'Jurassic Park' 30th anniversary: 13 things you didn't know about the film

As the film celebrates its 30th anniversary, take a look back at the making of Steven Spielberg's classic

Jurassic Park
(Image credit: Murray Close / Getty Images)

How'd they do this? We'll show you. Thirty years ago, Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" hit theaters, dazzling audiences and becoming the highest-grossing film ever made up to that point. On top of spawning a lucrative franchise, it helped revolutionize visual effects in Hollywood with the use of computer-generated imagery to create realistic dinosaurs that left viewers just as in awe as the characters.

From the origins of the movie's most iconic moments to how the ending was changed mid-production, hold onto your butts as we run through some fascinating facts about the making of "Jurassic Park":

Phil Tippett's reaction to the visual effects inspired an iconic line

After viewing a test of the new computer-generated imagery that would replace his traditional stop-motion animation, visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett told Steven Spielberg, "I think I'm extinct," according to the behind-the-scenes featurette "The Making of Jurassic Park." This line was then incorporated into the film. "We're out of a job," Alan Grant says, leading Ian Malcolm to reply, "Don't you mean extinct?"

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Jeff Goldblum's character was almost cut

Jeff Goldblum's character, Ian Malcolm, seemingly dies in Michael Crichton's novel, whereas he lives in the movie. But Malcolm almost didn't make it to the screen at all. Speaking with GQ, Goldblum recalled Spielberg telling him "we may take your character out of" the film by combining him and Alan Grant into a single person, but Goldblum made the case for keeping Malcolm.

Sam Neill was really burned during the flare scene

While holding a flare during the sequence where the T. rex escapes its paddock, Sam Neill was really injured after an ember of burning phosphorus fell on his arm, according to the book "Jurassic Park: The Ultimate Visual History." The actor recalled he "got quite a decent burn from that."

Malcolm distracting the T. rex was Jeff Goldblum's idea

Ian Malcolm using a flare to distract the T. rex was Jeff Goldblum's pitch, as he was originally scripted to flee and abandon the kids. "I said, 'Hey, instead of just running away like the lawyer does in fear, can't I do something kind of brave and heroic?'" Goldblum told reporter Jake Hamilton.

The origins of the glass of water

Spielberg came up with the iconic shot of ripples forming in a glass of water as the T. rex approaches after noticing his car's mirror shaking when an Earth, Wind & Fire song played. In "The Making of Jurassic Park," special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri described this as the most challenging effect to achieve in the film. It was accomplished by plucking guitar strings that were fed through the car.

The T. rex's roar was made using a baby elephant's scream

To create the sounds of the T. rex, sound designer Gary Rydstrom used audio of a variety of real animals, including lions. But he told NPR the "key element" in the roar was a baby elephant's scream recorded at the zoo. "We kept trying to get it to do it again, and the handlers were saying, 'We've never heard it do that before, that's a weird sound,'" Rydstrom recalled. "So every time the T. rex screams in the first 'Jurassic Park,' that baby elephant is part of the major roar."

The T. rex would sometimes spontaneously 'come alive'

There was so much rain while shooting the T. rex escape sequence that it caused some issues with the dinosaur animatronic. When it absorbed too much water, the T. Rex would start "shaking," Spielberg recalled in the behind-the-scenes featurette "Making Prehistory." It had to be dried off before it would work properly again.

"The T. rex went into the heebie-jeebies sometimes," producer Kathleen Kennedy told Entertainment Weekly. "Scared the crap out of us. We'd be, like, eating lunch, and all of a sudden a T. rex would come alive. At first we didn't know what was happening, and then we realized it was the rain. You'd hear people start screaming."

Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, and Gwyneth Paltrow could have starred

"Jurassic Park" could have been an "Indiana Jones" reunion, as Spielberg offered the role of Alan Grant to Harrison Ford before it went to Sam Neill. Jim Carrey also auditioned to play Ian Malcolm, Jeff Goldblum's character, while Gwyneth Paltrow and Helen Hunt auditioned for Laura Dern's role, Ellie Sattler.

Ariana Richards was cast after terrifying Spielberg's wife

Ariana Richards told the Daily Mail she landed the role of Lex after screaming so loudly on her audition tape that it woke up Spielberg's wife, Kate Capshaw, who "leaped up off the couch and ran into the hallway screaming, 'Steven, Steven, are the kids okay?'"

A massive hurricane disrupted production

Production was disrupted by Hurricane Iniki, the most powerful storm to ever hit Hawaii, leading the cast and crew to shelter at their hotel. Sam Neill later wrote in his memoir "we came very close" to dying in the hurricane. The only person not fazed was Richard Attenborough, who slept through the storm. In the behind-the-scenes featurette "Return to Jurassic Park," Spielberg recalled Attenborough brushing this off, telling him, "Oh, dear boy, darling, I survived the blitz!"

It featured a groundbreaking digital face replacement effect

When Lex falls through the air vent while being chased by raptors, Ariana Richards' face digitally replaced her stunt double's. According to "Jurassic Park: The Ultimate Visual History," this was the first ever on-screen digital face replacement in a movie.

A key shot was filmed in reverse

A moment in the third act where bones fall on Tim was filmed by raising the skeleton off the ground and then reversing the shot. "I had to actually act in reverse, which was a whole new thing for me," actor Joseph Mazzello said in a behind-the-scenes featurette.

The T. rex almost didn't live to the end of the movie

The famous ending where the T. rex returns and kills the raptors wasn't the plan when shooting began. Instead, the last raptor was originally going to be crushed by a falling skeleton, while the T. rex would have been killed earlier in the movie. But Spielberg changed the ending mid-production after realizing the T. rex was the film's true star.

"We're halfway through the process, and we're nearing this moment where we're going to shoot the scene where we kill the T. rex, and [Spielberg] was like, 'No. The T. rex is the star of the movie. We can't kill him,'" producer Kathleen Kennedy recalled on the "ID10T" podcast. This led to a discussion on set about how "we were going to change the next scene, and the entire end of the film, as we were making it so that we could keep our leading actor, the T. Rex, alive," she added.

That same T. rex, nicknamed "Rexy," would go on to appear in all three "Jurassic World" films, including 2022's finale "Jurassic World Dominion." So much for extinction.

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Brendan Morrow

Brendan is a staff writer at The Week. A graduate of Hofstra University with a degree in journalism, he also writes about horror films for Bloody Disgusting and has previously contributed to The Cheat Sheet, Heavy, WhatCulture, and more. He lives in New York City surrounded by Star Wars posters.