JP, my mother and me.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about movie reviews lately, which honestly surprises me because I’m the first to say that I don’t like reviews at all.
For me the problem with reviewing film is that it’s too isolated, sure some people will give you examples of movies they liked or disliked but even then it’s never the whole picture.
One night, I sat down to make a list of my favorite films and why they are so important to me and, as I often do, put on a movie in the background — Jurassic Park.
Not making any progress by the time the movie was over, and not wanting to start the Lost World, I decided to go brush my teeth and head to bed; taking my toothbrush out of a Jurassic Park mug shaped like a Triceratops head.
I sat at my desk for lunch the next day to try and make headway on this list and took a pencil out of a second Jurassic Park mug, this one shaped like a Tyrannosaurus head, to jot down some notes.
The wheels didn’t start turning until I got home and went to stick some new coupons to my refrigerator using a T-Rex magnet from the 90’s.
I’m not sure exactly when it began, but for the the last few years every month, like clockwork I find myself on the couch watching the original Jurassic Park to the point where I can probably recite it from memory.
Naturally I asked my mom about it and according to her I was absolutely terrified of the movie as a child, so what gives?
It was all a bit foggy, and then I remembered this photo:
Me. Age four. Brain exploding because I never imagined I could ever have a dinosaur birthday party.
Now it makes sense.
Growing up my mom used to catch the bus to Norfolk every day for work at the now defunct Phar-Mor pharmacy, and every day after school my grandma and I would drive across town to pick her up from work.
When we had a little bit of money to spare, we’d use her store discount to buy or rent VHS tapes and sometimes watch them together when she wasn’t scheduled to work.
On one of those rare days off we walked up to the Dollar Store that wasn’t too far from our house, and going up and down the aisles a book caught my eye.
That book was “Troodon” by Janet Riehecky, part of a series of dinosaur books she began publishing in the late 1980’s and early 90’s.
I loved it, and we went back for more, eventually ending up with nearly half of the series.
I think it was then that dinosaur fever started setting in.
After the success of the original Jurassic Park a year before I was born, in 1993, it wasn’t a surprise that there were dinosaurs everywhere.
Heck, I still occasionally get the jingle from this American Dental Association commercial stuck in my head from time to time.
In any case, it all came to a head at my fourth birthday party.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park had been released the summer before and say what you want about it, but it was a massive success. Dinosaurs were so popular that most of my presents were wrapped in appropriately themed paper and cake toppers with matching toys were readily available for any mother with a sauropod-obsessed son.
In addition to an awesome Primal Rage toy and everything that came with the cake I also received the aforementioned mugs, some of the first JP merchandise that I’d come to own.
After it made its way to VHS and I finally was able to watch it The Lost World became an instant favorite of mine.
Later my uncle took me to see Jurassic Park 3, I dragged my brother to see the 3D re-release of the first film in 2013, sat down to read Crichton’s original books in college, treated my mom to a showing of Jurassic World during opening weekend and saw Fallen Kingdom twice in recent years.
What I’ve come to realize is that it wasn’t the movie itself that I was revisiting it was the memories and experiences I have with the world it created. Spending time spent with my mom reading dinosaur books, using the awesome toys I had to create my own stories or pinning good grades to the fridge using the T-Rex magnet.
Jurassic Park is one part of an elaborate spider-web of films that are deeply ingrained into the core of who I am as a person and have massively influenced the types of movies that I enjoy today.
As I start to connect the dots more, what I’ve found is that the strongest thread throughout my experiences with film has been my mom.
In the early 2000’s she took me to see Iron Monkey (1993) during its stateside release and it blew me away.
I remember practicing shadow kicks with my cousins for months after seeing the movie, but it was Donnie Yen’s hand movement at the 0:35 second mark that made the biggest impact on me.
For the last 18 years I’ve been mimicking that slight choking gesture every time I feel a cough or a sneeze coming and it wasn’t until a recent rewatch that I caught onto it.
She still has a large movie collection, that I need to go digging through at some point, and having the freedom to explore the stories that she liked enough to keep at home was incredibly important to the way I think about film today.
Whether we both acknowledge it or not, there’s probably a connection between Crayola Kids Adventures: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the “Hunting and Escaping” episode of David Attenborough’s Trials of Life and me seriously contemplating going to college to become a marine biologist years later.
If she hadn’t have sat me down in front of UPN one afternoon to watch Guyver: Dark Hero I doubt I’d have asked to watch similar movies and led her to buy me a used copy of Godzilla vs. Megalon, which changed everything I knew about monster movies. To this day, I’ve still seen more movies by Ishirô Honda than any other director.
And while she probably shouldn’t have kept Children of the Corn on such a low shelf but if I hadn’t snuck to watch it I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to good scary storytelling, or begged for the Goosebumps books that inspired me to want to tell my own stories and become a writer.
So, thank you mom for showing me Jurassic Park and for giving me a peek into the things you love through film.
I should probably call her now that I’ve at least figured out one mystery.