Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jurassic Park (1993) (Movie Review)

      As a kid, there was no shortage of things I loved, including superhero’s, the holiday seasons, video games, cartoon characters, but above all, I was a kid who was madly in love with Dinosaurs. Unlike dragons or other cool movie monsters, Dinosaurs were once real creatures, they lived on our very planet, and as a kid I always imagined what it would be like to see one for real. Well, in 1993, everyone got to see Dinosaurs come to life in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “Jurassic Park”. Strait to the point, this has been and will always be one of my all time favorite movies. This was the movie experience that made Dinosaurs feel real, and as a kid, I was ecstatic about the idea of a real theme park zoo dedicated solely to Dinosaurs. As far back as I can remember, this was the very first PG-13 movie I ever saw, so in a sense it was my first time dipping my big toe into a grownup world. More importantly, along with the likes of “Star Wars” and “The Wizard of Oz”, “Jurassic Park” was one of those experiences that helped shape my overall love for movies. Obviously, this film was a big game changer in the realms of special effects, and provided no shortage of Dino action, but I hope the entertainment value doesn’t distract modern audience from everything else that the film has to offer. Make no mistake, there is magic in “Jurassic Park”, it’s an experience, with brilliant film-making techniques on display, rich themes, and great characters to boot.  

      Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, "Jurassic Park" tells the tale of what happens when man plays God and then screws with nature. Our venture begins with the introduction of two paleontologists named Alan Grant and his girlfriend Ellie Sattler, who are currently exploring the possibilities of raising children, which is difficult as the former is none to fond of kids. Inter their midst is a theme park owner named John Hammond, who’s impressed with both their knowledge and genuine love of Dinosaurs. Thus, he invites them on a trip to his mysterious park and hopes that they’d sponsor it. Upon visiting, it’s soon revealed that Hammond’s park dose in fact feature real, living, breathing dinosaurs, which scientists have grown from DNA preserved in fossilized mosquitoes. Hammond's proposal is that his guests take one tour of his island park, along with his two young grand-children, and put out a good word on his park. At first, the park is a dream come true, as Dr. Grant finds himself living out his child hood dream to be in the presence of real Dinosaurs. Unfortunately, lurking in their midst is a spy waiting for his chance to steal the Dinosaur embryos for another rival organization. His foolish actions lead to all the park systems shutting down, the power goes off and now all the Dino’s can walk about or go hunting without being restricted by electrical fences. With the situation rapidly getting out of hand, Dr. Grant finds himself separated from the group, and in the care of Hammond's two grandchildren. Thus, the adventure is on as our heroic guests try to escape the theme park, while avoiding both the jaws of a giant T-Rex and the claws of savage Velociraptor's.   

      Now back when I was a just a little kid seeing this film for the first time, all I wanted were cool dinosaurs and fun chases with them. Well, I certainly got both of those, but I surprisingly got more than expected. The first thing this movie absolutely got right was it’s cast of characters, who were all very engaging to watch even at a very young age. Granted, some could right these characters off as cartoony stereotypes, right down to the fact that they all ware color coded clothing, but there’s such a talented ensemble cast bringing them to life that it hardly matters. Dr. Alan Grant is played by Sam Neill, who’s natural charm and charisma absolutely carries the film. 

Even back when I was just a kid, Sam Neill was one of the first actors I ever consciously chose to become a fan of, and it all began here with his portrayal of Alan Grant. I always loved that he wasn’t just a survivor, he also had an arc in which he overcame his distaste toured children, protected the two kids, became a father figure and in the end was finally ready to start a family. Speaking of the kids, they were another crucial ingredient to the film, not just for Dr. Grants arc, but for bringing younger viewers into the experience. It’s through the eyes of these two children that young viewers put themselves in their shoes, and it made both the wonder and danger feel all the more real. Laura Dern is also very lovable as the love interest Dr. Ellie Sattler, who thankfully isn’t poorly stereotyped as a token female. She manages to be strong without drawing too much attention to herself, and her chemistry with Sam Neill is very natural without the need of forced romantic dialogue. Oh, and of course Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Malcom made for one of the most charismatic and memorable characters that the 90’s had to offer. He was the funny, cool guy of the group, but was also very smart and was even the first to take note of the problems in the park well before all the trouble starts. He’s also got the most quotable lines of the film, with the most iconic being “Life finds a way”. His cocky attitude was the perfect offset to Sam Neill’s more stubborn tone, and I just loved watching this cast in general play off one-another.

