Saturday, June 23, 2018

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Sigmund and the Sea Monster: "Is There a Doctor in the Cave?"

In “Is There a Doctor in the Cave?” Sigmund has fallen ill with a stomach ache. This isn’t the first time he has had one, and he tells his friends Johnny (Johnny Whitaker) and Scott (Scott Kolden) that he used to take medicine at the cave.  That medicine consists of melted jellyfish and warm squid milk. 

Realizing they must help their tentacled friend, Johnny sneaks into the cave, only to learn that Slurp also has a stomach ache, and is taking the same medicine. Johnny attempts to steal the medicine for Sigmund, but is captured in the process.

Fortunately, the Wolf Man shows up at the cave, and the Sea Monsters think he is Scott, trying to pull a repeat of last week’s “Frankenstein” stunt. The Wolf Man goes mad with rage, giving Johnny the opportunity he needs to escape with the medicine that Sigmund needs. 

Afterwards, Johnny gets stood up on his date with Peggy, and sings a song.

“Is There a Doctor in the Cave?” to its credit, remembers the series history of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973-1975). By that I mean, last week the Frankenstein Monster visited the sea monster cave, and was proven to be an imposter. This week, when the real Wolf Man appears at the cave (his car broke down near the beach…) he is assumed to be an imposter, instead of the real thing.  

Of course, the real question here isn’t continuity, but why this series has taken a weird turn to feature the Universal Monsters.

This episode features another odd movie reference. The sea monsters’ family physician is named Dr. Cyclops, but acts like Harpo from The Marx Brothers, and has the same type of mop-top.  Another pop culture joke: The sea monsters like the Wolf Man western they watched, titled “High Moon.” Gary Cooper most definitely does not star.

The last act of “Is There a Doctor in the Cave?” comes out of nowhere. Sigmund is nursed back to health, and suddenly we learn that Johnny has a date with Peggy, who was played, two episodes back, by Pamelyn Ferdin.  She stands him for that date, and Johnny sings a sad song, which ends the episode.  This interlude has absolutely nothing whatsoever do with the previous twenty-two minute narrative. It’s just a weird set up for the weekly song.

Next week: “Happy Birthdaze.”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Jurassic Park Toy Commercials (Kenner)

Jurassic Park Trading Cards (Topps)

Jurassic Park Kenner Toys

Jurassic Park Tyco View-Master 3-D

Jurassic Park Colorforms Deluxe Playset

Jurassic Park Model Kits (Lindberg)

Jurassic Park Board Game (Milton Bradley)

Jurassic Park Lunch Box

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Films of 2015: Jurassic World

The very best quality of Jurassic World?

This is one blockbuster movie that bites the hand that feeds it.

Certainly -- as the fourth installment of a billion dollar big studio franchise -- the obvious path would have been to play things safe, and not feature any kind of embedded social commentary in the film at all.

Instead -- and quite delightfully -- Jurassic World attempts to speak to our time, 2015, much in the way that Jurassic Park sought to speak to its historical context, circa 1993.

The substance of the commentary is entirely different, but both films possess it, and that’s quite possibly the best way to honor the source material.

Jurassic World isn’t about the irresponsible creation of life in the Age of the Human Genome Project, but rather the easy way that our species, mankind, can grow bored by that life, unwilling to treat it as anything other than a not so-exciting attraction.

There’s an old joke about this very idea. It goes something like this:

A person sees God for the first time, and is utterly wowed.

It’s God!  Amazing! Wondrous! Blinding! Fantastic! 

Then, that person sees God on a second visit.

Yeah, God is still cool. Maybe not like before.  But still very cool.

Finally, the same person visits God a third time, and you know what?  God’s no big deal.

Yeah, it’s God.  Ho-hum.

Wait, someone’s texting me….

This is precisely the philosophical terrain that Jurassic World contends with: our constant quest, our ubiquitous desire to find something new, to see something shiny. We can get bored with anything after a short time, even the Divine.

And dinosaurs too.

Yet in Jurassic World, the so-called attractions (or “assets”) bite back, and demand attention for what they truly are: miraculous, living, individual things. They aren’t just there for our amusement. They have lives, destinies, and desires too.

It's so easy to forget that.

In the era of cookie-cutter, generic blockbusters (see: Avengers 2: Age of Ultron), Jurassic World’s dedicated attempt to focus on this facet of the human race’s genome -- let’s call it a collective “meh” in the face of the wondrous -- renders the film both unique and worthwhile. 

Perhaps not on the same gonzo, jaw-dropping scale as Mad Max: Fury Road, but certainly enough for this reviewer to state the obvious; that a lot of fresh blood has been injected into this particular franchise.

Don’t believe, either, the critics who claim that this genre film is misogynistic. You shouldn't believe that any more than you should believe the sour puss male critics who said that Mad Max: Fury Road was anti-male.

Here’s the context for Jurassic World that the “misogyny” crowd doesn’t provide. 

Every single Jurassic Park film in history has concerned adults learning to parent children in their custody (if not their actual, biological progeny). The character who undertakes that journey in Jurassic World happens to be a woman.  Her name is Claire Dearing, and she is played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

Some critics would like you to see this development as deeply sexist in nature, noting that it is biased and sexist to assume a career woman like Claire must yearn deep down to be a mother. Yet the movie features no such yearning.

