Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jurassic Park (in 3D) movie review.

Movie studios are a wonder today. Ever since James Cameron’s game changing use of 3D in Avatar, companies have been cashing in on the dreaded 3D craze. They usually serve no other purpose than to gain more income from an inflated ticket price, and most of the time, it doesn’t make ANY difference to the presentation. The studios stand on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as they can, and before they even know what they have, they’ve already packaged it, patented it, slapped it on the front of a plastic lunchbox, and now… they’re selling it! They want to sell it!

It doesn’t stop with new movies, either. Studios have even gone so far as to convert older movies to 3D, specifically in the case of Titanic and The Lion King. Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is the latest to receive this treatment. Most cynics of 3D will be forgiven for not giving it the time of day, but it provides many an excuse to give this film the big screen treatment it deserves. Indeed, the 3D is not the most enticing feature. I, like many other Jurassic Park fanboys, could not pass up the opportunity to watch a movie we had originally fell in love with on VHS on the big screen for the first time. As I often consider Jurassic Park my favorite movie of all time, this was a deal too juicy to ignore.

Is there really any need to tell you what the movie’s about, and what novel it was based on? We all know it. An entrepreneur named John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) invites a group of paleo-specialists (played by the likes of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum) and his grandchildren to a small island housing an attraction years before its time: A place of exhibits of various species of dinosaurs, brought to life through the magic of cloning and genetic manipulation. However, things end up going wrong. Whole sections of the island lose power and suffer from security shutdowns, and the dinosaurs begin running amok, so the numerous people have to fight their hardest to survive, and stay one step ahead of the predators.

Seeing as how the 3D is a major advertising point, I should start with that. In short, it doesn’t work. In all honesty, it’s a bit out of place, it dims the screen, and can even distract from the overall movie with certain objects up close. The scenes in the labs or in the cars in particular can feel a bit jarring. Granted, some of it does work, and it works very well. You thought the T-Rex breakout or the Velociraptor scenes were scary conventionally? Wait until you see it with these animals right in your face. And that’s what works best. During the close ups of the dinosaurs, they really do feel like they’re right there in front of you. They feel all the more real, like you can reach out and touch them. It gives a whole new meaning to “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” However, aside from the novelty of the dinosaurs, you’re better off watching the movie in a conventional setting. However, no superfluous 3D will ever turn a good movie into a bad one, and that’s especially true here.

The dinosaurs look as real today as they did back then.
Of course we’re all familiar with Michael Crichton’s original novel, and it’s a great book, but in many respects, the film is even better. Sticking truer to the facts of the current times, it was the first time we truly saw living, breathing dinosaurs. Movies like Harryhausen’s films, various science-fictions, and even The Land Before Time, tried to show their own versions of the creatures, but this is the first time the creatures truly got that grand scope and realism that they deserved. The film was noteworthy for revolutionizing the use of CGI in Hollywood, and while we would rally against the dreaded tool much later, at the time, we were blown away by it. Every time I saw it, I felt like Alan Grant, stuttering at the sight of a brachiosaurus trying to say “It’s a dinosaur.” That very much described how everyone seeing these animals felt, and by having more in common with birds than with lizards as in the original novel, it felt much more real. Heck, even with CGI having 20 years to evolve since this film, the things they can create nowadays don’t look nearly as convincing as the dinosaurs, which haven’t aged a day since their original debut. How ironic is that? Of course, just as much thanks is owed to the late Stan Winston’s massive full motion mechanized figures, which seamlessly blended with the digital creations. Seeing the dinosaurs on the big screen is an absolute must.

On top of needing to be seen to be believed, it’s a film that demands to be heard in the cinema. The legendary Gary Rydstrom’s work is quite simply the best sound design ever put in film, accomplished with the help of his longtime friend and colleague, Richard Hymns. The two were creative in using various animal calls to create the distinct vocalizations of the different species, such as using a mixture between howler monkey and rattlesnake sounds for the dilophosaurus, or the now legendary mix of elephant, tiger, and alligator calls for the massive Tyrannosaurus, and let me tell you, this brute was a childhood icon. The film did such a fantastic job of building up the Rex. Spielberg just knows that it’s what we’re all waiting to see, and when it takes the stage, it doesn’t disappoint. The final scene in the film, seeing the Rex as the unlikely hero, is practically embedded in our memories. Not only is the sound design amazing, but hearing the score by the legendary John Williams over the numerous speakers is moving beyond words. During the brachiosaurus introduction, I had to fight to keep from sobbing on the spot.

