Jurassic-Park

Earlier this month, Jurassic Park finally got a stand-alone blu-ray release; it had previously only been available as part of a trilogy boxed set. The kicker – as in it kicked me right in the gut – is that this is the “Twentieth Anniversary Edition” release. Now, I’m not usually one for fretting over the fact that I am growing older; nor am I oblivious to the release dates of my favorite films from over the course of my life. But having the information thrust upon me in this fashion was a bit disconcerting.

Because, you see, I still have very vivid memories from seeing it at the impressionable age of seven-going-on-eight: The intensity and confusion of the opening raptor attack; the wonder and rapture of the brachiosaurus reveal; the gut-tightening tension of multiple T-Rex escapes. Over the past two decades, I have carried the emotional impact of those spectacles with me through countless viewings of the film.

I was, of course, ecstatic to hear that it was being re-released into theaters as well, and in 3D no less. When the opportunity presented itself to go see the new version on a theatrical IMAX screen, I could barely contain my excitement. I have no doubt that I annoyed my girlfriend, who had never seen the movie at all, with my demands that she be as excited as I was. That’s not to say she wasn’t excited – she genuinely enjoyed the experience – but I was unfairly expecting her to somehow feed off my own fervor.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that I wasn’t too far off from being a first-time viewer myself: Sitting in that theater, I somehow managed to watch a twenty-year-old film in IMAX 3D and take away more substance than spectacle. In a way, this review is more a way for me to share that experience than anything else. If you’re eagerly anticipating my final verdict, I’m afraid to tell you you’re in the wrong place.

Now, for the article proper. We’re going to try something a little different; instead of me just writing paragraph after paragraph of text, I enlisted by good friend Bryant from The Truth Inside the Lie and we had a nice dialogue about the film. I’ve transcribed it below, adding to it in places where we didn’t address things that had been on my mind but we didn’t have time for.

Hold on to your butts…

TS:

The first time I saw Jurassic Park, I was a month from turning eight, and had an absolute obsession with dinosaurs. The movie enraptured me, and everything about it overwhelmed me. I had the toys, sheets, lunchbox, etc.

BB:

So was this a case of the movie fitting an already-present interest, or a case of it creating an interest (in dinosaurs)?

TS:

The former. I had loved dinos for as long as I could remember. According to my mother, it started around the time I was two. I had books, tapes, models, and was genuinely informed on the topic. “The Land Before Time” was a big part of it. Probably the biggest impact JP had was to make velociraptors my favorites, although I quickly learned that Spielberg’s version was fairly inaccurate in the service of making them more menacing.

BB:

How many times did you force your poor parents to take you to see the movie?

TS:

See, I’m not positive there. We didn’t go to the movies on whims, though we did see the “big” releases in a timely fashion. My dad might have taken me back at least once, and maybe my grandparents took us once? I do remember feeling like it took a thousand years for the movie to come out on the vaulted “V-H-S” so that I could watch it endlessly.

BB:

Makes sense. Now, for my part…I think I saw it three times. Once on opening night; it came out in ’93, and I’d graduated in ’92 — I saw it with my best friend from high school, who was back in town for the weekend. Then saw it again later with my dad, and a third time about a year later when it was rereleased.

TS:

I had always though there was a re-release, but wasn’t sure. In that case, I would be positive that we went and saw it again at that point.

As a teenager, what was your reaction?

BB:

Well, by that point I was a huge Spielberg fan, so this movie was catnip. And I’d read the novel, which I’d liked a lot. (I’d read it because Spielberg was making it into a movie, incidentally.) I liked the movie a lot, too. It scared the piss out of me at a few key moments, and this was back in the days when I REALLY hated being scared by movies. But I didn’t care. Had a blast. The effects were literally like nothing anyone had ever seen. That cannot be over-emphasized.

TS:

That was a huge part of it for me; as a kid who fantasized about dinosaurs being alive again, this was the closest I figured I would ever come.

Which, incidentally, is where the biggest part of what the 3D version made me feel comes from, in that I felt like I was watching the movie as a real movie for the first time. Somehow I saw past the (admittedly amazing) wonder and appreciated it as a work of cinema.

BB:

I had almost exactly the same experience. In a way, for some viewers, the movie got overshadowed by “Schindler’s List” later in 1993. Comparatively, “Jurassic Park” felt like it had been a charming little pre-dinner mint or something. Watching it on VHS on reinforced that idea. But seeing it on a huge screen again brought it back home to me that it is, in every way, a masterful piece of cinema.

