Rewind Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

Introduction

It was hard to know how to categorize this old writing. This was a lengthy reaction piece, not quite a traditional review, that I wrote after viewing the film in my Films of Spielberg class. Part of why I chose to post it here is how it ends, which (scout’s honor) I did not recall until I re-read it, not that it takes a clairvoyant to predict Jurassic World, but it is longer for here roundabout 12 years ago.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Yes, it was the box office champion of the world when it was first released, but in a way I feel that Jurassic Park did suffer from bad timing as it came out only a few months before Schindler’s List. If there had been more separation between the two or maybe if the Academy viewed ’93 like they viewed ’00, Spielberg would have had two Best Director nominations. Although, I’ll always think it’s underrated.
According to Spielberg he got on the project when working on ER as a film script. Spielberg asked Crichton out of curiosity what his next project was. Crichton was hushed, as writers usually are. Then he finally gave Spielberg only two words: dinosaurs and DNA. Spielberg got it immediately and wanted to be the first to read it. Crichton agreed but he said Spielberg would have to direct. The rest is history. Sometimes you’re good and lucky.
The concept of this film is so tremendous I don’t know how everyone wasn’t out flocking to make dinosaur films of every and any kind. The only thing I think that kept people away were budget concerns. Dinosaurs were quite big in the silent era but then faded away. What a lot of people fail to recognize is that this story is so tight; it’s so well acted and flat-out well done. It’s unquestionably a cinematic masterpiece that is as grand as it is great and here’s why…
In Spielberg’s renowned tradition the dinosaurs are kept out of view early on, so we’re not bombarded. In many action movies people are moving around so long and so much that all focus is lost. We get taken into Jurassic Park very slowly, first we’re on Isla Nublar and the tree shake and we get a subjective shot from inside the dinosaur cage the handler gets attacked but we see no blood nor any “monster.” And in the very beginning the issue of responsibility, which is a theme throughout, is raised.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

We then move to an amber mine in the Dominican Republic, the globe-hopping Spielberg loves to do in the Indiana Jones films only occurs here in the first 20 minutes. The atmosphere and setting of Isla Nublar is huge in this film. The purpose of these scenes is two-fold being to introduce the safety questions surrounding the park and also for the exposition of the fact that two experts will be needed to approve the park. Alan Grant is brought up and we only learn that he is a digger.
We then move to Montana. We see Alan Grant (Sam Neill) on a dig, there’s an annoying kid (Whit Hertford) to whom he demonstrates a raptor attack with his 6” fossilized claw. This also foreshadows the very last of the dinosaur attacks in the film. Not only is that introduced but also the notion that the T-Rex’s vision is based on movement. It also serves to establish the relationship between Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). They are then visited via helicopter by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) he asked them to come to the island, never really reveals the true nature of the park, and bribes them by offering to fund their digs for three more years.
We then move to San José on the Costa Rican mainland where Dennis (Wayne Knight) meets with Dodgson (Cameron Thor) and we see there is a conspiracy afoot, in which, he will be paid quite a bit of money for fertilized embryos. Knight, best known for his supporting appearances on Seinfeld and 3rd Rock from the Sun gives a great performance as a the nervous, over-anxious, bumbling conspirator.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)
Upon arriving on the Island, Grant and Sattler are introduced to Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) he provides a lot of comic relief and also has his own unique scientific perspective juxtaposed with Sattler’s knowledge of plants and Grant’s knowledge of dinosaurs.
This is without a doubt some of John Williams’ best work in scoring. It’s definitely some of his most melodic and well-placed work. The main theme appears at the right spots and stays in your head long after the movie is over.
We’re shown a sign upon arrival reading “Danger!/1000 Volts” which is another piece of foreshadowing. Another sign that provides a little hint is “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,” which is draped over the exhibit of skeletons.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Another great touch is its timing. It’s 20 minutes before we see a dinosaur in its massive glory. Spielberg knows this is what we’ve come to see and isn’t going to throw it out too much or two quick or it might get stale. After this we move into the plausibility aspect and walk the audience how it could and did happen through a film strip and a little cartoon character named Mr. DNA.

The film shows its intelligence when dealing with cloning whereas most films just gloss over the issues that might make it more difficult or simply changes a few laws of natural science around to make it more convenient for themselves. In Jurassic Park one of the first things we see is that cloned dinosaurs are born where other cloning films might make them full size from the get go. Secondly, there are gaps in the DNA sequences which are filled by frog DNA which comes into play later.

