This week marks the 20th (!) anniversary of "Jurassic Park," Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Michael Crichton best-seller that would go on to become (at the time) the highest grossing movie of all time and a true technological breakthrough that would influence the way movies are made and exhibited to this very day (it was the first movie with a fully digital theatrical soundtrack). The movie is so ingrained in the hearts and minds of a certain generation that the 3D re-release earlier this year felt redundant – there are some of us who could easily act out every moment from the movie from memory. It's hard to even imagine but there were several wildly different variations on "Jurassic Park" that almost made it to the screen, and we're here to dig those up like a long forgotten mosquito inside a chunk of amber, dust them off, use the blood from inside the mosquito, and resurrect these versions. Welcome to the "Jurassic Park" you've never seen.
It should be noted that most, if not all of the quotes from this piece are pulled from three sources – the amazing "Making of Jurassic Park" book by Don Shay and Jody Duncan that still proves indispensible to this day (our copy is all ragged and falling apart but still came through), the supplemental materials on the recent "Jurassic Park" Blu-ray box set, and a phone conversation we had with Joseph Mazzello, who played the young Tim in the movie, on the train from New York to our home in Connecticut. And whether or not the currently on hold "Jurassic Park IV" joins these stories remains to be seen...
At the time of the initial development of "Jurassic Park," Michael Crichton had some experience in Hollywood, both as a novelist whose work was constantly being optioned and adapted (most notably the stylistically bold “Andromeda Strain,” directed by “West Side Story” filmmaker Robert Wise) and as a filmmaker himself, of cultish favorites like “Westworld” (whose plot shares certain similarities with “Jurassic Park”), “Runaway” and “Looker.” Like “Jurassic Park,” almost all of Crichton’s major works took place in the dangerous, morally grey intersection where technological advancement meets human arrogance.
Crichton had been badly burned when 20th Century Fox optioned his 1980 novel “Congo,” before the book had even been written, for what as then an unthinkable $1 million, only to see it never get made. It was subsequently produced after “Jurassic Park” by Paramount, and utilized many of the same artists and filmmakers, with ‘Park’ producer Frank Marshall directing, and visual effects guru Stan Winston creating the murderous apes. Soured by the “Congo” experience, when Crichton completed “Jurassic Park,” he instructed his agent to offer the film rights at a set $1.5 million so the author “could assess whatever interest might arise with fiscal dispassion.” The studios, unsurprisingly, swarmed anyway. And what’s more – the final four studios that were in contention had their filmmaking talent already lined up. 20th Century Fox, who were admittedly pushing their luck with Crichton, had Joe Dante poised to direct; Warner Bros. wanted it for their golden child Tim Burton; and Gruber-Peters Entertainment, in conjunction with TriStar Pictures, had Richard Donner in mind for their proposed version. But it was always going to be Spielberg and Universal who took home “Jurassic Park.”
Years earlier, when Crichton and Spielberg were working on a project that would eventually become the long-running television series “ER” (Crichton’s script for the feature-length version was turned into the initial three episodes), the author slipped Spielberg an early galley version of the novel (this could have been an early version of the book which was told primarily through the point-of-view of the two young children). Crichton was clearly more interested in the movie getting made than the movie getting optioned, and told Spielberg he would sell it to him if he promised to direct it himself. “But then the agency got ahold of it; and they, of course, encouraged a bidding war, even though Michael had kind of promised me the book privately,” Spielberg said. “Before long, it had been sent out to every studio in town, and the bidding was fast and furious.” Of course, less than a week after it went on the auction block, the book was confirmed for Universal and Spielberg (with his Amblin Entertainment co-producing). The initial $1.5 million price tag was inflated to $2 million, with Crichton issuing a first draft of the screenplay for the additional $500,000. None of the filmmakers who flirted with “Jurassic Park” would ever return to the land of dinosaurs, although one of them certainly tried.
When Burton obtained the rights to the Topps trading card series “Mars Attacks,” he also secured the rights to “Dinosaurs Attack,” a sort of sequel card series that came out more than twenty years later. Gory images splashed across the cards, like one where a Triceratops is impaling a bride and groom on their wedding day, the text at the bottom reading “Nuptial Nightmare". The intention was for Burton to make “Dinosaurs Attack” first, but when “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” began pre-production, focus was shifted to “Mars Attacks,” with Burton optimistic that, after that film’s success, he would be able to make “Dinosaurs Attack” as its sequel. Of course, “Mars Attacks” was a critical and commercial disaster and Burton never got to make his bloody dino-rampage extravaganza.