“Hold onto your butts”
Steven Spielberg . 1992
A gentle giant named Michael Chrichton was having his book, The Andromeda Strain, filmed by Universal. He had a best-selling rep. He’d also auteured several films: Westworld, The Great Train Robbery, Coma, Looker, etc. So he got a good price. Plus a tour of the studio lot. Some kid took him around. Well, he looked like a kid to the 6ft 9ins doctor turned novelist He found the kid was older than he looked and that he had also signed a Universal deal – a seven-year gig as a TV director.
His name was Steven Spielberg.
“I remember I did all the talking
because Michael hardly said a word”
… he recalled for Vanity Fair in 2017. “He was very shy, he was very reticent to get into a conversation, but he seemed to be taking everything in, and he seemed to be acting with interest at everything I was pointing out to him. Like Lana Turner’s dressing room or Alfred Hitchcock’s office or Western Street, where they made Wagon Train. And he was agog the whole day that we spent together.”
They became friends, close enough for the writer to call the director about reading “a first draft of something I’ve written, kinda about myself when I wanted to be a doctor.” It was 150-pages called Code Blue. Spielberg loved it and said he’d direct it. He didn’t; he produced it.
Spielberg asked what else Chrichton was working on. “He couldn’t tell me, it was a secret project, but I kinda wouldn’t let it go. And after a couple of days, Michael, swearing me to secrecy, said: ‘O.K., it’s a book about dinosaurs and DNA.’ And that’s all he’d tell me. And I wouldn’t give it up, so I finally got him – after several weeks – to tell me pretty much the whole story. When he finished telling me, I committed to direct it… I probably had one of the best times of my career directing that script.”
Code Blue became ER.
The top secret book became Jurassic Park…
It was all about dinosaurs roaming the earth anew. Well, roaming a theme park.
Although Chrichton knew full well who he wanted to direct it, and where, his agents dutifully circulated galley proofs of the as yet unpublished “science-fact” novel to six studios and directors in 1990. Tim Burton at Warner, Joe Dante at Fox, Richard Donner at Columbia, etc. t Universal wanted Chrichton’s choice. Spielberg. And got the deal done – and $1.5m, plus another $500,000 for a script and points – just hours before James Cameron entered the fray,
Crichton knew Spielberg. He didn’t know Cameron. And, like they say, it’s always a matter of who you know, right?
(Incidentally, Cameron saw Arnold Schwarzenegger for the Stegosaurus – no, as Dr Alan Grant – Bill Paxton for Dr Ian Malcolm and, like Spileberg, Charton Heston as John Hammond. There was also a Dr Ellie Sattler. So many doctors it sounded like ER Park. But these guys were paleontologists – based on the Jack Horner, who, same as Grant, digs and teaches in Montana. He was also the film’s technical advisor.
Dr Alan Grant . Steven Spielberg’s first choice for turned him down! “True story,” revealed Spielberg at a 30th Anniversary Raiders of the Lost Ark screening in September 2011. Sitting next to him, Harrison Ford just shrugged as in… Aw c’mon, Steven – two franchises are enough for any actor…
And maybe he didn’t like the hat. A bit Indyish. (There exists some “early conceptual paintings” of Ford and two kids fleeing a dino). Besides, the dinosaurs had more close-ups, more money spent on their each and every movement.
They dinos were The Stars.
Not the actors.
Eighteen years after Jaws, Steven’s shark expert Richard Dreyfuss was no dinosaur expert. William Hurt didn’t read the book – nor the script! Kurt Russell’s agent talked stupid numbers. Spielberg chewed over Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Dennis Quaid, even Robin Williams – and tested Dylan McDermott… and Tom Sizemore. Tom later enlisted for Saving Private Ryan, the way Costner headed Fandango and Williams headeds Hook – all three for Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. They all missed out on Sam Neill’s cut of what proved the biggest money-maker of all time… at the time. Until James Cameron, Titanic and Avatarpulverised the global box-office.
The producer-dirctor actually postponed the shooting until Neill finished the two-parter mini-series, Family Pictures, 1992. The actor had just a weekend off before he took up paleontologyt. Richard Attenborough also benefited from Spielberg’s delaying the action.
“it all happened real quick,” said Neill. “I hadn’t read the book, knew nothing about it, hadn’t heard anything about it – and in a matter of weeks I’m working with Spielberg!” Sam’s look of love and astonishment at first sight of the Brachiosaur was worth the ticket-money, alone
Dr Ellie Sattler . “If Spielberg had given me the role of a dinosaur, I would have said yes!” ran Juiliette Binoche’s celebrated quote. He didn’t and she didn’t, either. What the French star actually said on the phone to him was: “I can play a dinosaur; I’d love to do it.” And he laughed. “It was my way to make him laugh and not feel bad. But I don’t think he needs me. Everybody wants to work with him, so that’s good. Of course I’d love to work with Steven. Who wouldn’t? But what I’m missing sometimes in the filming side of humanity is female energy. I wish I was actually in his films, giving that a little bit of that layer. I talked to him about it once, and he said, “No! In my early film there was only women in the film, lots of women.” Anyway for now, she preferred Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois coleurs: Bleue. Of course, she did. “Blue, acting-wise, I don’t think I could do better,”
In all, 29 others voted against the paleobotanist – not the finest woman’s role in the Spielberg canon. They included survivors of the Fatal Attraction/Basic Instinct campaigns: Jamie Lee Curtis, Geena Davis, Bridget Fonda, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Grey, Linda Hamilton, Daryl Hannah, Helen Hunt, Kelly McGillis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Ally Sheedy, Sigourney Weaver, Debra Winger, Robin Wright. And among newer contestants: Sandra Bullock, Jamie Lere Curtis, Joan Cusack, Sherilyn Fenn, Heather Graham, Jayne Mansfield’s daughter Mariska Hargitay, Teri Hatcher, Helen Hunt, Elizabeth Hurley, Laura Linney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Raver, Lisa Rinna and Renee Zellweger.
