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.

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Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 3: Park Regained

Introduction: Jurassic Park III

So it didn’t take long for a third Jurassic Park film to come along even though certain key players changed. First there was the director Joe Johnston. His resumé was up and down prior. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was his debut and a big hit. The Rocketeer a bomb. Then his next gig was the live-action sequences in The PagemasterJumanji, which forced me to walk-out, followed by the generally forgotten October Sky. Since then his most notable success was helming the first Captain America. I, for one, count this film among his successes.

One of the writing credits on this film belongs to Alexander Payne having just recently done Election and going on to many big things since. So there’s some pedigree there and, of course, Amblin’s name is still on it so it’s not like Spielberg abandoned the franchise entirely.

As per usual with the sequels, much of the cast is new but they are certainly talented. This was an shortly after stardom role for William H. Macy, and isn’t exactly an ideal fit for him but he does well enough with it. The there’s Téa Leoni who since David O. Russell’s Flirting with Disaster has been a favorite of mine. However, it seems that the roles she’s been able to land on television have been better and ones she can sink her teeth into more easily.

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)
Playing the role of the stranded kid needing to be saved is Trevor Morgan, who was not only an unjustly underrated actor in his youth but continues to be as an adult. It’s a genuine illustration of the double-edged sword that a big movie role can be. Should the film have been more well-received maybe more opportunities would’ve been created immediately thereafter. Though as the BAM awards, and review indicate, he’s always been appreciated here.

While it was funny to have Malcolm back and learn about him on his own in the last film, Drs. Grant and Sattler are the heart of the scientific trio, and although Laura Dern isn’t around much her character does play a vital role and it’s good to see them still getting along, and refreshing that they’re not together. We assume because of his unwillingness to have kids, this assumption made likely as we meet Ellie’s husband and baby. It’s a very realistic set-up wherein while the dynamics of the relationship have changed the people have not.

Parasailing Over Sorna

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

With the second and third films taking place on Site B, the whole concept of a park was really only a brand. You weren’t seeing a film about a park that never got off the ground because of the disasters in the final testing but rather you need some narrative excuse to get people on the second island.

Enter the parasailing tandem that pays for an illegal swoop over Sorna. Is it ill-advised? Sure. Will it likely strand them? Absolutely, but at least the formality gets it out of the way.

The bigger struggle in the set-up is the cover story concocted to get him to agree to go. Despite Grant’s protestations that “No force on earth or heaven can get me on that island,” he does go. Ultimately, he himself is being seen as a fossil, digs are harder to fund and seem pointless now and his speaking engagements are marred by questions about his time on the park, or the incident in San Diego that he was uninvolved in. They claim to be something they’re not (adventurers) when really they’re parents looking to rescue their son. The lie is needed in part because they really don’t have the money I just wish the cover was more compelling because it made it hard to believe he wouldn’t see through it.

The trickery continues as they are about to just fly-by which is what Grant thought he agreed to but knowing the real reason they have to land it’s clear that these people will get the plane down even if they have to crash it, which they do.

Science

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

One of the most successful things about this film is the ramping of the hypothetical scientific situations that may present themselves if dinosaurs came back to life and we were able to observe them in the wild. Here in this film we learn that Velociraptors can vocalize and communicate and are though to be smarter than primates. They may well have become the dominant species on the planet of not for the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. The film interestingly speculates on how the incident in San Diego may have gone quite differently if it was a Raptor on the loose and not a T-Rex. The advancement of the star of the Raptor is evident by Grant dedicating more study to the species and replicating its resonating chamber with printer. The Raptor as depicted was always a bit more fictitious, but at least it’s consistent.

More new dinosaurs were in the mix, many not on InGen manifests which opens the door for you to always wonder what other sneaky activities they’re up to. There is the Spinosaurus, which was believed then, and is virtually confirmed to be now, larger than the Tyrannosaurus Rex; Ceratosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Pterodactyls, and more.

Aside from adding humor, the mention of the use of T-Rex urine is an important scientific supposition that these animals well could’ve used excretions to mark territory.

On this island, and on Nublar, there was evidence of breeding, so here life found a way.

Situations

Jurassic Park III (Universal, 2001)

Whereas Lost World featured too many similar skirmishes Jurassic Park III excels in mixing things up a bit more. Yes, there is the mandatory being caught in a vehicle setpiece but there’s a greater sense of isolation and danger in this installment as it’s a far more rogue mission. Prior there were factions representing Hammond and InGen.

One miscalculation the distraught parents make is that they assume that this is terrain that Grant knows, when it’s not this is his first time on Isla Sorna.

At the risk of sounding like Roger Ebert’s review of A.I. I will float the notion that perhaps seeing Ben’s eight-week struggle to survive while awaiting someone else to rescue him ultimately may make a more compelling story, but the one that is told is a good one. It only bears mentioning in regards to the franchise as a whole, especially with the current landscape of Hollywood cinema now featuring things like the Star Wars anthology films it’s a period of time that may be worth examining at a later date.

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

The situations that are diegetic work out well like Ben making his presence known and helping Grant out during a chase; the fog in the birdcage as the walk along the tension bridge is particularly effective; the raptor chase; the need to make an off-island call have them dig through a pile of feces (a return of the “one big pile of shit”).

The pseudoscience sets up a tremendous situation wherein the Raptors set a trap. The dinosaurs being bigger, faster and stronger is bad enough but showing this kind of intelligence makes them a far more formidable foe.

Motifs and Themes

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)
Some of the more noteworthy themes and motifs in the film draw allusions to other works, including Spielberg films: touching upon the latter first the discovery of a skeleton is not unlike Raiders. The Barney reference may have been past due at this point but it’s funny and well-played. Connecting to another story the sequences where the Spinosaurus can be tracked by hearing a cell phone ringing in its stomach are reminiscent of the crocodile with the clock in Peter Pan.

The referencing of the other films in the series has to happen here. One of the common ways to do this is having books by Dr. Malcolm around. In this one entitled Everything’s Chaos is seen.

Thankfully there isn’t much screentime allotted to the beats surrounding the graduate assistant who absconds with a dinosaur egg. It’s the kind of subplot that’s over-teased and you know where it’ll end up. He is caught and Dr. Grant gets to chastise him as “being no better than the people who built this place,” which is true but stating it is.

