"Jurassic Park" Remains A Triumph

If you’re looking for an unbiased, clinical critique of “Jurassic Park” and its shiny, new 3D conversion, I can’t help you. My affection for the film is absolute and unfettered, so I won’t feign objectivity. “Jurassic Park” means the world to me. In the summer of 1993, it changed my life. It’s the single biggest reason why I’ve spent so many years watching, studying, and writing about film. However, I was initially convinced that I wanted to be a paleontologist. 7 year-old me happily offered up the prospect to anyone who asked, an idea that was usually received with a mix of puzzlement and laughter. Before too long, the proverbial light bulb went on. I loved movies.

My obsession with the film was shared by much of the movie-going public. The pic was a runaway success, from critical response to box office to merchandising, the latter of which my parents likely supported singlehandedly. I had the action figures, the models, the board games, the McDonald’s collector cups, and even the bed sheets. It wasn’t peer pressure, nor had I fallen victim to a well-crafted ad campaign. I simply couldn’t get enough of the film and the way it stoked my imagination. It was a high unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I saw it four times that summer and it has since remained close to my heart, rivaled only by my adoration of “Back To The Future.”

The 3D version marked my sixth theatrical viewing of the film (the last was a midnight showing at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre in June of 2012 – the same day I launched this site). This time, I went out of my way to catch it in IMAX. No film is more deserving of an oversized screen and an earth-shaking sound system.

Twenty years on, “Jurassic Park” remains one of the great cinematic thrill rides, a masterful piece of genre-hopping pop spectacle. That its revolutionary special effects remain so impressive is a testament to the genius of Industrial Light & Magic, but CGI was only part of the formula. Director Steven Spielberg was at the top of his game, seamlessly weaving a cinematic patchwork that would be forever seared into the brains of movie fans worldwide – from David Koepp’s underrated but incredibly efficient adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel to Stan Winston’s animatronics to John Williams’ larger than life score. My God, that score!

The aforementioned screenplay has received plenty of flak over the years, but Koepp did a remarkable job in translating the technospeak of the book into something much more accessible. It’s even poignant at times, particularly in Ian Malcolm’s elegant observation that “life finds a way.”

And while none of the performances are anything to scoff at (everyone from Sam Neill to Wayne Knight is delightful), Jeff Goldblum is a marvel as Malcolm. Both his screen presence and line delivery possess an indescribable, ethereal quality, and he nearly steals the film out from underneath the dinos. As the film’s weirdly detached moral compass, Ian Malcolm is a living, breathing commentary track, and it’s essential to pay attention to every word he says. Credit goes to Crichton (who passed away in 2008) for dreaming up such an iconic character, but Goldblum brings him to life in a way that no one else could.

It goes without saying that the film features some of the greatest action setpieces in movie history. Both the T. Rex attack and the Velociraptor kitchen scene are absolute knockouts, blurring the lines between action, horror, and sci-fi. The suspense in each is unbearable, the sound design is second to none, and the mix of practical and computer generated effects is mind-blowing to this day. Spielberg and company put on a filmmaking clinic with these scenes, and they are nothing short of incomparable. And let’s not gloss over Dean Cundey’s workmanlike cinematography. It’s tragic that Spielberg would never work with him again.

Ultimately, the 3D here is a bit perfunctory and rarely adds to the experience. Other than the handful of times it’s used to make the audience jump – especially when game warden Robert Muldoon is mauled by a Velociraptor – the third dimension is a bit distracting. The film is thrilling enough on its own to literally shake the audience. Why anyone felt that a 2D version wasn’t worthy of a re-release is a mystery. But that the pic’s getting this kind of fanfare in 2013 is certainly welcome in my book.

As one of the few films that I know by heart – every story beat, every line of dialogue, every character tic – the IMAX presentation allowed me to uncover things that I’d never noticed before. For example, the swelling of the T. Rex’s pupil when hit with Lex’s flashlight, followed by immediate contraction. This kind of attention to detail permeates the piece and it’s staggering. I spent the duration of the film in awe that a group of people could make something so grand from scratch.

And in that way, I was taken back to the summer of 1993. I was the same kid, seeing – for the first time – the curtain pulled back on the human imagination. I remain enthralled by what the human mind is capable of, particularly when it comes to art and technology, and “Jurassic Park” was the perfect marriage of the two. With every film I’ve seen since then, I’ve hoped to replicate that experience. A few have come close. Others have shaken my faith. But I remain steadfast in my belief that film is one of the great communal experiences we have as human beings.

“Jurassic Park” remains an essential piece of my childhood, serving as a reminder that film criticism doesn’t always have to be cynical or sardonic. Good or bad, movies are fun. A celebration of life itself. Most fans of film – whether they be filmmakers, film writers, or just fans – have that one special, life-affirming film that reminds them why they feel so strongly about the medium. “Jurassic Park” is that film for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When you hear someone use the term “movie magic,” this is what they’re talking about.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Classic)

Release Date: April 5, 2013
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Michael Crichton, David Koepp
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense science fiction terror)