       Perhaps the most well-rounded character of all is the theme park owner himself John Hammond who’s played masterfully by the late Richard Attenborough. While Sam Neill as Alan Grant has always been my personal favorite character, John Hammond was the most important to get right, and it’s here where the movie really shines. It could have been so easy to make Hammond your typical greedy business man who just wanted to make a fortune from the dinosaurs, but instead he’s the kindest, most lovable and innocent man who just wants to bring joy and wonder to the world. He probably would charge customers for free if he could, but it’s through his simple-minded, if well intended ambitions that the tragedy of the situation really hits home. Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Malcom at one point in the film sums things up with this chilling statement, that Hammond is toying with incredible power, and he’s wielding it like a kid who just found his dads gun. That in a nut-shell sums up the tragedy of John Hammond, as he’s someone with the impulse of a child so caught up in the joy of his discovery that he forgot to see if the safety was off, and suddenly people die because of his stubbornness. I’m also very glad that this movie doesn’t feature a straight forward human villain. We have the saboteur played by Wayne Knight, but he never really becomes a villain of any sort. He’s simply the catalyst for getting the problems started, and once he plays his part in the story, he’s quickly taken out of the picture. It’s also cool to see Samuel L. Jackson in one of his early roles as a park scientist, before he became a famous actor. Surprisingly, his character has one of the most quotable lines of the film … “Hold on to your butts”.

    Now in the wake of “Jurassic Park’s” many sequels, it can be easy for casual viewers to right this film off as just another mindless action film with nothing but exciting Dinosaur attacks throughout. While that’s certainly what the sequels devolved into, some may have forgetting that the first film was much smarter and far more of what I’d like to call an experience, rather then a strait forward action adventure. One of my favorite scenes is the opening helicopter flight, which boasts one of the most triumphant musical scores I’ve ever heard, the scenery is gorgeous, and the whole scene sets the tone for something grand and special before we even see a single Dinosaur. Then we get our first real scene of awe and wonder when our team encounters their first dinosaur. The scene with the Brontosaurs is one of my favorite moments from any action film, because it has nothing to do with action or excitement, it’s just our heroes marveling this beautiful giant, and the music once again just makes my spirit sour. I know that’s a corny thing to say, but it’s true. Obviously, John Williams a legend when it comes to classic music tracks in movies like “Indiana Jones”, “Superman”, “Harry Potter”, “E.T.” and “Star Wars”, but for me, it’s his musical track to "Jurassic Park" that’s always left the biggest impact on me.    

     Another one of my favorite little moments is when the team comes across the sick Triceratops. The scene really has nothing to do with the film, but it’s just another added detail that makes this film feel special. We see Ellie take on the role of a nurse, Grant becomes a child as he’s face to face with his most beloved Dinosaur, and while I’m perfectly aware that this Triceratops is animatronic, it never once felt like a robotic puppet, that thing looked and felt real. This brings me to the films Oscar winning effects, which were more then just a breakthrough in computer generated technology, it was the perfect fusion of CGI and practical animatronics. Looking back, it’s actually quiet refreshing to see how many life like puppets were featured in the film. More to the point, I always looked at “Jurassic Park” as one of the big game changers in special effects. Before this film, Dinosaurs were only ever featured as stop-motion, sock puppets or guys in rubber costumes. This is the film that convinced a generation that these photo realistic Dinosaurs were alive, and that we could reach out into the screen and touch them. If “King Kong” was a mile stone of special effects back in 1933, “Jurassic Park” was the next level of what “King Kong” started, and to this day I really don’t think it’s been surpassed, although there have been some contenders. Also, for an occasionally dark and creepy movie, this was actually a very colorful looking film, and I loved it for that.

        Science Fiction fans can likewise get a lot of enjoyment out of this movie. Granted there’s no space ships or anything we commonly associate with traditional Sci-Fi, but the science behind the creation of these Dinosaurs, while impossible, still make for cool ideas that almost feel plausible. The science also leads to ethical and moral debates, which is yet another great strength to this film. I love seeing these characters sit down at the dinner table and debate the ethics behind what’s happened. I also love the subtle shift in tone, as our visitors go from over joyed wonderment, to very concerned about the moral principles of the science on display. It should be noted that it actually takes over an hour before we have any real Dinosaur attacks, and in that time this film has dazzled us with awe inspiring moments, fleshed out the characters and raised ethical debates. Once the carnage goes down, I feel completely engrossed in the experience and in general it’s some of the best stuff the monster movie genera has ever offered. I’ll never forget seeing this for the first time and thinking I was becoming a big boy for handling the content in the film. Truthfully, while many sequences were intense, I was never really that disturbed by the violence nor do I recall ever being that scared. Actually, the most terrifying part of the film for me was the opening title card sequence, as that eerie music always got me spooked to watch this by myself.