But since we move away from the technical accomplishments, what about the conceptual accomplishments? Thematically speaking, the film has a lot of fascinating ideas. It touches on the dangers of genetic mutation, god complexes, and mankind’s never ending, but futile needs to achieve perfection. Sometimes, the flawlessness we seek can never be found. We can try our hardest to make things the way we want them to be, but nature will always have its own plans, proving our efforts to be wasteful. As Ian Malcolm would say “Life cannot be contained. Life breaks free, crashes through barriers… Life finds a way.” It’s still as meaningful a message now as it was then. We can have the illusion of being in control of nature, but in the end, life will evolve to overcome its obstacles.

However, those ideas never overwhelm the viewer, and it shares its focus with the other vital elements. This is some of the best direction Spielberg has ever done. As always, he proves to be a master when it comes to pacing (if it weren’t for Raiders, this would be the best editing Michael Kahn’s ever done), and nobody directs action better than he does. But, much to the dismay of his more divided critics, it will still contain traces of his usual sentimentality. I would be lying if I said the film didn’t have times where it got pretty cheesy, but you know what? The movie is meant to leave us in awe at the sight of living, breathing dinosaurs. It’s meant to leave us in wonder. He should be allowed to embrace his syrupy side. And, even though it is sentimental, it’s never overdone. It isn’t something like E.T., which, even though I adore that movie, can get VERY cloying to a great many. The emotional response of this movie feels much more honest, and I feel Spielberg’s usual tendencies earn their time in the spotlight.

Another issue people tend to have with the film is with characterization. I certainly can get behind the idea that these aren’t particularly complex characters, and they aren’t completely developed, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting. Are movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Avengers any worse because the characters aren’t complex like those found in The Social Network? No, because they’re simplistic, and they know that, but they make up for conceptual shortcomings with their thoroughly entertaining set pieces. Though the characters aren’t completely developed, they are perfectly established. They’re all likable (some more than others), they’re all memorable, they all get their chance to shine in the spotlight, they have their own distinct personalities, and they all have their unique, endlessly quotable lines. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used Muldoon’s classic “Clever girl.”

However, without the loving blinders on, you would be able to spot the problems this movie has more easily. I know that this isn’t technically a masterpiece, and that Spielberg’s done stronger stories from a conceptual standpoint. I guess the main reason so many people are so passionate about this film is because of how they were introduced to it. Looking at it from a critical viewpoint, it’s still incredibly strong, but there are stronger things out there. So, with that in mind, is it still my favorite movie of all time as I previously stated? While I do acknowledge certain issues critically… personal bias will ALWAYS win out for me, and keep me consistently calling this Spielberg’s best to date.

This image practically defines our childhood.
I don’t care if it has problems. The things that are good in this movie not only make up for the shortcomings, they render those issues practically irrelevant. I know that you have to draw a line between personal opinion and objective consensus when it comes to criticism, but for movies like this, it’s simply impossible. This was one of the first movies many were introduced to. It defined our childhoods. We fell in love with it, and I’m sure a lot of us watched it obsessively, and we were the ones most angered by how the unnecessary sequels went against everything that the first film stood for. Sure, this re-release gives first time viewers a chance to experience what we grew up with, but it’s mainly for those nostalgic lovers to appreciate, as those viewers that this movie terrified at a younger age can only look back on it with the fondest of feelings. There are always going to be problems in the world, but films like this take us back to a simpler time when there wasn’t a care in the world. It’s a film that helps us forget, and allows us to relive. I’d rather you see it in a conventional setting if you can, but whatever excuse you get to see the movie in this way, take it!

Watching this movie on the big screen made me feel like I was watching it for the very first time, and made me feel like I once did when I was a child. Anytime I feel down, it’ll be my go-to movie if I feel like I need it, and that’s the way it is for many a fan. I could go on, and on, and on, and on, and on about how this movie changed me, and how much it means to me. But then I still wouldn’t be doing it any justice. Forgive me for my schmaltziness, but this is just about the most personal, most meaningful movie I own. Even as I move on to various genres and different artforms in film, even the most cynical snob in me cannot hate a single second of Jurassic Park. In my eyes, Jurassic Park is heads and tails above every other movie ever produced, and I will continue chanting that sentiment for the rest of my life.


***** /  *****

1 comment:

  1. Jurassic Park is also one of my favorite movies of all time. What are your top 10 favorite movies of all time?