When walking in the park we get some information in the Raptors which actually shows later films have kept the series consistent in that regard. One place in which there may be an inconsistency in parts 2 and 3 is that on Isla Nublar there is a plan called the “Lysine Contingency” in which, the dinosaurs are purposely engineered without the amino acid Lysine and if they are not given doses through injection or in food they will fall into a coma and die. If this is the case, how are they still even alive in parts 2 and 3?

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Another clever link-up is first Dr. Malcom uses water to explain Chaos Theory and then cups of water shaking is the clincher that tells us the T-Rex is after these people. This only occurs 63 minutes into the film; this is not what one would call action all the way. Case in point, the big chase with Dr. Malcolm looking back at the T-Rex and the famous “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear” shot, doesn’t begin until the 82nd minute of the film.

We’re occupied with suspense elements with the plot to steal the embryos and Dennis’ encounter with a Dilophosaurus. Coupled with the attempt to try and get the systems back up and running after the virus made itself known with Dennis’ caricatured image in the scene repeating “Uh-uh-uh, you didn’t say the magic word.”

A major element of fear that these dinosaurs cause is that these people realize that there is only so long that they can run and outdistance these beasts before they are caught. There is a lot of hiding. Tim (Joseph Mazzello) is forced to hide under the Jeep when the T-Rex is stomping on it. Later on he is hanging in the tree and they rest for the night perched on a branch. The same holds true for the fear we feel when the tandem of Raptors are after the kids, during this part we also see a genetic sequence displayed in light on a Raptor which is quite an impressive shot.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

While waiting out the night Hammond tells of how he used to run a flea circus and how he used to love to make people happy. He said he wanted his park to be something real but is told it’s the same thing because there’s no real control over the animals.

The situation escalates when we find the dinosaurs are breeding even though they are all supposed to be female. The explanation there is that the gaps were filled with frog DNA. Frogs have been known to spontaneously change gender and it has occurred here. Life has found a way.

The dialogue in Jurassic Park is just great and I could go on an on listing smart and snappy lines that are funny and/or thought-provoking but it all just works. In this film Spielberg yet again showed his unique talent for having people and things that come out of nowhere and just scare you. What cements Jurassic Park’s greatness is when the Raptors meet up with the group on the museum/lobby. This element of Spielberg’s greatness comes when the Tyrannosaurus Rex, while the Velociraptor is the breakout species of the film, T-Rex is the star – and saves the day by knocking the Raptors aside allowing the people to escape as the main theme chimes in with perfect timing. As the banner rains down the T-Rex gets into the perfect pose and roars. It’s one of the most personally pleasing moments I’ve ever experienced and it was the work of a crowd-pleaser and a true genius.

Jurassic Park (1993, Univesal)

What marks Jurassic Park the most is how it ends. In this respect, it understands its own modesty. There’s no corniness at the end of the first or the third, I’m trying my best to forget the sequel. They got away. That’s what mattered in the end. There may have been a lot going on but that’s about it right there, they’re flying away.

Jurassic Park is a classic film which succeeds at something very difficult taking creatures many people loved as kids and showing the scary side of them and having us embrace that too. The anti-cloning sentiment won out quite easily, but with the T-Rex saving the day we see that these creations are victims of circumstance and not so unlike Frankenstein’s monster.

Paleontology is a science I devoted most of my childhood to. It’s also one that’s full of new discoveries and theories which provide unlimited amounts of material. Just one example is that in recent years many paleontologists through kinetics and computer simulation now support the T-Rex was a scavenger and not a hunter as believed since its discovery. This is a franchise I think has a lot to stand on and a built-in audience and I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if it were to continue.

Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 8: Conclusion

The final element that needs discussing is the park itself, a realization of Hammond’s dream that we had not yet been privy to see. The camera move into the hotel room, chasing Gray (Ty Simpkins) all along, out to the balcony and looking out across the aquatic center and the Hammond building has a very similar effect to the first view that Ellie and Dr. Grant have upon first seeing the Brachiosaurs, and this is not just because of the use of Williams’ iconic theme. Sure, it’s the kind of wonder a kid has at Disney World, but the Disney parallel has always existed; and the exuberance on display is no less pure in this scene than there in the real world.