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

Perhaps the most insightful piece of dialogue the film offers is when Dr. Grant offers the great analogy delineating the different personality types it takes to be either an astronaut or an astronomer. The meaning being that an astronomer would more likely be a bit more introverted, studious, and fond of controlled settings; whereas, the astronauts would be more extroverted, instinctive, and adventurous. It’s particularly useful because in this world there had not previously been an analogous field of study to paleontology that dealt with the living organism, for obvious reasons. Being in a world where there now could be one and he and his role are less desirable is not an easy thing to take.

Grant offers the above analogy as a way of responding to Eric’s assessment of one of his earlier books “You liked dinosaurs back then.” Albeit an adequately debunked viewpoint there is still an astuteness to it in noting how these kinds of experiences can change a man’s view on his life’s work and the subject of his study. Grant may be a bit jaded at this point but still recognizes that it’s the how and why they were brough back along with our absolute inability to coexist with them, for a number of reasons, that really bothers him.

Conclusion with a Tinge of Nostalgia

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

In the end, Jurassic Park III may be somewhat lighter on ideas than the original, and while it debatably zooms in on the science more selectively, opting to float ideas rather than deconstruct them; it is more fun and more focused narrative than Lost World is.

All’s well that ends well here, with Ben being found, his family being reunited, and Ellie saving the day for Dr. Grant. Yes, there was inherently some nostalgic moments, but it does stand on its own. In certain ways it may be about as close to a slice-of-life as this narrative world can offer or that we would want, which can either disconnect or involve an audience depending on their proclivities.

I clearly find myself more drawn to this one than the first follow-up.

The Intervening Years (2002-2014)

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

It would be tiresome and unconstructive to chronicle all the things that changed in the film industry in the twelve-year off period in the series. In fact, if you look at almost any twelve-year period you’ll see similar changes. The easy shorthands are: Jurassic Park III opened on July 18th, 2001, less than two months before 9/11; and half-dozen years or so before the Great Recession. Both these things clearly impacted Hollywood project selection along with any number of other sociological changes such as social media.

Perhaps what most directly lead to the return of the franchise was that in these years things like the phrase tentpole came into being along with less wisdom being ascribed to the commonly held belief that there was a shelf-life for sequels and even remakes in some cases.

However, the cannibalization of film product to further create new material is really not a far cry from the debates about adapting the novel or stage play to the screen that Bazin studied and commented on with such tremendous insight. Therefore, in an era where the pre-sold commodity is not necessarily more prevalent but more discussed, and paradoxically more embraced and more reviled than ever, the notion that the current generation needs its own version of now-canonized, burgeoning classics holds a lot of caché.

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

And, yes, we do feed that beast when it’s something we think we may love or be interested in. We talk about it on the Internet ad nauseum, get it trending, and go see it; or if we won’t we still discuss it with regards to what we think they’re doing wrong with the darling film we love so. I am not blameless in this area, this is merely a statement of fact.

However, Jurassic Park films are in many ways my field of dreams. If they build it, I will come. As a child who made his first friend in kindergarten because I saw he was drawing a dinosaur, as the same child who at two separate stages of my youth seriously considered working in the paleontological field, I’ll gladly come.

So, the nostalgia-fueled roulette that Hollywood spins to find its next hot proper finally seemed ready to roll back around to Jurassic Park, and better yet, it was going back to the first island and going to fulfill Hammond’s crazy dreams, at least in part. How could I not go along for the ride?

Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 2: Park Lost

Introduction: A Grain of Salt

It’s fun, when feeling particularly nihilistic, to think that things have never been this horribly commercial or trite in the world of cinema. In certain ways, it’s just more overt and honest than it ever was. The point of saying this is that, though the landscape is different and more cluttered with product-films, many of the same issues persist.
Steven Spielberg is no stranger to blockbuster hits. As a director who makes many a big film he has not been immune from certain struggles and realities. Sure, he’s long been one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, but only when Spielberg launched DreamWorks did he really reach a new level of clout.

For years Spielberg had been pestered for a sequel from Universal. It could have been E.T., which they were asking for. When Jurassic Park set the world on fire, and it too was a Universal project he agreed that there would be the sequel. In that light, it’s a good compromise for that reason if for no other.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

Even factoring some things about the film that’s the best thing that came out of it could be no sequel to E.T.

However, even with that, and the fact that when this film came out it had the unique distinction at the BAMs of being chosen as the worst film of the year, while still being the best in regards of scoring and effects; in terms of the science fiction and its place in a larger franchise there are interesting things that bear noting besides the fact that it was a memorably painful theater-going experience.

Science

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Universal, 1997)

When planning to continue a science fiction series you have to look for new mysteries to unravel and new theories to float; in short, new tricks. A few of the old favorites are back. We have the introduction of a second island, Site B (Isla Sorna). At this location dinosaurs were developed before being brought over to Isla Nublar, then Isla Sorna was hit with a hurricane that wiped out the facilities, the dinosaurs were then free and left to live & do their own thing. As per the Lysine Contingency, there should’ve been no way for the dinosaurs to live.

But “Life finds a way,” the mantra Dr. Malcolm uttered reverberates throughout the films no matter how far or close he is to the action. What happens here is that the herbivores survive on the lysine-rich foods and then the carnivores eat them, this theoretically provides them the lysine necessary to sustain life.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

It’s unspoken but the amphibian DNA factors in here as well as there is breeding afoot. So these are the things necessary to create an environment wherein it truly is a Lost World, hearkening back to the Arthur Conan Doyle story. Here in the modern age, with the help of genetic engineers, are newly created dinosaurs on an island that was devoid of human life.

What’s also interesting is that this series never shies away from introducing new nuanced paleontological debates and talking-points. Of note and relevance in this film, are debates being settled on the parenting of dinosaurs (the two camps always arguing between a more nurturing, mammalian sensibility of a more laissez-faire or cruel, by human standards, fend-for-yourself approach), and also the territorialism that dinosaurs display here that factors in.

