The text below the break is part of a DVD review originally published on November 26th, 2000.
Here are some updated thoughts: Jurassic Park is the book that introduced me to Michael Crichton, and news of this movie going into production is what caused me to pick up and read it about a year before the film’s release. During the first half of the 1990s I binged on Crichton: Jurassic Park, Congo, Sphere, Rising Sun, The Terminal Man, and The Andromeda Strain. I’d heard of him, just never picked up any of his books. Jurassic Park made Crichton a household name, justifiably so. His books are not hard science fiction, but they are very imaginative and approachable for non-readers of the genre, boiling down complex science to simple and exciting stories. Jurassic Park is the perfect synthesis of the elements that created Crichton’s craft . . . and the movie captures it perfectly.
This movie has particular, personal memories associated with it, because I remember our local theater selling special balcony seating. For the price (I cannot recall) you received special balcony reserved seating (no waiting in line), and a personal usher who would get you food, refills, etc while you blissfully enjoyed the flick. I also had a lot of anticipation for Jurassic Park as I was the only one among our circle of friends who had read Crichton’s novel. And, like the movie, I enjoyed the novel very much.
Lastly, this is the one and only quality Jurassic Park movie. All of the prequels essentially use the same basic plot, and (should) leave the audience asking: “Why the hell do you people keep building parks full of giant dinosaurs!!?”
You cannot recall a new form of life.~Erwin Chargaff, 1972
Jurassic Park wastes no time piquing the viewer’s interest. The movie opens on an island just as special “cargo” is being transported to its final destination. The island is owned by billionaire John Hammond who, through the miracle of genetic manipulation and engineering, plans to open a theme park where live dinosaurs are the attraction. Unfortunately, there is an accident during this opening scene that raises more than a few eyebrows regarding the safety of the park.
Determined to convince his investors that Jurassic Park is safe, Hammond proceeds to invite a scientist, two dinosaur experts and his own grand kids to come for a tour. Hammond, of course, is hoping that after careful inspection the experts will give their stamp of approval on the park to convince the “blood-sucking lawyer” (who represents the previously mentioned investors) that all is well. Of course, all is not well and after a certain series of events, what starts out as a tour quickly turns into a struggle for survival as the visitors realize what happens when man tries to manipulate and contain nature.
For the genre of movie it is (action/science fiction) the acting is perfectly adequate, but there are no outstanding performances. I think the main problem here is that the characters, with the exception of Malcolm, Hammond and possibly Nedry, aren’t very charismatic and in some cases seem to look like phoned in performances. Whether this is a reflection on the actual actors or just how the characters were written is hard to determine. I’m inclined to believe it’s probably a dash of both.
My favorite character in the movie is the previously mentioned Malcolm. You know those movies where there’s one character that audiences immediately take to? Usually, it’s the “every-man” character or someone who always says out loud what the audience is thinking. Malcolm is that character in this movie, though the ways he says what the audience is thinking is often slanted towards the intellectual. He’s to Jurassic Park what Hudson was to Aliens . . . with science! He’s sarcastic, friendly, a little geeky and even oddly charming. He’s also replete with one-liners. Even during crisis situations, Malcolm always has a comment or two that usually tends to echo what the audience is thinking at that exact moment.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Paleontologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, and mathematician Ian Malcolm, are among a select group chosen to tour an island theme park populated by dinosaurs created from prehistoric DNA. While the park’s mastermind, billionaire John Hammond, assures everyone that the facility is safe, they find out otherwise when various ferocious predators break free and go on the hunt.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Genre: Science Fiction
Media: Film, 127 minutes
Budget: $63 million
Box Office: $1.03 billion, worldwide (not a bad return)
Year: June 11, 1993
That aside, let’s get to the details. Let’s get to the heart of it. For all intents and purposes, the real stars of Jurrasic Park are the CGI dinosaurs, not the humans. We’ve have always had a fascination with dinosaurs, and this is the first time Hollywood has legitimately brought them to imagined life. Building on the CGI house that James Cameron established in Terminator 2, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) manages to create images and scenes that were almost indistinguishable from real life (assuming anyone know what real dinosaurs looked like!). Phil Tippet also played a very large role when it came to certain dinosaur shots. All in all, both groups did a fantastic job of bringing the dinos to life through the use of new CGI technology mixed with conventional animatronic effects.
Even today jaded audiences should have no problem suspending their disbelief while watching Jurrasic Park. You’ll actually believe that a live T-Rex is running across the screen. The same goes for all the other dinos as well. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie in my local theater. The T-Rex scene wowed me like few other movie scenes ever have. True, when you look back today, it may not be as impressive, especially when you consider the further strides that have been taken in CGI after the movie’s release. (Edit: I’m thinking of Avatar here!) But, there’s something to be said about a completely believable T-Rex stomping around the screen, or a couple of Raptors stalking their prey in a kitchen.
Jurassic Park has a rather lengthy setup and exposition at the beginning. In fact, the first half of the entire film is dedicated to introducing the characters, discussing the philosophy behind Hammond’s motives for the park, and setting up the figurative tables that will be flipped over in the second half of the film. On top of that, the film teases you during this period. Just when you think you’re getting ready to see another full-grown dino stomping around, you quickly find out that you’ve been hoodwinked. It’s almost as if certain dinos are saying, “Nyah, nyah! I’m not coming out until later in the film! Move along, nothing to see here!” I’m sure Spielberg did this on purpose to ratchet up the audience’s anticipation level in the second act. It works for the most part. When Jurassic Park finally switches gears, it turns into a roller coaster ride of narrow escapes, thrilling chases and excellent special effects. The T-Rex’s introduction, in particular, is ominous, masterfully done and well worth the wait.
Jurassic Park does have it’s plot holes (Just how was the T-Rex able to sneak up on everybody during the climax of the film without being heard or, more importantly, felt?) and can strain credibility at times. Pfffft, who am I kidding?! Jurassic Park is an amazing, groundbreaking adventure film filled with a creative premise, a tense buildup, non-stop action in the second half, and represents a paradigm shift in film special effects. An instant classic!
Note: I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant. These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.
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