Instead, Claire steps up to take responsibility -- a key philosophical touchstone of the franchise -- in a pressure cooker situation. She takes responsibility for the children she must protect, and for the park that has gotten out of control.

She undertakes her parental responsibilities, just as Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and even the Kirbys (Tea Leoni, William H. Macy) all undertook the same journey in their respective dino adventures.

This is not a coincidence. This is by design.  

So why repeat the kids, parents and dinosaur mix?

Well, in the Jurassic Park franchise they all go to together in a very specific algebraic equation. 

In the face of cravenly irresponsible scientists, business-men, and military man, other people -- good people like the ones I tagged above -- get a first-hand lesson in the most important and immediate responsibility any of us will ever face: becoming a decent parent.  

Those who can become good, responsible parents are then ready to take on genetically-engineered dinosaurs.

The skill-sets are, in some way, one in the same.

Treat each “beast” (kid or dino…) according to its gifts or nature -- and with care -- and they won’t eat you for lunch.

Jurassic World reiterates the same theme to good effect and is absolutely not sexist “in a seventies” or 2015 way if you actually consider the context of all the Jurassic films.  

Yet I would recommend the film not the basis of how it remixes the old favorites, but rather how Jurassic World makes a trenchant point about the iPhone Era.  

This is a span in which something on our personal screens is always more interesting than what is actually in front of our noses in the real world.

The chaotic events that occur in Jurassic World are a wake-up call, then, for people to unplug -- or log-off -- and look up at the world before their eyes. In doing so, they might see things they haven’t tended to, like out-of-control children...or rampaging prehistoric animals.

“Extinct species have no rights.”

A fully functioning Jurassic World Theme Park will soon debut its new attraction: a genetically-engineered hybrid predator called Indominus Rex.

Meanwhile, a trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has been wrangling a team of velociraptors, teaching the pack to respond to his commands. He is their “alpha.”

The park’s harried administrator, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas 0Howard), meanwhile, must play babysitter to her sister’s two teen boys, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), who are visiting the theme park.

When the Indominus Rex escapes from captivity, an InGen military adviser, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) believes he can use the trained velociraptors to take down the predator in what amounts to a field study.  

If successful, he believes velociraptors can be utilized in combat situations.

Owen and Claire team up to save Zach and Gray when the boys are reported lost in a gyroscope.   

Meanwhile, the boys stumble upon the old park, from twenty years earlier…

“You made them and you think you own them.”

The line of dialogue excerpted above marries the two key letimotifs of Jurassic World: parenting kids, and herding dinosaurs, essentially. 

In both cases, we have made “children,” and believe it is our right to control their destinies. They (dinosaurs and human children) are extensions of us, here for our pleasure and happiness, and governed by the rules we lay down. 

But if you’ve ever met a velociraptor, or a teenager, for that matter, you understand that -- in the words of Owen Grady -- this equation is not about control, but about honoring the relationship.

As Jurassic World starts, it’s pretty clear that the relationship between man and dinosaur has not been honored, save by Grady and his cohorts.  

For example, the Indominus Rex has been raised in isolation, without socialization, and Owen points this fact out to Claire. She replies sarcastically that the dino “needs a friend” and that maybe the park should “schedule a play date.”

What we have here is a total lack of honoring important relationships.

This idea is mirrored in the Mitchell family. Gray and Zach have not been told by their parents that they are planning to get divorced. Instead, Mom and Dad have retained lawyers and are taking steps to dissolve the family, but they have not informed the ones most impacted by their decision; their own progeny.

Again, is that any way to parent?  

It is, but it's abundantly selfish.

The theme park under Claire's command, Jurassic World is similarly selfish. The park's runners care more about product placement and profits than they do about the welfare of the animals in the park. 

Those animals, as noted above, are termed “assets.”  

That sure makes them sound like things, not living creatures, doesn’t it?

And it's easier to control a thing, than a person, or an animal.

And indeed, this is why the movie is not in any way sexist.  Claire -- at the start of the movie -- is already a bad mother or parent (like Victor Frankenstein, to provide a prominent literary example). Her children, however, are not human, but dinosaurs. She treats them no better than her sister treats Zach and Gray.  She moves assets around, but she takes no responsibility for the "life" under her authority.

So one can't claim that Claire yearns to be a mother in the movie, as she undertakes her journey with her sister's kids.  On the contrary, she is a mother from the word go. 

Instead, Claire learns to be responsible in her motherhood as she undertakes her journey. See the difference, and why it is significant?

In short order, we see just how empty Claire's world is, in terms of respecting the relationships with the wards. Jurassic World shows us the Samsung Innovation Center, a Starbucks, and reveals the promise that Verizon Wireless will present the Indominus Rex.  Every business worth its salt wants a piece of the dinosaur profits.  

But when those profits falls, the dinosaurs are blamed. Claire notes, for instance, that “nobody’s impressed with a dinosaur anymore.”  

The message?  

That the children are not good enough.  That the assets have somehow failed their parents.

Only a new child, one better than the old children, can fill the void.

And so irresponsible business joins with irresponsible science to engineer a new dinosaur that will spike profits.  Even the name “Indominus Rex” has been audience-tested. And the beast has been engineered to be “cooler,” with more teeth, with more awesome abilities (like natural camouflage) and a bigger “wow” factor.  