Though, yes, this is the movie part of the illusion it’s trying to create is that these dinosaurs exist not just in modern times but in the world today. What would a multi-million (billion?) dollar a year theme park full of dinosaurs look like if not something corporate? The selective nature that goes into deciphering what product placement is distasteful or gaudy absolutely confounds me. The park’s vehicles are now Mercedes-Benz, in the first film they were Jeeps, so that makes it an advertisement. Yet it seems when certain vehicles are used because they represent an era like Mercedes being used by the Germans in WWII or the tracking shot keeping the Packard hood ornament in focus during Empire of the Sun mum’s the word because that’s an artful choice. When many complaints about modern CG decry the crushing of verisimilitude it’s odd that an artifice such as Greeking, or obscuring logos and brand names, would be so prized that its mere presence is an instant distraction and detriment.

Empire of the Sun (1987, Warner Bros.)

There’s a Starbucks on Mainstreet USA in The Magic Kingdom. Surely, since that was not always the case some were right to be a little peeved by it, but it’s a bit disingenuous. Disneyland and Disneyworld have always been interested in revenue, so that’s a natural progression. Jurassic World has to have a modern corporate mindset to a fault. So, yes, scoff a Brookstone being there if you like but don’t mock that and miss that a restaurant was named Winston’s, in honor of the late, great Stan Winston, and don’t be so busy being annoyed the presence of corporate logos that you miss that there, too, are commentaries like with Pandora, a jeweler I highly doubt was chosen by accident.

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Especially since one of the things the film is commenting on is corporate influence and it’s open about the fact. Lowery (Jake Johnson) jokes about the dinosaurs being named after companies being the next step after Verizon Wireless presents The Indominus Rex is announced.

Furthermore, there is InGen who is always plotting separate deals in the background whether its good for the park or not. They do what’s best for their brand, or more to the point their bottom-line.

If the film was called Jurassic Game Preserve, I’d understand the complaints, but since it’s a theme park it makes perfect sense. You can’t get away with charging $7 for no-name soda. No, Pepsi is not OK. Coke, please. And make it a big one so I can nurse it through yet another viewing of Jurassic World.

BAM Best Picture Profile: Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

NOTE: The 2001 winner was covered extensively in a very long series starting here.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

Basically I will here, as I have done with a few of these posts, synthesize not only my writings on the given film, but also discuss my personal history with the film. And understanding where I’m coming from with both Star Wars and the prequels is key to at least cutting me a stone if not understanding and agreeing with what I say here.

Here’s a brief intro to my history with Star Wars and why I didn’t even think I’d like this one that much in the first place:

I saw the Star Wars prequels first. Having never felt the urge to see the originals, and then hearing about the prequel concept which was popularized, if not invented by, Lucas – I wanted to watch the movies in the story’s chronological order. So I waited until 2005 to see the original trilogy. After having seen The Phantom Menace I just didn’t get the appeal, but I stuck it out and went to see Attack of the Clones and then I got it – Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones is awesome. The Phantom Menace was just not that good at all and it never will be no matter how many times I watch the film. Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones won the BAM for Best Picture in 2002 (BAMs are my personal movie awards – look out for those here next year).

So allow me to continue what I discussed with regards to Invalid complaining about the prequels in general:

Here’s where my watching the series knowingly in chronological, so far as the narrative goes, order starts to factor in. This is one of the most over-debated and over-analyzed aspects of the entire saga. You can like or dislike it as you please, but I really don’t see the point in getting all up in arms about this point, when you have so many you could possibly choose from. Granted you implement things in the prequel trilogy that don’t follow through to the original and it removes an element of mystery but how much does it really detract? Furthermore, to parlay the filmmaker point above, it was introduced when the prequels were very much Lucas’s design, as concessions may have been made later on, so clearly he had it in mind. So it may not fit your vision but it fit his. Essentially, if one if offended by the very notion of the prequels they ought not waste time on this factoid. Conversely, if this is your biggest issue with the series that’s not so bad or you’ve blown it way out of proportion.

I later realized I probably saw snippets of them growing up, but that’s not really seeing them. And having seen these first things like midi-chlorians which were later introduced are easier for me to stomach as a “late-series” change.

Now while I will always defend Jake Lloyd from the lynch mob, I agree The Phantom Menace is no great shakes. However, a few things bear considering: the first is that if you think there are problems with that film he’s one of the very small ones, there are others. Next, oddly enough, and my brother and others in his generation are a testament to this; Lucas really did make that one for kids. In essence, he always did, at least to the kids in adults. Over the years while no new follow-ups emerged the legend ballooned, the grandiosity, importance and gravitas foisted upon the series by fans sky-rocketed.

