Dino-fever grips nation as cultural tyrant is born

AFTER months of furious hype, Americans headed to the cinemas yesterday on the opening weekend of Steven Spielberg's movie Jurassic Park which is already responsible for a national bout of dino-fever.

Record numbers of tickets were sold in advance as fans came to see the blockbuster, long billed as a milestone in popular culture and at the centre of a multi-million dollar marketing blitz.

There was speculation that the movie, which cost dollars 60m ( pounds 40m), would break the dollars 46m opening-weekend box-office record set by Batman Returns, a task made easier by page upon page of Jurassic Park articles in the US press. The dinosaur film was considered to be of sufficient cultural importance by the editors of Newsweek and USA Today to merit cover stories. Suddenly, Americans are experts on the tyrannosaurus rex and the dilophosaurus, and PC has a new meaning: palaeontologically correct.

Film critics gave Jurassic Park an enthusiastic reception, and raved about the special effects. The New York Times reviewer described it as 'a true movie milestone, presenting awe and fear-inspiring sights never before seen on the screen'. Time magazine concluded that 'Spielberg got it all right'. There is no doubt that the film's dinosaurs, which required the creation of 200 software programs, are stunning and convincing. But opinions are divided over other aspects of the movie, which stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Lord Attenborough, and Jeff Goldblum.

Variety, the Hollywood trade magazine, said: 'Steven Spielberg's scary and horrific thriller may be one dimensional and even clunky in story and characterisation, but it definitely delivers where it counts, in excitement, suspense and the stupendous realisation of giant prehistoric reptiles . . . Spielberg and Universal have a monster hit on their hands.'

However, the Los Angeles Times was less impressed. Its critic described the acting (with certain exceptions) as 'unengaging and simplistic' and Mr Spielberg's directing as 'flat'. 'The result is a standard-issue jeopardy picture with (very realistic) dinosaurs plugged into all the appropriate gaps.'

He continued: 'Jurassic Park will doubtless make a fortune and solidify Spielberg's position as the Pied Piper of popular entertainment. But those who remember when the director didn't sacrifice everything to childish sentiments and special effects will view it as a further step along the familiar road of a talented individual unnerved by success.'

One dispute is about whether the film is suitable for children under 13, who are likely to be the main consumers of more than 1,000 Jurassic Park products, including dinosaur toys, T-shirts and computer games.

The fast-food chain McDonald's is even advertising dino-sized chips.

Although Spielberg toned down the more graphic scenes in Michael Crichton's bestseller, the movie contains a number of scary moments, and some gore - such as the sequence in which a lawyer is eaten by a dinosaur. (One preview audience, no lovers of attorneys, burst into laughter at this.)

The New York Times offered this advice: 'Jurassic Park is rated PG 13 (Parents strongly cautioned). That rating appropriately reflects the limited, mostly off-camera violence included here. This film's nerve-racking suspense is less quantifiable. It is likely to scare young and even pre-teenage children.'

(Photograph omitted)