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The natural disaster that almost destroyed ‘Jurassic Park’

Shooting a high-budget Hollywood production is never a walk in the park, but sometimes, it can be a downright struggle and a dangerous one at that. As Ben Stiller’s 2008 comedy satire Tropic Thunder conveyed, a filming team can come up against all manner of obstacles, from difficult egos within the acting and production crew to death-defying encounters with poppy-growing drug dealers. In the case of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, it was the weather that threw the most shade on proceedings.

In 1993, Spielberg released the first film of his Jurassic Park franchise. The film was an immediate hit with critics and audiences alike as it grossed nearly $1 billion at the box office. This made it the top-grossing film of all time until James Cameron’s Titanic usurped the throne in 1997. 

Jurassic Park introduced the state-of-the-art theme park island created by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), home to recultured species of dinosaurs. The film follows the palaeobiologists Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) as they take in the wonderment of the soon-to-open park. Unfortunately for them (fortunately for the viewer), the tour group find themselves running for dear life when the security of the enclosures is breached. 

Most of the film was shot in 1992 on the island of Kaua’i in Hawaii. The island’s dense green tropical landscape and breathtaking scenery made it the perfect setting for a dinosaur-inhabited zoo. However, with beautiful tropical rainforests comes tropical storms. Much to the filming crew’s misfortune, on September 11, 1992, the island was hit by Hurricane Iniki, a category four hurricane with 145 mph winds that caused over $3 billion worth of damage. 

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The hurricane was the strongest storm to have hit the state of Hawaii in recorded history. While the crew were hiding out, trapped on the island in adverse conditions, most of the original Jurassic Park set was destroyed. 

Refusing to let the weather dampen their spirits, the filming crew used the hurricane to their advantage. By Spielberg’s request, the crew bravely emerged from shelter to film shots of the heavy wind, rain and waves that buffeted the island that autumn to use in the final production. The scenes of the real storm can be seen in the film as the workers on the Isla Nebular attempt to flee the park before the storm hits.

In an interview with Screen Rant, actor Laura Dern recalled the powerful storm and having to tensely ride it out while assuring the children amongst the crew that they were safe. “I mean, so many. Honestly, so many memories from the film; from the making of the film. We went through a level five [officially categorised at level four] hurricane together – it was a very traumatic and bonding experience on the first film.”

The cast and crew were unfortunate enough that the hurricane struck on the final day of filming. Having to shelter in their hotel on Kaua’i for a few days, the beginning of the film’s production was delayed by a few days. Despite the trauma and destruction of the set, they appeared to get off lightly. Sadly, the scene for the rest of the island was one of total loss and destruction. Amongst the wind-torn buildings and infrastructure, six Kaua’i inhabitants lost their lives during Hurricane Iniki. 

Watch The Weather Channel’s documentary episode ‘Storm Stories: Jurassic Park Hurricane’ below. The programme features commentary from some of the filming crew and cast.