The fact that Jurassic Park is twenty years old makes me feel older than I’d like to think I am. It’s hard to believe that it was two decades ago that a wide eyed seven year old me took a trip to the local cinema for what was only my second cinematic experience at the time. The film was a sensation with children, adults and critics and became the highest grossing movie of all time. Although I loved the film, there was a part of me who secretly hated it as it opened children’s eyes to the dinosaur world, something which I naively thought only I liked. Suddenly all my friends had dinosaur toys too and it annoyed me that they’d stolen my thing. It was the equivalent of that cool, underground band you like appearing on TV and going mainstream. Despite my anger over the film taking dinosaurs mainstream, it was pretty much the best thing my seven year old eyes had ever seen.
Twenty years, two sequels and about a dozen viewings later I heard that Universal were bringing Jurassic Park back to the big screen in 3D. Part of that sentence made me very happy but I was rather sceptical about the ‘3D’ element. I was even offered the chance to join a critics screening in New York City of all places, six months ago while on holiday there. I was unfortunately unable to make it though as I’d left my girlfriend shopping somewhere and knowing that she never notices her phone ringing and wouldn’t be able to make it to the theatre in time anyway, I had to decline, something which was deeply disappointing. All was not lost though as although I had to wait nearly half a year, I was eventually able to see the film on one of the largest screens in the country, the IMAX screen in Manchester.
So enough dancing around, how does the film stand up after the passing of two decades, five Olympic Games and enough CGI to cover at least seven football pitches? In two words, very well. I could leave it there but as it’s Sunday and my girlfriend is sleeping, there’s nothing on TV, I might as well tell you why in approximately 1,281 words. Although I’ve seen the film probably a dozen times, it’s rare that I see the opening few minutes. What usually happens is that I’m flicking through TV channels and come across it half way through. Because of this, the opening few scenes were a little vague in my head. What I liked about them was how they tease the audience into the story, setting up various strands and villains without giving much away. The first five minutes or so before we meet our heroes provide all the groundwork and back story that is needed to propel the remaining two hours. It’s storytelling at its finest.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about the plot of this movie and to be honest I doubt there are more than a handful of people in the Western world, over the age of ten who haven’t seen it. As you know, a dude creates dinosaurs, he spares no expense, he thinks it’s safe, it ain’t, dinosaurs attack his posse. The film continues to tease as we approach the island of Isla Nublar, home to the Park, before the first appearance of the animals. This scene, featuring a heard of Brachiosaurus still has the power to amaze after all these years. The acting is pitch perfect and director Steven Spielberg lingers on the character’s faces for longer than you’d expect in order to build suspense before finally letting the audience in on what they’re looking at with John William’s magnificent score increasing in volume with dramatic effect. It’s one of the film’s most iconic scenes.
It’s in this scene where we get our first glimpse of how the CGI is holding up. To be honest, I think that this is the worst of the CGI in the whole movie but it’s still mightily impressive and has aged better than the character’s attire. Considering the speed at which computer animation has moved in recent years, it shows just how good the effects were in this movie that they still look pretty good against their modern counterparts. They’ve obviously dated but they’re still impressive throughout. Besides, there are much better looking effects still to come. The anamatronic effects, it has to be said, are still sublime.
After a brief tour and a little exposition (which has dated worse than the CGI) six of the principle characters head out for a tour of the park. Here, two of the most annoying characters are introduced; Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards), the grandchildren of Jurassic Park’s founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Although the younger characters help to realise the film through a child’s eyes, I’ve found them deeply annoying ever since my first watch. In the early stages they’re written like this but I found it continues long into the film, especially in the case of Lex. Her “I happen to be a vegetarian” line is the worst in the movie and it’s made worse by her eating jelly later on. The other characters though are mostly great. Lawyer Donald (Martin Ferrero) is just the right amount of slimy and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) has over the years developed into my favourite character of the lot. He’s funny, cool and a little sleazy and is responsible for one of the best shots in the movie in which he is lying near topless and greasy on a table for no apparent reason, a scene I’d never noticed until it was recently pointed out by a friend. It’s no wonder that he became the focus of the first sequel.