The whole idea is that a “normal” dinosaur no longer does it for park visitors.  They're bored.

They need the next fix, the next “cool” thing that can go viral on the Internet. What's the next product? The next thing to consume?

This is a tragic impulse in the human animal, but especially so for children, who lose the love and attention of their parents to siblings, or simply to the next "big" thing.

And don't make the mistake of believing this only happens in science fiction blockbusters. 

I can tell you for a fact that there are many parents out there who believe that by having another child, a new child, they will repair all that's wrong in the family. 

This idea of grasping for new, shiny objects, runs rampant in the film's scenes set at the theme park. For example, there’s a hologram in the Hammond Creation Center, another cool thing to ooh and aah over and draw the eye.

Or consider the stadium seating that can descend to the aquarium level.

But, once again, life finds a way, and before long, there is chaos in the theme park. The forgotten children take back by force the attention they've lost.

The only way to defeat the isolated monster child (I-Rex), in this case, is by pitting it against Grady’s velociraptors, whom he has treated with respect, and -- for the most part -- raised well.  

And -- to audience cheers -- the movie also trots out another old friend from Jurassic Park, one scarred and old, but still gorgeous as hell and ready to go to the mat against the pretender for her throne.  This creature has been forgotten, shunted aside for cooler attractions.  But as we see, she is still magnificent.

In the course of the film, Claire finally recognizes that she has not been honoring the relationships in her life.  

Not with her co-workers, not with Owen, and not even with her sister and nephews. So she makes a change.  She acts...responsibly. She sets the animal in Paddock 9 free.

By contrast, Grady is indeed wise and “a life-force” (as Joss Whedon tweeted...), but his character is monumentally uninteresting in comparison to Claire. 

It is Claire who takes on the Alan/Ian/Kirby role of parent who learns the error of his/her ways.  By comparison, Grady already knows everything he needs to know to be a good parent and a good dino wrangler in his first scene in the movie

 He doesn’t change or grow, accordingly.  He's right in his beliefs at the beginning of the movie, right at the movie's half-way point, and vindicated in his rightness at the denouement.  So, despite Pratt's efforts and inherent charms, Owen is pretty dull and stagnant as a character.

It’s Claire -- not Owen -- who does the changing and growing.  Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill vetted this subplot too, so perhaps it is actually the opposite of sexist that this time around Bryce Dallas Howard gets to do so.

We have seen men take responsibility for their children and for the genetically-engineered dinosaurs on several previous occasions. Why can't a woman undertake the same character arc?  

And when she does, why do some insist it is sexist for her do so? If a man can take this journey (or men, accurately...), why is it wrong to send a woman on the exact same one?  Isn't that, actually, what equality is all about?

Moving on from these ridiculous social politics, the first hour of Jurassic World is pretty terrific.

It features an amusing tour of the park (including a dino petting zoo…) and plenty of scenes that help us understand how the theme park isn’t honoring the animals.  

And then, one of the best scenes in the film finds Owen and Claire encountering an injured dinosaur in the field, after the I-Rex break-out. 

Claire touches it gently, as it takes its last breaths.  She realizes that she has given too little thought to the idea that these assets are living animals -- with their own thoughts, their own purpose, and their own destinies.  

The scene represents a nice breather in the action that alludes to the original film (and a scene with a sick triceratops), but more importantly, it hammers home this movie's point. When you don’t treat life with respect and reverence, you are doing the opposite.  You are acting in a dishonorable fashion. 

That is exactly how Claire has lived. 

Her most meaningful and indeed heroic act in the last third of the film, involves the release of a dinosaur from Paddock 9, as I noted above.

Claire releases it to rescue her nephews, of course, but also as an act of honoring the animal.  She frees it and allows it to pursue its destiny as king or queen of the jungle.  It has been denied this fate its whole life; its place on the "food chain" (which Owen tags as a key element of dinosaur life).

That destiny becomes the film’s beautiful, valedictory image. The metaphor is thus clear: we can't cage our children, dinosaur or human, and chain them to our expectations . At some point, they must be free to do what they will.  The film's final image really captures that idea in a majestic, emotional way. 

I won’t lie and state that Jurassic World is a perfect film, despite its adroit handling of the franchise's ongoing  parenting/responsibility leitmotif.  It’s not. 

For example, Vincent D’Onofrio’s character is pretty two-dimensional and awful. He is handled in a less human fashion, even, than are the velociraptors…who are fully dimensional, especially Blue.  He does and says all the wrong things, and at all the wrong times.  He is a basic movie villain, and we anticipate his much-deserved death from his very first scene.

Similarly, there’s not enough suspense in the film's last act, after all the dominoes have fallen. The denouement is satisfying, and yet I walked away from a screening feeling that, at least a little, the film had not scared me sufficiently. 

I can understand not being able to repeat Jurassic Park’s sense of wonder.  It's an impossible act to follow.  

But I did hope for a bit more in terms of scares or jumps this time around.  I suspect I may feel this way because Trevorrow does not possess the neo-classicist visual approach of a director like John Carpenter or Steven Spielberg.  The film is smart and witty, but it is not patient, and the visuals don't reflect the story as meaningfully as they could, except in isolated instances (like the film's aforementioned valedictory image).

