The Natural Disaster That Shook The Jurassic Park Set

Steven Spielberg is a master filmmaker with more classics under his belt than any single director dare hope. Nearly 30 years later, "Jurassic Park" still stands tall as one of those crowning achievements. While the movie is remembered for many things — primarily its pioneering use of CGI to help create the film's incredible dinosaurs, not to mention kickstarting one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history — it also managed to do all of this while overcoming a very real disaster. No, not the kind related to prehistoric creatures escaping their enclosures. Rather, the production had to contend with an act of mother nature that caused major real-world destruction and put the movie, as well as those involved, in actual jeopardy.

We're here to discuss the natural disaster that hit the set of "Jurassic Park" and how the cast and crew banded together and save, not just the movie, but some lives in the process.

Jurassic Park filmed In Hawaii

As many fans are surely aware, Spielberg used Hawaii as the real-world filming location to make the fictional island of Isla Nublar in "Jurassic Park" come to life. This is the island where John Hammond made his dinosaur theme park, and where the bulk of the movie takes place. Unfortunately, while production unfolded in 1992, a gigantic Category 4 hurricane was brewing off the coast, throwing a wrench in the gears of the production.

Hurricane Iniki made landfall over the island of Kauaʻi on September 11, 1992 (via New York Post), which also happened to be the final day of filming on location. Or it was supposed to be anyway. Instead, the cast and crew were forced to hunker down in their hotel and hope for the best. One particularly fun fact (as far as facts related to natural disasters go) is that members of the crew had shirts to commemorate the occasion, which you can see below.

Luckily, because a film set requires lots of preparation and equipment, the ballroom of the hotel was put to use. Everything from generators to lights, and even food from craft services, was made available to help everyone ride the whole thing out. In an episode of Netflix's "The Movies That Made Us," producer Gerald R. Mulan recalled getting a phone call at 3:45 A.M., just before everyone was about to head back to Los Angeles, alerting him about the hurricane. "I never liked using the word problem. This, in fact, was a problem," he said.

Sam Neill, who played Dar. Alan Grant, also recalled a sobering moment.

"I do remember going out to the beach with Laura [Dern] and Jeff [Goldblum]. It looked like the end of the world was approaching. Laura turned to me and she said, 'Sam, do you think we might die today?' And I said, 'You know what Laura, we might just die today [laughs]." 

Hurricane Iniki Brings Destruction (And Opportunity)

Iniki proved to be a terribly destructive storm. It was responsible for six deaths and approximately $3.1 billion in damage, ranking as the most costly disaster in the history of Hawaii. Spielberg once recalled the devastation in "The Making of Jurassic Park" book, saying:

"Every single structure was in shambles; roofs and walls were torn away; telephone poles and trees were down as far as the eye could see."

But Spielberg also made use of the situation. To add to the madness, Spielberg thought it would be good to actually get footage of the storm for the movie. So he grabbed a camera and some minimal crew to do just that. Director of photography Dean Cundey recalled in "The Movies That Made Us" series:

"Steven said, 'Well it would be great to have storm footage' because in the story, the approaching hurricane is significant. I went out to the beach with Steven and we were shooting these tremendous waves as the storm would get more and more."

As a result, the storm sequence that ended up in the movie is the actual storm that nearly derailed the production and put the cast and crew in danger.

The Aftermath Of the Storm

With the destruction so devastating, the cast and crew's evacuation from Hawaii took some time, but people stepped up to make sure everyone was taken care of. Second Assistant Director Michelle Panelli-Venetis referred to Jeff Goldblum as "the man of the hour" for helping out with the preparations to make sure everyone could get to safety in that episode of "The Movies That Made Us."

It was actually producer Kathleen Kennedy, now president of Lucasfilm, who managed to get everyone off the island after the storm devastated Hawaii. Martial law had been declared, rations were low, and things seemed impossible. Yet, Kennedy ran into pilot Fred Sorenson, who she worked with on "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and enlisted him to help not only get supplies to everyone, but get the cast and crew back to LA safely.

One of the most amazing stories to emerge from this (via Film Daily) has to do with Richard Attenborough, who played Jurassic Park creator John Hammond. He never went down to the ballroom of the hotel to join the others. Rather, he slept through the whole thing in his room. Spielberg asked the actor how he managed to do so, at which point, Attenborough said, "Dear boy, I survived the blitz!"

From the Chaos Emerges a Hit

This is an awful lot for any production to overcome, and it certainly wasn't the only issue "Jurassic Park" faced. Far from it. Despite all of that, it went on to become one of the most successful blockbusters in history when it was released in the summer of 1993, paving the way for one of the biggest franchises the world has ever known. The franchise will continue in summer 2022 with "Jurassic World: Dominion," the sixth entry in the series overall.