Cut & Print: Jurassic Park Retrospective
With Jurassic World, the park will finally open. We will get to see it fill with spectators and attractions twenty-two years after the original film.
I remember being in high school when I first heard of the upcoming film, Jurassic Park. I’d only heard two things about the film, both of which got me more excited in manner beyond what any trailer could have done. The first was the idea of using the “liquid morphing” technology that had just been used in The Abyss and T2 to bring dinosaurs to life. I was intrigued but I was surprised how much sense it made. I could actually kind of envision a brontosaurus being brought to life in a film using that technique. Of course, there’s, technically, no such thing as a brontosaurus, but it’s closest equivalent, the brachiosaurs, is the first dinosaur we actually see in the film, brought to life using that (at the time) new technique just as I envisioned it. The second thing I heard was that these dinosaurs were going to be part of a theme park, where they’d break free and cause a lot of problems. Sweet, though I pictured those brontosauruses (there I go again) measuring their height against roller coasters (can you see the “you must be this tall to ride this ride” gag) before the tyrannosaurs come in to start a brawl.
As soon as I could get my hands on it, I read the book, and realized that, to say the least, this was a different kind of amusement park. It was a great book, and the movie, pared down the events quite a bit, while managing to exceed what the book had to offer in terms of spirit. It’s one thing to read about dinosaurs being re-introduced to this planet after millions of years, but it’s another thing to see it.
One of the reasons that the creatures in Jurassic Park – particularly the tyrannosaur in its big scene where he attacks the tour cars – hold up so well even today is the fact that the CGI was not overused. At the time, the idea of using CGI to bring a living creature to live and having it interact with real props and characters was new, so they weren’t actually able to use CGI a lot in any case. The result is a tyrannosaur that is so utterly convincing; I’ll give high props to Gollum, Caesar and others, but, for my money, the tyrannosaur is the best example of filmmakers putting a creature that doesn’t actually exist, on screen. What made it work so well was that they were so restricted: a great many shots of the T-Rex were, in fact, animatronic. The CGI (used mainly for the shots where we can see the entire creature) augmented the effect of a solid, living, breathing creature. It took real filmmakers with a knack for understanding tension and suspense to really create this masterful set-piece scene.
The rex isn’t the only living, breathing creature to pop out of the screen. The film has its share of memorable characters, characters who are fully formed at the start of the film without the need to have much in the way of character arcs. The fact that Sam Neill wasn’t a big star but no less a gifted actor really helped make his Alan Grant a good lead for the film, and he has believable chemistry with Laura Dern, who performance makes us all wish she had done more blockbuster type films, because she remains relate-able and very human throughout. Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond is a more complex character than he seems to be when he first appears, and he’s much less selfish and greedy than Michael Crichton had written him in the novel, but it’s this difference in how the character is portrayed that gives this character much more depth than he had in the novel. It’s his inherently good nature that actually amplifies the graveness of the mistakes he makes throughout this story.
The best performance, however, is Jeff Goldblum’s turn as Ian Malcolm. Rarely in the history of film has an actor been so perfectly cast to play a character adapted from the novel, and it is Goldblum that is both the soul of the film and it’s comic relief. Watching Goldblum work in this defining role is a marvel to behold: he always has something interesting or funny to say and do, and it’s largely because of him that the viewer doesn’t grow antsy waiting for the dinosaurs to come out and play.
Jurassic Park is replete with the awe and wonder, followed by the sheer terror, that comes with seeing these animals live again. It’s the fact that they were once real that makes their appearances in the film so much more alluring. The new film, Jurassic World, promises a “new” dinosaur created as a publicity stunt, but – with dinosaurs having gone extinct millions of years ago – the idea of a “new” dinosaur kinda sorta misses the point. We will see how it plays…
Jurassic Park has already had a couple of sequels. Though, in any objective sense, The Lost World: Jurassic Park can’t ever measure up, it is just so much fun (largely because Goldblum takes the forefront). The characters all seem to have three conversations at once, while never quite knowing how to use their equipment; it’s almost compelling to see how all of these smart people seemed to lack common sense just when they need it most. The movie, as one of my best friends and I would attest, is infinitely quotable, which is surprising because the script isn’t really “good,” as much as it is “fun.” Jurassic Park 3, featuring Alan Grant again, is paper-thin, but can be enjoyed as a quick little B-Movie, but it’s just as forgettable.