|Jurassic Park (Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 10 October 2000|
Whatever you think of Steven Spielberg as a director, there's no doubt that he generally has his finger right on the pulse of the public. For better or worse, he's responsible for more audience-jazzing blockbusters than any other director in movie history, and few have busted blocks more thrillingly than his 1993 smash hit, "Jurassic Park." It led to the Spielberg-directed sequel, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park II," as well as to the merely Spielberg-produced "Jurassic Park III," romping through your local theaters in the summer of 2001.
However good that turns out to be, however better realized the computer-graphic effects, the upcoming sequel not likely to eclipse the original, now presented on DVD with DTS sound. Citing the best chapters here is pointless, because from Chapter 10 onward, the movie is a well-paced series of exciting, thunderously-recorded encounters between terrified people and hungry dinosaurs. It's no surprise that Gary Rydstrom is listed as sound designer; he and Walter Murch are the most imaginative, playful sound men working today -- every one of their movies is terrific in terms of sound. Here, for example, the basso-profundo growls of the Tyrannosaurus (called a T-rex throughout the movie) will make your sternum rattle.
But however great the sound, as always, it's the blend of sound and picture that really matters. The scary and delightful "Jurassic Park" proves that with imagination, skill and absolutely awesome special effects, any genre can be revitalized and made to seem original all over again. This was the advent of monsters-by-CGI, and turned out the most realistic dinosaurs seen up to this point. And the movie shows that when he wants to, Spielberg can shift gears from his sentimental phase into stark terror as smoothly as a tiger can jump.
"Jurassic Park" is at heart a monster movie, and a terrific one. It falls short of greatness because of the too-simple plotline and a lackadaisical attitude toward the characterizations, but it's good entertainment anyway. No, "Jurassic Park" isn't as good as "King Kong," but then almost no other movie ever made is that good. Spielberg is aware of exactly whose big footprints he's following -- Jeff Goldblum mentions Kong in "Jurassic Park." (And the first sequel lifted major bits straight out of "King Kong.")
The story, from Michael Crichton's best-selling novel, is quite simple -- screenwriters Crichton and David Koepp streamlined the novel even further, mostly to good effect. Billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) brings paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), his fiancée and fellow scientist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and chaos-theory mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to an island off the coast of Costa Rica, hoping to convince them to endorse Jurassic Park.
What he doesn't tell them is just that the park actually contains living dinosaurs, cloned from the DNA extracted from dinosaur blood found in mosquitoes preserved in amber. He's got quite a number of them, too -- brachiosaurs, gallimimuses, triceratops, and other spectacular but harmless herbivores. But he's also recreated the awesome and very dangerous Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the largest land carnivores that ever lived. And worse yet, the smaller but swifter and far more intelligent velociraptors.
Just how safe (or unsafe) the park is, of course, is the movie's story. A greedy computer expert (3rd Rock's Wayne Knight) shuts down the fences so he can sneak out of the park with dinosaur embryos just as a big storm strikes the almost-deserted island. Everything goes to hell in a handbasket awfully damned fast, and soon everyone in sight is fleeing from dinosaurs, including Hammond's two grandchildren, dinosaur-loving Timmy (Joseph Mazzello) and his slightly older sister, computer hacker Lex (Ariana Richards).
Basically, the plot is a pretext to allow the characters to be chased through lush jungles (the exteriors were shot on Kauai) by fanged behemoths. However, the novel, and the film too, does raise a question of responsibility: just because you can bring dinosaurs to life, should you? Well, that's fine and all, but what we came here to see were the dinosaurs. Spielberg knows this, of course, and has fun scaring the bejabbers out of all and sundry.
The dinosaur scenes were among the most amazing special effects in movie history, convincing and exciting. A huge team headed by Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Stan Winston and Michael Lantieri -- has worked wonders. Winston's mechanical dinosaurs are excellent, but it was the CGI critters created by Muren, Tippett and a huge team that really rocked audiences. You won't even notice the imperfections in the system -- because Spielberg uses those effects so well.
The movie is almost perfectly timed, including the apparently slightly tedious opening scenes. The first introduction of a dinosaur -- a colossal brachiosaur sauntering along through a little glade -- is almost casual, but awesome, too. Then Spielberg backs off, tells us how the dinosaurs came to be, shows us one being born, then sends us out into the park where at first dinosaurs seem to be in short supply.
But when things start going awry, he increases the tension, tighter and tighter; the entire T. Rex sequence is a landmark of powerful terror, with each moment building on the previous, each scare topping the one before. He then backs off again, lets us catch our breath, and then cranks things up for the velociraptor sequences -- which again keep topping the scene before.
The biggest failing in the movie comes from the novel itself. Almost all the dialog deals with the park and the dinosaurs; there is very little characterization, and almost no conflicts among the characters. And yet from novel to film, the characterizations in "Jaws" improved. Because the movie cost so much otherwise, Spielberg chose not to hire major stars, but his cast is top-notch anyway, from the bigger roles played by Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Richard Attenborough and (especially) Jeff Goldblum, down to the supporting players. (Did you remember Samuel L. Jackson is in this, as a chain-smoking computer geek?)
Spielberg didn't like it when people refer to "Jurassic Park" as a monster movie, but that's just what it is, and it's a very good one, too. It doesn't reach into the mythic as the greatest monster movies (and some of the lesser ones) have done in the past; it's anchored in reality, dinosaurs or no, and never comes near entering the realm of our dreams. It's a science fiction monster movie in the best sense: convincing speculation and scary monsters, backed up by intelligent direction, solid performances and expert special effects. And it created a sub-industry.
The documentary included here is particularly well-done, and apparently was completed during the making of the first sequel, as some of the interviewees are seen on location in Hawaii, talking about already having done their work. It's a surprisingly honest and thorough job, more so than usual with films of this nature. There are few other extras on the disc -- Spielberg shies away from commentary tracks -- but with the great DTS sound, the excellent picture and the fine documentary, this is the "Jurassic Park" to own.