TS:

Hearing you say that, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people who were old enough to have seen it back then are experiencing something similar. That’s a big part of what made me want to have this little chat; I want to talk about things that seem obvious, but I never really thought about before.

BB:

Well, one of the elements that gets brought up a lot is the way in which the story serves as a character-building exercise for Alan Grant: in a way, the entire film is about him being forced to embrace the idea of being responsible for kids. And boy oh boy, did Ellie lay his ass about an hour after that chopper landed…

TS:

Interestingly enough, Ellie’s slowly increasing sexiness as the movie goes on in something I wanted to discuss. On the Grant front, it’s like you’re inside my brain. As they escaped in the chopper, my brain woke up and went “This entire movie is about how Grant should focus more on the people around him, especially children (the future) instead of on dusty old bones (the past).”

BB:

Was this your first time noticing that?

TS:

Like a bolt from the blue.

BB:

Mm-hmm. Now, me, I knew that already; but only because I’d read it in a book about Spielberg’s work long ago. (It hit ME like a bolt out of the blue at that time, though.) What I noticed this time that I hadn’t before is that what’s happening to Grant with the kids underscores everything Ian is preaching about. Life finding a way; unpredictability.

TS:

And the shot of the birds represents how dinosaurs had, like Grant, eventually moved on beyond their path toward extinction.

BB:

Or, alternatively, it’s Grant looking at evidence of himself having been wrong, and finding he is totally okay with that.

TS:

I can see that, yeah. Which would fit, since he’s the only male character in the movie who is able to abandon his stubborn ways in time to not suffer too much from it.

Dennis’s obsession with getting back at Hammond (because it’s about that, not the money) gets buried in the mud while he gets eaten; Ian’s desire to be right about the chaos lands him with a busted leg; Muldoon’s need to hunt the raptors gets him hunted right to death, which is reinforced by the shot of the alpha raptor watching the snake, knowing she’s the dominant hunter.

And then there’s John Hammond, who I finally realized is every bit the creation-obsessed dick he is in the book. The obvious signs are him insisting on seeing each dino be born – thinking they will “imprint” on him, of all things – and refusing to use the lysine(?) contingency.

But the really, really telling part is when he yells “Don’t!” into the phone when Grant is shooting at the raptors, despite the fact that his own grandchildren are in mortal danger.

—Interjection—

At this point, I would like to point out that the 3D actually does a really good job of adding focus to certain things that represent some of these themes. The times when we get a close-up shot of the amber on Hammond’s cane or Grant’s raptor claw are prime examples; the bag Dodgson is carrying when he meets Nedry, the embryos as Nedry is pulling them out of storage, and the shaving cream can as it’s being covered by mud are also greatly enhanced.

——

BB:

Yeah, Hammond is a nutjob, no doubt. He’s Frankenstein, essentially.

TS:

Speaking of which, that particular work was very ahead of its time in terms of the science that Shelley drew from. I’m still impressed by the references to genetics in JP; putting that kind of thing in high-brow novels is one thing, but putting them in a summer blockbuster is quite another.

BB:

Yes, and it was so beautifully-integrated — some would say spoon-fed, but I say beautifully-integrated — into the plot that I think the science was part of the reason why it was a home run with audiences. Not in spite of; because of. People are more than willing to learn, if you make it interesting.

TS:

I agree. The only thing I would say the movie over-simplifies is chaos theory, but having read both Crichton novels – which are essentially treatises on the subject disguised as dinosaur books – I am perfectly ok with that.

BB:

Well, that’s a subject where if you’re not careful it turns into “Big Numbers,” that abandoned comic series by Alan Moore that I wrote about in one of my comics blogs not long ago. I think with chaos theory it was sufficient to simply introduce the concept and let it lie there, self-evident and satisfied in its correctness, shirt unbuttoned and glistening. Um…

TS:

Ha! You have no idea how many of the women in our showing made audible expressions when that cut to Ian happened.

BB:

I do not doubt it.

TS:

Which seems a great lead into an aforementioned topic: How unbelievably hot Ellie becomes over the course of that movie. I was no stranger to Laura Dern being attractive, but as a kid my big crush was on Lex.

This time around, though, I might have been a little short of breath when Ellie’s trying to help Grant keep the door closed.

BB:

I always forget how incredibly hot Laura Dern is/was until I’m actually SEEING her on-screen in something. Just hot as balls; fresh-out-f-the-microwave balls, too. And yet, Ellie never comes off as the stereotypical woman-in-distress character. (Like, say, Willie Scott in “Temple of Doom.”)

