I’m not sure what the party was for, but I distinctly remember finding myself at the house of a screenwriter who lived in my area growing up. It was one of those fancy parties that kids probably shouldn’t be brought along to but are anyway. The owner split his time between coasts, wheeling and dealing in Hollywood while finding a place to lay his hat in his suburban Philadelphia manse.
There was never a time in my life that I didn’t want to work in movies. My parents always encouraged and broadcast my aspirations. Perhaps this was why I was brought along; to forge a relationship with someone in the industry. In fact, the screenwriter did his best to needle me in the right direction, though, being just a kid, I didn’t always follow along.
The first thing this kindly writer showed off to me was a small cupboard near the front door of his house. Inside was a stack of home entertainment gear. Amplifiers, receivers, radios; wondrous gear with all manner of digital displays and knobs and switches. This was the control room for an entertainment system that was piped through the whole house. The dining room had recessed speakers hidden below molding. There were speakers in nearly every room, even some outside. Was this a sound system with a house built around it, or the other way around?
“That’s nothing,” he told me.
As I recall it, we then all gathered into the living room, adults and children alike. The screenwriter flipped on his big-screen television (rear-projection, of course). He wanted to share something special with us, a justification of his aural investment. Naturally, he put on the Tyrannosaurus Rex scene from Jurassic Park, that most famous sequence that starts with a rumble and ends with a car mirror. I melted listening to the incredible, layered soundtrack of the 1993 film.
I had forgotten about this party and this experience, but it all came rushing back to me while reading Bryan Curtis’s article about the cult of the dino franchise over at Grantland. Earlier in the week I excerpted his piece on this site, but it’s worth reiterating:
Jurassic Park, along with The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2 (1991), were the stars of an amazing in-between period of summer-movie history. An interesting couple of years between the Analogue Era and the Computer Era. We were charging headfirst into the movie future, but we hadn’t quite left the past.
Part of what keeps me coming back to this particular film is nostalgia. I long for the days when I was a boy whose socks could still get knocked off from even the cheapest of tricks. But there is something more at play here.
Jurassic Park and its antecedents were created for the big screen, but there was a certain magic to these films that allowed for them to be enjoyed brilliantly in the home. The technological advances of the 1990s were not limited to the theatrical experience. Where the “home theater” was once the playground of the über-rich, it has become an attainable reality for many. While prices haven’t hit rock bottom, the quality on the dollar you can get in your living room these days is far more reasonable than at any other point.
When I hear film people talk about home viewing it is usually in the context of the death of the theatrical experience. Usually, I’m inclined to agree; I love nothing more than sitting in a darkened room with a bunch of strangers, ogling whatever bogeymen or beauties slink across the screen. Still, I have had many (many, many) great experiences on the couch, in bed, sprawled on a floor or otherwise irregularly comfortable in my own or another’s home. Is that so bad?
The memory described here is important because it was special. Sure, I only watched a single scene and the purpose of the showing was more a braggadocious muscle-flex than a celebration of cinema, but that didn’t stop me from entering the world of the film. Spielberg’s film is enduring for a number of reasons, all covered in Curtis’s excellent aforelinked article. One that he skips, however, is its ability to suck you in even at home. The throw pillows and microwaved popcorn disappear right from the film’s opening lines (“Gatekeeper, step forward!”), allowing us to re-enter the deadly Isla Nublar time and time again.