The Music of Jurassic Park


Welcome to Jurassic Park. Few lines immediately evoke a musical memory such as those four words and I imagine your head is instinctively recalling Richard Attenborough’s gentle brogue, the image of a gigantic Brachiosaur stampeding across fields, and John Williams’ reverential theme calling out in emotional celebration. It’s the closest thing any of us have ever come to seeing a real life dinosaur and that moment sticks in our mind, not least because of the music. So as dinosaurs are back in vogue and we’re returning to Isla Nublar this year with Jurassic World, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at the cacophony of the cretaceous. Hold on to your butts.

Jurassic Park was hardly the first score to tackle dinosaurs, indeed Max Steiner’s King Kong – considered to be the grandfather of traditional film scores – had dinos aplenty. The dinosaurs in Kong were antagonists, first to the sailors on the island but also to the character of Kong himself. Given big lumbering and threatening tones, this set the musical template for when Hollywood used them as the heavies for films from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms to The Valley of Gwangi. But while Spielberg’s picture certainly identified them as vicious and terrifying creatures, they were also a source of wonder, giving the audience an emotional connection to them that showed that while they were to be feared, they were also to be respected. The true villains in Jurassic Park are Dennis Nedry and John Hammond; the dinosaurs are just caught up in human greed and the morality of science.

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and lollipops. The velociraptors are definitely positioned as actively aggressive, as opposed to the T-Rex which is much more of an animal breaking loose and doing what it does with all the subtlety of a Michael Bay film. And as such Williams scores the raptors with real menace, but the rest of the dinosaurs are treated with reverence, hence that gentle main theme. Other material, such as ‘My Friend The Brachiosaur’, posits the reptiles as harmless animals that can have a relationship with humans that doesn’t result in one of the opposing sides dying.

But Jurassic Park is also a thrill-ride and this is demonstrated through the Island theme, which is absolutely exhilarating. Introduced in ‘Journey To The Island’, there’s a true air of adventure to the theme, and even a hint of swashbuckle. The brass gets a serious workout with the main body of the theme, and it has a sense of majesty that Williams always seems to bring to his work in a scarily effortless way.

Jurassic Park was released on CD and tape on June 23rd, 1993 by MCA. A special edition picture disc CD was also made available, while the score was released on vinyl in Germany (as a picture disc) and Brazil. Running just over seventy minutes the album contains a great deal of the score, however the end credit suite created for the film appears twice, which has always been a source of controversy amongst fans. This was alleviated by the 20th anniversary release which contained four new bonus tracks, however the album was only released digitally, although CD-quality and high-definition audio versions are available. The score was issued again on LP by Mondo in 2014, who provided three colourways – black, amber, and “dilosophaur” (which was green, yellow and red) – and two different covers. It should be noted that the liner notes erroneously stated that the bonus tracks from the 20th anniversary edition were included as the first physical release of that edition, however this is not the case.

Spielberg and Williams returned to the well in 1997 when we discovered there was a second island – Isla Sorna aka Site B – which was a bit like the dinosaur warehouse compared to Site A’s showroom. The Lost World: Jurassic Park was met with middling reviews, although managed to make a tidy sum of $618M at the box office. Darker and more action-orientated, it’s an underrated movie with some great setpieces and a black sense of humour that unfortunately has some stupid bits, some more glaring than others. Can anyone successfully explain what happened to the boat crew when the T-Rex was safely locked away in the hold?

But whatever you say about the quality of the film, Williams brought his A-game to the score. Accompanying returning music from Jurassic Park is a new theme that represents the increased action in the film, and it’s a breathtaking piece dominated by pounding drums and a huge string melody, giving off a feel that wouldn’t be out of place in a Kong picture. Williams also composed pieces for some of the new dinosaurs, such as the vicious but tiny compys, but his finest work came at the end of the film where the T-Rex found its way to civilisation, as heard in the brilliant track ‘Visitor In San Diego’. The montage of the animals to the island theme that closes the film is spellbinding.

Again MCA gave us a generous program of sixty-eight minutes for The Lost World, which made it to CD on May 7th, 1997. The CD again caused controversy, albeit of a different kind: this time it was the packaging. Instead of using a standard jewel case, MCA put the disc in a cardboard digipak that opened up to become a 3D diorama of the island with the inhabiting dinosaurs. This was disliked by many, although a jewel case version of the score was released in a special boxset in 2000 when Jurassic Park and The Lost World were released on DVD. With the sizeable box office takings, another journey to the island was guaranteed. But Williams and Spielberg would not be aboard.

Released in 2001, Jurassic Park III brought back Sam Neill’s Alan Grant to the franchise. Directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger), it was a leaner movie than the previous two at ninety minutes, but had a rocky road to production being plagued by script problems. This does show in the final film, which isn’t fantastic but is schlocky enough to please. At the time John Williams was busy working on A.I. Artificial Intelligence but recommended composer Don Davis (The Matrix) to the production. Davis’ work is pretty impressive and he does well in combining the existing Williams themes with his own, so it feels more like a new adventure instead of just tracking.

There are several scenes and subsequent cues that pay homage to the original film, such as ‘The Dinosaur Flyby’, which uses the Island theme to score Alan Grant’s impromptu dinosaur-spotting tour as they arrive at the island, and ‘Brachiosaurs On The Bank’, which uses the main theme to great effect to recall the ‘welcome to Jurassic Park’ scene. But Davis’ own score satisfyingly emulates Williams without feeling like temping, and it feels like it’s part of the franchise. Davis has new animals to work with, such as the flying Pteranodons and the Spinosaurus, the latter featuring in the great ‘Clash of Extinction’, which is just a brilliant piece of brass scoring although it sadly went unused in the film.

Jurassic Park III was issued on CD by Decca Records on July 10th, 2011 with a fine program that ran at fifty-five minutes, with the score running over fifty minutes (the song ‘Big Hat, No Cattle’ by Randy Newman made up the rest). A promotional disc was also made the same year to send to Oscar votes to consider Davis’ score for an award, this was a fair bit longer at just under eighty minutes. I couldn’t find it on the secondary market but it would probably be expensive if it came up.

Michael Giacchino’s score for Jurassic World is due to be released on June 9th by Back Lot Music. As noted by his Star Trek scores, he’s perfectly adept at including older themes with new material, although you can bet the Jurassicthemes will get more workout than the Trek themes. Lots of people went gaga over the trailer, which featured a solo piano version of the main theme, although there’s no indication whether this will be in the film or if it was just produced for marketing purposes only. He’s also had previous in the JP world, having composed the score for the video game to The Lost World.

Despite the varying quality of the films, the music for the Jurassic Parkfranchise is pretty great across the board. John Williams’ themes are now film score legend, and with composers such as Don Davis and Michael Giacchino inheriting that responsibility, the future seems bright. As long as man keeps making the same mistakes and bringing back dinosaurs who subsequently go on to escape and eat everyone, we’ll be happy. At least musically.

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