Review: Jurassic Park Still Has Teeth

After inventing the summer blockbuster with Jaws in 1975 Steven Spielberg perfected it in 1993 with Jurassic Park.

No one will try to tell you it’s flawless; some of the characters veer dangerously close to stereotype, the climax can’t compete with most of what’s come before it and there are plot holes so big you could, in one case literally, sneak a T-Rex through.

But Spielberg wasn’t making trying to make high art, he was doing that with Schindler’s List. With Jurassic Park he was entertaining, and like John Hammond, the billionaire tycoon who wanted to make something the audience could feel and touch, Spielberg and his team of wizards captured our imagination and created a masterpiece of entertainment. Jurassic Park is pure, lightning in a bottle, entertainment.

You know the story. Hammond’s dream of a theme park with a prehistoric twist goes belly up and hungry Dinosaurs eat folk. It’s simple but like the best adventure films, it’s incredibly tight with it. Michael Creighton’s novel was dense with exposition. Ian Malcolm, played in the film by Jeff Goldblum, would deliver huge monologues about chaos and natural selection while Creighton would beat you over the head with the science. Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp took Creighton’s work, whittled it down to its bare bones and created a film that is lean, exciting and to this day sets the bar for the modern blockbuster

The film is immaculately cast. Sam Neil brings a quite humanity to palaeontologist Dr. Alan Grant, and while his character arc is pretty basic (good guy doesn’t like kids > rescues two kids > likes kids) he sells it with subtlety and warmth. Richard Attenborough brings a dignity to Hammond, playing him like a kindly grandfather who might just be crazy. The late, great Bob Peck expertly judges where to draw the line playing super intense game keeper Robert Muldoon and every single sentence that comes out of Jeff Goldblum’s mouth is genius.

It features (Harry Potter aside) the last truly great John Williams score. Instantly recognisable, it is grand,majestic and at times appropriately menacing. From the opening crashes to the gentle piano that plays over the films epilogue, Williams pours everything he has into it.

And then there are, of course, the ground breaking, and game changing, special effects…

The Dinosaurs still fool me. A near seamless marriage between CGI and Stan Winston’s astonishing animatronics, Jurassic Park set the bench mark, not only for how computer generated could be used but also for how they should be used. Spielberg knew then that regardless of how revolutionary the technology was effects should inform he story, not replace it.

The first reveal of that beautiful Brachiosaurus has obviously lost some of its punch and in the cold light of day it’s pixellated origins are clear but the sequence is shot with such reverence that you simply get swept away with it. Williams’ incredible score builds and swells, Sam Neill sputters “it’s, it’s a dinosaur!?” and Laura Dern’s face is a picture of pant wetting excitement. It all comes together so well you see past the pixels. It’s not the effects so much as the context you see them in.

And that’s Spielberg’s genius. Ever the showman, he doesn’t just plonk a dinosaur in your lap. He builds you up. When the jeeps break down in front of the Tyrannosaur Paddock it’s a full fifteen minutes before the dinosaur makes her first full appearance. You don’t really realise this when you’re watching it because Spielberg is busy messing with your head with plastic cups of water.

As a package Jurassic Park hasn’t aged a day. Seeing it back on the big screen is an experience you need to have. You need to remind yourself how much you love it…. right now.

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Posted on September 30, 2011, in Film and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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