In short, the visuals simply do not feel as cinematic this time around, and I missed that element. There's not a single scene here as tense, or as meticulously constructed, for example, as the trailer-on-the-precipice scene of The Lost World (1997).

Still, Jurassic World (2015) ably incorporates all the key genetic sequences of the long-lived Steven Spielberg franchise and gives the juggernaut a solid face-lift. 

Jurassic World is better, frankly, than either of the two previous sequels, even if it’s not quite as good you might hope it to be. 

The film's leitmotif about honoring relationships -- whether with dinosaurs or children -- is powerfully-wrought, and a perfect corrective for our busy, eyes-on-iPhone-screens-at-all-times age.

In the final analysis, Jurassic World gets the job done, but without, precisely, the visual legerdemain Spielberg might have provided were he still in the director’s seat. 

It's a good sequel, but Jurassic Park (1993) still reigns in this Jurassic world.

Movie Trailer: Jurassic World (2015)

Movie Trailer: Jurassic Park III (2001)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jurassic Park Game Commercials

The Films of 1997: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Each time I pen a review of a sequel that doesn’t quite measure up to the original film, I am reminded of the late critic Roger Ebert’s brilliant opening line from his review of Halloween II (1981): “It’s a little sad to witness a fall from greatness.”

And a fall from greatness is exactly what we witness in the 1997 cinematic sequel to Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Fortunately for audiences and fans of the franchise, it’s not a colossal drop.  

Rather, this first sequel dips from the realm of “classic” (like the original) to merely “good.”  Bottom line: it could have been worse, perhaps even a lot worse. 

Although marred by a final act that seems utterly disconnected from the body of the film proper, The Lost World remains enormously entertaining.  

The film plays like a tense roller-coaster ride and one crafted with uncommon technical skill to boot.  In particular, an incredibly complex, nail-biting set-piece involving a double trailer on a precipice – in a rain storm, no less – reveals Steven Spielberg’s killer instinct and directorial legerdemain. 

Perhaps the most significant difference between Jurassic Park and its sequel is that The Lost World feels a whole lot, well, meaner.  

While some fans and critics may consider this shift in tone lamentable, there was probably little choice. You can only play the “wonder” card once, and Jurassic Park did so superbly. Now the franchise gets down to some brutal, bloody business…

Technically astounding, and with protagonists constantly in “the company of death,” The Lost World represents an above-average sequel to Jurassic Park, but in both coloration and thematic tenor, the film feels very dark and even devoid of joy.   There’s nothing wrong with existing on that plateau, but after watching this film you feel more throttled than you do enthralled.

And while beautifully rendered, the final image of the film -- a fantasy-land of diverse dinosaurs dwelling together in peace within a literal stones-throw of one another -- feels piped in from another franchise all together.  

Given what we know of man, and particularly of man as depicted in the film itself, there’s no reason to believe a paradise like this would be permitted to thrive. 

Even worse, given what we’ve seen of the dinosaurs, there’s no reason to believe they would inhabit this world either, living peaceably in such close proximity to one another.

“Our last chance at redemption…”

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) summons mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to his home to inform him of some startling news. A Jurassic Park “Site B” exists on an island eighty miles south of Isla Nublar, called Isla Sorna. There, dinosaurs have lived in isolation for four years.  In fact, they are thriving.

However, all that is about to change. The new head of InGen, Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Howard) believes that the way to raise his company out of bankruptcy is to exploit the dinosaurs.  Specifically, his plan is to capture the dinosaurs at Site B and bring them back to San Diego as a stadium attraction.

Having learned from his own unique mistakes regarding the dinosaurs, Hammond understands the folly of this course, and believes that the dinosaurs should be left alone to live in peace without the specter of human interference.  But to rally the public to support his cause, he has sent paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) to the island to document life on Isla Sorna. 

Because Sarah is his girlfriend, Ian heads to the island on a rescue mission, along with videographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and tech-guy Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff).  They are joined by a stowaway, Ian’s daughter, Cathy (Beller).

In short order, a squad of hunters arrive on the island too, and commence a vicious dinosaur safari at Ludlow’s behest.  When one of the hunters, Roland Tembo (Peter Postlethwaite) captures a T-Rex infant, it’s worried parents come looking for it, and the dance of death begins anew…

“An extinct animal come back to life has no rights…we made it…we own it.”

Along with director Spielberg, David Koepp returned to scripting duties for this sequel, The Lost World.  Accordingly, the film feels like a legitimate continuation of the first film, right down to the feisty, occasionally corny or schmaltzy sense of humor. 

In terms of narrative depth, however, The Lost World offers something a lot scarier than science run amok, the chosen terrain of the first film.  In short, the follow-up concerns capitalism or big business run amok, and in that regard is indeed frightening.  

Specifically, the film revives the axiom that the free market becomes ethical only when the cost of unethical behavior becomes too great a cost for the market to bear.  Here, Ludlow has no time for ethics until he is on the line for murder and property damage. And even then, he’s still trying to figure out a way to make money…  

Another way to parse the difference between first and second film in the JP series: If Jurassic Park concerned the wonder of dinosaurs brought to life via the auspices of science then The Lost World dramatizes the crass, inhuman exploitation of these DNA-created animals…for profit.  

In fact, all of The Lost World is suffused -- at least thematically -- with a tremendous sense of…responsibility. 

