I don't remember much about the first time that I saw Jurassic Park, but I do remember a few things.
It was the summer of 1993, and I was six years old — which is to say, I was in the prime demographic of dinosaur lovers. I had the ill-gotten ZooBooks to prove it. It's almost guaranteed that my parents took me to see it at the long-defunct Lion's Head 5 on White Bridge Road, down the street from where I grew up in West Nashville. I'm certain that it completely terrified me (most things did), but I'm also certain that I loved it. A lot. I mean, I did have all the toys. That has to count for something.
But no matter how much I loved Jurassic Park when it premiered 19 years ago, I couldn't have possibly loved it any more than I did on Friday night at the Belcourt. Not only was Jurassic Park the most fun I've had at a midnight movie this year (sorry, Army of Darkness), it may be the most fun I've ever had at a movie. Ever! Not counting ones where I throw spoons — so, you know, The Room and Babe: Pig in the City.
When I rolled up to the Belcourt at around 11 p.m., the scene outside of the theater felt different from the typical midnight movie. It was a mob scene, spilling out into the streets. I assumed that this was just Indiana Jones fans having a mid-movie smoke at first, but then I noticed the car. Parked across the street from the theater was a Prius emblazoned with the Jurassic Park logo, decked out to look sort of like the electric jeeps from the movie. Apparently this is some kind of buzz-marketing mobile for a proposed fan-made prequel. Or maybe that's just the excuse a superfan is giving for why he wrapped his car in JP iconography. Either way, it was kinda great.
But what I really noticed was the amount of people there. A line had formed in front of the box office and, half an hour before the doors would even open, they were down to a scant 100 tickets.
What is it about Jurassic Park that touches a nerve with so many people? For perspective, this is a movie that sold out the Belcourt's 1925 theater — the only midnight movie to do that in the history of the theater's ownership of the program, minus the usual suspects (but not The Usual Suspects). More than 300 people turned up at midnight for the movie on Friday, and many more were turned away. So many people were there that several of the unlucky procrastinators who wandered in during the trailers had to sit on the floor.
I can only assume that a big part of the draw is nostalgia. I can't speak for anyone else in the theater, but I feel like the experience I had watching Jurassic Park at the Belcourt on Friday was the experience that everyone wanted me to have at The Goonies four weeks ago. And part of that may have been because I have such a strong connection to Jurassic Park. This movie sent me down a rabbit hole of Michael Crichton science-fiction — I distinctly remember being at Boy Scout camp and reading Timeline instead of talking to other human beings or learning to more efficiently start fires or whatever. I remember burning through Sphere, The Lost World and The Andromeda Strain like they wouldn't be there tomorrow.
But here's the question: If the popularity of this movie is built primarily on the back of nostalgia, will the 25-year-olds of the future look at Jurassic Park with the disdain that I did Goonies?
I'm leaning toward "no," mainly because Jurassic Park is an objectively great movie and The Goonies, well, isn't. Goonies is a fine piece of ’80s kitsch, but it isn't exactly the cinematic touchstone that Jurassic Park is. Even the special effects, which usually date these kinds of blockbuster pictures, hold up spectacularly well. Sure, technically they got the the velociraptors wrong. And technically the brontosaurus may have never existed. But you still believed the tyrannosaurus chasing after Ellie in the jeep and you still believed the terror of the raptors hunting Hammond's grandkids in the kitchen.
Once people in the crowd stopped trying to turn this screening into Rocky Horror — which is to say, after they stopped yelling out bad jokes — the experience became an honest appreciation of the movie. We all cheered when Newman bites it. We groaned and booed when damage on the print jumped over part of Sam Jackson's "hold onto your butts" line. We all compulsively said “dino-saur bone” and “soph-is-ti-cated” along with Mr. DNA in the educational film. What made this a movie a success at midnight wasn't the quality (though that didn't hurt), but the fact that everyone in the movie theater — from the two people who had never seen it before (!) to the diehards in dinosaur T-shirts.
The loving attention the Belcourt gave this movie didn't hurt either. I'm sure you've all seen the short film that preceded the screening, but if you haven't, stop what you're doing and watch it now. It's cool, I can wait.
Seriously. How can you not be sucked into drinking the Kool-Aid after that?
I'm sure I could come up with more academic, critical ways of figuring out why this movie feels so important — perhaps because when we're kids we identify so strongly with Tim and Lex, but as adults we understand Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler and even Hammond and Jeff Goldblum better. Or maybe it's just because dinosaurs are awesome. Hell, I don't know. All I know is that if you slept on Jurassic Park, you missed out on what was the finest example of a midnight movie without projectiles.
But, wait, there's more:
* Aside from that great short parody, the preroll included commercials of Jurassic Park toys, ads for the Dinosaurs sitcom (which I also loved), the music video for Weird Al's "Jurassic Park" (a parody of "MacArthur Park"), a trailer for Reptilicus, a song called "Everybody Do the Dinosaur," and an Everything is Terrible video. There was also an Auto-Tune the News video focused on Walking With Dinosaurs that was only slightly unbearable, and some other good stuff.
* The drink, by the way, was a pretty basic rum punch called “Dino DNA.” Pat didn't seem totally thrilled about the artistry of the drink when I chatted with him the next day before Indiana Jones, but it was certainly better than the last rum punch I had (which tasted like it had been filtered through a gummy sour straw).
* People in costume! Notably, Dan Burns — who you may know as one-half of the adorable married woodsgaze rock duo Action! — was dressed up like Dr. Ian Malcolm, while some of his cohorts were dressed as Hammond and Grant. I wish I had gotten a picture, because they were spot on.
* It was a pretty diverse crowd, but I'd say the vast majority were between 18 and 34. Lots of young people who love them some dinosaurs, that's for sure.
* On a more personal note, this movie turned into an epic all-night rager, wherein my companions and I sang the movie's main theme during lulls in conversation until dawn and met a dog named Freddie Mercury. That definitely didn't happen after the last Sam Neill movie, which ended with everyone in the theater looking away sheepishly and fumbling for our car keys.
Good luck, future midnight movies — this one is going to be tough to beat.
In two weeks: The Raid: Redemption kicks the Belcourt square in the jaw, but I won't be around to see it. It's been a good run, but I'll be covering Bonnaroo with my Scene colleagues over on Nashville Cream. Unless one of you has a helicopter I can borrow, getting back to down for the movie is logistically impossible. Bummer.
But! Stay tuned for a very special Bonnaroo edition of The Late Shift, coming to you straight from the cinema tent in Centeroo. And I'll see you all for a proper one in four weeks, when the Belcourt screens Bottle Rocket. Long live the Rushmore Academy Bombardment Society.