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'Jurassic Park' flashback: Ariana Richards looks back on walking with dinosaurs

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TORONTO - Though nearly two decades have passed since Ariana Richards was chased through rain-drenched Hawaii by fearsome animatronic dinosaurs, her memories of the "Jurassic" era are startlingly clear.

For instance, she remembers striding into Steven Spielberg's office as a pre-teen, her hair in a ponytail tucked under an L.A. Dodgers baseball cap, to receive the news that she had been cast as plucky Lex Murphy in the popcorn blockbuster "Jurassic Park."

Of course, she was appropriately intimidated by the legendary filmmaker. At first, anyway.

"(Then) he hit his head on a chandelier (in his office) — and it totally put me at ease," Richards recalled with a laugh in a recent telephone interview from her home in Oregon.

"He was really approachable and friendly.... I was actually a little bit surprised when he decided to offer me the role. And I was so excited."

And Richards, now 32 years old with a new career, is tickled that the popularity of the film has endured as long as her memories.

Based on a Michael Crichton novel, "Jurassic Park" was a veritable sensation upon its release in 1993. The film — about an ultra-rich philanthropist who constructs an amusement park filled with cloned dinosaurs on a remote island — became the highest-grossing film ever at the time, collecting nearly $1 billion in worldwide box-office receipts and eventually scooping up three Academy Awards.

Now, the ground-breaking film is being re-issued — along with its two sequels — on Blu-ray in a box set that includes a bundle of fan-service special features, including a six-part documentary featuring new interviews with many of the creative minds behind the series.

Of course, the real draw for fans — Richards included — is the opportunity to finally see the film rendered in high definition. The original "Jurassic" stunned audiences with its innovative special effects and dazzling dinos, created using a mix of early CGI, animatronic creatures and a variation on stop-motion animation called Go motion.

Richards estimates that for roughly 80 per cent of her scenes, she was acting opposite actual dinosaur models. And given the demanding nature of her role — a mix of screaming and scurrying, with the bevy of toothy beasts sending her golden-locked teen traipsing through a variety of unpleasant situations — that meant for a fairly arduous shoot.

And Richards cherished it.

"It wasn't a glamorous experience the whole time," said Richards, also known for starring in the 1990 horror-thriller "Tremors."

"We were often covered in fake mud, it was wind machines blowing on us and rain machines pelting down on us for weeks. I was so involved in the role and working with Steven and this team ... that I didn't really care.

"And in fact when it comes to the physicality of the role, I even wanted more. I actually would always ask to do all my own stunts."

Richards points out with pride that her character in the film was not simply the shrinking, shrieking damsel-in-distress type so common in action and sci-fi blockbusters, but instead a brave, resourceful computer whiz who managed to maintain a cool head and an eye on her little brother even while, say, being stalked by a pair of ravenous raptors in a cramped kitchen.

She suggests that's why the role has resonated with so many people. She says she received loads of fan mail from film-goers who were inspired by the character, and she still gets recognized by "Jurassic" fans with surprising regularity.

"Most often, it's when my hair is kind of relaxed and (I'm wearing) really light makeup and somehow, maybe I just get the look that reminds people of 'Jurassic,'" she said.

Richards has remained friends with Spielberg over the years despite the director's demanding schedule — "He doesn't forget people," she says — but she's put her acting career on the backburner.

While she retains an agent, Richards is now focused on a career as a painter. Still, she looks back fondly on her time walking with dinosaurs — and it's no surprise to her that the film has remained so popular.

"It's got a sense about it where you really feel like you're stepping back into this world of the past," she said.

"And who doesn't think about wanting to experience some part of the mystery of the earth in a different time?"

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