Introduced in this film are a few dinosaurs including the Pachycephalosaurus, called Pachies here as well, though not causing any hubbub back then – a bit more on that later where it’s more pertinent.

Themes and Motifs

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

In discussing things that pop-up in each of the films, it seems to make sense to address the kid topic first. Vanessa Lee Chester, was a young actress who I didn’t see in many parts, but I did like her a great deal in her prior film Harriet the Spy. One thing about her character that does work is that her existence though it seems fairly random is that it does follow suit with Malcom’s assessment that he’s married “Occasionally.”

Much of the issue here is not Chester’s actual performance. In the first film, Tim (Joseph Mazzello, who only makes a token appearance in this film) was supposed to grate on Grant with incessant questions, maybe the fact that he seemed and sounded quite a bit younger than his older sister made him come off to some as more bothersome. In my estimation, Richards (who also makes a token appearance) was the biggest casting concern in the original. Here it is sadly Chester but upon review it had less to do with her and more to do with the character the stowaway plot plants the seed in the audience’s mind that “You’re not wanted here.” It’s far too easy keep that momentum up especially for an audience that’s reeling with changes: Hammond isn’t running his own company as much as his son is, InGen ousted him from the Park in an official capacity, Malcolm’s flying solo, Grant and Sattler aren’t there, there’s a new island (a fact which never seemed to be as harshly scrutinized as the second SETI location in Contact), and now a random kid along for the ride that shouldn’t be there, and more. It just sets itself up for her to be a scapegoat in certain regards though there are far greater issues here.

Some of the debates brought up are interesting but they do not support a compelling, visceral drama you have the battle of hunters on safari versus the scientists, which is an extension of the preservation of wildlife versus the notion that indiscriminate mass killing is an extension of survival of the fittest. Those on the hunting side of the fight state that “An extinct animal that has been brought back to life has no rights,” these exact sentiments will be echoed in Jurassic World to great effect. Similarly the barb “Predators don’t hunt when they’re not hungry” is damning both a game hunter and a hybrid that acts more like a human would given those irrepressible predatory capacities.
“Really?”

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

It’s quite nearly redundant to have a “Really?” section in a film where I’ll touch upon this sentiment probably under every heading but a few are noteworthy. The hubris and bad decision-making on the part of humans running this dinosaur enterprise is a given, however, even that has its limits. The notion of transporting the dinosaurs is just one in a laundry list of bad ideas in this film. Hammond acknowledges mistakes were made in the past but Malcolm correctly cites “You’re making brand new ones.” His agreeing to go to this new island is really just a rescue operation to save his girlfriend (Julianne Moore) from being in harm’s way. She’s there as Hammond’s liaison to study the animals an interfere with InGen’s designs ultimately.

One thing that is brought up but never really comes back into play, not in the films anyway, and I don’t know if Crichton expounds on this in his novel: This film introduces the notion that Sorna and Nublar are part of an accursed island chain of the coast of Costa Rica referred to colloquially as Las Cinco Muertes, the Five Deaths in English. Does Hammond or InGen have a claim on all of them? If all goes well could there eventually be five parks like at Disney World?

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

Another serious concern in hindsight is that fact that Hammond, after the latest deaths and catastrophes states on national television that he has had a change of heart. ”Preservation and isolation” is the new goal of the islands. Furthermore, “If we trust in nature life will find a way.” How is that philosophical gap bridged between Hammond the sudden naturalist to the dying man who asked a good friend to do right by the original intention of the park?

The other curious thing is that the explanation of Site B seemed odd. There were dinosaurs being hatched on Nublar, so why Sorna is an incubation site is only partially explained. Yes, isolating at first may be a benefit if things go wrong it never affects the main park, but transport is fraught with concerns as this film proves.

What Works

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

Before I continue to beat the dead horse that this film is I may as well take a respite and discuss the things that work, even if briefly: John Williams’ score is the best part by far, there are some Spielbergian touches that worked that I forgot about: visually the blood in the waterfall is very cool and the shipwreck is a well-staged action set-piece. Perhaps, the best combination of comedy and horror in the film is the T-Rex being visible from the little boy’s (Colton James) window.

While I always appreciate to tongue-in-cheek joke of a dinosaur running amok around a gas station it does slow things and it only otherwise noticeable because it’s a pretty big instance of product placement (76) that no one ever talks about, but more on that later.
At least Spielberg avoided excessive CG and cited an example from Lost World where he talked about more not always being more.

Monster Movies More Heavily Influenced This One

King Kong (1933, RKO)

There was sufficient King Kong reference in the first film without rampaging T-Rex thru a major metropolitan area. Then you add the shot where at the start only running, screaming, Asian businessmen recalling a Godzilla film and it just becomes too much. Aside from the fact that this illegal capture to take an animal to a zoo is like something right out of Tarzan in the first place.

When you add this over-reverence to the aforementioned issues it’s doomed to fail, but wait there’s more!

Why it Fails

Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997, Universal)

There seems to me a more overt, forced attempt at comedy in this film that falls so flat. At the very least it didn’t present the ill-fated combination of not being terribly funny and being impossibly, incessantly loud like 1941.

The film also lacks equilibrium. It’s all chase or hide all the time in much closer confines and with nothing else really buoying the action, no further plotting or intellectual intrigue upping the interest beyond simple life or death for a handful of characters we just met and barely know, barring Malcolm.

Even if you were cool with Kelly’s handy use of gymnastics it was foreshadowed clumsily and rather tepidly followed up with an obligatory one-liner. The InGen teams arrival slows the progression of the film to a halt when it had barely gotten going. Getting going is made harder when you don’t really know these new people and those you do know aren’t there as much.

Ultimately, this film fails almost everywhere sadly.

The Intervening Years (1998-2000)

Michael Crichton (1998, LA Times)

Between Lost World and Jurassic Park III two noticeable things happened. First, there was the death of Michael Crichton at too young an age. The film sequel happened because, in large part, he wrote a sequel to the book. Any further installments would all be breaking new ground and would not be part of Crichton’s canon.

