When Jurassic Park hit theaters 20 years ago, Steven Spielberg’s detractors lamented that the film was nothing more than a showcase for special effects. After catching it with fresh eyes over the weekend, it’s striking how sparingly Spielberg used the toys at this disposal. Yes, there are some impressive bits of mechanical and digital trickery all over the film, but Spielberg’s popcorn movies wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if he weren’t as good at building suspense.
As with Jaws, Spielberg spends much of his time leading up to moments of terror or wonder. He has a strong instinct for when to show grizzly mayhem and when to hide what’s actually happening. For example, we never see the young woman eaten alive by the shark, but it’s still terrifying.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 once made fun of Spielberg’s “tell, don’t show” tendencies by presenting a hilarious montage of “Steven Spielberg Shots of People Looking.” In context, however, these scenes emphasized the marvels of the late Stan Winston’s mechanical effects in Jurassic Park. His creatures breathe, move and even have emotions, forcing the human performers to step up their game.
The tale, based on Michael Crichton’s novel, is boilerplate, but the script he and David Koepp (Premium Rush) have written moves at a brisk pace and has a still valid warning about playing with Mother Nature’s toy box.
A Scottish entertainment mogul named John Hammond (moonlighting director Richard Attenborough) recruits a trio of scientists to endorse his new theme park without informing them what the main attraction is. AlanGrant (Sam Neill) digs up dinosaur bones, his paramour Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, Enlightenment) specializes in prehistoric plants and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is a chaos theorist.
Through the magic of cloning Hammond has taken an island off the coast of Costa Rica and populated it with cloned dinosaurs and hopes to launch Jurassic Park as a Disneyland of prehistoric delights.
While the scientists are impressed with what Hammond has achieved, none believes that introducing creatures that have been extinct for 65 million years to the current environment is a good idea. Considering the impact of kudzu when it was dumped on an American ecology that couldn’t accommodate the aggressive vines, you can only imagine what a T-Rex or two would do with tourists who foolishly think they’re on the top of the food chain.
This environmental nightmare wouldn’t be quite so scary if the people involved weren’t at least moderately interesting. Attenborough, who came out of his retirement from acting when Jurassic Park was made, effortlessly shifts from being a giddy showman, obsessive Dr. Frankenstein and a penitent soul. Goldblum is a riot as Malcolm, whose prophesies of doom are augmented by his acidic wit. That humor was sorely missed from the obligatory sequel The Lost World.
While Spielberg and the studio seemed to be taking Malcolm’s advice by making the special effects secondary to the storytelling in 1993, they seem to have ignored him in 2013.
The 3-D retrofit does almost nothing to enhance the visuals and occasionally makes some of the process shots look more obvious. Objects seem to have been moved from the foreground to the background arbitrarily, so lens flares stand out, but actors’ faces, which were the focus of the 2-D composition, get obscured.
Maybe Spielberg and Universal were probably too busy getting ready to cash in on higher admission prices to care, but by shoehorning the film into a format it was never designed to be seen in, they’ve inadvertently hurt its chances of survival for new audiences.
Jurassic Park 3D 83 Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, B.D.
Wong, Wayne Knight Director: Steven Spielberg Rating: PG-13, for intense science fi ction terror Running Time: 127 minutes