Because modern, technological man created the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna in the first place, the argument goes that man is responsible for what ultimately happens to them, and must treat them with respect and dignity.  

We see this idea reinforced and mirrored throughout the film, in both a subplot about reluctant, absentee father Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and his daughter, Cathy (Camilla Beller), and even in the story involving parent Tyrannosaurs and their infant offspring.

Warm-blooded or cold-blooded, we all struggle to be good parents, and preserve the future for our children. We can’t abandon our children, or we risk turning them into monsters.

Given this leitmotif, the film’s villains come under the camp of vulture capitalists like Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Arliss Howard) and irresponsible, merciless hunter, Dieter (Peter Stormare), a man who views every new dinosaur as a thing to bully, hurt, or beat down.     

Metaphorically bad parents, Ludlow and Dieter are concerned only how they can “strip mine” the island for profit, or for personal gratification.  It’s one thing to create new life, to play Frankenstein, but The Lost World travels further down the road and asks, how does Frankenstein treat his monster once it is here, for good? 

With humanity and grace?  Or as something to be controlled and used up?

The downside of this storytelling approach is plain.  

John Hammond was certainly misguided in Jurassic Park, but not a villain or a terrible person.  But The Lost World requires old-fashioned, mustache-twirling human villains to maintain its momentum, and they aren’t exactly portrayed in three-dimensional terms. 

The up-side of featuring such cruel, villainous human antagonists, however, is that audience members experience a vicarious sense of justice meted out when the dinosaurs strike back and kill them.  

Ludlow’s fate – to be the plaything of a T-Rex child just learning to hunt – is absolutely “just” given his cavalier treatment of the dinosaurs.  He believes that because his company created them, he “owns” them.  

In the end – at least before he gets ripped apart – Ludlow gets to experience what it feels like to be owned by someone else. 

And Dieter, after bullying tiny dinosaurs with a cattle prod, learns there is strength in numbers when the diminutive lizards team up to overwhelm him.

In terms of the “sequel effect,” The Lost World features more gadgetry, more guns, more victims and more leaping lizards than its processor did, so it’s carnage candy galore. Even better, Spielberg seems to be in a nastier mood than usual and dispenses with his characteristic sense of sentimentality.  The film’s opening sequence reveals dinosaurs surrounding and attacking a cute-as-a-button little girl, for instance.  Later, one of the film’s most likable characters, Eddie, gets viciously ripped apart by two angry Tyrannosaurs.  And this comes after after working his ass off to save Malcolm, Sarah and Van Owen.

Overall, the impression is that this sequel absolutely means business, and isn’t pulling any punches.  So obsessed is Spielberg, it seems, with the film’s action, that he stages an impressive (but also strangely obsessive…) action scene set in a trailer dangling over a high-cliff.  

This scene builds and builds, layering on new elements and becoming ever more intense, as if Spielberg is testing the limits of audience endurance, and also his ability to play us like a piano. 

And…I like it. I like a "meaner," Spielberg, one relying on his chops and sense of visual classicism.

At one point during the scene, Sarah falls directly towards Spielberg’s camera through the body of a vertically-tilted trailer, and her body strikes a glass barrier, a window.  Soon, tiny cracks in the glass begin to spread and multiply, line by line, and the progression of the shattering glass -- perhaps better than anything we saw in Jurassic Park -- hints at the true nature of Ian’s Chaos Theory.  Incident piles upon incident, action upon action, effect upon effect, with surprising results.  Pretty soon, we’re putty in Spielberg’s hands, swept up by the progression of terror.

Again, this scene is gloriously nail-biting, and literally the last word in cliffhanging action.  Through cross-cutting, fast-cuts and an unmatched sense of visual placement and geography, Spielberg transforms what might have been a short or perfunctory  moment into an extended dance with terror as man grapples with nature, technology and monsters too.  I’d give this sequence the nod as the best (and most technically complicated…) action sequence in the entire JP trilogy.

Another great scene in the film involves Velociraptors lurking in tall grass, waiting to strike a group of human passersby.  

Spielberg’s camera adopts an extreme high-angle, so we see only Velociraptor paths – like contrails -- moving stealthily through the grass on a trajectory towards the unlucky human pedestrians.  

And then the dinosaurs strike and Spielberg cannily shifts to eye level with the top of the high grass, so it looks as though the men are being pulled beneath the surface of a roiling sea.  In some ways, it’s the Jaws approach all over again, but once more, I must repeat that I really like Spielberg when he’s in “mean” mode.  When we wants to, this director can match Hitchcock or De Palma shot-for-shot in terms of visual aplomb and wicked gallows humors.  As a viewer and critic, I appreciate it when Spielberg indulges that not-often seen side of his personality.

The last act of The Lost World is the one that, as a critic, I have trouble with.  The tyrannosaurus looks small and inconsequential compared to the gas stations, high-rise skyscrapers and suburbs of San Diego, and so the final urban scenes don’t quite work as they should. 

Furthermore, Nick Van Owen – the daring “Earth First” crusader of the film – disappears completely from this final act.  

Wouldn’t he have agreed to help Ian and Sarah recover the infant T-Rex?  Nick’s total disappearance makes the ending feel tacked on after the fact, like it was a second thought, or the result of a focus-group preference. 

And finally, after the T-Rex rampage in San Diego, The Lost World culminates with that fairy tale shot.  

