Thursday, August 13, 2009

Oh my God, a Velociraptor! Get in the car!

I don't know why exactly my dad took me, my older brother (by close to six years), and my brother's friend to the movies one hot summer day. I remember my mom was picking up my official dance photos from my short lived tap career, leaving dad to tend to us. Whether I was tagging along, or no one bothered to check to see just what it was rated and made my brother take me along, I'll never know. But that was the day that I saw Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park is a classic and seminal film for many a young viewer, and it had a major impact on my life. But first, let's cover the experience itself:

It was hot, so just like in the days of old, we retreated to the nice, air-conditioned theater. We were about twenty minutes late, so I missed the initial scares in the opening scene and the setting up of the entire premise. We made it into the theater during the scene where they're watching a baby velociraptor emerge from an egg. Charmed by the little creature and completely unaware of the advertising about dinosaurs attacking people, I settled in for some kind of entertaining flick about people and dinosaurs. Maybe the dinos will talk!

Then, they go into the park and the thunderstorm hits. The power goes out. And the T. Rex attacks the kids in the car, and I'm pretty sure I lost it. I was terrified. And it just kept getting worse. The crazy spitting dinosaur showed up, the T. Rex attacks Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern in the car, everybody gets chased by everything, and the kids get cornered in the kitchen by some terrifying as hell veliciraptors. I remember crouching down during that scene in my chair, covering my head with my arms and kicking the hell out of the seat in front of me, in a futile attempt to fight off the raptors. (It must have been a midday showing pretty far into the run because the theater was mostly empty, thus no patron yelling at me to stop kicking their damn seat).

Now, I was only seven when I saw this, so as far as plot points were concerned, I was utterly confused. I just knew that dinosaurs were everywhere, they weren't friendly, and they ate Samuel L. Jackson. Which is why, at the end when they're all cornered again by viscious raptors, and the T. Rex shows up to "save" the day (sort of) and the raptors start jumping up and biting the T. Rex, I called out "The babies are helping!" I apparently lost track of the fact that the raptors were menacing Sam Neil and Co. mere seconds earlier. But to be honest, I was bewildered.

I left the theater knowing three things: First, Jeff Goldblum was the coolest person ever, but I couldn't figure out why; Second, dinosaurs were pretty cool even when they ate people; and third, I wanted to do whatever Sam Neil did for a living. I wanted to be a paleontologist.

Also, that very night I lay wide awake in bed in the early evening as the sun was setting picturing a T. Rex walking down the street. I was feeling a combo of fear about the T. Rex, but also a moment of "Holy crap, wouldn't that be ridiculously cool? I hope a T. Rex walks down the street."

I had a hard time remembering how to spell paleontologist, so every "What do you want to be when you grow up?" assignment required the teacher asking "A what? Oh, I'll check how to spell it." Somewhere, there are tons of assignments from the first and second grade about my wanting to be a paleontologist.

My parents were really supportive of my interest. I got all sorts of dinosaur books and activities for my birthday and Christmas and a subscription to a kid's dino magazine that sent you a piece of dinosaur skeleton with every issue to assemble (so keep asking mom and dad to renew kids!). The coolest toy though had to be one where they had a few pieces of dino skeleton embeded in clay that you had to carefully excivate and glue together to complete it. It was a very cool activity, and we displayed the finished item for quite a while on one of our bookshelves. I also hauled around books about dinosaurs and carried rocks around in a fanny pack (much tom my mom's dismay. She thought I would trip, land on the rocks and crush my stomach or something. Oh moms.).

Jurassic Park did more than define a career path (for a while anyway). It also brought me my best friend in the whole wide world. One day in the second grade, I was wearing a Jurassic Park T. Rex t-shirt. I happened to be sitting behind her, and she turned around to pass a paper or something and said "Hey, cool t-shirt."
"Thanks, I really liked the movie."
"Me too!"

And the rest was history. We used to play Jurassic Park on the playground with a bunch of other kids, play with the action figures at each other's houses, and generally have a grand time. And we're best friends to this day.

So thank you Steve Speilberg and the team behind Jurassic Park for temporarily scarring me for life, then giving me an early career path and a best friend. Those people may have been torn apart by dinosaurs, but they helped bring me together with science and new friends.

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