Jurassic Park ‘Wasn’t Just Another Job’ for Sam Neill

Exclusive: Jurassic Park star Sam Neill looks back at the classic that started it all and how even while shooting the movie they realized they could be making "a milestone in cinema."

Jurassic Park cast
Photo: Universal

It was 29 years ago that a movie came out and changed the course of film history. Jurassic Park, based on the novel by Michael Crichton and directed by Steven Spielberg, came roaring into theaters in June 1993 and ushered in a whole new era of visual effects-driven filmmaking. Not since the halcyon days of Ray Harryhausen’s pioneering work with stop-motion animation had anyone attempted to realistically put dinosaurs on the big screen, using groundbreaking new advancements in the still relatively new field (for film, anyway) of computer-generated imagery along with the latest developments in animatronics and other traditional effects techniques.

Spielberg also enlisted a cast of relatively low-key stars, among them Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Samuel L. Jackson (who was not quite yet the iconic figure he is today), and esteemed British director-actor Richard Attenborough. This allowed audience to avoid focusing on a single superstar performer and help keep their attention where it needed to be: on the incredible dinosaurs coming to life on the screen.

“I think it was an enthusiastic cast, and Steven himself was full of enthusiasm about everything,” Neill tells Den of Geek while discussion his newest appearance in Jurassic World Dominion. “We were literally breaking new ground. It wasn’t just another job. We felt like this might be a milestone in the history of cinema. And I think it was. I mean, we weren’t making anything particularly profound. It wasn’t a heavy art film. It was popular entertainment… But that combination of people, animatronics and CGI, which was brand new, transformed the way in which movies were made.”

Even though the visual effects technology used in Jurassic Park pushed the entire industry forward, paving the way for even more incredible sights in blockbusters to come, the cast and crew still had to deal with problems on the ground, including the infamous arrival of Hurricane Iniki.

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Jurassic Park was shooting on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i with the production scheduled for its last day of filming on Sept. 11, 1992. That’s when Hurricane Iniki, which had formed a few days earlier in the Pacific Ocean, made landfall on the island. The most powerful hurricane to ever strike Hawaii, it caused six deaths and $3.1 billion in damage.

The cast and crew sheltered in a hotel and rode out the storm safely, but that was the end of filming on Kaua’i. “Every single structure was in shambles; roofs and walls were torn away; telephone poles and trees were down as far as the eye could see,” said Spielberg at the time, according to the book The Making of Jurassic Park. With several sets destroyed, the shoot moved to the neighboring island of Oahu to finish its location shoot (some of the storm footage seen in the movie is actual footage of Iniki).

Sam Neill says that the incident brought him, Dern, and Goldblum closer together, a relationship and chemistry that they effortlessly pick up again in Jurassic World Dominion.

“I think when you’ve been through something together, it does bind you in a way that normal working relationships don’t necessarily do,” recalls Neill now about the experience. “We, along with Richard Attenborough and Steven and so on, went through Hurricane Iniki, which came close to killing us. But that, in a sense, prepared us for what happened on this film, which was that we were beleaguered by COVID… we were never quite sure whether we’d make it or whether it might kill us or anything.”

Now that Jurassic World Dominion has been released, it’s being marketed as the end of this era of the saga, although presumably not the entire franchise. While the quality has varied greatly over the course of six films and 29 years, the original Jurassic Park still stands tall as a classic piece of genre entertainment and a true landmark that changed the way movies were made forever.

“After Jurassic Park,” concludes Sam Neill. “Things were never quite the same again.”

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Jurassic World Dominion is out in theaters now.