I still remember seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. It seemed to take forever for the small Jayhawk Theater in Atwood, Kansas to bring it to us, but that was the norm for a single-screen theater in a tiny midwestern town (pop. approx. 1,350.) Or maybe it just felt that long because I wanted to see it so bad. As a dinosaur-obsessed kid grown into a junior high student, I quite loved the film. Actually, “it blew my widdle mind” might be more accurate. I remember getting the VHS as soon as it was released and putting it on while some people were visiting our home, including a girl that was staying with our guests as a foreign exchange student. She seemed bored by the whole idea of a dinosaur movie… until that brachiosaur lumbered across the screen and she let loose with a breathy ‘wow.’
I’d already read the book. It remains my second all-time favorite novel, right behind The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it made me a lifelong fan of Michael Crichton’s particular brand of thriller. This is not to say that the movie and the book match up, of course. They’re two completely different kinds of pleasures. The book, with it’s indepth philosophical examination of mankind’s ego in his supposed control over or destruction of nature, only scratched upon in the film by comparison, and the explosive finale that contrasts with the crowd-pleasing antics of Steven Spielberg vary to a large degree. But thanks to Crichton adapting his own story with David Koepp, the movie is very much it’s own animal. Despite the fact that the ‘new’ ending makes absolutely no sense, it’s hard not to love it.
Now, on the twentieth anniversary of the its release, we have it back in theaters. I suppose this isn’t so much of a review of the film, given that it is a couple of decades long in the tooth. Rather, it’s more of a reflection on the film and it’s influence on my life, in most ways. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Jurassic Park on film since 1993. Only a couple of years ago, Liberty Hall in Lawrence, where I currently live, played it as part of the town’s Christmas opening. It was a bit of a beaten-up print, but I’ll take a somewhat scratched and speckled screening of a favorite film any day over a DVD projection. I got to hear kids squeal during the velociraptor attacks as if it was brand-new. Nice to know it still has that magic for the next generation.
Like a few certain special effects spectaculars, Jurassic Park has managed to keep away a timestamp, despite excited references to CD-ROMs. The same way we don’t care that the people in King Kong don’t have cell phones, it is in some ways a ready-made period piece, the ravages of time being very kind to it thanks to the writing and the character work. But the true marvel is how well the effects have aged. While we keep being told that computer animation is improving by leaps and bounds (which can certainly be seen from instance to instance) it’s bizarre and somehow miraculous that Jurassic Park still remains one of its greatest triumphs. Part of that has to be thanks to its judicious use. Wisely, practical effects were used in a great many instances and they blend fantastically with the animation. (See the first Iron Man for another instance in which this was done to positive results.) Plus, the method of the computer animation was done old-school; the animators used stop motion techniques to animate the dinosaurs like hi-tech Harryhausens. The result manages to retain personality that is often unseen in the rubbery, boneless critters that now populate the big screen. When I read the words of internet trolls criticizing the effects in the film, I have to shake my head.
The added draw that is intended to bring out audiences who have had the film on video, DVD and now blu-ray for that last two decades is, of course, that it has been post-converted to 3D. I haven’t exactly made it a secret in the past that I am not a fan of that particular brand of 3D, preferring to only go to films that were intended for and natively filmed in the format. Of the post-converted films I’ve seen, only a couple have really managed to not support my feelings on the matter. Most are dark, blurry messes.
I would be lying if I didn’t say Jurassic Park was the best conversion job I’ve seen. I’m sure the time they had to get it right certainly helps matters. While there are certainly examples of the film succumbing to the problems inherent in the process like softening of details and blur, the people behind the transformation have done a surprisingly good job of making it seem like it was intended to be this way. Depth of field is applied very well, not just in the wide expanses of the park, but in the indoor scenes and even close ups. The infamous Tyrannosaurus sequence, still one of the best bits in cinema history, makes spectacular use of the rain and dark where these criteria would usually play havoc with the attempt and it was obviously treated with tender loving care.
I absolutely recommend seeing this movie again in the theater, with or without 3D. It retains its scares, it’s tension and its humor and remains a jewel in Spielberg’s crown.
(Five damns out of five)