Spielberg in this time would become more heavily involved in pushing DreamWorks forward; and following The Lost World he was taking on some of his most ambitious projects: first, Saving Private Ryan and then Artificial Intelligence: A.I. Clearly, he was past a point of feeling the need to direct a sequel. So much so that he’s even planning series with him stepping out after the first film. Spielberg broke ground personally directing animation and with the most convincing motion capture to date on the first Tintin film but the plan was always that Peter Jackson would do the second film. Now, if there are more does Spielberg return? Possibly but for now there’s no guarantee of that.

So with a few years off, the loss of an author, and a new director at the helm the slate was essentially wiped clean for the Jurassic Park franchise. There were givens in place but they could go almost anywhere.

Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 1: My Personal History with Jurassic Park (1993)

Statement of Intent

It bears stating that in this sprawling series that it is not my goal here to change anyone’s mind with regards to Jurassic World (or any other film in the franchise), and how it fits in the larger Jurassic empire. It is merely my intent to discuss them, especially the most recent, why I enjoy it quite a bit, and how it fits into the series to date. This is something I’ve been mulling over for a while. The reason is not that the movie is incredibly deep or dense, but it has a lot to do with how it plays against the series to date, which required re-viewing to underscore certain salient points.

So while I am on the pro side of the argument it is not my intent to do the flip-side of what’s discussed here.

I will discuss some of the flaws in the most recent one, as well as in the series as a whole; as well as why I really like it and why certain critiques don’t jibe that well with me.

Personal History

Bernardo Villela (1988, All Rights Reserved)

Yeah, I had the wrong nomenclature for “crest,” I was seven. Wanna fight about it?

First, since I haven’t had an opportunity to discuss Jurassic Park much here in the past a bit of history may be appropriate. Even in my Spielberg retrospective, after his lifetime achievement award, I didn’t cover it specifically.

Many children run the gamut of a select few jobs they dream of doing when they grow up. I did most of them as well, the only one that was probably a bit out of the ordinary when I was young, and that I came back to, was my desire to be a paleontologist. Yes, all kids seem to inherently love dinosaurs but not all of them take an interest in the applied study of learning about them and hypothesizing about them based on fossil record.

My reborn interest was sparked in my partial-reading of Chrichton’s novel, I  then acquiring more mature scientific texts than I had before. In grade school, my first book in a writer’s workshop class was on dinosaurs (pictured above).

As a child I’d seen Baby, the random Dennis the Menace film with dinosaur involvement, Denver the Last Dinosaur, and whatever else I could with dinosaurs in them. Clearly, Jurassic Park was going to be different, which is what had me anticipating it greatly.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

This film was huge for me and many others. When I first saw Jurassic Park it was clearly my favorite film of all-time to date. At a time when I was very into retroactive creation of BAM Awards from the year of my birth to 1995 (before the extemporaneous ones started) Jurassic Park owned a bit of hardware in 1993 as well.

The set-up for the film is a classic such that it was used as the go-to example of a “What if?” inspired scenario in my introductory screenwriting course in college. “What if dinosaurs were brought back to life and walked the earth with modern man?” really cuts to the heart of the awe of the first film.

Truly, it’s a sensation that will not be duplicated. The story hadn’t been tackled yet, effects had reached a new threshold, you add something that sparks a childish curiosity and excitement in adults; in a film told through the lens of a director who defined adventures for millions of kids and brought that youthful outlook and wonder the to oldest of soul; and you had a virtually can’t miss formula. And it didn’t.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Furthermore, for me in my doe-eyed innocence it not only played into that wish-fulfillment but also brought before me a nightmare I had never truly contemplated: how wrong it could possibly go, and how two species who’d been the dominate forces on earth during different eras really couldn’t co-exist.

What will also invariably set the first film apart from all those that follow, this is true of any series but particularly this one, is that it’s so new that the audience and characters are eased into it. There are questions that need to be answered, rules that need to be established. One thing that is tremendously well done is that Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler really don’t know what they’re signing up to go look at.

The world is isolated and small, the park has not opened and is seeking investors; it’s more focused in its narrative than any subsequent film. With everything being new, with great pains being taken to suspend disbelief, with brilliant scientific debate; the first film sets a rock-solid foundation upon which all other follow-ups can build with confidence regardless of how successful they are.

However, amidst the wonder and the blinding brilliance of the film as a thrilling adventure, with impeccably defined characters, contrasts, and spectacle; it seems at time we don’t take into account that there was hubris, miscalculation, and at times downright stupidity from some of the characters. And as great as it is there is even a pretty big “Oh, come on!” Now, most of what I have to say will be about what it sets up because those pave the way for decisions made further down the line.

Science

Jurassic Park (1993, Univesal)

With so much of this being new, and also with Jurassic Park being a story that was interested in actually living up the name of science-fiction properly, there was more time and more need for the characters  to question how such things were done.
Among the scientific points of discussion that come up are: The Lysine Contingency, lysine being a necessary enzyme to sustain life is something the engineered dinosaurs do not produce but the park geneticists administer. It is a theoretical fail-safe should people die or the animals need to be euthanized.

The scientists rightly ask how gaps in the genetic sequence are filled. They learn that amphibian (Tree frog) DNA to fill in, this is what opens the door for spontaneous change of sex (they were all engineered to be female). Due to the single-sex environment the scientists believe they have instilled another control, and will be able to ensure a stable population.

Being a film that postulates on the return of dinosaurs long-held debates in the scientific community could be settled (theoretically) here. The behavior of herding in the first film is confirmed; the debate as to whether the creatures are endothermic (warm-blooded) or poikilothermic (cold-blooded) is settled. At least theoretically, and like in almost any work of science-fiction most of the facts are built-up and supported to make them plausible, such that the instances of artistic license are more earned. In this film license is taken with the Dilophosaurus, a species wherein there exists no evidence to support either the claims of a neck frill or venomous expectoration. Even more license is taken with the Velociraptor, which is made a bit taller than that specific raptor.

Crichton modeled his raptor after Deinonychus, which per Gregory S. Paul’s classification would be of the raptor family. Incredibly, as fate would have it, the discovery of the Utahraptor shortly after Winston Robotics created the first vindicated this visual impression and use of a more dramatic name (as opposed to Deinonychus), of the raptor by looking very similar to what they built, though strictly speaking the actual Velociraptor is a much smaller predator.

