Monday, April 8, 2013

"Jurassic Park" and the Summer of '93

The summer of 1993 was my first big movie summer. It was the year I I first regularly started watching new movies in theaters on my own, the year I started paying attention to what was going on at the box office at the time. Prior to that, I'd kept an eye out for the yearly Disney animated moves, but I didn't really have a sense of the business of movies, or how the successes and the failures were determined.

I know exactly when that changed. My parents got the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times every week, and I always liked paging through the "Calendar" section devoted to the entertainment coverage to look at the movie ads. L.A. is a movie town, and with few exceptions, studios always took out ads for new releases in the Times' "Calendar" section. And then one week, twenty years ago, they put out their yearly summer preview edition. The cover art showed Arnold Schwarzenegger locked in mortal combat with a dinosaur, in honor of the coming box office clash between "Last Action Hero" and "Jurassic Park." As I read through all the write-ups of the summer's films, and the predictions of their chances at the box office, it began to dawn on me. There were going to be winners and losers. There were stakes here that went beyond the movies simply being good or bad.

I still was a kid in '93, so of course I was focused on the kids' films like "Dennis the Menace," "Rookie of the Year," "Free Willy," and "Super Mario Bros." When "Mario" bombed, it was the first movie I think I really appreciated being a bomb. There were movies I'd liked that hadn't done well before, but I hadn't quite been able to tie the failure with box office performance prior to that point. So when "Last Action Hero" was trounced by "Jurassic Park" a few weeks later, I knew what it meant. I noticed when that summer's big hits like "The Firm" and "The Fugitive" stayed in the public eye and in the larger conversations about the movies, becoming points of common reference. I hadn't seen either of them, but I saw so many clips and read so much about them, that the awareness was there, long before my parents rented them from the video store the next year. I distinctly remember this article talking about possible tiered pricing schemes, that suggested charging top dollar for the most popular films, like "Jurassic Park" and "The Firm," and only half as much for Pauly Shore's latest comedy, "Son in Law."

Did this affect my view of the movies? Did I become more cynical about them? Not really. I still saw very few movies in theaters, so the box office game hardly affected me personally. Also, I was still young enough that I couldn't really differentiate between the good and bad movies, so it didn't really bother me if something I was looking forward to tanked and got bad reviews. All I knew was that it would still come out on video eventually. I remember being confused, but not disappointed by "Super Mario Bros." when I saw it. A few years later I would learn to appreciate some of the other consequences of being a bomb - no sequels, the talent involved taking hits to their reputations, and in the worst cases, companies like Carolco disappearing completely. And sometimes this would happen to perfectly good movies that didn't deserve it.

But the summer of '93 was the summer of Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There," from "Free Willy" playing endlessly on the radio. It was the summer of every female relative of mine reading Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club," because the movie was coming out that fall. It was the summer I noticed a cute guy named Leonardo DiCaprio getting a lot of press for his performance in "This Boy's Life," a couple of months before he'd land his first Oscar nomination for "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." It was the summer of listening to the "Jurassic Park" soundtrack over and over again, which we bought on cassette tape, long before the days when the studios would release them for free, as just another piece of promotional material.

The funny thing is, I can't remember if I actually saw "Jurassic Park" in theaters that summer. I remember watching it lots of times on VHS and on television, but did I ever see it on the big screen? Were my memories of it from a visit to the theater, or am I just remembering the ubiquitous marketing campaign and the making-of specials and the tie-in merchandise? I think I still have a few "Jurassic Park" pogs laying around somewhere.

The thing is, I'm not particularly nostalgic for the movie itself. I liked it fine, but it didn't resonate with me, really. I didn't fall in love with it the way so many other kids did. In fact, it marked another first for me. It was one of the first big blockbuster summer movies I got all hyped up for, and pretty much forgot about as soon as the next one came along.

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