     Now obviously for any kid obsessed with Dinosaurs, the T-Rex is commonly their favorite, and it certainly was for me. I was crazy obsessed with the T-Rex, and seeing this thing come to life on film was the stuff that only dreams were made of. In all seriousness, the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” will always be one of my favorite movie monsters, and a staple to the art of practical effects. Naturally my favorite scene of whole film was the iconic T-Rex attack in the rain. This scene is filmmaking at it’s finest, and a testament Steven Spielberg’s craft. The build-up to this attack alone is riveting and features one of cinemas most inspired visuals in which a cup of the water ripples due to the vibration of the T-Rex’s giant steps. I love that there’s no music of any sort heard during this attack, it’s only the chilling sounds of falling rain, and speaking of great sounds, that T-Rex roar … oh my, it’s one of my favorite sound designs ever put to film. Also, despite being a very suspenseful sequence, this first T-Rex attack actually has some subtext, as it’s an example of life breaking free from its confinement, and ties back in to the ethical debates of earlier. Another T-Rex highlight of course was the exciting jeep chase, which was both thrilling but also had a great deal of tension, largely thanks to Laura Dern, who’s an excellent screamer.       

    Another thing I loved about this film was that it didn’t just resort to dinosaur attacks for exciting sequences. We also have our hero’s escaping a tree before a car topless on them, and we have a deeply tense scene with the boy trying to get over an electrical fence before the power comes on. I should also give this movie credit for introducing me to Raptors. These guys don’t show their faces until the third act, and the wait is worth it because these guys are awesome. Once again, the practical puppet work is amazing, and something I honestly never payed attention to as a kid was just how frightening they were. 
Seeing this movie as a child, I just thought those Raptors were awesome, but looking back as an adult, there are some truly tense and intimidating moments with these guys. The whole climax is a slow burning cat and mouse game with these guys, and of course the kitchen scene is an electrifying piece of suspense film-making. Things build to a riveting final showdown on a museum display, and even though it’s admittedly short, it’s still extremely thrilling and highly satisfying. To this day I still get chills all over my body when the T-Rex comes in to rescue our heroes from the raptors. That was always my favorite part as a kid, because I loved seeing their most dangerous obstacle become the thing that saves the day. Oh, and that final shot of the T-Rex roaring, with the banner falling in front of him … a thing of beauty! Even after the T-Rex drops the mic, this film still deliver’s as we lead into one of my all-time favorite movie epilogues. We see our hero’s fly away to safety on the helicopter, not a single line is spoken, yet I still feel so much from these characters. I feel for Hamond has he stares at his cane and ponders the lessons he’s learned from this experience. I feel for Grant and Ellie as they exchange knowing looks that their ready to start a family. I especially love that final image of that flock of birds flying over the ocean. Then as the music builds, and the helicopter fly’s off into the distance, I’m always left with chills, like I just embarked on a once in a lifetime journey.   

   Like I said earlier, there are some people these days who could easily look back on “Jurassic Park” as that one hit monster attack movie, which had impressive special effects, and then think nothing else of it, but there really is so much more to this film. I always looked at “Jurassic Park” as a movie that had something special to offer to any kind of viewer. It’s a griping survival film, a family adventure, a creepy monster flick, a magical journey and an intriguing Sci-Fi that balances fantasy with ethical debates. There’s honestly so much I can say about this film that I could probably write a whole book on why I firmly believe that “Jurassic Park” should be regarded as a higher form of cinematic art, rather than just another entertaining B monster movie. It’s a film that captured my imagination as a child, took me on a thrilling ride, and after so many years this movie still continues to inspire me. It’s also my favorite of Steven Spielberg’s works as it masterfully combines his talents of bringing wonder and horror into one package. We’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s raw talents of bringing wonder to viewers through films like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and we’ve seen his relentless skill at livening up suspense in films like “Jaws”. With “Jurassic Park” it’s a seemingly perfect mirage of his craft. I know that a movie of this nature will never truly be regarded as high art, but frequently I see films like “Jaws” and “King Kong” in honorary ranks among the greatest movies ever made, so why not give "Jurassic Park" that same love and respect? Weather you think this film is special, or simple fun or maybe even overrated, I’ll always look back on this as one of my favorite movies, one that takes me back to my child hood and reminds me of a time when Dinosaurs were the greatest.    

I proudly give “Jurassic Park” a perfect 5 stars out of 5.  

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