TS:

That’s exactly why she’s so hot as things progress, I think. It ties in with her comment about “sexism in survival situations” when Hammond is suggesting he should go to the generator room instead of her.

BB:

Yep. Now, if you don’t mind, let’s go back to Nedry for a minute. Here’s my question: did he HAVE to be played by Newman?

TS:

These days, I think not. But I genuinely think that even the great Spielberg can fall into typecasting. In 1993, if you wanted a conniving computer programmer, then “fat guy in bad shirt” was the way to go.

BB:

Nedry is maybe my biggest problem with the movie. He’s so patently a plot device, it kinda irks me. Although even that fits into the chaos-theory thing. And it also, I might add, creates a bit of a link between Grant and Hammond. Grant, not necessarily a people person; Hammond must not be either, if he could hire someone as obviously untrustworthy as Nedry.

TS:

See, I think it has more to do with Hammond’s obsession with making this place exactly what he wants, without paying enough attention to how he’s getting there (Ian’s speech around the dinner table comes to mind). Nedry was a means to an end. Although it is interesting that Hammond loves to talk about “sparing no expense” and Nedry’s biggest problem seems to be financial.

BB:

I just realized that “Nedry” and “nerdy” have the same letters…

TS:

That they do, but that would be on Crichton for naming the character.

 

BB:

What have you to say about John Williams vis-a-vis this movie?

TS:

Sound! This was another area that I really noticed for the first time, probably thanks to the wonder that is IMAX.

I think Williams is on point in this film beyond even his usual talent. The JP theme is unforgettable, and the different applications he finds for it are superb. But where he really shines this time around are the little bits underneath the action and dialogue: The scene in the amber mine, the ice cream one with Hammond and Ellie, and the one where they find the “unauthorized” dino eggs all stand out for me.

—Interjection—

I also wanted to talk about the times there’s almost no sound in the movie, music included, and how fantastic that was with IMAX tech. The moment that stand out most is when Lex is seeing the raptor’s shadow against the wall, followed by her and Tim running into the kitchen area. Other than their panicked breathing, there is absolute silence.

As for times when the effects really shine, the dilophosaurus stalking Nedry sounded like it was legitimately moving around behind me. Of course, for sheer “wow” value, the impact tremors from the t-rex’s steps shook the entire auditorium, and it’s roars were appropriately deafening.

——

BB:

They really should have figured out a way to give him (Williams) two Oscars that year. “Hey, we know you’re already getting one for Schindler’s List, but here, have another while you’re at it.”

TS:

Hehe. I was actually listening to the JP soundtrack while writing the early parts of my review today, and I’m really irked that the tracks don’t flow chronologically with the movie.

BB:

That’s a common problem — “problem” — with Williams soundtracks, sadly. Alright, what are your thoughts on “Jurassic Park” being the last time Spielberg was truly comfortable in popcorn-movie mode?

TS:

I would counter with Minority Report…?

BB:

Love it, but it was not a notable success. Maybe what I meant was that “Jurassic Park” was — so far — Spielberg’s last mega-smash hit.

TS:

Hmm.

Well, my initial response would be that three of his attempts at such – The Lost World, War of the Worlds, and Crystal Skull – just aren’t very good, and after a while even average-Joe moviegoer starts to pick up on things like that. How successful was Tin-Tin?

BB:

Not very; kind of a hit outside of America, barely one at all in America.

TS:

That’s a shame, because it is loads better than most blockbusters these days. How about this: JP happens to be a spectacle film that is also masterfully made and has hidden depths. But most blockbusters these days are almost entirely style, and Spielberg has shifted his focus to more substantial fare.

BB:

There’s something to that, but I think it’s more that that’s what he THINKS he’s done. His blockbusters are plenty substantial; they just weren’t always taken that way by critics. And while I love — hold on, let me mentally count… — seven of the movies he’s made since then, and like all the rest, I miss THAT Spielberg.

——

Unfortunately, that was the end of our discussion, but Bryant has promised to potentially respond to anything I say here that piques his interest. As far as Spielberg’s recent works go, I will agree with Bryant that they don’t seem to have the same “oomph” as something like Jurassic Park, Jaws, or even Close Encounters. But he has always been one to direct exactly what he feels like directing, and so perhaps his interest has simply shifted toward a different kind of storytelling.