Plus Julianne Moore, who made the third one: The Lost World: Jurassic Park, 1996, after Spielberg fell for Dern in Rambling Rose, 1991, for this one.
Dr Ian Malcolm . Jim Carrey was the maestro’s most out-to-lunch notion since lumbering poor UK director Michael Apted with John Belushi as the romantic lead (!) in Spielberg’s production of Continental Divide, 1980. “He was terrific,” said casting director Janet Hirshenson, “but I think pretty quickly we all loved the idea of Jeff.” (Some 28 years later, Carrey was finally chased by a (virtual) Tyrannosaurus Rex in Sonic the Hedgehog).
Other possibilities included Bruce Campbell, Ted Danson, Johnny Depp, Michael J Fox, Steve Guttenberg, Michael Keaton, Dennis Quaid and Cameron Thor (compensated with the role of Lewis Dodgson). Jeff Goldblum was a perfect Malcolm – missing from early drafts of the scenario,’
At one point, Malcolm was to be merged with Grant.
“Well, geez,” said Goldblum, “I hope you don’t do that.”
They didn’t. And Malcolm survived for the first sequel. Well, he spoke for Spielberg – who also identified with the showmanship of…
John Hammond . Sean Connery passed. So who’s the other Brit with a white beard? Ah yes, the guy who stole Spielberg’s ET Oscar with his Gandhi in 1983 – Richard Attenborough. For the InGen boss, creator of dinosaurs (and their theme park). The cloning process used dino DNA preserved in amber, plus frogs’ DNA for the missing genomes… it says here.
The director also thought about Ian Bannen, Marlon Brando (naturally), Clint Eastwood, Charlton Heston and… and… Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor Who during 1970-1974. As for Sam Neill, Spielberg delayed filming to give Darling Dickie enough time to complete post-production of his own film, Chaplin, 1992, before committing to his first acting gig since Otto Preminger’s The Human Factor in 1979.
Robert Muldoon . Brian Cox auditioned for the great white hunter turned game warden. (And what game!) Bob Hoskins, Jeffrey Jones and Geoffrey Rush were also on the (very) short list. Cox wasn’t worried. The 220 screen roles he’d won by 2020 included Agamemnon, Bach, Nye Bevan, Marlon Brando, Matt Busby, Churchill, Göring, Henry II, Victor Hugo, Ibsen, King Vesper Aaddon, Lear, Hannibal Lecter, Macbeth, Stalin, Trotsky – and he won a Golden Globe for Logan Roy in HBO’s Succession series in January 2020.
Donald Gennaro . James Woods was considered but Martin Ferrrero (from Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice) became Hammond’s mathematician and chaos theorist…, and food for a Tyrannosaurus rex – the star of the film, according to Spielberg.
Lex Murphy . Anna Chlumsky, Claire Danes and Christina Ricci were seen for the young heroine – Hammond’s grand-daughter. Ariana Richards proved the best screamer. Spielberg was watching several taped tests at home. “And,” said Ariana, “I was the only one who ended up waking his sleeping wife off the couch – she came running through the hallway to see if the kids were all right.” Ariana also made The Lost World sequel and took part in a dinosaur dig in Montana before becoming a part-time actress – and full-time painter. Ever the gent, Spielberg made it up to Ricci with his production of Casper, 1995.
Tim . An 11-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal was among the kids seen for John Hammond’s grandson – won by Joseph Mazzello because Spielberg had promised him a part in his next movie when finding him too young for the previous one, Hook. Joe was nine during the Jurassic shoot – and Richard Attenborough immediately put him, into his next movie, Shadowlands, the following year.
Ray Arnold . Danny Glover from Spielberg’s The Colour Purple, 1985, was seen, Samuel L Jackson was signed. As InGen’s chief engineer, he delivered our top of he page quote. (It derived from a comment made trhe previous year by Robert Zemeckis while directing Death Becomes Her. Scenerist David Koepp was on the set at the time, loved it and immediately scribbled it into his notebook – and, thereafter, into his adaptation of Michael Chrichton’s scenario.
Dennis Nedry . Charlie Sheen was thought of as lunch for the Dilophosaurus. But Wayne Knight made a heftier meal – and deserved to die, said Knight, after sabotaging the park’s security system. (The movie’s death toll was a mere five). Knight was, in fact, the first actor signed for the movie. He impressed Spielberg in Basic Instinct and he waited for the end credits screed to get his name. Obviously, Steven was no Seinfeld fan!
After two years’ planning, and four month’ shooting, Spielberg miracuopusly finished such a complex film on budget, and even 12 days ahead of schedule. A first draft edited print was ready within a week. It had, on the director’s order, to look great– before looking greater with all the addition of all the SFX – monitored by Spielberg via a satellite link (at $1.5m per week) while on location in Poland where, he admitted, the shooting of Schindler’s List drained him so much that his interest in dinos waned. Almost.
New York Times critic Janet Maslin loved the result. “A true movie milestone, presenting awe- and fear-inspiring sights never before seen on the screen.” The instant classic was Spielberg’s most expensive film – and biggest pay-day. It grossed $402m in America (less than ET), and just over $1bn billion globally (more than ET).
The director’s cut was the most any individual
had earned from a single movie – $250m.
Oh and the first time it was seen on NBC, Jurassic was simultaneously seen by… 68.12m people.
After the emotional highs of immediately making Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg won his Oscar for the Holocaust film and didn’t make another feature until the first of many sequels: The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1996.