Somehow I’ve gone all these years and never reviewed a JURASSIC PARK movie. Somewhere in a notebook I think I have a partly written review of THE LOST WORLD from the last time I watched it, and I could’ve sworn I reviewed part 3 back when it came out, but no. Nothing. Until now. So hold onto your butts… IN 3-D!
JURASSIC PARK would be a hard one to find a new angle on. It’s been around for 20 years, widely seen since day 1, broadly enjoyable and rightfully appreciated. In the rankings of Spielberg’s summer blockbuster movies I’d have to put it way below big daddy JAWS, because the characters are less nuanced, their actions are less believable, the quiet moments aren’t as deep, the emphasis is more on spectacle (if only because the special effects worked this time), the whole feel is more artificial. But just holding it up against these type of movies in general it places pretty fuckin high on the totem pole.
At the time, since the other Spielbergs and the STAR WARSes and T2 were still the gold standard it seemed like this was a kind of dumb but extremely well-crafted version of the type. But then there was INDEPENDENCE DAY and ARMAGEDDON and THE MUMMY and THE TRANSFORMERS and etc. and all the sudden it’s 20 years later and it starts to feel like they don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Considering what a big deal the digital FX were back then it’s hard to believe it holds up so well. I remember the first time hearing about they used computers to make the dinosaurs, I wasn’t sure how they would do that, I couldn’t picture what it would look like. Computer effects still meant shiny metal morphing guys. Of course that type of animation has evolved like a dinosaur into a bird in the time since, but by necessity it was used sparingly in this one, so you’re also looking at alot of animatronic puppets (some of them huge) that are awesome and barely ever used in modern movies. Since it was such a new thing, and since it was Steven Spielberg, they worked really hard to make the illusion as convincing as possible, and the dinosaurs are animated with thorough animal-like personalities that I think aren’t matched in, for example, the more technically advanced part 3.
For all the credit I think Spielberg, Stan Winston and Phil Tippet deserve for the successful execution of the movie, I also gotta give it up to climate change/theme park skeptic Michael Crichton for the ingenius premise. It’s his WESTWORLD combined with the traditional science fictional superstition against “man playing God,” a combination that makes for a hell of a story. The idea of cloning from dinosaur DNA found in a fossilized mosquito seems logical, that they would use it to make an expensive zoo seems sadly believable… they have the gift shop all set up and fully stocked before they have the security system figured out. But at the same time, wouldn’t you want to go there if it was safe? Everybody would. It would be awesome!
Also this is good movie material because, in my opinion, people like to see dinosaurs eating people and attacking cars and stuff. And roaring.
The way it all goes down is pretty reasonable. They’re reaching too far, they’re being secretive, they’re still testing it out, some parties (correctly) don’t believe it’s ready, so it makes sense that this is when everything goes wrong. They have some good ideas (like breeding them all as females [Hrumph. Women.]) but they haven’t foreseen everything, because nobody’s ever done anything like this before. Not counting that time they made the robot cowboys.
But there is alot of silly shit in this movie: that they would bring our team of expert protagonists to the park without warning them that there were dinosaurs, that they would immediately get out and go walk up to the dinosaurs, that they would get out of their Jeeps and walk around when they know there are t-rexes and velociraptors on the island, that the lawyer’s death is played as a joke because he’s a lawyer.
Man, I hate it when there’s a hand on your shoulder or you hold somebody’s hand or something and you think Oh, hello, I didn’t see you there and it is comforting to feel your hand grasp me, but then you realize it’s a severed hand or arm. Ah, that explains why it felt cold and stiff and dead. I should’ve guessed.
I remember the nationwide outcry against that goofy scene in part 2, THE LOST WORLD, where Ian Malcolm’s daughter does gymnastics to escape dino damage. But in this one there’s an even younger girl who can break into the computer system and quickly do what the adult trained expert Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t able to do. This was set up by her claiming to be a “hacker” at one point and I know it’s supposed to be a counterpoint to Grant being bad with computers, but it’s pretty fuckin ridiculous.
And all of this is easily forgivable.
It’s yet another movie that reminds you what a master of the action and suspense sequence Spielberg is. God damn, that t-rex-attacking-the-car scene. I thought I’d seen it too many times for it to be effective anymore, but I was wrong. Hubris. Those poor kids, they look like they could be crushed even by the special effects dinosaur, let alone the living one that you imagine it to be while watching. And the problems just keep coming. It’s gonna see us. It’s gonna eat us. Does it smell us? Oh, it’s eating the car. Is it gonna eat us too? Are we gonna get smashed by the car before it gets a chance to eat us? Are we gonna fall off the cliff before the car gets a chance to smash us before it gets a chance to eat us?
I can’t remember if I picked up on it before that when it’s eating the car’s undercarriage it must think the car is an animal and it’s trying to eat its intestines. Stupid dinosaur. You must have some frog DNA in there or something, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.
Another thing: the famous vibrating water as harbinger of approaching eating machine. It’s so cool! You’d think it wouldn’t seem cool after being so familiar with it. Good one, Spielberg. Learning from the floating shark barrels. Bonus: the sounds of the electric cables from the tops of the security fences snapping. Not comforting to the ears.