Back to the task at hand, I mentioned before that this was my girlfriend’s first time to see Jurassic Park, and it was great fun talking to her about it. She felt the movie has an impressive spectacle factor, even after twenty years, and liked the story it told. She’s not usually one for “scary” films, and was mostly ok in this case, with one exception: The power station. She physically jumped when the raptor came from behind the pipes, and then got fairly colorful when Sam Jackson’s arm wasn’t still attached. I’d wager that her heart was racing every bit as much as Ellie’s at the end of that scene.

Unless you have a complete disdain for all forms of cinematic enjoyment, you should take the time to go see Jurassic Park in 3D, and preferably in IMAX. Because regardless of whether or not you have ever seen it before, it will be one of the best movies you see this year, and will also probably be one of the best entertainment experiences you might ever hope to have.

 

I saw this release in an IMAX 3D digital auditorium. [amazon_link id=”B00B4804KS” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The 3D version comes out on blu-ray April 23, 2013.[/amazon_link]

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4 Comments

  1. So you really hadn’t noticed the development between Grant and the kids and the future? I’m surprised — that’s one of the first things I noticed, particularly given the fact that the first conversation we hear between Grant and Ellie (apart from the raptor story) involves how much he dislikes kids versus her desire to have them. I feel like every scene with Grant and the kids — combined with his obvious concern about bringing dinosaurs back to life — emphasized his mental change.

    Looking at the differences between you and I, there are a couple reasons why I may have noticed different things:
    (1) This was, as you said, my first time seeing the movie. I wasn’t a star-struck kid enamored with the thought of dinosaurs coming back to life. As such, I was likely more open to the sub-plots.
    (2) Not only had I never seen the movie, I also knew absolutely nothing about it. Didn’t know it was an amusement park. Didn’t know where it took place. All that I knew was that parts of it were filmed in Hawaii (because I was THERE – BOO YAH). So, from the very beginning, I was curious. What was all the hype about? Why did everyone seem so surprised (maybe even a bit angry) when I said that I’d never seen it? I was curious to understand all of the craziness, and so I paid attention to every detail that I could.
    (3) I’m a woman? Can I pull the gender card here? Honestly, given the choice between watching a movie about kids or dinosaurs, I’m going to choose the kids. That being said, this movie was awesome, and I’ll certainly watch it again and again. And thinking back on everything, I certainly don’t regret waiting to watch it – I doubt I would be as entertained if I lost HD, 3D, and IMAX. I am definitely spoiled by technology.

    Overall, I don’t think that anything in the article surprised me, though that is not to say that I did not enjoy it. The various story arcs in the movie seemed pretty clear to me: Nedry’s determination for revenge > money. Ellie’s womanhood (lol). Grant’s change from stuck-in-the-past to looking-to-the-future. And Hammond’s obsession-verging-on-insanity in regards to the dinosaurs. Before the end credits even began, I was aware of all of this, which I suppose just speaks volumes about Spielberg’s capabilities. To me, the movie was rather transparent, but it was still fun and exciting and new (despite its age). So here’s a big thumbs up to him.

    It was a great movie, and I enjoyed reading your discussion. I look forward to reading more.

  2. One thing I intended to bring up during the course of our conversation, but completely forgot, was the 3D conversion. As you rightly pointed out, it’s a terrific job. It isn’t jump-out-at-you 3D, but the kind that makes you feel as if you’re stepping into the world where the movie is taking place. And on that score, I think the conversion was completely successful; I was perhaps most taken in by the scene toward the beginning in which the lawyer visits the amber mine.

    The 3D was overseen by the same company that performed the conversion on “Titanic,” which was also outstanding. Taken together, those two movies prove — conclusively, to me — that there is life in retrofitting older films with 3D. Done well, it is an outstanding complement to the storytelling. Here, it is done very, very well.

    Which means, of course, that George Lucas deserves (even more than he already did) to be spoken to sternly about that pathetic excuse for a 3D conversion on “The Phantom Menace.” That piece of garbage should never have been released if the conversion couldn’t have been done more effectively than THAT.

    1. I completely agree with you on the conversion. It was not a quick tacked-on feature to make a quick buck. The studio put some money behind it and it paid off. There was real depth in a lot of scenes that really impressed me.

  3. Most movies that fall into the category “great” must have appeal that crosses age, gender and genre barriers. Spielberg used the high tech tools available to him at the to their maximum cineamatic potential in this film, but as in all “great” films the story is the most important element. He told Creighton’s story well and Jurassic Park is a great movie. Great Review.

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