by Advisory Company Member Jake Penner
I was seven years old.
We got there early, I remember, because my parents were sure there’d be a line on opening night – how could there not be? – but it ended up not being early enough; we got our tickets and joined a long snake of people coiled around the darkened lobby, filing forward inch by tautly-anticipated inch.
When you’re a small child without much movie-going experience, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen on the other side of those theater doors. It could be anything. Would it be scary? Would I be okay? I remember dropping a lot of popcorn kernels on the floor. Maybe they were more like bread crumbs..
We were stuck with the only three seats left altogether – a trio on the house right side way too close to the screen. My mother probably had an issue with that but I’m thinking she braved it then for my sake. She smiled at me seated there between she and my dad and put her finger to her pursed lips. The movie was starting.
Like I said, I hadn’t been to a lot of movies in the theater but I’d seen some – I remember Back to the Future II (not the original, I don’t think I’d been born yet) and plenty of Disney flicks.
But as the projector started this time, I immediately noticed something unique to my other movie-going experiences. This movie began with a black screen displaying three letters – THX.
The ‘T’ and the ‘H’ just stand for some guy’s name; it’s the ‘X’ that really matters. The ‘X’ means “crossover.” When a theater is THX-certified it means that the sound quality of the movie about to be shown is as near perfect to the intentions of the film’s audio engineer – it even requires a special crossover circuit. In other words, for this movie, sound was going to be really, really important.
The filmmaker wanted to be sure that you didn’t just hear, but felt every last dinosaur sound.
You may remember that Jurassic Park begins violently. But in classic Spielberg form, we don’t see the cause of that violence at first, not really. He saves that moment for us. And for me, that moment, when we finally see it, is the most memorable I’ve ever had at the movies.
It doesn’t happen all at once. At first, we only see it on the faces of the main characters – silent shock as they stare at something far off in the distance from their seats in the branded Jeeps. The botanist, Dr. Sattler played by Laura Dern, is seated in front, examining a large plant leaf that’s like nothing she’s ever seen before.
Dr. Grant, played by Sam Neil, cannot speak; he reaches over and places his hand on top of Sattler’s head, sharply turning her focus toward the impossible sight they’re all beholding. Sattler sees it now and rips off her sunglasses to reveal on her face – and this is the only way to describe it – the look of someone who’s just seen a dinosaur. She stands in her seat through the open roof of the Jeep and the screen cuts to a 30-foot tall brachiosaurus grazing on a hill near a patch of trees. John William’s score swells.
For a boy who’d grown up on the fossils at the Field Museum in Chicago, seeing that dinosaur for the first time was a profound moment.
Then, that dinosaur, that looks every bit the dinosaur you see in your imagination as a child, teeters onto its hind legs, reaches its towering neck to the height of a prehistoric tree branch, pulls away a leaf, and comes crashing back to earth.
And it’s so loud, you feel it.
What’s your favorite movie or movie moment? Let us know on Facebook or tweet us @ForwardTheater and use the hashtag #FlickAtForward. And make sure to get your tickets to THE FLICK, running January 28th through February 14th at Overture Center for the Arts.