A film review by Craig J. Koban April 25, 2013


1993 / 2013, PG-13, 132 mins.

Grant: Sam Neill / Ellie: Laura Dern / Malcolm: Jeff Goldblum / Hammond: Richard Attenborough

Directed By Steven Spielberg / Written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, based on the novel by Michael Crichton


I fondly remember my senior year in high school picking up a soft cover copy of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novel JURASSIC PARK without having any idea what it was about, other than it involved dinosaurs in some capacity.  I devoured it in days, partially because I needed to for a Biology class presentation, but mostly because it was conceptually unlike anything I’ve ever read.  It was also a methodical page turner that easily stirred the imagination and asked some thorny questions about scientific ethics.  At the time, this book was but a glint in the eyes of Hollywood, and after finishing it I strongly believed that it was essentially unfilmable. 

When Steven Spielberg and Universal Studios did acquire the rights to Crichton’s book – which would be adapted by Crichton himself and David Koepp - I had doubts that the then $63 million production could ever create living, breathing dinosaurs running fully amok in an exotic, next-gen amusement park.  When the film was released in the summer of 1993, Spielberg and company proved skeptics wholeheartedly wrong.  A modern-day KING KONG for the masses, JURASSIC PARK not only became one of the biggest box office successes in movie history that further cemented Spielberg as the king of blockbuster entertainments, but it thoroughly ushered in a complete revolution in the art of cinematic visual effects that – for better or worse – incomparably changed the landscape of the medium.  Like STAR WARS did in the late 70’s, JURASSIC PARK took an unheard of quantum leap in advancing the technology of movie making and served as a catalyst for how nearly every single effects-heavy film in its wake would be made. 



The film’s premise, twenty years later, still remains tantalizing.  Paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are given the chance of a lifetime by a billionaire visionary named John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to oversee his newest tourist attraction dubbed "Jurassic Park", which he promises will have attractions that will be right up the couples’ alley.  When Alan and Ellie arrive at the lush Costa Rican island resort where the park resides, they are joined by a quirky mathematician, Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a lawyer and Hammond’s grandkids.  They all take a tour of the park before it officially launches to the public, during which time the guests discover – to their astonishment – that it houses genetically cloned dinosaurs that are as real and alive as those that roamed the Earth millions of years ago.  Predictably, the tour begins with several technical hiccups, but then when the certain aggressive dinos begin to break free from their cages, this would-be Fantasyland becomes an unbridled hellscape of terror. 

Let’s be fair: JURASSIC PARK existed as a pure escapist piece of filmmaking to fully display its then pioneering effects wizardry that rendered fully detailed and credible dinos on the silver screen.  On the level of its intended promises to showcase the most authentically rendered dinosaurs ever attempted on film, JURASSIC PARK was an unqualified success.  What’s truly astounding now – after just viewing the film for the first time in several years – is just how well the CGI effects hold up to present day eyes and nitpicky scrutiny.  Many films came out in the aftermath of JURASSIC PARK in the 1990’s that tried to capture its lightning-in-a-bottle aesthetic with inconsistent levels of success.  Yet, so very few films of its time and afterwards matched Spielberg’s on a level of sheer awe-inspiring wow-factor.   The fact that the film’s effects have not really dated all that much is a testament to what a milestone achievement they were in 1993.  The dinosaurs have and always shall be the stars of this film. 

Alas, this brings me to some of my nagging complaints about the film, which have stuck with me since seeing it for the first time.  Compared with the dinosaurs themselves, the human element here is essentially lacking.  The performances by most of the cast members are thankless in the sense that they, for the most part, acted opposite of dead space where CGI dinos would later be inserted, but the character dynamics themselves are pretty paper thin to the point where they are less flesh and blood people and more or less just pathetically screaming victims.  Hammond himself – as well played as he is by Attenborough – is a vague mystery in the film; he goes from a congenial old eccentric in one scene to a scrupulous industrialist in the next and, when the script requires it, to a low-key villain.  His philosophical turn at the end of the film, realizing the error of his ways, is literally handled with one line of dialogue.  

Unlike other Spielbergian blockbusters of the past, I just never found myself latching on to and caring for any particular character in JURASSIC PARK, with the possible exception of Goldblum’s sublime turn as the scientist with a dizzying sense of verbal logical that plays to Goldblum’s peculiar brand of skills as an actor.  Yet, when one considers the truly great Spielberg escapist films – like JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T. – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, and the INDIANA JONES pictures – it was really the personalities in those films that we found ourselves identifying with, which helped those films from feeling burdened or suffocated by their production design and effects.  JURASSIC PARK doesn’t understand this as well as it should have. 

As for the film’s newly minted upconverted 3D presentation?  Well, like most other recent examples of classic films being retrofitted to the third dimension for re-release, the results are awash in contradictions.  On one level, the conversion here is quite superlative, being handled by StereoD, the same company that converted TITANIC, and what shows here is arguably better than most other upconversions that I’ve seen (they focus more on creating a sense of depth in the frame as opposed to envisioning distracting, in-your-face- gimmick shots).  Yet, at the same time, the 3D conversion – for as decent and technically assured as it is – is essentially redundant.   The 3D neither accentuates nor diminishes the impact of many of the film’s high-impact moments, but when all is said and done, the only real motivation for re-releasing the film in 3D is financial.  3D means higher surcharged ticket prices to further pad studio pockets. 

Nonetheless, JURASSIC PARK still captures the mind's eye in ways that many modern films don’t.  The groundbreaking effects work in the film has both been a blessing and a curse for the industry.  The preponderance of heavy CGI usage in the industry over the last 20 years has stunted the sense of ethereal magic in films.  We now no longer lovingly gaze at the screen and wonder how the fantastical images made their way up there, mostly because we have been essentially programmed to identify any impossible sight as being constructed out of pixels.   Yet, one shouldn’t criticize JURASSIC PARK for what it did to the movies; it should be revered for the watershed effort that it was and for how it made the impossible possible using relatively unproven technology.  3D or not, Spielberg’s 1993 fear-inducing summer thrill ride remains highly entertaining, even if it does not deserve high praise among the other pantheon of masterful adventure films from the director.

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