Few movies build to a more satisfying conclusion than Jurassic Park. On the run from deadly velociraptors, the human characters escape into the Jurassic Park Visitor Center atrium, then climb down a display of dinosaur fossils. But the raptors keep coming, and eventually surround them. One of the raptors rears back, ready to strike — when suddenly a Tyrannosaurus rex intercedes, snatching the raptor in its jaws and flinging it across the room. John Williams’ music swells, the humans make a hasty retreat, and the T. rex unleashes a dramatic roar as the Visitor Center’s “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner flutters to the ground.
Did you know, though, that all of that was a last-minute rewrite? The film’s climax was originally conceived as something totally different — and, as CG animator Steve “Spaz” Williams puts it, something totally “T. rex-less.”
That’s one of the interesting tidbits featured in the new Jurassic Park episode of The Movies That Made Us, Netflix’s nostalgic series about the makings of popular motion pictures. Williams is interviewed at length in The Movies That Made Us’ Jurassic Park installment; he was one of the key men who animated the original Tyrannosaurus rex in the film — and even before that, created the first digitally animated dinosaur test footage that convinced Steven Spielberg to use CGI in Jurassic Park in the first place.
Spielberg was understandably hesitant about entrusting huge chunks of his film to a relatively new and unproven technology. So Williams’ T.rex was originally much more of a supporting player in Jurassic Park’s story. (He was also often replaced by a life-sized animatronic from Stan Winston Studios, especially in closeups.) After Spielberg saw just how good the animation tests and early footage of the T.rex looked, though, he began to sense that the Tyrannosaurus was going to be the scene-stealing star of the entire movie. And in Jurassic Park’s scripted ending, his newfound star didn’t even appear. That was a problem.
The original plan saw Sam Neill’s Alan Grant and the rest of the Jurassic Park survivors narrowly defeat the raptors on their own. According to IMDb, the raptors were supposed to be “killed by the T. Rex skeleton in the Visitors Center.” Grant would use one of the fossils to “skewer one of the raptors.” The oversized jaw bone would fall and smoosh the other one. After the raptors hounded the characters across the park, such an easy defeat would have been very anticlimactic — if not totally absurd. Even worse, it left the audience without one final appearance by that show-stopping T. rex.
With just a few weeks left to go in production, Spielberg “decides literally to rewrite an end sequence,” Williams says in The Movies That Made Us. Unlike the earlier scene of the T. rex’s escape, this one is performed entirely by Williams’ CG Tyrannosaurus. During production, Williams and the ILM artists had discovered that their effects actually looked better when paired with a moving camera, because it made it harder for the naked eye to notice some of the technology’s imperfections. By the time Spielberg shot the finale, he and cinematographer Dean Cundey had grown much more comfortable with what they had to do to allow ILM to work their (industrial light and) magic. As Williams puts it, “Dean Cundey got really tricky with the camera. A lot of swish pans onto where the character is, and a lot of swish pans to where the actors were.”
The results speak for themselves. If you haven’t seen them in a while, you can watch Jurassic Park’s dramatic conclusion below:
The Movies That Made Us episode about Jurassic Park is available now on Netflix — along with episodes about Back to the Future, Pretty Woman, and Forrest Gump. Jurassic World: Dominion, featuring many of the original cast members from Jurassic Park, is scheduled to open in theaters on June 10, 2022.
Great Movies That Became Horrible Franchises
Sometimes the best movies make the worst franchises. In the ten examples below, inventive, groundbreaking cinema became the source material for some of our least favorite film series.
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