To such an extent that when I saw The Phantom Menace, with no prior frame of reference, I was like “That was OK, but I don’t see what the big deal is.” When Attack of the Clones came out – that’s when I started to see what the big deal was. The 2002 BAM Awards are a testament to that.

While you can sit there and write-off the awards as a newfound fanboy heaping love on his new pet if you want some things are separate from the film that were awarded merely on technical and artistic merits of the work done. Williams’ scoring in this film remains one of my favorites in his canon; arguing against ILM on a Lucasfilm project is folly; cinematography in CG-heavy films does matter (perhaps the Academy was a bit misguided in choosing Avatar to recognize that notion, but it does). And wooden dialogue or not this film does move wonderfully and has great situations and is a bifurcated tale of romance and political intrigue. It plays much closer to its serial film roots here.

It’s also a film I’ve revisited very often since I saw the original films and given the chance to do this year over again I doubt I’d change my mind.

Spielberg Sunday- 1941

John Belushi in 1941 (Universal/Columbia)

Owing to the fact that I have decided to honor Steven Spielberg this year with my version of a Lifetime Achievement Award I figured it was an appropriate time to dust off some old reviews I wrote when I took a course on his work. The remarks still hold true, he is an amazing filmmaker.

Here is concrete proof that comedy is unquestionably the hardest genre to succeed in. Without trying to get inside Spielberg’s head and trying to determine exactly what it was that he was trying to do with this film, one can look at it as is and be left scratching their head. It is at best funny in small patches and most definitely a humongous waste of talent both on and off camera. I applaud Spielberg for not only making a huge departure from his big successes (Close Encounters and Jaws) but also for poking fun at the latter in the opening sequence of the latter film. This stands out as one of the few truly comic sequences throughout a film that is plagued by many difficulties. This film especially pales in retrospect considering that I’ve laughed much more during his action/adventure and sci-fi films and this film doesn’t seem to make any sincere satirical jabs at the paranoia in the United States following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nor does it really succeed at being a farce. In its better moments, which were few and far between, 1941 is hysterical. More often than not, however, 1941 is poorly executed slapstick, ham-handed, off-the-wall nonsense that follows the wrong characters and actors.

So that this isn’t a complete diatribe there are some wonderful performances to be found here but as I’ve mentioned above these people make their exit from the film much too early. Probably the best performance in this all-star cast is that of Slim Pickens. He delivers not only some of the best lines of the film but delivers them only as he could with that imitable voice of his. Elisha Cook is also there but that’s about all what strikes me as really being odd is how ill-utilized these actors were. Most of the cast was a mish-mash of SCTV and Saturday Night Live stars who really didn’t do anything noteworthy. Dan Aykroyd got to do some of his shtick but his performance was undermined by some stupid writing, when towards the end for no reason known to man he went bonkers and exclaimed, “I’m a bug,” while he had wrapped oranges over his eyes with pantyhose. It got worse though John Candy, one of the funniest people who ever lived was just there for seemingly no reason, it was as if the casting director went amuck knowing that Spielberg could get any actors he wanted and got big names to do meaningless roles. Another under used player was Joseph P. Flaherty who provided the film with one of its best lines following the USO riot (“Maybe in the future we could have some Negroes come in and we’ll have a race riot.”) was also hardly there. Then there was Belushi, who I’ve always found overrated, doing an annoying version of the Penguin from Batman. He was occasionally funny in this and in other roles but overall I was unimpressed.

The big problem this film had was that it was more likely to lose its audience before tying all the storylines together. The additional factor of having the last 45 minutes of the film being one explosion, crash or pratfall after another didn’t help much at all.

Another factor that didn’t help this film was that on home video (apparently this version is somewhat different than the theatrical release) it is 2 hours long, it’s very difficult to do a comedy that lasts more than 90 minutes long.

About the only thing that made me realize that this was a Spielberg film was the inclusion of the Dumbo screening, which was both fitting to the story and helped me make it through that part of that performance because it is one of Disney’s finer works. The score was also a non-entity that I didn’t even think Spielberg worked with John Williams. The writing was also schizophrenic, spotty and unusually unfunny most of the time and I was almost shocked to find that Robert Zemeckis had a hand in writing it. It’s as if everyone was embarrassed with the end result so that there were no opening credits only closing ones.

3/10