don’t worry. Dennis doesn’t get off scot-free.
The loss of power causes two tour jeeps to come to a halt outside the T-Rex enclosure. The first Jeep is occupied by John’s grandchildren, Tim and Lex, as well as the park’s lawyer, Donald. The second Jeep is occupied by Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ian Malcom. Up until this point, the jeep tour has been mostly uneventful. But as the darkness sets in and the rain falls, all of that changes.
The film builds tension masterfully and that tension continues to mount as the scene plays out. The glass of water sitting in the cup holder begins to vibrate with a prolonged pulse. The image of the water rippling as a thunderous boom can be heard approaching from the distance is now iconic. An omen of the unimaginable terrors that will soon be upon them. Then, the goat that had previously been chained in the T-Rex enclosure is gone. The chain hangs from the post with no sign of the animal until the moment its detached leg is thrown onto the glass roof of the jeep and the T-Rex emerges from behind the trees to reveal itself. It’s a methodical buildup to the first look at Jurassic Park’s most dangerous predator.
Donald immediately flees the jeep, leaving its driver’s side door wide open as he hides in the nearest toilet, leaving Lex and Tim alone, scared and clueless of what to do. From the second jeep, Ian and Alan watch, helpless and in awe of what they’re witnesses as the T-Rex breaks free from its enclosure. Alan urges Ian to “Keep absolutely still.” Assuring him that the T-Rex’s vision is based on movement.
The camera then immediately cuts back to the first jeep to reveal the two children frantically moving around the vehicle and desperately searching for a flashlight. This highlights the level of danger that Lex and Tim are in by showcasing the fact they are completely unaware of how to handle the situation. The T-Rex initially bumps the second jeep but is attracted to the bright light of the flashlight that Lex has just turned on.
As the dinosaur looms a mere feet from Tim and Lex’s jeep, Tim reaches out to shut the driver’s door that had been left open. The door won’t stop the T-Rex, but closing it provides a false sense of security. A barrier of separation between Tim, and the T-Rex. It’s like when a child sees something scary in the shadowy corners of their bedroom and they hide under their blanket. There’s no real safety there, but there’s a sense of safety.
The T-Rex glares through the rain-streaked glass and the flashlight points directly into its eye, causing the pupil to dilate. The dilation of the T-Rex’s eye is a small effect that carries a huge impact. It adds a level of realism to the moment and allows audiences to believe that this is a living, breathing creature, rather than an animatronic robot.
And then… Well, and then there’s the roar.
To achieve the apex predator’s deafening roar, Sound Designer Gary Rydstrom turned to present-day animals. A combination of sounds from a lion, an alligator, and, surprisingly, the scream of a baby elephant were all utilized to give the T-Rex its terrifying voice. Sound design plays a pivotal role in the scene. In order to give off the sound of the T-Rex’s steps, audio of a falling Redwood tree was used. For comparison, Redwoods typically weigh around fifty thousand pounds.
The T-Rex begins its assault, first bursting through the roof of the jeep, then effortlessly flipping the vehicle upside down, trapping the children in a nightmare scenario. For many of the scene’s action shots, CGI was utilized. But remember, this was 1993. CGI was in its infancy and when done wrong, it could completely ruin a pivotal moment in a film. However, the CGI is used smartly within the scene. The heavy rains and night sky help to cover the dinosaur in shadows and allow it to blend into its environment.
Ian and Alan continue to watch in horror from the second Jeep until Alan exits the vehicle and uses a road flare to distract the T-Rex. Up until this moment, Alan has been portrayed as a stern man who dislikes children. He does everything he can to avoid riding in the same vehicle with Tim and Lex at the start of the jeep tour. But, that’s what makes this moment so important. This is Alan’s hero moment. Through the remainder of the film, Alan spends the majority of his time with Tim and Lex and his tough outer shell is slowly chipped away as the trio grows closer in their fight for survival. But it’s in this moment that we first see Alan for who he truly is. A protector. A man who will put his own life at risk in order to save the lives of others.
His quick thinking and willingness to leap into action works, as the T-Rex turns its focus to the flair and abandons its attack on the Jeep… for now anyway. Alan remains still except for his waving arm that wields the flare, giving off a glow of vibrant red against the darkness. He throws the flare and like a dog playing fetch, the T-Rex chases it. The dinosaur’s vision is based on movement and light. As long as Alan stays still, he’s not the focus.
Then Ian also joins the efforts to save the children by striking another flare and running for his life. Alan shouts for him to freeze, but Ian continues to run while screaming for Alan to “Get the kids!” It’s another hero moment, only Ian isn’t as knowledgeable or equipped as Alan, and as a result, he finds himself pursued by the deadly beast. Despite throwing the flare, the T-Rex continues its pursuit of Ian. He’s in full motion and the T-Rex’s hunter instincts are in full drive. Despite a nasty blow from the dinosaur, Ian survives. He’s knocked unconscious and buried beneath a pile of branches.
But remember that lawyer that abandoned the kids in their moment of need to hide on a toilet? Yeah… he gets eaten.
Ian’s distraction works and gives Alan enough time to free Lex, however, Tim’s leg is stuck and he can’t immediately be freed. When the T-Rex returns the situation is dire. Tim is still trapped, but Lex is in imminent danger. Alan is faced with a choice… Stay and risk Lex’s life and his own, or leave and risk Tim’s?
It’s a true Sophie’s Choice decision. In the 1982 film, Sophie, played by Meryl Streep, is a Polish Immigrant who was forced by Nazi soldiers to decide which of her children lived and which died. With no time to spare, Alan makes the difficult decision to take Lex and repel down the giant embankment on the other side of the concrete barrier.
Now I know what you’re thinking… wasn’t that just a T-Rex enclosure? Why is it all of a sudden a huge drop-off? That doesn’t make sense. Well, you know what… I will not let you ruin this for me. This scene is perfect.
As Alan dangles from the concrete wall with Lex wrapped around his neck and clinging for her life, the T-Rex continues its assault on the Jeep and wedges it closer to the cliff, threatening to push it over the edge and plummeting at Alan and Lex. Alan begins to run side to side, attempting to gain enough momentum while hollering for Lex to grab the wire dangling to the side. It’s an incredibly tense moment and at the last possible second, Lex grabs the other wire. The jeep falls, landing in a tree below, and Alan and Lex are alive.
The T-Rex roars once again, asserting its authority as the dominant species, and then… finally, the audience can take a breath. It’s nearly ten minutes of adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding tension. It’s a masterful display of storytelling that excels on all fronts. The impressive editing. The impeccable sound design. The perfectly designed T-Rex and the ability to see the characters grow and evolve before our very eyes. It’s something we rarely get in a film like this. It’s a timeless classic and a crowning achievement of ’90s cinema. It’s… perfect.
What’s your favorite moment from a Jurassic Park film? Let us know in the comments. Be sure to like and subscribe so you don’t miss out, and we’ll be back next week because “Life.. uh, finds a way.” See you next time.