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Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Girl and Her Dinosaurs

Let me tell you a story about a girl and her dinosaurs...

In 1993, I was ten years old, shy, gawky, and a huge fan of everything dinosaurs. Because I was still rather young, my parents, being good parents, had no intention of letting me go and see the PG-13, probable (within reason) bloodbath, adventure flick that was Jurassic Park, no matter how much I begged and pleaded. Dinosaurs eating people on an island? Oh no. I do not think so. I lamented my fate and glued myself to the TV whenever the trailer for the movie played, but the theater run came and went, and no Jurassic Park for me.

Kids these days have no idea how to wait for anything, and yes, I do intend to sound like a curmudgeon when I say that, so (kids, if you're reading this), let me tell you how it used to be. We used to have to wait almost an entire year for a movie to make it from theater to film - yes, that long. And then we had the agony of being on the waiting list at Blockbuster for any popular films, since they were usually in high demand. Not that this gave me any real hope of seeing Jurassic Park, as the advent of a new year did not advance me to the magical age of 13, and I still did not expect my parents to allow me to see the film. If they wouldn't take me to see it on the big screen, why on earth would they bring it into our house? Oh, agony upon agonies.

And then, about a year after Jurassic Park left the theaters, I spent the night at a friend's house.

She had this amazing basement bedroom all to herself. I distinctly remember it because it had a pass-through fireplace from the main family room in the basement to her bedroom. It was, truth be told, rather creepy, but it was also private. And not only was it private, but she had her own TV and VCR down there, with access to the family's stash of VHS tapes.

Now, I was a good girl. I really was. I wouldn't have watched anything truly terrible. No R-rated forays for me, thank you very much! But... they had THE MOVIE. The movie I had wanted to see for a whole year. Jurassic Park. It was before me like a gleaming prize. We could watch it, and nobody would ever know. Her parents were fast asleep. She was game for it (and assured me it wasn't "that" scary), and we swore neither of us would ever breathe a word of it. So I said okay. I outright disobeyed my parents, and I watched Jurassic Park with my friend.

As naughty as I was, my first experience with that film is emblazoned on my memory - and probably in no small part because I watched it in the thrill (and horror) of disobedience, hovered around an old TV in a dark creepy basement in the middle of the night. I had never been so awed by a movie as I was in experiencing the brontosauruses for the first time alongside the characters, or as horrified as I was when the T-Rex escaped and when the velociraptors ate their handler ("clever girl!"). The movie scared me to death, but it also took a hold of me as a good movie experience does, and little did I know at that time I had experienced what could rightly be called, I think, a 90s-kid quintessential rite of passage. All I knew was I was so happy to finally have seen it.

I was also terribly guilty, especially when my dad surprised me by bringing it home not a month later.

We were going to have a family movie night, and my dad had gone off to Blockbuster to get the movie. I fully expected another Disney animated flick, as per the usual, and I was having a bad attitude about the whole thing, so much so that when Dad arrived home with the movie, I huffily pronounced (in good, preteen fashion) that I was just going to hang out in my room instead. "Stay, stay!" Dad said. I remember folding my arms and sulking while he put the tape in. As I waited for the Disney music to begin, instead an image of the globe appeared on the screen and the words "UNIVERSAL" began floating around them. (I remember this like it was yesterday). I dropped my arms, and my jaw, and shouted, "Is this Jurassic Park?" "I thought you'd like to see it," my dad said. He never asked how I knew it was Jurassic Park just from the opening production credits, and I never told him. Until now. (Sorry, Dad! Mea culpa.) I watched it through for the second time, pretending like it was my first time seeing it, and thoroughly enjoying it all over again.

Now that my parents had invited it into the house, however, I was free to indulge the obsession. My school library had every Michael Crighton book on the shelves, and I read every. single. one... multiple times. In hindsight, 6th grade was probably not the most appropriate age for Michael Crighton books, but I survived. And, to bring this around to writing (which is really what my blog should be about, after all), I mark Michael Crighton's works as being formative for me. He mastered creepiness that didn't feel like horror to me, and I liked that and wanted to emulate it as a writer. Anyhow, I also delved much further into all things dinosaur. (We'd just moved and I had NO friends in my new school - shocking, I know. Who doesn't want to be friends with the girl obsessed with dinosaurs?) When my 6th grade science teacher assigned a project where we had to pick a dinosaur to do a report on, I chose procompsognathids. Yes. That's right. Procompsognathids. "Whatsits?" my teacher asked. "Oh, they're also called compys," I said. *sigh* I was such a winner. He let me do the project, and gave me an A on it.

As time passed and I made some (human) friends, my obsession with dinosaurs cooled. I grew up and out of infatuation with the wonderment of the prehistoric unknown, and I came to recognize Jurassic Park for what it was - fantasy. Great, gripping fantasy, but just that, all the same. Of course I saw each of the successive Jurassic Park movies as they came out, but when I heard about Jurassic World, I honestly kind of rolled my eyes. Hasn't this been done already? Isn't it tired out? Welll... there was still a curious corner of my brain and a nostalgic corner of my heart that wanted to go and see it, but I had no concrete plans to do so.

But then my parents came in town for the 4th of July holiday and my dad volunteered to take me to a movie. It just seemed fitting for my dad, who rented Jurassic Park for his poor, desperate, dorky 11-year-old daughter to take his poor, not-as-desperate, still-dorky 32-year-old daughter to see Jurassic World. And I'm so glad he did! Jurassic World was so ridiculously awesome, and I take my hat off to the film makers who managed to recreate the wonderment this 90s-era kid felt at seeing dinosaurs on the big screen for the first time all over again. The music, the choice of dinosaurs, the sounds, the fights, the action, the island, the throwback vehicles and buildings, it was all perfection. Oh, don't get me wrong - it was totally stupid, too. I mean, ridiculously stupid (training velociraptors for use in combat? Puh-leaze), and so predictable (called the ending - called it!), but it was stupid and predictable in all the right ways for the sort of movie it was. And I loved it. I ate up every moment. I pulled my knees up to my chest and tucked my feet onto the seat like a little kid, grinned from ear to ear, and covered my eyes at the most jumpy moments. Perfect movie going experience. Nostalgia for the win.

So what's the moral of the story? The moral of the story is, good stories have the power to be life experiences. Here I am, 21 years after I saw Jurassic Park for the first time, blogging about dinosaurs.

Another moral of the story is that procrastination produces amazingly long blog posts about dinosaur movies when you're supposed to be revising your manuscript, so... yeah. I'm going to go get back to work on CRIMINAL. Dystopian novels don't produce themselves! Maybe I should try my hand at screenwriting next...

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