Now quarantined from the human world, the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna become literally one happy family.  By showcasing all the dinosaurs (T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Pterodactyl) within one frame (during a pan, left to right), the impression is of a Kumbaya paradise that, simply put, could never be.  It’s an unwelcome return to Steven Spielberg in his most sentimental, schmaltzy mode. 

Make no mistake, the valedictory shot of The Lost World is absolutely gorgeous and brilliantly rendered, but would carnivores and vegetarians really mill about peaceably together for a Sunday afternoon in the park?  

Not likely…

I know a lot of critics hated The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  I’m not one of them.  In Horror Films of the 1990s I rated it 3 stars out of 4, and I stick by that assessment.  

The film entertains…almost relentlessly, and there is a subtext here about protecting the lives we bring into the world, through science or nature. The grueling, edge-of-your set action scenes work like gangbusters as well.  

But the script takes a few wrong turns in the end, and closes on a note of such utter fantasy, that you’re left, finally, with a sense that you have witnessed, if not a fall from greatness, then at least a small stumble from the path of greatness.

Movie Trailer: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

The Films of 1993: Jurassic Park

"If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained.  Life breaks free, expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously..."

- Jurassic Park (1993)

In October of the year 1990, the Human Genome Project began mapping the DNA building blocks of humankind, and a new era of genetic science was upon us. 

As had been the case with the atom bomb in 1940s and 1950s genre cinema, this dawning chapter in man’s scientific understanding was quickly recognized by intrepid Hollywood filmmakers, and immediately recruited as a template for new silver-screen initiatives.  

Specifically, the “science run amok” horror and sci-fi films of the 1990s -- much like their “don’t tamper in God’s domain” predecessors (Them! [1954] for instance) -- explicitly concerned the idea of a new Pandora’s Box being wantonly and recklessly opened.

And once opened, that box could not be closed…or at least not easily closed. 

Thus genre cinema gave the world such DNA-based horrors as The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Mimic (1997) and Deep Blue Sea (1999).  The biggest blockbuster of this brand, however, was undoubtedly Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993), a work based upon the best-selling 1990 novel by Michael Crichton.  

According to critic Malcolm W. Brown in his New York Times article “In New Spielberg Film, a Dim View of Science,” – Jurassic Park “revived” the image of Frankenstein in terms of “amoral scientists unleashing forces they can’t control.”

Furthermore, Brown concluded, the film featured an “anti-science message.”

In terms of Jurassic Park’s thematic DNA, the “science run amok” conceit was indeed powerfully vetted, and, yes, it concerned scientists unleashing forces they weren’t able to control.  

Yet the message of the film wasn’t necessarily so much anti-science as pro-responsibility.  The scientists who created the dinosaurs in the film did so explicitly for profit, and because technology made it possible.  In other words, they went climbing a dangerous mountain…because it was there.   

By unleashing the “most awesome force this planet has ever seen” -- namely genetics – the scientists featured in Jurassic Park failed to respect and heed nature itself, much as Brown’s critique suggests.  But what the Spielberg film actually seemed to seek was not a total curtailing of scientific progress, but rather some sense of modesty and judiciousness on the parts of those who chose to tamper in God’s domain. Janet Maslin got it exactly right in her review, noting that Jurassic Park involves “both the possibilities and the evils of modern science.”

Indeed, it would have been remarkably hypocritical for Jurassic Park to eschew science and progress entirely, since the film itself exists, primarily, because of advancements in technology, particularly the new special effects breakthrough of computer generated imagery.  

The film thus owes much of its power, even to this day, to its breathtaking dinosaur specimens.  These “living biological attractions” move and roar and rage with a sense of realism previously unseen in the cinema.  The dinosaurs in the film even seem to boast personalities or specific characteristics, from the nobility of the T-Rex to the cunning, cold intelligence of the Velociraptors.  For all intents and purposes, our eyes register these creatures as "alive" and no bad effects exist to undercut that accomplishment.

More to the point, perhaps, the idea underlying Jurassic Park is that “life will find a way,” and that if man chooses to play God by creating new life, he must also possess the modesty to understand that he cannot control that life, once he sets it in motion.  Science even boasts a champion in the film, after a fashion, in the voice of "rock star" mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who hunts for some sign of restraint or modesty from the geneticists, but finds none.  His view of the world -- Chaos Theory -- provides the key to understanding Jurassic Park the amusement park and Jurassic Park, the film.

I often write here on the blog, and in my books, about how a film's visual form should reflect or mirror the content.  I consider this the highest value of the art: revealing to us in images a reflection of the film's theme or meaning. 

I admire Jurassic Park so much because Spielberg understands this dynamic perfectly. Many compositions in the film as imagined by the director showcase the idea of technology as the "monster" to be reckoned with.  Since the film concerns the dangers of relying on technology without first judging technology in terms of how it affects the surrounding landscape, this approach is appropriate.  

But lest this approach sound preachy or heavy-handed, Spielberg leavens Crichton’s jargon-laden narrative – one highly reminiscent of Westworld (1973) – with large dollops of visual humor and roller-coaster ride tension.

In short, for all its debate over modern science, Jurassic Park remains a great entertainment: a thrilling, action-packed movie that, while never quite possessing the same cutthroat mentality as the book, nonetheless boasts some unbelievably suspenseful moments.  The T-Rex attack on a tour caravan by night and the hunting of two children in a kitchen by a tag-team of Velociraptors leap to mind in this regard. 