Compared to the characters mentioned above as well as peripheral characters such as Samuel L. Jackson’s Ray Arnold and Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry, the central duo of Doctors Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler (Sam Neill & Laure Dern) are a little stale and lack interest. They’re the plain white glue that holds the glittery side characters to the paper which makes the film. Both are watchable and Grant grows as the film progresses but neither are particularly interesting. The film broke boundaries not only with its use of excellent special effects but by being one of the first movies to create a central character that wasn’t really there. The T-Rex becomes the film’s anti-hero and is responsible for perhaps the film’s greatest scene.
The T-Rex attack scene which lasts around ten minutes is just about my favourite action scene from any movie ever. It’s an astounding piece of film making which is still terrifying despite the numerous times I’ve seen it. The action, sound, design and acting are all fantastic and it holds up so well compared to more modern blockbusters. A lot has been written recently about the state of the Hollywood blockbuster and this scene, as well as the film as a whole, shows how well it can be done. The effects are obviously on display in the form of the dinosaur but human emotion and heart pounding action are at the heart of the scene. It feels so real. It might look impressive to have a forty minute battle in which a city is destroyed by robots but there’s no peril because you are aware that it’s all fake. To have one animal ravage a car in the rain is so much more effective than anything Hollywood has produced since. The film is also a tidy 126 minutes and doesn’t outstay its welcome. I’m sure another half hour could have been found in chases and hunts but it isn’t necessary. Directors and Editors could really learn something by going back to watch this film again.
Something that I’ve always liked about Jurassic Park is its design. Little things that might go unnoticed in other films look fantastic here. Simple props such as switches and walkie-talkies have a great look to them and the vehicles are all spectacular. The paint job on the Ford Explorers is wonderful and the internal design looks functional and appealing too. Even the Jurassic Park logo looks great and unlike many twenty year old designs, hasn't aged a bit. All of this is of course aside from the dinosaurs which it goes without saying look incredible. My favourite you ask? The ill Triceratops. I especially like the attention to detail on her well worn horns. An area of the design in which the film falters is with the additional 3D. It added nothing and was blurry at times. The film wasn’t designed to be seen in 3D and it just doesn’t work. On the plus side, it did give me the opportunity to see the film on the big screen again so for that reason I’m thankful it’s there.
As iconic as Jurassic Park looks, in my opinion, John Williams’ score is as much a part of the film’s continued success as the effects and story. It’s amongst my favourite scores of all time and creates wonder and tension throughout. The Theme From Jurassic Park is one of the most recognisable pieces of music in film history and captures the awe of the creatures and the film experience. It’s upbeat, thrilling and brassier than the rest of the score which helps it to stand out against the rest of the piece which is equally fantastic though not as instantly recognisable. As I’m listening to it while I write, I’m able to recognise where each piece fits without looking. The music just works that well.
I'd like to talk briefly about my changing perceptions of the film over the years. As I mentioned earlier, the film astounded me when I was very young and it still does today. I was also a little scared too on this watch. Even though I know when each dinosaur will appear and who will and won't survive, the film is still capable of producing genuine terror in a way that modern blockbusters just don't do. On this watch I laughed more than I have done before too. Some of this was down to the comedy peppered in the script but most of it was because of cheesy lines or amusing images. Although the film is ageing well, it is slightly corny in places.
I’ve already gone on for far too long about a film which you already know well yourself so I’ll end here. All that’s left to be said is that after twenty years, Jurassic Park is still one of the most exhilarating and entertaining films I’ve seen and is the best of this year’s blockbuster season. It says something about the current crop of Hollywood mulch as well as Spielberg’s film that it still ranks so highly but that’s the truth of it. Jurassic Park still rocks.