Motifs and Themes

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Jurassic Park never would have been the hit it was around the world if all it was concerned with was dinosaurs. What it has to say about its characters and humanity in general is what takes it a place above and beyond many other films in its genre. Aside from a ground-breaking idea and technology there also is an exploration of important themes in a universal light against a preternatural backdrop.

“We can talk about sexism in survival situations when I get back,” quips Ellie Sattler as she’s about to head off to try to power the park back up manually when Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) was concerned about her leaving. If there is one thing that has been a constant throughout it’s that the series has made attempts (this film was the most successful) to put smart, intelligent, skilled women in key roles.

Ellie is a very rounded character. Aside from her obvious professional acumen she is also not averse to marriage and children. This is one of the things that make her and Dr. Grant great foils. He doesn’t like kids. Therefore, there is tremendous comedic payoff when Hammond’s grandchildren (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello) come and Grant gets saddled with them.

Furthermore, it introduces kids into the series as participants which is a constant. Much like I started writing about these films talking about my childhood fascination with dinosaurs, kids have to be brought into the action in a story like this so kids engage even closer. In 1950s sci-fi films there was almost always a kid involved so those kids going to the double-features had someone they could more closely relate to; the same goes here based on the tale as Hammond says they are “the target audience.” So if your tolerance for child actors happens to be low you better check that at the door because kids will be part of the proceedings in this series for better or worse.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

The kids are the target audience and the park clearly has to be made safe for them as Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) humorously observes “When the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” Which links up with perfectly to the conversation Ellie has with Hammond in light of his flea circus story: “It’s still the flea circus, John. You never had control. That’s the illusion!”

And the lack of control, and the self-deception is apparent when you think back on the rebuttals the scientists had for Hammond when they were talking over dinner.

“I tell you the problem with the scientific power you’re using here, it didn’t take any discipline to attain it.”
“You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could.”
“…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
“How can you know anything about an extinct ecosystem?”
“Dinosaurs and man, two species separate by 65 million years of evolution have just been suddenly thrown back into the mix together. How can we possibly have any idea of what to expect?”

I know many know those lines but bear them in mind for I feel they echo throughout the series to date.

Perhaps the most balanced character and the most centered in terms of accepting what the reality of the situation is, and having sufficient respect and admiration for these creatures is Muldoon (Bob Peck). He’s the game expert, and has been out on safari and seen most, if not all, the world’s large land predators, sure he is essentially a hunter but he has no delusions of control and knows better than to underestimate these creatures (consciously), and that is the cardinal sin of most characters in the series and how they meet their end.

“Really?”

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Speaking of their end. This brings me to the biggest “Really?” moment in Jurassic Park. Yes, I love it but even this movie has one,  the electrified fence. Now, this isn’t a bad horror film where I wanted a character to die, but based on the way it was staged I had trouble believing Tim would survive. It was tense, I was nervous, and relieved but from the beginning, since I first saw it was the biggest head-scratcher for me.

Even with that incident it’s still great, it’s just that one moment that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Conclusion: The Nostalgia Factor

Jurassic Park 3D (2013, Universal)

I re-watched Jurassic Park before writing this piece. I could probably watch it again right now, and then tomorrow. My contention here is not that I think that Jurassic Park a bit more unfairly looked upon through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia than most. My contention is merely that whether our view of the first film is nostalgia-tinged, realistic admiration or honest dislike each film deserves judgment on its own merits and to not be beholden to its source material, a previous installment, or prior version of the film. Sure, certain factors can make this difficult but it bears saying. “It’s not as good as the first” is not a valid complaint, and even though I despise the next installment, I won’t play that game rather discuss the issues there.

Sure, the next films are going to take some liberties and make some jumps but they’re building upon what occurred first and expanded from there. Some better than others.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The Directors (Part 8 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I did in college. This is part eight in the series to read other parts go here.

When discussing the 1980s no director stands out more prominently than does Steven Spielberg. Just looking at his repertoire of films from the decade and we can see his artistry was ever-expanding. He had blockbusters in the Indiana Jones trilogy and also with the incredibly sensitive and heart-felt E.T. He also started to venture into uncharted territory. I truly admire directors who are always looking to change to make a departure so to speak, and Spielberg was always willing to do that. Even while E.T. was a success he had Poltergeist in general release, which was a supernatural horror film. It was E.T. that did it for him. It was his biggest hit to date and it allowed him to create his own production company, Amblin Entertainment.


After his second Indy film he started work on his first drama and it’s one of his better efforts called The Color Purple. There was much critical uproar over Spielberg handling a story about African-Americans. Regardless of that it’s a great film that works beautifully and like most of his films has a triumphant theme. His next film was also a drama but here we saw World War II from a difficult angle. In Empire of the Sun Spielberg beautifully documents the travails of a lost British child. This is Spielberg’s first wartime opus and the war is less involved in the events of this film than in other films and it works fantastically. The film received much critical praise including in the international media, which called this his most European film. After the third and final Indy film, for the time being, he did a remake called Always. Spielberg would continue to change from film to film doing whatever he wanted. He then went on to the much maligned but absolutely magical Hook in ’91. Then came Jurassic Park, which was in all likelihood what helped him start up DreamWorks.


Steven Spielberg was the ideal director for the 1980s. Most of the films I’ve talked about were Amblin Productions. Spielberg was producer of Young Sherlock Holmes, The Money Pit, An American Tail, Harry and the Hendersons, Innerspace, *batteries not included and Back to the Future Part II amongst others. All of these films are adventurous, family-oriented and fantastical in some way or another. Steven Spielberg’s worked has only improved and multiplied in the 90s. He was also the standard setter in the 80s whereas everyone was trying to emulate his style but none really could.

Beetlejuice (1988, Warner Bros.)

