“An adventure 65 million years in the making.” The year was 1993. 8 year-old me, who had already been obsessed with dinosaurs at that point, caught wind of a TV spot that contained that simple tagline. I distinctly recall seeing the herd of Gallimimus flocking, and it excited me in a way no other movie commercial had. The movie was called Jurassic Park, and it was the movie to see that summer. Thankfully, my wish came true. It was a hot day in Fort Worth, Texas, when my father, uncle, brother and I went to see it at a theater in a local mall. The moment the film began, I was mesmerized. The way it began with such an intense scene of a man being violently attacked by what was obviously some sort of monstrous dinosaur truly set the mood. But this was not a scary movie. Sure, it had terrifying moments. (I still recall the shot of the Tyrannosaurus Rex breaking through the glass to attack Lex and Tim scaring the living daylights out of me.) But there were warm, touching moments, such as when our heroes are taken to see a dinosaur for the first time. Or when everyone suddenly abandons their Jungle Explorers to get up close and personal with a sick Triceratops. Indeed, for an 8 year-old dinosaur-crazed kid, this movie was nothing short of a great adventure. And it was one that would stay with me into adulthood.
Fast-forward 25 years to 2018. In April, Universal Studios Hollywood announced that it would be hosting the Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary Celebration. Originally set to span two days on May 11th and 12th (May 13th was added due to the high demand for tickets), it would celebrate a quarter-century of one of the biggest film franchises in cinema history. Being somewhat local in San Diego, I knew this was an event I could not miss. I convinced my husband that this was something we absolutely had to do. (If visiting Kualoa Ranch and hunting for Jurassic Park filming locations across Hawai’i in 2016 did not affirm my fandom to him, what would?) We booked our tickets and made plans to drive up to Hollywood on Friday, May 11th. While I do visit Disneyland periodically, I had not been to Universal Studios Hollywood in 8 years. I did get the chance to visit Universal Studios Japan last year, but I always feel that despite the grandeur of their newer iterations, theme parks just do not hold up to their original locations. (And surely, the same is often true when we speak of our favorite film series.) After surviving the always chaotic Los Angeles traffic, my excitement heightened as we parked in Jurassic Parking and made off towards Universal CityWalk. According to our tickets, we would not be let into the event until 5:30 PM. Since we were a bit early, we bided our time at CityWalk and admired the beautiful Jurassic Park Jeep Wranglers and Jungle Explorer that sat adjacent to the CityWalk AMC movie theater. It was a cool evening, and my hair decided early on that the intermittent drizzle would become its greatest foe. What was nice about this event was that the park did not close until 7 PM. So we made use of this precious time to wait a ridiculously short 10 minutes for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. After admiring the recently opened The Simpsons area, we followed the signage leading our way to the Jurassic Park event and rode the Starway down to the Lower Lot. When we arrived, we were instantly thrown into Jurassic mode.
Universal used the Jurassic Park: The Ride area to stage the Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary Celebration. Along with the ride itself, the celebration included a main stage, an activity area, the Raptor Encounter experience, restaurants, shops, and multiple bars that were set up to meet the needs of alcohol-deprived fans. The queue of Jurassic Park: The Ride contained prop displays such as Claire’s outfit and a gyrosphere from Jurassic World. There was also a Mattel Jurassic World toy display. The activity center featured face painting and caricatures. The main stage would be where Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow would be moderating a panel with special guests a little later. Shops such as Jurassic Outfitters were filled with merchandise, some of which was created for the 25th Anniversary Celebration. Mattel toys were priced double their MSRP. You could get a Super Colossal T-Rex for the “special” price of $90. (Markups on merchandise are not uncommon at theme parks, but such drastic premiums came across like gouging.) And as an added bonus, Revenge of the Mummy and Transformers: The Ride were open for fans attending the exclusive event. Both were walk-ons for the entire night, which again, is just unheard of. Around 7:15 PM, the D.J. put his beats on pause as Velociraptor Zulu and Velociraptor Blue made their way out to taunt the crowd awaiting the panel. This was a confusing moment, as many fans who had already gathered in front of the stage for the panel were asked to disburse so that the raptors could do their thing. The “show” included several ACU soldiers who were working to steady the two raptors and contain them. It really lacked any choreography or plot and came across as very disorganized. I got the impression that most fans could have done without it; especially since it disrupted most everyone who had already claimed a spot for the panel. Moments later, the emcee welcomed Colin Trevorow to the stage. The Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom co-writer spoke a bit about his fandom and then promptly welcomed three Hollywood veterans who were involved with the production of Jurassic Park. They included assistant director John Kretchmer, cinematographer Dean Cundey, and visual effects artist Dennis Muren. The three esteemed guests shared stories about working on Jurassic Park and why it remains such a beloved film. For me, the panel was the biggest highlight of the evening. And what was quite great about it was that each night of the celebration would feature different guests. (Saturday attendees got to hear from Laura Dern, while Sunday guests got a nice dose of Jeff Goldblum!) When the panel concluded, the D.J. cranked the music back up. But his performance was again paused for the costume contest and trivia game. Of course, another highlight of the evening was the IMAX showing of Jurassic Park at the CityWalk AMC theater. It contained the opening sequence to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which was met with a rave response from fans. And of course, there is nothing like seeing one of your favorite films on the big screen. While all of these activities were fantastic, I would be remiss if I did not mention how special it was interacting with so many Jurassic Park fans face-to-face. Seeing their enthusiasm for the franchise, with their faces lighting up as they discussed their favorite characters and dinosaurs and memories, truly left an impression. It was truly special to connect with like-minded Jurassic Park fans, and it was tremendously special to meet former online friends who I can now simply refer to as friends.
On the whole, Universal did a remarkable job organizing this special event for the Jurassic Park fans who had traveled not only from within California, but also from other states and even other countries. There was abundant signage throughout the park for fans to find their way to the event. The fact that the Upper Lot was available for attendees for an hour and a half was a huge plus that made the event all the more enjoyable. The exhibits, activities, and games added an extra layer of interactivity that gave fans an ample number of things to do. The Raptor Encounter special show was quite disorganized and seemed more of a nuisance than a contributing element to the experience, but it was countered with a great panel and a tram ride through part of the backlot towards the movie theater. And then when you factor the showing of Jurassic Park with a preview of Fallen Kingdom, you truly feel like the $69 paid for the event was quite a bargain. What’s more is that through my observations, I noticed fans of all demographics enjoying the event. I also got the sense that attendees were happy and having a great time, and it was certainly nice to see Universal commemorating the anniversary of one of its biggest films. With the first two events selling out, I have to wonder if Universal will hold similar events in the future not only for Jurassic, but also for other established franchises like Harry Potter or Back to the Future. I know more than a few fans who would wholeheartedly welcome a Jurassic Park 30th anniversary party in 5 years.
In 2018, I am enormously excited. Not only is Universal celebrating the 25th anniversary of one of my favorite films, but they are also releasing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom this summer. Mattel is putting out some of the finest Jurassic Park toys of all time and truly delivering on the promise of what a great toy line should be. Indeed, it is perhaps the best time to be a Jurassic fan. Somewhere inside 33 year-old me, 8 year-old me is smiling and enjoying every minute of it.