Soundtrack Review: Jurassic Park

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Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Jurassic Park began as a novel by Michael Crichton. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, obviously because of the dinosaurs. But it also deals with genetics and the incapability of man to control nature (“Life finds a way”, Jeff Goldblum puts it). The rights for a movie based on the book were quickly snatched up by Steven Spielberg, but he patiently waited until he was sure that film technology could do the story justice. It paid off tremendously, showing the potential of CGI while using practical effects to bolster the realism. Incredibly, and also pathetically, its CGI still outperforms today’s big budget affairs.

Along with Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park was part of the one-two 1993 punch involving Spielberg and John Williams. It shows how top on his game they were, both producing two of their greatest works in a single year. While the book had its humorous moments, it was very cynical and violent. The film has cynicism and violence, too, but Spielberg’s lighthearted manner of storytelling takes over. The movie actually departs from a book quite a bit, and yet both book and film are amazing.

Williams’ music has plenty of danger, but it emphasizes the adventurous nature of a theme park. He was able to create two iconic main themes. The one that is actually titled “Theme from Jurassic Park” displays reverent awe at the resurrected glory of dinosaurs. Despite being labeled as the main theme and the instant recognition it receives, it actually only appears a mere three times throughout the film, its extra appearances on album owing to concert suite arrangements. It first appears when they meet the Brachiosaurus, a choir hammering home the amazement the characters are feeling (and what the audience must have felt seeing such a realistic dinosaur for the first time). The second time is “A Tree For My Bed”, where it plays softly on a xylophone as paleontologist Alan Grant muses on how useless his trade is now that real live dinosaurs exist (at least that’s how I interpreted the scene). Its last and most majestic appearance is at the very end of the film, one of the most heart-rousing moments in film score history.

The second main theme is even more popular and much more widespread in its use in the film. It’s introduction in the film is as a bombastic trumpet march. It’s a theme that’s primarily adventurous, shown in “Jurassic Park Gate” when it is accompanied by jungle drums. But serves the purpose of heroism as well, noticeably in “T-Rex Rescue and Finale”. It’s much more malleable, explaining why Williams used it a lot more than the “Main Theme” even in its immediate sequel. I call it the Adventure theme and the “Main Theme” the Wonder theme.

After the main themes, the most important musical identity is the four-note raptor/danger motif. It’s introduced right off the bat in “Opening Titles”. It hardly appears until the raptors get loose but when it happens Williams uses it for all it’s worth. It’s a simple, effective theme of danger that is menacing when slow and terrifying when sped up. In many of the action cues Williams repeats it as if it were the theme from Jaws.  There is also a dark, rhythmic suspense theme that appears at the 3:22 mark in “Incident at Isla Nublar”.

Jurassic Park is quite a varied film score. Dealing with both dinosaurs and the ethics of amusement parks and science, it has moments of childlike wonder, safari adventure, horror, and all-out action. Therefore it’s necessary to go through the whole album. “Opening Titles” is an eerie short cue that kicks off with a choir and ends with a high-pitched introduction of the Raptor theme. This unsettling opening is countered by “Theme from Jurassic Park”, a concert arrangement of the Wonder theme. “Incident at Isla Nublar” is three of the suspenseful cues merged together and it really makes Jurassic Park sound like a dangerous place. “Journey to the Island” is an obvious highlight. Starting off with some adventurous fare, it climaxes in the Adventure theme, which goes on for quite a while. The music only comparatively subsides, with the Adventure theme playing under some light-hearted racing music. The track then dies down and gets suspenseful before gently segueing into the Wonder theme, which plays out almost exactly like its concert arrangement. After this the music gets adventurous again before ending in a brief refrain of the Wonder Theme and a few sinister notes warning the audience that however great things seem to be, the system is going to collapse.

“The Raptor Attack” is from the opening of the final sequence and delves into horror territory. “Hatching Baby Raptor” is more wonder, but not as grand as “Journey to the Island”. An angelic choir backs the miraculous birth of a creature that was once extinct while the end of the track is from when Alan Grant marvels at the power of life to overcome obstacles. It’s appropriate that as long as the music wasn’t being presented chronologically on album, Williams would merge two cues relating to egg-hatching into one track.

