THROWBACK THURSDAY: JURASSIC PARK
The imminent release of Jurassic World makes it a sensible time to look at the series.
Let’s work backwards.
Jurassic World (June 2015)
It looks great and has unique selling points.
We finally get to see the dinosaurs on the loose in a fully functioning theme park. No more dummy runs or secret incidents. It’s the direct sequel everyone expected and wanted after the original Jurassic Park. The 3D looks relevant and real. The trailer alone has shown that clarity (despite making the mistake of revealing too much).
The film consolidates Chris Pratt’s position as film star. If you want a hint of how he might perform should he play Indiana Jones: this is it. Romantic, physical, charismatic, comic: he can do it all. Full review to follow.
Jurassic Park 3 (2001)
Why do people go back to the island? Which group are you sending? What’s the ‘mission’? Those were the tough questions faced by the creative team on a third Jurassic Park film. Initially, there was a promising detective story tone that fused the idea of escaped Dinosaurs (everyone’s assumed sequel pitch) to the ‘return to the Park’ set-up of the previous film.
Sam Neill’s Dr Grant would have been investigating mysterious deaths on the mainland that somehow traced back to Pteranodon activity on the Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna sites. That plan became a ‘kids marooned on island’ pitch (basically, an episode of Friends, with Dinosaurs). Finally, there was an agreed merger of ideas into the ‘rescue mission’ premise for the film.
It’s a short and fast paced film with atmospheric lighting. The ‘birdcage’ sequence is truly tense. The Park is shot beautifully: clouds, sky, rivers and even an abandoned facility feel very detailed. There’s some clever humour and inventive set pieces. Joe Johnston was a good choice to take over from seemingly irreplaceable Spielberg.
The film fails is in its premise and emotional execution. It feels redundant. There is no real expansion of the franchise’s mythology, save occasional hints that InGen (the company behind the original Park) had other plans. William H Macey and Tea Leoni don’t convince as a couple. The notion of Sam Neill’s Grant as action hero was a stretch in the first film so it feels tired here.
Watchable but by no means unmissable.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Steven Spielberg shies from sequels. He made the Indiana Jones sequels because he promised them to George Lucas. ET, Jaws, Close Encounters: no sequels. It came as a great surprise when the trade papers announced Spielberg as Director on The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Spielberg had just come off the success of Schindler’s List and a brief sabbatical.
But he did not want a sequel farmed out to an inferior film-maker as it would tarnish the memory of the original. For years, people thought he was involved with sequels to Jaws (he wasn’t; their sheer awfulness should be a giveaway).
The Lost World is a tense thriller and dark in the literal sense ( takes place mostly at night). Gone is the ‘oo’ and ‘ahh’ (itself even referenced in a meta –textual poke by Jeff Globlum’s Dr. Malcolm).
It gets right down to business, managing to reduce the pseudo-erudite dialogue from the first film. You feel the mud and the blood and the sweat here. The Dinosaurs are arguably nastier, too as are the humans (we get actual villains in this one). Oh and THAT scene with the cracking glass. Strong supporting cast includes the late, great Pete Postlethwaite; Arliss Howard as a convincing villain and a nice cameo from the endearing Ariana Richards. John Williams’ score is great, too: very tribal, jungle beats.
The darkness is balanced by humour and warmth and a sense of exploration and adventure. It’s the kind of adventure film Spielberg did so well before he decided to go either solely dark (Minority Report; War of the Worlds) / historical and serious (Lincoln) or sanitise once gritty yet fun adventure (Crystal Skull). In fact this feels like the Indiana Jones film we could and should have had in tone. Golblum’s Dr. Malcolm is no longer solely comic relief: but an academic action hero; on the outside and driven to beat the bad guys to a prize. Sound familiar? Indy!
There are some chinks in the armour. You can NEVER repeat the sheer awe and surprise that the first film’s visual revelations inspired. There is a kid pointlessly tagged along to the story; her incongruity lets the film down (no reflection on the actress, more on the tokenism of ‘we MUST have a CHILD in PERIL!’ agenda).
Julianne Moore is more convincing as a field woman than Laura Dern in the first film, but her rushed lines of exposition simply don’t allow her to shine. And they should have reserved the T-Rex goes wild on mainland for another time as it made part 3 redundant and simply dragged this episode’s running time and credibility.
But it IS a great adventure movie. Recommended!
Jurassic Park (1993)
Spielberg works best under pressure. Raiders of the Lost Ark was an answer to critics who felt he could not deliver a film on time and under budget. Schindler’s List showed he could do a serious film without his signature sense of awe and wonder. Jurassic Park proved he was still master of blockbusting summer entertainment.
Michael Crichton’s novel was destined for cinematic greatness. There was a bidding war to that effect, with both Tim Burton and James Cameron in the frame to direct for competing studios, before Spielberg and Universal sealed the deal. The pitch was basically Crichton’s Westworld (theme park gone mad) with dinosaurs (genetic power and natural history, unchecked).
The film is a monument to marketing. EVERYONE wanted to see this and of course, everyone did. It broke box office records and partly because we all knew the logo and the brand before we had seen any of the actual dinosaurs. Once we do get the big reveals, it is a wonderful mixture of excitement, danger, childlike fascination and disbelief.
Spielberg hired the best of old school model makers and animators and set them to work with the (then) new powers in computer generated effects teams. The result is that these were THE BEST dinosaurs on screen, ever. And they’ve stood the test of time. The look of the creatures in this summer’s Jurassic World does not differ radically from what we see here.
There’s great attention to atmospheric detail. Ripples on water; sounds of the jungle in the background; nervous clicks at computers. Old school thrills are every bit as important as the CGI masterpieces of the T-Rex and co. This is a fusion of old and new, as seen in the classic kitchen sequence, where the hi-tech imagery of Velociraptors is juxtaposed with the basic, everyday elements of cupboards and cooking utensils.
And the lead-up to the Park nightmare, though drawn out, just WORKS. Sam Neill’s Dr Grant teasing a child with a dinosaur’s claw; Richard Attenborough’s Hammond and his misplaced showmanship; Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry and his corporate espionage antics.
There are some lags in pace and cohesion and some contradictions in character and tone. You also feel told what to think and feel, didactically. ‘THIS IS AMAZING’ may as well be held up as a subtitle. But frankly, it is. This was and is ground-breaking cinema and its legacy continues with Jurassic World. Classic stuff.
Jurassic World will be reviewed here soon.