These scenes retain surprising power, more than twenty years after the film was released. The powerful idea underneath those images is quite resonant: what if man "recreates" with science a being with the power to usurp him, to replace him on the food chain?  The T-Rex attack, and especially the Velociraptor hunt remind us that except by a quirk of destiny, dinosaurs may have "ruled the world."  

 Is man so foolish and imprudent a creature that he could undo that favorable destiny, even after God "selected" dinosaurs for extinction?

“Creation is an act of sheer will.”

On Isla Nublar, an island close to Costa Rica, InGen CEO John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has harnessed cloning technology and genetic engineering to create a new breed of dinosaurs.  

Utilizing dinosaur DNA found in mosquito corpses trapped in amber -- and filling in the sequence gaps with frog DNA -- Hammond has brought back to life specimens including a T-Rex, triceratops, brachiosaurus, and even the pack-hunting velociraptors. 

Now, Hammond wants to share his discovery with the world at large, and to that end has created an amusement park for the wealthy, Jurassic Park, where visitors can pay to see the extinct species.  However, an accident involving a Velociraptor and the death of a park worker instigates investor concerns about the safety of the park.  Hammond now needs experts to sign off on the park for his lawyer, Gennaro (Martin Ferrero), and he recruits paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Larua Dern) and mathematics expert and chaotician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).

These experts are joined at the park by Hammond’s grandchildren, Tim (Joseph Mazzell) and Lex (Ariana Richards), but the first tour goes badly when a high-tech saboteur, Nedry (Wayne Knight) de-activates the park’s safety systems in hopes of stealing trade secrets.  The dinosaurs, including the T-Rex, escape their paddocks as a dangerous storm washes across the island

While Dr. Grant, Tim and Lex attempt to stay alive in the wild park, the others work to re-boot Jurassic Park’s computer systems, a task which is made exponentially more difficult by the fact that the clever – and merciless – velociraptors are now free to hunt.

“You think they'll have that on the tour?

From Jurassic Park’s opening scene, director Steven Spielberg reveals his penchant for visual humor, but importantly, visual humor that buttresses or reflects the movie’s theme.  

As the film opens, for example, we see a group of nervous, armed men standing in a nighttime jungle.  From their expressions, we know that they now face grave danger.  The film then cuts to shots of trees rustling, and leaves swaying as something unseen moves through the shadowy foliage at a high altitude.  

Importantly, this is a shot that, if you boast any familiarity with monster movies, is quite commonplace.  

You’ll see it in Guillermin’s King Kong (1977), for instance, just as Kong is about to appear for the first time and take Dwan (Jessica Lange).  It’s the trademark moment when the monster is about to be revealed, standing high above man, coming into a clearing for his first close-up, essentially.

And yet what emerges from the jungle in Jurassic Park is not a biological monster or beast, as we would expect.  Instead, it’s a man-made machine -- a dinosaur paddock or container -- on a crane.  This shot is our first indication that the dinosaurs are not the true monsters of Jurassic Park.  Rather, that honor goes to technology or science that has been allowed to run amok.

This leitmotif is carried on throughout the film, in a variety of ways.  The protagonist, Alan Grant, for example, is a proud technophobe.  “I hate computers,” he announces early on, and this point of view is reinforced by his experiences on the island.   When Alan is on the amusement park tour, for instance, the computers don’t fail, but the electrified fences do, meaning that dinosaurs are free to escape and endanger him.  He is constantly, throughout the narrative, being imperiled by products of technology, from DNA-enhanced dinosaurs to failed security systems.

Also, during the height of the film’s climactic action, a Velociraptor jumps up on a table in a control room, and bright images from a computer monitor are reflected upon its face.   Superimposed over the dinosaur’s visage, specifically, are the letters representing DNA code: A, C, T, and G.   This shot expresses well the nature of the dinosaur: he's man made; science made.

Once more, the message is clearly that these dinosaurs are not the source of the danger themselves, but that the unrestrained, irresponsible science that created them represents the true menace.  I must admit that I deeply love this particular composition (pictured at the top of the review), because it declares in one still what Jurassic Park concerns: danger created by overreaching science.  You can't blame the animals for being what they are; but you can blame amoral science for bringing these dinosaurs back into the mix.

Genetic science isn't the only kind of "progress" that gets tweaked in this Spielberg film.  In short order, Jurassic Park invites us to peer and gawk at virtual reality gloves, CD roms, driver-less cars and night goggles, even.  The idea seems to be that -- at the time of the film -- we were on the verge of taking a giant step forward in terms of our understanding and application of technology.  We were either going to go forward responsibly and carefully, or chase recklessly behind our science, “just racing to catch up,” as Alan Grant worriedly notes.  Again, it should be noted that this thematic through-line needn’t be seen as being merely anti-science, rather one in favor of the notion that human morality should dictate our scientific investigations.  We must control our tools, not let them control us. 

"Spared no expense," Hammond's near-constant refrain isn't a statement of morality, after all. It's a statement noting that all available resources were utilized.  Thought was not given as to whether they should have been utilized on this endeavor in the first place.  