If only one track was to be chosen for a compilation, it would be “Welcome to Jurassic Park”, the end credits suite. Frustratingly it’s put in the middle of the album. This would have made more sense in the age of LPs, when two records would have been required to fit the whole soundtrack and finale may have been wanted for “side 1”, but on a single disc its placement is odd. Skipping ahead, the last track, “End Credits” is just the last part of “Welcome to Jurassic Park”, meaning that Williams literally put the same music in twice. Complains aside, “Welcome to Jurassic Park” is one of my favorite film cues of all time. It starts with the Wonder theme on piano, a calm relief after the intense Raptor sequence preceding it. At the 1:19 mark the same theme swells as the end credits begin to roll. The  Wonder Theme returns to peaceful piano before the Adventure theme takes over at 4:29. The track ends with another peaceful rendition of the Wonder theme before ending with ominously with the Raptor theme. Great stuff.

“My Friend, the Brachiosaurus” conjoins two of the cues revolving around herbivores. The first part could have been its own theme while the second is a very playful piece. “Dennis Steals the Embryo” really sticks out for being a blend of espionage and jungle suspense. “A Tree for My Bed” is a softer rendition of the Wonder theme while “High-Wire Stunts” is an action cue using the suspense and Raptor themes. “Remembering Petticoat Lane” is a carnivalesque cue. “Jurassic Park Gate” starts off with safari music and a statement of the Adventure theme before calming down with failed suspense, underscoring the disappointment the characters feel when they can’t see a dinosaur. “Eye to Eye” is the most chilling track on the album. It’s a fairly long piece and the first three minutes are slow but effectively eerie. It starts to pick up with a militaristic iteration of the Adventure theme at the 3:12 mark. After the 4:30 mark this hope spot is cut off by a statement of the Raptor theme and the eerie nature returns, but with the indication that the danger has escalated. At 5:21 music sinister jungle music comes up followed up by a harsh rhythm before subsiding with the Suspense theme. I recently learned that the first couple minutes were excised music from the scene where they try to lure out the T-Rex with a goat. For some reason I really love this track.

“T-Rex Rescue and Finale” is the action climax with liberal uses of the four-note Raptor theme. It picks up where “The Raptor Attack” left off, continuing the suspense before thumping drums come in at the 0:57 mark. The music starts to race around two minutes in and things get frantic until the Adventure theme heroically takes over at the 3:27 mark. This relief doesn’t last long as the final run as at 4:19 the frantic terror returns. The music does seem to go on longer than it did in the film. This is because the last minute or so of this track was edited over with the Adventure theme for more dramatic effect.

To coincide with the 201 3D re-release of the film, the soundtrack was also re-released digitally, this time with four bonus tracks. Most of these tracks are mini-suites of various small cues that were left off the original album. “The History Lesson” contains some of the whimsical music, including the most light-hearted version of the Adventure theme. “Stalling Around” is the music from the film the characters view on their tour, an intentionally silly piece. “The Coming Storm” has several suspense cues patched together, including the T-Rex chase and the view of an encased mosquito (backed by a dark choir). “Hungry Raptor” is from the initial encounters with the Raptors and seems to contain music not in the film. In 2016 La-La Land released a two-disc complete score. All of the music is arranged chronologically this time, though most of it had already been released so there isn’t much in the way of previously unheard material (and what there is consists of short suspense cues which aren’t that memorable).

Jurassic Park is an incredible score and one of my favorites. It has strong themes while still being an eclectic experience. I actually consider it the end of an era. After this John Williams’ work took on a slightly different, more experimental tone, not that he didn’t make any more grand blockbuster scores. This probably reflected his assignments, as Spielberg started to move away from big summer blockbusters and work on period pieces and comparatively intellectual sci-fi while other directors hired him for dramas.

Final Rating: 10/10

Tracklisting

  1. Opening Titles (0:33)
  2. Theme from Jurassic Park (3:27)
  3. Incident at Isla Nublar (5:20)
  4. Journey to the Island (8:52)
  5. The Raptor Attack (2:49)
  6. Hatching Baby Raptor (3:20)
  7. Welcome to Jurassic Park (7:54)
  8. My Friend, the Brachiosaurus (4:16)
  9. Dennis Steals the Embryo (4:55)
  10. A Tree For My Bed (2:12)
  11. High-Wire Stunts (4:08)
  12. Remembering Petticoat Lane (2:48)
  13. Jurassic Park Gate (2:03)
  14. Eye to Eye (6:32)
  15. T-Rex Rescue & Finale (7:39)
  16. End Credits (3:26)
  17. The History Lesson (2:28)
  18. Stalling Around (2:33)
  19. The Coming Storm (4:00)
  20. Hungry Raptor (2:06)

Tracks 17-20 are tracks from the 2013 release.

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