Lucas’ impact has already been noted with the Star Wars films and co-authoring the Indiana Jones series but stylistically few directors were more noticeable than Tim Burton. His first break into the big time was directing Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a quirky film about a child-like adult’s search for his lost bike. The film surprised everyone and spawned a Saturday morning program. Burton’s flair for the quirky and unusual and his visual sensitivity got even more free-range in his next project, Beetlejuice. Not only is this one of the most original films I’ve seen but the cinematography, particularly in the after-world sequences with the sandworms, is fantastic. In Beetlejuice we follow the tale of a couple that has recently died and they try to scare the new residents of their house out. Michael Keaton delivers one of his best performances as the gross and irreverent title character and this film too was spun-off into a cartoon.

Wall Street (1987, Columbia/Tri Star)

Oliver Stone is one of the best directors out there right now [as of this writing]. He’s very different from most directors at any point in time because he’s more willing to be political than most American directors. The film that put him on the map was Salvador, which deals with Panama at a time when Reagan looked upon all of South and Central America as his toys. He then had his two anti-Vietnam films being Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, which are powerful and stirring accounts. I do believe that every good director has a bit of good fortune in their timing every once in a while. Spielberg released Minority Report when privacy and surveillance are big issues, and Oliver Stone came out with Wall Street a year after Ivan Boesky and Dennis Levine plead guilty of insider trading and just a few months after the stock market crash of 1987. Daryl Hannah’s pathetic performance aside, this one of his best films and it’s the most emblematic of the 80s, in a negative Oliver Stone-like way. Money leads to these characters downfall and it practically tears a family apart. We get Michael Douglas playing one of his most memorable characters, Gordon Gekko, delivering that fabulous speech, which Stone seems to know how to write, starting off “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Gordon Gekko is the 80s captain of industry. Combine him and Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl and you have the ultimate cold-hearted capitalist.


The 1980s was more a decade of individual films than of directors. There weren’t a bunch of auteurs walking around but there were plenty of movies coming from all over the place. There were but a handful of powerful filmmakers, these were the foremost.

Work Cited and Footnotes: Otavio Frias Filho “Spielberg” pp. 214-220. Folha Conta 100 Anos de Cinema. Ed. Amir Labaki. Imago Editora: Rio de Janeiro, 1995.

-“Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” had probably the best set design I’ve seen on television.

-Despite the quality of the film, Beetlejuice, the cartoon series is one of the worst piece of junk I ever saw all the jokes were in pun form, who wrote that?

Film Thought: What’s Your Favorite Film?

After having updated this year’s 31 Days of Oscar, someone commented, after seeing my reaction to Imitation of Life “That’s my all time favorite movie.” The conversation that ensued essentially came to this conclusion: “What are the odds?”

The conclusion I drew separately was “Hmm. Well, what if I hadn’t said anything, and I never knew?” Even film buffs who watch bajillions of things have one favorite that they can point to. The difficulty usually becomes trying to pick a top 5 or 10 say – definitely in going beyond that.

Even I, who am usually extraordinarily reticent to proclaim the best film ever made, have my answer: which would be A.I., however, every time I see Citizen Kane I think it kind of sits above being ranked. In doing my recent Spielberg list I was reminded that he supplanted himself as having made my favorite film of all-time when he made A.I. The film I’d last thought that of was Jurassic Park, and before that My Girl for very personal, and probably not so cinematic reasons. My point is a favorite film is a part of you for a number or reasons, it marks you and you it, whether for all time or at the very least in a time and place in your life.

What I came away from that conversation most curious about was “What’s your favorite film?” The general your, meaning almost anyone I talk to. I want to hear them, and see them if I haven’t. And a friendly note: if you ask someone their favorite film, and you set out to see it, do not expect it to be yours too, please just take it for what it is.

So there’s the question, I’m curious to know, if you can name just one favorite what would it be?

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Animation (Part 7 of 17)

This is a recapitualtion of a paper I wrote in school. Part one can be read here. A search can retrieve subsequent parts. Since time does bring about changes and developments, I have included some notes in brackets after statements that may no longer hold true, or at least are in need of further enlightening.

In the 1980s Animation and Television are one. Even more so than in the 1970s animation was in the 80s a medium of television, while the animated feature was always a rarity we see in the 80s the complete discontinuation of cinematic shorts and the dominance of half hour animated programs before getting to that there are some important developments in the cinema that need examining.

Walt Disney Studios were my catechism in film. From 1937 to 1995 they were the Notre Dame of film in my eyes and could do no wrong. There is an asterisk, however, and that comes in the 1980s. The films they made were very eclectic in the 80s.

They made some very good films The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and The Little Mermaid (1989) yet they produced films that I had no interest in seeing as a child and they were Oliver and Company (1988) and The Black Cauldron (1985). Disney went beyond the point of experimentation later on and just got bad on occasion. They’d lost the luster and were not something I looked forward to any longer. [I’ve since filled the 80s gaps in my viewing, and have found newer and older Disney titles I like. My fandom is complicated thing, as I will explore in March.]

If it takes about four years to produce an animated feature film then I estimate the death of Disney films as we knew them in 1991. Which is when they would’ve started working on Pocahontas and Mulan the first two Disney films I consciously avoided and then they released the terrible Hercules and it was over. The only quality they can come up with now is through collaboration with Pixar and through use of computer animation. [This too has changed since this writing and the introduction of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which focuses more on traditional techniques.]

Not that there was anything wrong with the Disney of the 1980s, oddly their best film of the period may have been The Brave Little Toaster in 1987 but one of the best things the 80s brought us was a legitimate alternative American feature length animation film for the first time since Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels.

One of the very best films ever made has got to be Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It took the technology from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to the nth degree. Not only that but it’s one of the most entertaining and delightful films I’ve eve been witness to and it’s nearly miraculous that Spielberg was able to pull it all together. What makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit truly a great film of the 80s cinema is how we see the cartoon characters. This probably has more resonance with people who saw this film as children because, in essence, what the film is doing is rounding out these characters, if not that adding dimension at least. Whereas in shorts we knew what Bugs Bunny was going to say and how Daffy would respond. Here we saw them in different situations and in a new light. It’s something kids do all the time: take characters that have existing attributes, stories, etc. and put them in new ones either just in their own imagination or with the aid of action figures. This makes it such a rich and pleasing cinematic experience. While as children get to bask in whimsical awe that all these characters we never saw interact are running around together (Donald and Daffy) we also get wrapped up in the mystery and it becomes very suspenseful. For adults the opposite effect must be true the suspense and plot keep you in it and the cartoon characters take you back in time, making this a unique experience for all who see it. It is truly a gem of the 80s which was hailed as a ‘landmark’ at the time but hasn’t had much said about it since. Spielberg attempted to make Roger a new star of shorts but the logistics probably got in the way and only a few were made, however, Spielberg has continued to work with animation making the all computer animation Shrek, yet another breakthrough and creating such television series as Tiny Toons Adventures, Anamaniacs, Freakazoid! and Histeria.

