'Jurassic Park' has meant monstrous fun for Laura Dern

A T-Rex from the 1993 film “Jurassic Park.” The Steven Spielberg film, based on Michael Crichton's best-selling novel, is back in movie theaters in 3-D.

Photo by Universal Pictures

A T-Rex from the 1993 film “Jurassic Park.” The Steven Spielberg film, based on Michael Crichton's best-selling novel, is back in movie theaters in 3-D.

After being trapped in the same shorts and shirt for almost the entire "Jurassic Park" shoot, Laura Dern wanted to burn her wardrobe instead of saving it as a souvenir.

But the actress had a far better keepsake from Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster about dinosaurs roaring back to life.

''Steven gave us a model of the raptor that was sort of the template for the raptor that Stan Winston built," she said of the director's gift to key cast.

Actress Laura Dern poses backstage with the award for Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy or Musical for the TV series ' Enlightened' during the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards, in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2013.

Photo by Associated Press

Actress Laura Dern poses backstage with the award for Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy or Musical for the TV series " Enlightened" during the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards, in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2013.

''I remember having it in what had been my office and became my nursery for my first child and when my son was able to look around the room, I remember him pointing to it in terror. So I had to remove it for a while and now, he thinks it's the coolest thing," she said in a recent phone call.

Winston, who died in 2008, was the special-effects maestro who orchestrated the teams behind the 20-foot Tyrannosaurus rex, 6-foot Velociraptor, long-necked Brachiosaurus, ailing Triceratops, birdlike runner Gallimimus, Dilophosaurus (known as "the spitter") and raptor hatchling.

Other experts choreographed and set them into miraculous motion.

''Jurassic Park" returns to theaters Friday, in 3-D, solidifying Dern's status as a hip mom.

To convincingly play paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, she and co-star Sam Neill were coached by world-famous dinosaur hunter Jack Horner, and that gave her a golden ticket to unexpected places.

''Becoming a parent and traveling the world to go to natural-history museums ... I don't know any other movie I could be part of that would give me a back-door invitation like 'Jurassic Park,' " she said. "In London or in New York, when they see me coming, they're very generous to my son and daughter and we've been very lucky to have some up-close experiences.

''And it's super-fun to be a mom and have your kids think your music references are lame and a lot of other things are lame until the paleontologist mentions something and you actually can comment back and know something about the gestation period of a Brachiosaurus and have your son look up at you like you're super-cool."

That extended to her ability to take her 11-year-old son and some of his friends to a theatrical preview of the restored, 3-D version. "They loved it and were completely ready to just be obsessed with it."

Her daughter lobbied for equal treatment, but Dern, 46, vetoed it. "I would not take my 7-year-old daughter to see the movie," she said.

''I know she's upset, but I am also her mom and I know that seeing your mom in peril is a bad combo, having seen my parents in peril in movies. Still in therapy over it."

At the time of the original's release, Dern -- who is the daughter of actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, all three nominated for Oscars -- said she was 7 when she saw "Jaws," screamed and went back eight more times.

Stan Winston is shown working on a dinosaur for the film, 'Jurassic Park'. Winston, the Oscar-winning special-effects maestro responsible for bringing the dinosaurs of 'Jurassic Park' and other iconic movie creatures to life died in 2008.

Photo by AP/Stan Winston Studio

Stan Winston is shown working on a dinosaur for the film, "Jurassic Park". Winston, the Oscar-winning special-effects maestro responsible for bringing the dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park" and other iconic movie creatures to life died in 2008.

As she did then, she now suggests that allowing children to watch the PG-13 movie is an individual decision.

''I met a 6-year-old the other day, a boy, who's obsessed with dinosaurs. 'Jurassic Park' is his favorite movie and he doesn't clock anything scary about it. He's so in the fantasy of it. And so I think it's really individual to the child and the family. They've seen so much else that's not fictitious.

''As terrifying as it was when we first saw it, it's oddly become a much more palatable movie, given the content that's out there," she said, referring to real-life horror stories that play out in the news.

For many adults, however, watching the venal computer genius played by Wayne Knight broker dino embryos or hearing Richard Attenborough's character announce, "There it is," as the signature music swells, will be a thrilling, nostalgic journey.

''There is a generation of adults now who, it's their favorite movie," she said, citing two crew members on her HBO series, "Enlightened," who are obsessed, obsessed with it. They will be at the first showing with a group of friends also in their early 30s.

The movie was groundbreaking at the time thanks to the computer wizardry, but, she adds, "What makes it incredible, if it weren't 3-D, I thought it was really fun to see it on the big screen again and to remember what a good movie it is."

What sells the movie in 3-D? "I think all of the T. rex sequences are pretty stunning and the raptors in 3-D are just, you jump out of your seat," she said with a laugh. "Even the very beautiful sequence of the vistas of the dinosaurs and feeling the Brachiosaurus much more intimately in 3-D was quite beautiful. I loved it."

The conversion of "Jurassic Park" to 3-D took nine months, with more than 700 artists isolating small details inside each frame and adding depth, much as the technicians did with 1997's "Titanic."

But nothing was required of her. "Just one really fun phone conversation when (Spielberg) was like, 'I have my 3-D glasses on, this is amazing.' Just hearing them work on it was really fun."

As it turns out, Dern wasn't the only famous or about-to-be-famous actress in contention to play Ellie.

Sam Neill, portraying Dr. Alan Grant, runs from dinosaurs in a scene from the 1993 film 'Jurassic Park.'

Photo by Universal Pictures

Sam Neill, portraying Dr. Alan Grant, runs from dinosaurs in a scene from the 1993 film "Jurassic Park."

Helen Hunt and Gwyneth Paltrow auditioned, according to brief footage shown on the "Today" show a week ago. Their readings were among videotapes of auditions featuring Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman scheduled for auction.

This was news to Dern, who endowed Ellie with awe and scientific smarts and knew nothing of others auditioning.

''I knew nothing. I was a very lucky person to just be invited to the party by Steven and, you know, that's a very elusive question, the question of casting and how directors feel like someone's right for something."

She then added, "I feel bad 'cause God knows we've all done them and nobody does a screen test or audition ever wanting anybody to really see it." Turns out SAG-AFTRA and the Casting Society of America agreed and the auction of that material was scrapped on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Dern said, "Steven was very generous and, luckily for me, he was convinced that I was what he needed for it. I don't know how he knew that.

''He'd seen me in 'Rambling Rose,' so he felt like that was the quality he wanted, which I think did have something to making sure she was warm. And to have this understory of her longing to become a mother and pushing (Neill's) Alan Grant toward that without having the screen time to really tell that story."

She has stayed friends with Spielberg and her co-stars, thanks to the length of the production and their 1992 survival of Hurricane Iniki in Kauai and its 140 mph winds. "It was really scary. It's a lifetime of bonding once you've walked through that."

Compared with all of that, the cancellation of an HBO series isn't quite so dramatic -- unless you are a fan of "Enlightened," starring Dern as Amy Jellicoe, a corporate whistle-blower. The half-hour series, created by co-star Mike White and Dern, was canceled in March.

Asked what she would say to the disappointed and stunned fans of the show, Dern said: "Mike White and I empathize deeply with them and we are so unbelievably grateful to them for just the amazing, unbelievable support from fans in these last months."

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