Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Films of 2001: Jurassic Park III

Jurassic Park III (2001) is another step-down in quality for what should have been a durable movie franchise. 

Although Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) featured a troublesome script and some considerable third-act problems, Jurassic Park III pales in comparison even to that sequel. 

In large part, this is because the action scenes featured here don’t seem to escalate or build in any substantive fashion, and because the script – about a rescue mission on Isla Sorna – is distinctly minor league. 

On top of all that, the film features a mawkish sub-plot about a splintered family coming back together over the threats of imminent death-by-dino. About the only arena where the film truly works, and works well (at least from time to time) is in the depiction of the dinosaurs, particularly the upgraded look of the awesome Velociraptors.

Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer [1991], The Wolfman [2010], Captain America [2011]) takes over the directing reins from Steven Spielberg for Jurassic Park III, and it’s not a pretty sight.  

The third film is choppy and episodic instead of grand and spectacular, and even some should-be-great moments such as the franchise’s first glimpse of an Anklyosaurus are presented in half-hearted fashion, in the equivalent of a cutaway or insert shot.  The film ends after only a scant 82 minutes, but even at that short length Jurassic Park III feels over-long because the movie is essentially a plot-less runaround, featuring no significant or meaningful narrative. 

Yesterday, I wrote about The Lost World as a dip or fall from greatness. Jurassic Park III is a plunge from greatness, and precipitous one at that.  I enjoy any fantasy film that features wondrous dinosaurs in action, however, and I can’t deny that Jurassic Park III is entertaining and often amusing, but today it just feels like small potatoes in comparison to the other series entries.  

Accordingly, Jurassic Park III is the franchise’s Son of Kong:  a fun film to revisit on occasion, but really only a shadow of the original.

“This is how you make dinosaurs?

The Kirbys (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) recruit Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his apprentice, Billy (Alessandro Nivola) to act as tour guides for a fly-by of Isla Sorna, Jurassic Park’s Site B.  Grant only reluctantly agrees, having lost both the love of his life, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and his love of dinosaurs. He's now a man without "faith."

Against Dr. Grant’s wishes, the Kirbys’ plane sets down on the dinosaur island, and Grant learns the truth about the flight.  The Kirby’s young son, Eric (Trevor Morgan) went down on the island eight weeks earlier during a para-gliding accident, and they are attempting to rescue him.  While the group searches for young Eric, it must also contend with a giant Spinosaurus that is hunting them. 

Even worse, Billy has stolen two Velociraptor eggs, and the dangerous pack-hunters want them back…

“Reverse Darwinism - survival of the most idiotic…”

The film that Jurassic Park III hopes to be is actually one of interest.  

It’s the story of Dr. Alan Grant’s loss of faith.  

Dr. Sattler has married another man, and had a child with him.  

And the realities of Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna have totally changed how Grant views the profession of paleontology.  

His whole world has been turned upside down, and he has forgotten how to gaze at it with a sense of wonder.  

Upon seeing the dinosaurs again for the first time, Grant admits “My God, I’d forgotten…” and it’s a nice character moment.  As usual, Sam Neill is terrific in this film, finding every scrap of good material in the lackluster script and augmenting it through his interpretation of the prickly Grant.

Unfortunately, Dr. Grant’s loss of faith is not at the center of the action.  Instead, we waste time with cartoon character, comedy-relief mercenaries who may as well have the words “dinosaur fodder” stamped on their heads.  They belong in another reality, not the hard-earned reality of the Jurassic Park franchise.  

And when the screaming, dopey mercenaries are gone, the movie seeks relentlessly to hammer home the Kirby reconciliation sub-plot, which is handled with extreme schmaltz and sentimentality.  

The Jurassic Park movies have always mixed dinosaurs and families (and kids), but Jurassic Park III wants to consider this “walk in the park” some kind of family psychotherapy, with each Kirby realizing how much they love the others.  After awhile, the loving gazes and heartfelt stares are just a little too much to bear.  If the subplot were handled with a greater degree of humor or subtlety, it might be tolerable, but the sentimentality factor is through the roof.

Even worse, what seems absent from Jurassic Park III is Steven Spielberg’s impressive capacity to transform an action "moment" into something truly epic, an example of multiplying chaos and tension.  

There are plenty of action scenes here to be certain, but they begin without lead up or pre-amble, rumble along quickly, and end before they make a real impression.  

The battle between the Spinosaurus and the T-Rex is one prime example.  It goes by so quickly that it almost feels like a throwaway.  I should hasten to add, complex action scenes with dinosaurs are the reason we go to see these movies.  

Spielberg understood that fact, and in even in The Lost World was able to construct a colossal amount of tension around a scene with a trailer hanging off a precipice.  He was patient and thorough, making us experience each agonizing, chaotic moment.  The action scenes in Jurassic Park III are veritable drive-bys in comparison.

I also must confess that, on a purely personal level, I didn’t appreciate this film’s treatment of the T-Rex. The noble T-Rex saved the day at the climax of Jurassic Park, combating two vicious Velicoraptors and essentially saving the humans.  The mighty T-Rex took center stage and held it magnificently (remember the fluttering banner “When Dinosaurs ruled the Earth?”)  

