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Tim Burton’s Jurassic Park Would Have Been Very Different From the One We Got


Tim Burton's Jurassic Park Would Have Been Very Different From the One We Got


Summary

  • Universal outbid Warner Bros for Jurassic Park, shaping the film’s visionary success and impact on CGI evolution.
  • Tim Burton directing Jurassic Park might’ve meant more menacing, practical effects, capturing darker book elements not seen in Spielberg’s adaptation.
  • Burton’s distinct style and aversion to CGI would’ve made his ersion a unique, darkly gothic take.



In 1993, a film took over the box office in a way that nothing else had before. It was the Stephen Spielberg film Jurassic Park. The movie was an astounding success, with the director being hailed once again as a visionary, able to bring new technology to unbelievable art. However, the world could have spun in a completely different direction.


When the rights to the original book were being sold, there was a bidding war. One studio won and one studio lost. One of the losing studios was Warner Bros. Had they won, Tim Burton would have directed. But what would Burton’s sensibilities change about how we look back at Jurassic Park?


How Jurassic Park Ended Up With Universal

1993 saw the release of Jurassic Park, directed by Stephen Spielberg. The film was applauded not just for its adaptation of a wildly successful book, but for its uncanny visuals and realistic CGI dinosaurs. It was a first for film and ushered in a new era of film graphics led by the team at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the geniuses behind the original Star Wars and other special effects-laden films.


However, when the original book was being published there was an enormous bidding war. Film studios knew that it would be a massive hit and wanted to get their hands on the story before anyone else. When it finally came down to the final bidders, there were only two left: Universal and Warner Bros. The winner was Universal who, along with Amblin Entertainment, paid writer Michael Crichton $1.5 million and a percentage of the film’s gross earnings. This was with Spielberg’s backing and the promise that Crichton would write the first draft of the screenplay. It was a great deal for the writer, a wonderful deal for Universal, and it gave ILM an entirely new business model.

The film would go on to become the first film to make over $500 million in its opening weekend. It has spawned several sequels and become a franchise that continually promises astounding visuals and old-fashioned screams. But it could have been much different.


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What Jurassic Park Could’ve Been With Tim Burton

Now it’s time for some alternate reality. Consider what would have happened if Warner Bros. had won the rights to Jurassic Park. First, they would likely not have had the same connections to ILM’s vast knowledge base. Second, they would never have had Stephen Spielberg. In fact, we know exactly who would have been in the director’s chair because they’ve told us: Tim Burton. That’s right, the king of emo kids everywhere, the Christmas creature creator, and the say-it-three-times director would have been given the reins to one of the most promising book-to-film projects of the 1990s. Worlds turn on such decisions.


At the time, Burton was squarely in his most popular phase. He’d just completed Batman Returns (1992) and was writing/producing The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). His next film, Ed Wood (1994) would cement him as a bit more niche and separate him from some of his more whimsical early work. But what happens if Warner Bros. gave him the keys to Jurassic Park right in the middle of this creative renaissance? A few things would have been extremely different.

The main thing to remember is Tim Burton’s love of creatures and stop-motion. His urge to steer clear of CGI would have been overpowering. In fact, Stan Winston was the original choice to create the stop-motion dinosaurs before ILM approached Spielberg with their computer-based concept. Burton would have been staunchly against it. He said:

In Hollywood, they think drawn animation doesn’t work anymore, computers are the way. They forget that the reason computers are the way is that Pixar makes good movies. So everybody tries to copy Pixar. They’re relying too much on the technology and not enough on the artists.


His concept of dinosaurs on screen would have been far more menacing, creepy, and viscerally real. We would have seen the drool dripping, the far-too-sharp teeth, and very real eyes blinking. He would probably also have kept the more unsettling aspects of the book. Consider that in the book, Hammond is killed and eaten by small dinosaurs referred to as “compys” to show how his hubris has finally caught up with him. Or the fact that the book begins with a mother peering into her child’s room only to see a small dinosaur tearing off a piece of the child’s face. These were left out so that younger audiences would be able to enjoy the film with a few mild scares. However, Burton would have been very interested in the darker pieces of the book and how to show them in as real a fashion as possible:

I think of Ray Harryhausen’s work – I knew his name before I knew any actor or director’s names. His films had an impact on me very early on, probably even more than Disney.


This quote should explain it all. Ray Harryhausen was a pioneer in putting stop-motion on screen and having it interact with real sets. His films brought monsters to life, showed real people having fights with sword-wielding skeletons, and gave scale to angry gods. The CGI of the time was interplay and interaction. It wasn’t about realistic monsters, it was about making monsters real.

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Why Tim Burton’s Jurassic Park Would’ve Rocked


Everyone is aware of the Tim Burton style of filmmaking. Pale faces and Victorian esthetics. However, consider his outliers: Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, Mars Attacks!, and Dumbo. They all have a variety of effects that have become more and more elaborate as time has gone on. Yet Burton has unequivocally expressed his love for practicality. Consider the fact that now, twenty years after he could have made Jurassic Park, he told Entertainment Weekly this about his new film Beetlejuice Beetlejuice (2024):

“It needed a back-to-basics, handmade quality. It reenergized why I love making movies.”

Would Burton’s Jurassic Park have been different? It would have been such a far cry from Spielberg’s that it might have delayed CGI use in movies and created an entirely different, one-of-a-kind look at how a small group of people attempted to survive on an island full of dinosaurs.

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