An American Tail (1986, Universal)

Aside from Spielberg’s efforts the 80s has produced another animation specialist named Don Bluth:

“Don Bluth was one of the chief animators at Disney to come to the mantle after the great one’s death. He eventually became the animation director for such films as The Rescuers (1977) and Pete’s Dragon (1977). Unfortunately, the quality of animation that Disney was producing at this point was not up to par with the great works of Disney, and there was rumor that the production unit at Disney might be shut down indefinitely. In retaliation, Bluth and several other animators led a walkout, and went off to form their own independent animation firm.”

Bluth’s story is one of those twenty-years-in-the-business-overnight-success-stories. In 1982 he released his first film The Secret of NIHM and it was a success. In fact, he didn’t have a bust in the 80s following that up with An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven. While he’s never been on a Disney-like scale he has made quality films and continues to make his own works. As a businessman and a producer, he’s never said no to a sequel. God knows how many Land Before Time films there are now but he does have his standards as a director and his most recent animated sci-fi adventure Titan A.E. received sharply mixed reviews.

Animation is definitely now the domain of television. [Obviously this no longer holds as animated features now come from all studios and have spawned an Academy Award category all their own.] The short which used to be on before a feature film, is now paired with two other shorts and called a television show. The stage for this change was set in the 1980s as we will see in the television section.

Works Cited: http://us.imdb.com/Bio?Bluth,%20Don

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/TitanAE-1097051/

Top 10 Movies I Can’t Believe I Liked

This is a list I originally posted on my prior site. I don’t think I’ve found newer, better examples; so the choices remain the same. Below you’ll find 10 films that for one reason or another I had no expectations going into, but ended up liking.

10. The Shining (1980)

The Shining (1980, Warner Bros.))

I first saw this film in cinema class as a freshman in high school. Until I saw this film I never really enjoyed being scared, and I hated horror movies. In a class setting it must’ve taken three days to watch it and I was riveted as if I watched it in one viewing and I looked forward to it every day. It was Kubrick‘s The Shining (which I like better than the book) that got me to read Stephen King and ultimately made me fall in love with horror.

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

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

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).

8. Hook (1991)

Hook (1991, Columbia)

This film being on the list is based entirely on concept. To me the idea of a movie about Peter Pan growing up was just absurd, so I avoided Hook for a long time but then I watched it… and Spielberg does turn almost everything into gold. It will never replace the original, or come close to it, but it is a very good and underrated film.

7. Max Keeble’s Big Move (2001)

Max Keeble's Big Move (2001, Disney)

I saw this as the cherry on top of a self-made triple feature one day. Of the movies I saw that day (Zoolander and Hearts in Atlantis being the other two), I had the lowest expectations for this one and it was my favorite. It is just a zany, off-the-wall comedy that actually ended up being nominated for a BAM as Best Picture.

6. Freaky Friday (2003)

Freaky Friday (2003, Disney)

It was one of those Disney’s 70s live-action films that just never quite did it for me for a number of reasons, but mainly because suspension of disbelief becomes difficult. Complicating matters this was the second time Lindsay Lohan was remaking a Disney film after her big break in the The Parent Trap. I went to see it ‘just because,’ not expecting much and loved it. It was probably Lohan’s last appealing character pre-drug/attitude problems and Jamie Lee Curtis is a perfect foil. Thus, the ridiculous concept didn’t bother me at all in the end.

5. School of Rock (2003)School of Rock (2003, Paramount)

Keep in mind this film was released in 2003. At the time I only really knew Jack Black from Tenacious D and I didn’t think this concept would work or be funny. I was dragged to watch the film just short of kicking and screaming, and lo and behold I loved it, and consider it to be one of the 50 funniest movies I’ve ever seen. No other vehicle has quite captured Jack Black’s lightning in a bottle like this film did. I was ultimately very glad I saw it indeed and watch it frequently – and quote it as well.

4. A Dog of Flanders (1999)

A Dog of Flanders (1999, Warner Bros.)

I used to go to the movies every weekend in junior high and high school, whether accompanied or not, to see something new. It didn’t matter what I went to see, and that’s how I saw the next film. Here’s a film that misleads with its title. Having never seen or heard of the original story and films upon which this most recent rendition was based I thought it was your typical ‘boy and his dog’ film, in fact the title refers to the protagonist, Nello, as much as it does to his dog. However, at its heart it is a much more serious tale of poverty, sacrifice and the struggle to be an artist. In fact, it may well be one of the best examples of that subgenre. It is a rare film in which the protagonist ages and both performances by actors playing younger and older Nello (Jesse James and Jeremy James Kissner) are equally compelling. Along with a great supporting turn from Jon Voight, a good score, and a tear-jerking ending this is a great film that caught me completely by surprise.


3. Young Einstein (1988)

Young Einstein (1988, Warner Bros.)

I literally saw this because Home Alone was sold out, or was it Batman? Either way I didn’t see it that day and my friend’s birthday plans changed. Just watching it under those conditions should have lead to disappointment. However, I remember it being okay and not a complete and total waste of time. And looking back and considering that it starred a man who calls himself Yahoo Serious that is saying something.


2. High School Musical (2006)

High School Musical (2006, Disney Channel)

If nothing else, it’s one of those movies you watch just because you want to see what people are talking about, and I have to admit that the first one actually does work. Yes, it’s sappy, but it makes no claims to be otherwise and doesn’t try to overdevelop subplot as the 2nd and 3rd installments do. The sequels are also pretty much artistically unjustified and terrible but that can’t detract from the first.

1. Jack Frost (1998)

Jack Frost (1998, Warner Bros.)

