Friday, April 19, 2013

Jurassic Park 3D

Friday June 11, 1993 began one of the greatest weekends of my life. It was the day I graduated from high school, and the following day my parents held a huge party to celebrate. Close friends were in attendance, family came from out of state, co-workers not known for being sociable showed up and neighbors I had never met came to congratulate me. It was a blast. I received enough money from the guests to purchase my first car, was able to finally buy that Sega Game Gear I’d been wanting and had enough left over to check out the just released film event that defined that summer for my generation… Jurassic Park.

It blew my mind. Being a film fan since birth and growing up watching all of Steven Spielberg’s flicks (including Empire of the Sun, which to a kid is the most boring movie ever made) I wasn’t prepared for how much this flick would rock my world. I had never seen anything like it. It was action packed, funny, scary and entertaining all at once. I loved every character, cheered when the heroes made a close getaway and marveled at the groundbreaking CGI. I think I saw it 3 or 4 times that summer and at least once that fall. I recall that there was a local theater (Randhurst) that was still playing it nearly a year later. It was a cinema event unlike no other (until Independence Day came out a few years later).
Many huge summer tentpole movies have come and gone since then. There were even two completely disappointing sequels (I dislike The Lost World: Jurassic Park more than Jurassic Park III) and a fourth on the way. In order to build excitement for the next film we have been given an IMAX re-release of the original Jurassic Park in 3D. Being a nostalgic sort of fellow I felt compelled to see it in order to try to recapture a bit of my youth. I’m not going to go into the plot or story since everyone and their mother has seen this flick, probably dozens of times. I want to talk about how it has held up during the 20 years since it was first released theatrically.

Firstly, the movie still works. Amazingly so. The characters are exactly how we remember them; fun and relatable thanks to the awesome actors playing them. The action is still tops even though there isn’t that much of it (it’s nearly an hour into the movie when the dinosaurs escape). The jokes still made me laugh (“A Doyouthinkhesaurus”) and everything looks fantastic in IMAX 3D.
I did realize as I watched it projected onto that massive screen that the problems I had with the movie over the years are even more prominent than ever. The nostalgia glasses had to come off at some point, and unfortunately it was at about the halfway point.

Firstly, Grant informs the audience about Raptor pack hunting strategies at the top of the film. When Muldoon goes off to kill the loose Raptors toward the end he gets taken out by these tactics which makes the character look like a complete freakin’ idiot because we were told he’s the foremost expert on these particular dinosaurs. He should have seen the ambush coming because I’m sure everyone in the audience sure as hell did.

The opening scene where a raptor eats a park worker is completely unnecessary. To me it felt like Spielberg was trying to recreate the opening of Jaws, and the scene is silly and somewhat lazy. It would have been nice not knowing what the park has been populated with before the main players arrive to make the whole idea more mysterious and the first reveal of the dinosaurs more of a grand spectacle.
The fact that the T-Rex can turn its stealth superpowers on and off whenever required is also a problem area. There are times when the characters can hear it coming from a mile away (the impact tremors in the water) and others when it manages to silently sneak up on people for a cheap scare. I call bullshit, and have been for 20 years.

My biggest issue with Jurassic Park, and has been since I first saw it that long ago Saturday night in 1993, is the anticlimactic ending. For some reason Spielberg felt the need to turn the T-Rex into a savior during the finale when it kills the Raptors that are after the surviving characters. The giant lizard once again brings out its inner Shinobi (gotta make a Sega reference after bringing up my Game Gear earlier) and sneaks into the main hall without anyone noticing to get some grub. It feels very convenient and hokey, and I’ve always felt like I was cheated out of seeing how the characters would find a way to get out of the huge pickle they were in at the time. As it turns out they didn’t have to do jack shit since the T-Rex does all the heavy lifting for them. They didn’t earn that narrow escape as far as I was concerned. I know that it was a newly scripted ending (Grant was originally to kill the Raptors with the jaws of the fossilized T-Rex on display), but it has always felt like a cop out to me. It still bothers me to this day.
It’s not really a problem, but more of a distraction, that the CGI really doesn’t look all that good compared to what can be done today (look at the Brachiosaurus close-up as it rears back to eat a high tree and compare it to Optimus Prime in Transformers: Dark of the Moon). Sure it was awesome back in the day, but it looks really bad when blown up to IMAX proportions (it doesn’t look nearly as fake on BluRay). The sequence where the Raptors are loose in the kitchen is another rough spot, especially when one jumps onto a countertop and doesn’t appear to be making any physical contact with the surface. Thankfully a lot of the major CGI sequences take place in the dark, which thankfully hides a lot of the defects. The practical dinosaurs designed by Stan Winston still look amazing.

Regardless of my issues Jurassic Park is still phenomenally entertaining. I enjoyed it in 2013 just as much as I did in 1993 and I predict that I will be saying the same thing in 2033. It’s a technical achievement that launched modern day blockbusters and without its influence we wouldn’t have kick ass stuff like The Avengers or the upcoming Ender’s Game populating multiplexes worldwide. It’s something I could watch any day of the week regardless of what part I walked in on. While it’s not one of the best movies I’ve ever seen it’s definitely one of the most consistently entertaining. Bring on Jurassic Park 4!

The Movie: 4 out of 5
The Memories:  5 out of 5

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