This was such a good idea to re-release this. It’s a great one to see big and/or with a crowd. I wish it was on a bigger screen where I saw it, but it was still cool. You don’t see too many revivals these days, especially of a modern mainstream movie like this. Everybody seemed to appreciate it, and there was a whole bunch of applause at the end. When that happens and it feels genuine it’s a good feeling, reminds you why the joys of seeing a movie with a crowd might outweigh the fear of sitting near some dumbfucks that don’t know how to control their fuckin yaps for a short period of time out of basic decency.
In so many ways JURASSIC PARK seems timeless. It’s mainly just the onscreen computers that seem dated. There was a little chuckling at mention of an interactive CD-ROM, and at how excited the kids were about a GPS screen type technology in the Jeeps. You see 2.5″ floppies. I like that Nedry (that’s not supposed to be an anagram of “nerdy” is it? That would be kinda dumb) is drinking a can of Jolt and also has a glass bottle of Jolt nearby. But everybody’s wearing safari type clothes, not Zubaz or MC Hammer harem pants. No ridiculous hair cuts or anything. I don’t think there are any ’90s pop culture references, it all ages well.
You know what dates it? The supporting role that Samuel L. Jackson plays. He was still climbing the ladder. A little over a year later we’d see PULP FICTION and he’d be the Samuel L. we know today. At the time this was a big for him, to be in a movie this major, but he was just the guy sitting at the computer and telling everybody how doomed they are. He was just before that crossover point where he’d get to spend most of a movie outside of the control room. He does steal the show in one scene by bopping his cigarette up and down while he talks. Also I forgot that he says “hold onto your butts” two times. That’s more times than he said the “motherfucking snakes” line, so it should be known as his big catch phrase.
It’s great to be transported back to this time when a movie was interested in showcasing how awesome Jeff Goldblum is. Ian Malcolm is such a goofy character, calling himself a “chaotician,” being real obvious about hitting on Laura Dern through the medium of explaining chaos theory. He dresses in all black, wears shades, John Hammond calls him “a rock star” and he acts like he is one. I love the idea that some arrogant math theorist could be treated that way. He should probly be the bad guy. But because he’s the cynic and gets all the smartass lines and delivers them in his distinct, stuttery way, we love him for it. And part 2 promotes him to the lead and treats him even more like a rock star. I wonder what he has on his rider?
I was struck by the tense scene where the kids are stalked by the raptor in the kitchen, that it goes for several minutes with no dialogue at all. Even the previous scene of them eating a bunch of cake is done without comment. You don’t get that enough. Too much jibber jabber usually, especially when they got kids on screen.
And both of the kids are really good, I’m not sure I every properly appreciated that. They give them some corny precocious dialogue (like the boy knowing all about different archaeology books) but they get some laughs and they seem genuinely fucking terrified at times and this time I actually found it touching when Grant promised Lex that he wouldn’t abandon her like the lawyer who got eaten on the toilet did. (And maybe their dad, who we know nothing about, we just heard mention of a divorce.)
The grown up boy, Joe Mazello, is also onscreen in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION. The girl, Ariana Richards, doesn’t act as much. She’s in some SyFy movie coming out this year. I forgot she was in TREMORS too. I wonder if that’s how she got the part in JURASSIC PARK? ‘Cause they knew she had experience acting scared of special effect monsters.
Speaking of kids… man, Alan Grant really stuck it to that little kid at the beginning! This is the character transformation he goes through. At the beginning he hates kids so much that when one of them compares a velociraptor to a turkey he gets in his face, puts a real claw to his belly and lovingly describes disemboweling him. (Might I add that a large group of adults fails to intervene and just laughs like it’s cute!) At the end, because of not getting eaten by dinosaurs, Grant sits embracing two sleeping children and gives Laura Dern a look that either means “okay, we can have kids” or “I guess they don’t smell as bad as I said they did.” We may never know whether he learned more about paleontology or about life.
I thought that kid looked real familiar when he showed up and by the end I figured out it was the titulational Dream Child of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5. I don’t remember ever making that connection before. His name is White Hertford and he’s still acting today and probly still scared shitless of paleontologists. Hadn’t he been through enough already with Freddy, you gotta fuckin threaten him with another claw? Inappropriate.
For the record I saw it projected in Real D. It’s also in Imax but I’m not sold yet on their digital projection system. Let me know what you think if you see it. They also have regular 2D projection at the multiplexes, if you want to see it theatrically but don’t dig on 3D.
I don’t have much to say about the 3D except that it must be the best post-conversion one I’ve seen so far. Since they’ve been planning this for a while I imagine they spent more time to perfect it than these new movies that are post-converted out of laziness and poor judgment. But I imagine there’s an art to it too, the stereoscopers need to be willing to add alot of depth and not be timid about it. It definitely looked more noticeably and consistently dimensional than the converted PHANTOM MENACE. It also just happens to be a movie that translates well. It’s generally shot with alot of things in the foreground and background, lots of layers, and with smooth camera movements, reasonably paced editing, and not whatever camera movements it is that causes the digital jitters. And ever since MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D I’ve known that car windows look cool in 3D. This one happens to have alot of car windows.
Since this proves it can be done well I would be totally down with more of these conversions for movies where it makes sense. I hope Disney lets them finish doing the STAR WARS movies, and it could work on some horror movies, like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 would be great. And of course the obvious things that were probly meant to be shot in 3D in the first place, like GUMMO and HOLY MOUNTAIN. Maybe MY DINNER WITH ANDRE.
I would also be excited if they did THE LOST WORLD. Maybe you guys will be sold on the gymnastics when it’s comin’ at ya.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.