This one sits atop the list because it deals with perhaps the most preposterous storyline of them all. A kid loses his father and finds him the next year reincarnated as a snowman. It sounds like the kind of thing that would land on MST3K. However, with the setup, the tumult surrounding the father leaving and the devastation his loss causes, and with all the insinuations of insanity handled immediately – it starts to work. What pushes it over the top are the performances of the cast: the always great Michael Keaton, both on screen and in voice becomes a character we ourselves greatly miss seeing. Joseph Cross, who is now an established character actor having recently appeared in Lincoln, after his prior comeback with Running with Scissors and a supporting role in the Oscar-winning Milk; gives the performance of his childhood career (which is saying something), as the sensitive, shy and affected Charlie. Rounding out the principal cast is Kelly Preston doing the most that almost anyone could with such a small role. It’s a film I’ve now seen a number of times and could probably pop in every holiday season without growing tired of it and still think “I can’t believe I like this, but I do.”

BAM Award Winners: Best Director

So both here and in Best Cast there was some revisionism over the years, however, rather than try and readjust things I’ll just let things stand where they are at current.

The Best Director category is an interesting one because it is usually, in the mind of many, inextricably tied to the Best Picture winner. There is a certain logic to that, however, they are two rather different awards when you boil it down. In Best Picture you pick the story and the production. In Best Director you are picking a visionary and the architect of a production. There are times when the direction of a film will outshine its narrative or overall impact or a story that is wonderful but handled with a rather invisible hand that allows splits to occur.

I have three such splits in 1997, 1998, 2005 and 2012 none of which I was hesitant at all about.

2016 Gareth Edwards Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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2015 George Miller Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Tom-Hardy-George-Miller

2014 Daniel Ribeiro The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks (2014, Strand Releasing)

2013 Gavin Hood Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (2013, Summit)

2012 Bela Tarr The Turin Horse

Bela Tarr

2011 Martin Scorsese Hugo

Martin Scorsese in Hugo (Paramount)

2010 Christopher Nolan Inception

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2009 Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

2008 Tomas Alfredson Let the Right One In

Thomas Alfredson

2007 Timur Bekmambetov Day Watch (Dnevoy bazar)

Timur Bekmambetov

2006 Richard E. Grant Wah-Wah

Richard E. Grant’s “The Wah-Wah Diaries” (Macmillan)

2005 Ingmar Bergman Saraband

Ingmar Bergman on the set of Saraband (Sony Pictures Classics)

2004 Jacob Aaron Estes Mean Creek

Jacob Aaron Estes

2003 PJ Hogan Peter Pan

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

2002 George Lucas Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

George Lucas (2002, Lucasfilm)

2001 Steven Spielberg Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks)

2000 Julie Taymor Titus

JULIE TAYMOR PRESENTS BOOK OF HER FILM 'TITUS'

1999 M. Night Shyamalan The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan on the set of The Sixth Sense (Hollywood Pictures)

1998 Steven Spielberg Saving Private Ryan

wpid-photo-sep-14-2012-622-pm1

1997 Neil Mandt Hijacking Hollywood

1996 Lee Tamahori Mulholland Falls

Lee Tamahori

Horror Films and Stephen King (Part Three)

The short story “Trucks” first appeared in Cavalier, a men’s magazine, in June of 1973, which probably means that no one actually read it, or very few people did anyway. It was later published in Night Shift, King’s first collection of short stories, in 1979. This was King’s first venture into automotive horror. It’s not a sub-genre many of us ever consider but as King demonstrates in Danse Macabre it certainly exists.
 

“Even such a much-loved American institution as the motor vehicle has not escaped the troubled dreams of Hollywood…” (Danse, 163-4) From this tone we can see we’re usually not going to be dealing with masterpieces even within the genre. He then goes on to discuss a movie starring James Brolin called The Car. “The movie degenerates into a ho-hum piece of hackwork before the end of the second reel (the sort of movie where you can safely go out for popcorn refills at certain interval because you know the car isn’t going to strike for another ten minutes or so).” (Danse, 164).
 

We later are given a sense of what would be a better tale and King makes reference to Spielberg’s Duel (164) but ultimately concludes that to find other interesting car stories one should look towards stories and novels (164).
 

So, if King was not actually told to do this story because it was the one that De Laurentiis was willing to buy from him, perhaps he thought he was better off going into territory that hadn’t been handled all that successfully in the cinema.
    

King’s tale is very short and obviously needed to be expanded upon in order to make it into a motion picture. While the short story isn’t perfect, there are areas in which it is much more successful than the film. First off, we get no moments of comedy in the tale, unless we’ve seen the film, and I like the way the characters interacted in prose better.
     

In the short story there was more of an emphasis on waiting it out and also on speculation of impact. The characters discuss how much food they have stored and start to fill jugs with water; these issues are not addressed in the film, it’s as if everyone knows they’ll only be trapped for two days at most. The impact of these trucks taking over may have plays itself in the mind of the narrator and occasionally through dialogue. When there is a debate over pumping gas; the issue of being slaves to the machines comes up. Billy imagines people all over the country pumping gas into driverless trucks. He imagines an escape to a cave a digression to near pre-historic times. The inability for the trucks to reproduce and the contrast of whether or not they were currently being assembled at that moment was also postulated. 
 

Where the story is similar in some places is meaningless because of the way King approached the short story. He starts with the people already stuck in the truck stop. Even if the studio would require the cockamamie comet excuse later on, fine but it is much more frightening without such an outlandish set up; a set up might I add that doesn’t logically lead to machinery working and thinking on its own. Another way in which the short story is superior is in the ending. Here’s the way it ends: “Two planes leave silver contrails etched across the darkening eastern horizon. I wish I could believe there are people in them.” (Shift, 142).  And it’s over. They’re stuck and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere. It’s a great ending, but obviously not one many film production companies will want to have, so King had to change.
 

Stephen King has always been a fan of the unknown and while he knows it’s difficult he occasionally likes to leave things opaque like in Dreamcatcher. It may have been better if he had been allowed to do that with this film.
 

In fairness to the film, the characters were more drawn out than they were in the short story. It was just a case of having too many and not having enough time to deal with them all.