Then, The Lost World revealed to us that T-Rexs make good parents, and again, there was a sense of sympathy built up for the dinosaur. Like a lion, the T-Rex was the regal king of the jungle 

Well, in Jurassic Park III a T-Rex gets bloodied and killed by the Spinosaurus in a matter of seconds and it seems rather…ignoble.  

I understand that the Spinosaurus is the Big Bad this time around, but it just feels like a cheap shot to treat the T-Rex so shabbily.  Had it put up a more sustained fight, or allowed the human heroes to escape, I might feel differently. 

Is it crazy to feel kinship for a tyrannosaur?  Perhaps so, but that's also what the JP movies are about: making audiences understand (and yes, love...) the dinosaurs.  We don't ever really know enough about the Spinosaurus or its habits (how it sees, for instance...) to identify with it, hate it or love it. It's just a monster chasing the heroes.

By contrast, the Velociraptors – now sporting colorful stripes and small head fathers – are handled very well here.  

Our “dino lesson” in this installment involves the fact that raptors were “socially sophisticated” and could vocalize and communicate with each other.  Grant informs us that Raptors were smarter than whales, dolphins or primates, and could have very well ruled the Earth if not for the asteroid that rendered them extinct. 

 I love that idea, and I love how the Raptors are portrayed in all three films.  

That said, JPIII reveals their softer side. They have an opportunity, after recovering their eggs, to kill the human intruders, but don’t take it.  That feels a little anticlimactic, especially since U.S. Marines are about to arrive.  I realize budget must have been a factor here, but imagine a pitched battle between a Velociraptor pack and the Marines…

The pterodactyls are another high point in this sequel  They look absolutely amazing (even more-than-decade after the film was made), and their presence, unlike that of the Ankylosaurs, is well-integrated into the action.  The best action scene in the film involves the Pterodactyls and the giant bird cage aviary where they make a home.

For so many reasons, Jurassic Park III feels like it suffers from sequel-itis.  

The characters are not particularly interesting, and frequently disposable.  

The movie is really short, as though the makers couldn’t be bothered to give us our money’s worth. The Lost World clocked in at two hours and nine minutes.  This one, as I said above, barely gets above eighty minutes.  

And by and large the action of the film feels rushed and choppy. I am an absolute sucker for the dinosaur action as featured in all three JP movies, but this one just feels like it is phoning in the all-important sense of wonder.  The few lines that re-hash the "Playing God" aspect of the film feel old and tired, too.  

We get it.

After three films, we’ve seen enough kids outsmarting dinosaurs to last us a lifetime. Instead let’s hope Jurassic World is a mean, violent, hard-nosed action-packed installment, and one that restores the original’s wicked humor, but also Jurassic Park's Darwinian sensibilities about survival. 

Let's hope the newest sequel, Fallen Kingdom, goes for hard science and hard action instead of hard schmaltz, the path of this 2001 film.

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.

Movie Trailer: Jurassic Park (1993)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Jurassic Park Burger King Commercials

Jurassic Park McDonald's Commercials

The Jurassic Park/World Movie Matrix

Jurassic Park (1993)
The Lost World (1997)
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Jurassic World (2015)
Children are
Important players.
Alexis and Tim
Kelly Malcolm
Eric Kirby
Gray and Zach Mitchell
We correct our
misperceptions about
Raptors are smart, not dumb, pack hunters. They have inverted hip-bones, like birds.
T-Rex did not abandon his/her young. Instead, were good parents.
Velociraptors can vocalize and communicate with one another during pack hunting.
The Herd (Swarms
of dinosaurs on the run).
Compsognathus, stegosaurus
Yes (fleeing Spinosaurus)
Yes (In an open side truck, park-goers watch Gallimum race by on a Savannah).
Man’s hubris causes
the chaos.
Isla Nublar: re-introducing dinosaurs to   the world in the 20th century.
Isla Sorna: Capture of dinosaurs by InGen, and transportation of T-Rex to San Francisco.
A plane of mercenaries lands on Isla Sorna, breaking international law and endangering the crew.
 Yes – same hubris as before, a theme park with dinosaurs, but more importantly, creation of the Indominus Rex.
A cute dinosaur kills a morally-corrupt person
Compsognathus/Dieter Stark
Yes, if you count the Velociraptors as cute, which I do/Vic Hoskins
Adults gain new understanding of children.
Alan’s time with Alexis and Tim makes him re-consider his feelings about children, and family.
Ian Malcolm mends his relationship with his estranged daughter, Kelly.
The Kirbys rescue their son, Eric, and reconcile as a family.
Claire Dearing realizes how important her nephews are to her, and fights to save their lives.
T-Rex saves the day.
Yes (in the welcome center)
Yes, by rescuing its infant, and by killing the film’s villain, Hammond.
It tries, but is killed in combat with a Spinosaurus.
Yes, the T-Rex comes out of captivity to double team the Indominus Rex with Blue.