Sunday, June 19, 2016

JURASSIC PARK (1993) - ****


Rated PG-13 for intense science fiction terror
Running time: 127 min.
Release date: June 11, 1993



Kids love dinosaurs. Between the ages of eight and thirteen, they will tell you all about their favorite dinosaurs, which is usually the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Dinosaurs inspire kids to want to be paleontologists. In fact, kids learn to pronounce "paleontologist" correctly a lot sooner than they should be able to. Dinosaurs instill a sense of awe and wonder because no one has ever seen a real live dinosaur before. Steven Spielberg has taken that sense of awe and wonder and brings it to his film Jurassic Park. What kids never tell you is that dinosaurs are dangerous and scary. Spielberg has also brought that fear to this film, as he brings some very convincing dinosaurs to life.

Jurassic Park is based on the 1990 novel of the same name, written by Michael Crichton who also developed the screenplay along with David Koepp. It tells the story of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the head of a bioengineering company, who has created a theme park on a remote island off the coast of Costa Rica. Not just any theme park, however. This one is inhabited with real life dinosaurs created with cloning technology. In the film's opening scene, a worker is killed by a species of dinosaur called a velociraptor. A lawsuit is brought down on the park by the worker's family, and the park's investors send their attorney (Martin Ferrero) to investigate the safety of the park. Hammond personally arrives at the excavation site of paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) to invite them to his park so that they can validate it on his behalf. Gennaro invites mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who is much more interested in being the coolest guy in the room.

We are shown the process used to clone the dinosaurs in a helpful bit of animation. Prehistoric mosquitoes that had once bitten dinosaurs were found embedded in amber, their DNA extracted and then combined with the DNA of a frog to fill in the gaps. The dinosaur DNA was manipulated by scientists to make all the dinosaurs female in order to prevent breeding. However, Malcolm is skeptical and states that "life always finds a way". When Grant learns that they have also cloned the deadly velociraptor, he is hesitant to endorse such an endeavour. They are provided with a guided tour of the park, as Hammond faces disappointment when the dinosaurs on the tour would rather hide than appear. Meanwhile, park employee Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) has struck a deal with a competitor to smuggle embryos out of the park for a large sum of money. Apparently he is upset with what he deems to be a low salary. How this character remained employed is a question due to his obviously surly attitude toward Hammond and a very filthy work station. He hatches a plan that involves shutting down some secure areas in order to obtain the embryos. This plan coupled with an incoming tropical storm make all hell break loose....and more than a few dinosaurs with it.

The most memorable scene in the film involves an escaped Tyrannosaurus Rex. The dinosaur creations by Stan Winston were so very convincing. It looks very believable when a T-Rex is peering in the window of  a vehicle, or being seen in the mirror running down some pretty frightened park visitors. The combination of animatronics and computer-generated images have never looked more convincing. When Grant and Satler stare in wonder at a field occupied by something they thought were long extinct, we actually get that same sense when they first appear on-screen. The visual effects rightfully won an Academy Award. John Williams' score helps convey that sense of awe and fascination. It just sounds like the music you would hear in your head upon seeing a dinosaur brought to life.

A film like this needs character actors because the humans are going to be secondary to the action surrounding the dinosaurs. Sam Neill makes a likeable Dr. Grant, although the contrivance around having him saddled with children throughout the movie was a little forced. A scene at the beginning where he passive-aggressively threatens a child with a story on how velociraptors hunt was quite funny. Laura Dern's Dr. Satler was intelligent but otherwise one-dimensional. Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm was a totally unnecessary character, as he basically flirts with Dr. Satler, utters philosophical counter-points and does nothing more than sit back in his seat and let everyone else do the dirty work. And if you guessed that the lawyer is the first one to get killed, you get a cookie.

However, this film is not going to be remembered for it's non-dinosaur characters. This is pure spectacle created by the master of pure spectacle. Spielberg has created a fascinating world that fills the screen with wall-to-wall dinosaurs. The most fascinating ones were the velociraptors, as they were provided with intensity and intelligence that helped create a most precarious climax to the film. Spielberg creates and builds the suspense with some neat little touches, like a glass of water on a dashboard shaking with the sound of giant footprints.

Jurassic Park is a film with groundbreaking visual effects and scenes of sheer excitement, wonder, terror and, most of all, fun. However, I wonder if kids would still love dinosaurs if they actually met one.

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