When young Steven Spielberg was first offered the screenplay for "Jaws," he said he would direct the movie on one condition: That he didn't have to show the shark for the first hour. By slowly building the audience's apprehension, he felt, the shark would be much more impressive when it finally arrived.
He was right. I wish he had remembered that lesson when he was preparing "Jurassic Park," his new thriller set in a remote island theme park where real dinosaurs have been grown from long-dormant DNA molecules. The movie delivers all too well on its promise to show us dinosaurs. We see them early and often, and they are indeed a triumph of special effects artistry, but the movie is lacking other qualities that it needs even more, such as a sense of awe and wonderment, and strong human story values.
It's clear, seeing this long-awaited project, that Spielberg devoted most of his effort to creating the dinosaurs.
The human characters are a ragtag bunch of half-realized, sketched-in personalities, who exist primarily to scream, utter dire warnings, and outwit the monsters.
Richard Attenborough, as the millionaire who builds the park, is given a few small dimensions - he loves his grandchildren, he's basically a good soul, he realizes the error of tampering with nature. But there was an opportunity here to make his character grand and original, colorful and oversize, and instead he comes across as unfocused and benign.
As the film opens, two dinosaur experts (Sam Neill and Laura Dern) arrive at the park, along with a mathematician played by Jeff Goldblum whose function in the story is to lounge about uttering vague philosophical imprecations. Also along are Attenborough's grandchildren, and a lawyer, who is the first to be eaten by a dinosaur.