Should Jurassic Park Be Considered A Horror Movie?

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Jurassic Park fits all of the on paper definitions of a horror movie, but it's not generally thought of as one because of its tone and target audience.

Most film fans are probably familiar with Steven Spielberg's 1993 classic Jurassic Park. The film, based on Michael Crichton's 1990 novel of the same name, follows a group of scientists who are invited to explore a not yet opened wildlife park created by an elderly rich man where dinosaurs are no longer extinct and are available to view and study. Unfortunately, things don't go according to plan and the dinosaurs are sete loose, putting everyone in danger. The film has been officially classified on IMDb as action, adventure, and science-fiction, but discussions in the horror and film communities have fans debating, "is Jurassic Park a horror movie?" Turns out, there are some pretty compelling arguments for both sides.

Most film fans know what to expect from a horror film: a macabre story designed to elicit a sense of fear or dread in the audience. This leads into the most used argument for classifying Jurassic Park as a horror movie, in that both its concept and plot are very scary. This is of course, true. One can't really argue that the concept of first, scientists bringing dinosaurs to life again and second, it going horribly wrong and the dinosaurs running wild and killing people, is very scary. Not for everyone, but for many, all it takes to make a horror film is for it to be scary. The scene where the kids are hiding in the kitchen and the dinosaurs seem to be hunting them? Absolutely terrifying. Spielberg himself wouldn't let his children watch it, saying it was too intense.

Another case for classifying Jurassic Park as horror involves comparing it to other films of similar plot or genre, that are solidly thought of as horror films. The most obvious one would probably be another Spielberg classic: Jaws. 1975's Jaws is another film that the majority of cinephiles will know very well, as a staple in the horror genre. It's about a great white shark that begins attacking vacationers at a popular beach town. The plot obviously differs slightly to Jurassic Park, notably lacking the science fiction elements, but they are both creature features and similarly shot and directed. The creature feature genre as a whole, which Jurassic Park should fall under, is most commonly thought of as a subgenre of horror.

On paper, it seems like Jurassic Park should be thought of as a horror movie. So why is it not listed as a main genre of the film? And, more importantly, why doesn't the public generally count it as one? As much as viewers can look at definitions and logistics to make these decisions, so often it comes down to tone. Does it feel like a horror movie? The short answer is, not really.

In terms of tone and vibe, Jurassic Park leans far more into its action and adventure qualities than it does fear. So many moments of the film evoke a sense of wonder, a quality that isn't generally seen in horror. This is likely most evident in a scene very early on in the film, when the group of scientists first reach the park and see the dinosaurs. It's deeply emotional, and features some breathtaking shots as well as John Williams's infamous whimsical score. Juxtaposing a scene like that with many of the scenes in Jaws, also featuring an infamous John Williams score, viewers can see where the comparison becomes kind of irrelevant. Jaws is shot and put together in a way that very clearly tries to evoke fear. Jurassic Park is not.

It's also important to keep the target audience in mind. Though Spielberg might have thought the film too intense for his own children, Jurassic Park is generally thought of as family-friendly at the very least and in some people's opinions, a movie made for children. The sequels and the Jurassic World reboot lean even more into that, and there have also been multiple LEGO iterations as well as an animated Netflix series. Children's horror does exist in features like Coraline, but it's probably safe to say that Jurassic Park doesn't quite fit that genre, and the way it's marketed now definitely labels it as more of a children's franchise.

Horror is one of the hardest genres to define and classify because it plays so much into fears and anxieties which are deeply subjective from person to person. For some people, horror isn't horror if it isn't scary. For some, that's secondary to the film meeting the qualifications outlined in definition. So often it comes down to the earlier raised question, "Does it feel like a horror movie?" and that's how it's decided. The conversations and debates on social media can get incredibly colorful, but it also raises the question of whether classifying films into these genres is helping or hurting. While it does give an indication of what to expect for a viewer, it can also put films and filmmakers in a box. As the nature of film changes through generations and becomes more fluid, the relevance of genre is an interesting thing to consider.