Still, Hammond in the film, a man much softer and friendlier than his counterpart in the novel, boasts good intentions regarding his amusement park.  Although yes, he wants to make money, what he seeks more deeply is the respect of his audience.  After starting out creating “flea circuses,” he feels desperate to create an attraction with inherent value or merit, hence the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.  But Hammond has allowed his own insecurities to take over his good sense. He has let his desire to please others short-circuit his sense of  moral responsibility.  Finally, even he can't endorse his own park.  

If "creation is a sheer act of will," as Jurassic Park suggests, then one must pose two additional questions.  First: whose will, in particular, stands behind the act of creation?  And secondly, what is driving that sheer act of will?  Insecurity? Avarice?  If human failings stand at the need to push scientific boundaries to their limits, then we’re all bound for a lot of trouble.  As James Spence wrote in his essay, “What’s Wrong with Cloning a Dinosaur,” human beings boast a “limited capacity to control our own technological innovations.”  

That's okay, so long as we are mindful of it, and take precautions, I suppose.

All of this dialogue about scientific responsibility might have come across as pretentious in the hands of a lesser director. And indeed, one on-the-nose scene with Hammond and Sattler discussing the dangers of the park does play very much that way, and should have been cut back radically. 

But for the most part, Spielberg plays lightly with the film's premise, and incorporates a number of visual jokes.  

One of the funniest, by my estimation, occurs as Lex -- sitting in the cafeteria -- spots a Velociraptor on approach.  She turns to jello, literally, even as she holds a spoon of green jello in her hand.  

The girl and the jello both begin to jiggle at the same time.

The film’s action scenes, furthermore, appear inspired wholly by Chaos Theory.  Events seem to spiral out of control, with each random event causing increasingly dangerously and random results.  Alan rescues little Tim from a car lodged in a tree, for example. They escape the car and the tree, but then the car falls to the ground…over and above them, and they barely survive.  “Here we are…back in the car,” Tim says, and the line is funny because the moment seems unpredictable and spontaneous.  So many moments in Jurassic Park actually play that way, with spontaneous incidents generating chaos and disaster.

Another great in-joke involves a T-rex chasing a car in motion.  We see the dinosaur’s toothy mouth open wide, filling the screen.  Right beneath it reads the legend: “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”  In some way, this is another lesson about the danger of technology: it can sometimes distance us from that which is menacing...and close-by.

All these witty moments suggest to me that Spielberg had a great deal of fun making Jurassic Park, perhaps because in terms of the heavy lifting, he had a good template in the script by Crichton and Koepp.  The script was solid enough that Spielberg could direct his energy towards creating sharp-as-nail visuals, ones that actively reflected the content, and even had some fun with it.         

“How’d you do this?”

Why does Jurassic Park hold such a powerful grip on our imagination and affection, even after twenty-five years? 

For me, I know it’s not just Steven Spielberg’s sense of directorial humor, or even the message about morality guiding scientific progress. 

No, it’s the dinosaurs themselves.  

I realize this isn’t true for younger generations, but I grew up during an era when dinosaurs on film invariably disappointed.  They never looked quite real.  Sometimes they appeared...laughable.  They never seemed to move with authenticity, or with the grace and majesty I knew they really, really should possess.

That all changed with Jurassic Park.  When a gorgeous, majestic Brachiosaurus lumbers across the screen at approximately the 20-minute point in this Spielberg film, the secret dream of all dinosaur-lovers is potently fulfilled.  You feel as if you are seeing a real, living, breathing creature, not an over-sized lizard projected over a miniature landscape, or a man in a suit.  No, you are seeing the regal dinosaur as it was meant to be seen.

I still recall the first time I saw that Brachiosaurus scene in Jurassic Park.   It brought a tear to my eye.  In rendering the dinosaurs so beautifully, so nobly, so wondrously, this film understood my unspoken dream as a dino-loving child. One I’d forgotten I’d ever even had, at that point. There’s just something so glorious, so right about the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, especially in conjunction with John Williams’ rapturous score.  

For me, this movie felt like a destiny fulfilled, somehow.

Because there is not an ounce of phoniness in their physicality, Jurassic Park truly awes. I don’t want to lavish all the credit to the CGI, either.  Special effects genius Stan Winston (1946 – 2008) created animatronic, life-sized replicas of many dinosaurs and controlled them using cable actuation, rod-puppets, cranes, radio control, hydraulics and whatever else could sell a scene effectively.   

Amazingly, Winston’s mechanical creations blend perfectly with the digital creations of Phil Tippet and Dennis Muren at ILM so that we believe, truly, dinosaurs walk the Earth again.  This idea also gets dramatic visual punctuation in the film.  There's the valedictory image of a real life T-Rex occupying the former space of a T-Rex skeleton, as a banner reading "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" flutters before him.  

In short, this is a magnificent passing of the baton, as though a new generation of special effects are supplanting the skeletons of the old one.  Certainly, these dinosaurs ruled the box office in 1993. And given their outstanding appearance, justifiably so.  When I think of Jurassic Park, I think of a tense, funny, intelligent film about "living biological attracts so astounding" that they indeed captured the "imagination of the entire planet."  

For those of us who wondered after Hook (1991) if Steven Spielberg still had it in him to re-capture the magic of Close Encounters, or Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park was our rather definitive answer, and the beginning of a beloved movie franchise to boot.