Thursday, January 15, 2015

SW Watches: Jurassic Park (again)

If one thing is clear by your 40th viewing of this movie, it's that John Hammond spared no expense.

In 1993, an 18-year-old me went to his first midnight, opening-night screening of a movie to see the technical marvel that is Jurassic Park.  We got our tickets early, hit the Taco Cabana, had some nachos and then went back to the theater and saw the closest thing to real dinosaurs we'd ever seen before cross the screen to John Williams' tremendous score.

hope you brought a change of undies, doctor

During that first viewing, I drank my large Coke, then chewed apart the straw, then chewed apart the lid, and was making my way down the cup when Sam Niell looked out the window of the helicopter at the flock of pelicans.  I'll bag on a lot of crowd-pleasing directors, but I will fist-fight you over Steven Spielberg.  Not every one of his movies is my favorite, but the man knows how to make an entertaining-as-hell two-hour movie.

When I left for college that fall, it was with a Jurassic Park pillowcase and an even firmer idea that pursuing a film degree was a totally keen idea.

If you're older than 30, you're old enough to remember a pre-CGI FX era of models and stop motion.  Some of it worked, a lot of it didn't.  Jurassic Park broke the mold and changed everything with it's gigantic model dinosaurs paired seamlessly with the first kick-ass CGI to really hit the screen, and all in an era before every pixel of a movie might be somehow digitally shot, processed and manipulated.  The CGI portions, I've read, run less the 5 minutes of the total runtime of the movie.

But all that, as we'd see but fail to learn from, wasn't what made the movie work.  It was the gigantic scope of the entire experiment that was Jurassic Park the movie paired with a really very good script and actors.  I remember, in particular, how weird it felt to have Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum as our leads after a decade of Sylvester Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis cracking skulls and shooting round after round.

Here were three scientists who were supposed to be  just that - scientists, not an adventurer who paid the bills by sometimes showing up for class like in the Indiana Jones movies.  Sure, everyone is set up perfectly in that Spielbergian mold within two pages of their entrance, but who gives a damn?  This isn't Brecht.  This is a bunch of folks who are supposed to be giving an island full of dinosaurs a look-see for the insurance adjusters when a System Administrator borks the works for everyone.


Sure, now I see the monumental geographic problems the movie ignores, feel the cadence of Hammond's "spared no expense" line like a tapping on the back of my skull, and am occasionally aware of the other logical fallacies of the movie, but... @#$% it.

I just watched this thing again, and, man... does it hold up as Big Summer PG-13 Blockbuster material.  The CGI is shockingly good even by modern standards, the model/puppets look awesome, the acting is good (no body does "scared face" better than Laura Dern) and even the annoying kids aren't that annoying.

Really, what it does have are some film-school text book examples of building tension and getting your characters across in a crowd-pleasing manner.  I mean, everyone knows every beat of the T-Rex escapes scene, right down to the sound of dino footsteps and the popping of the electric fence.  Throw in the "turn on the power" sequence and the "Velociraptors are in the Kitchen" scene, and that's some textbook good stuff.  Stuff the second one tried for and did okay and the third one (not Spielberg) just felt tired.

Anyway, it was a good one to watch again.  Get prepped a bit for Jurassic World as it comes out this summer.  Sure, it's going to be predictable and kind of dumb (a hybrid dinosaur...?  ooookkaayyy...).  But I'm going to see this one just like I've seen the other installments in high hopes that I'll dig this one at least 70% as much as the first one.

Watched at:  Home on DVD
Watched with:  Jamie and Cousin C


Simon MacDonald said...

On a daily basis I struggle with the question, "Is Anna old enough to watch Jurassic Park?". She's 10 years old but sensitive to scares so I think not at this point but it is really the next big movie from my past that I want to share with her.

The League said...

woof. Yeah, if she's a nervous movie watcher, this may be a bit much until she's 12 or so. I'm no expert. On the other hand, it all ends pretty amicably, so... maybe this is a good "wade in at the shallow end" sort of movie before you bust out John Carpenter's "The Thing".

Jake Shore said...

Yeah, my boys (9 and 5 1/2) just watched this a few weeks ago. I'm generally careful about what I let them watch, and when it comes to scary, they have always taken their cues from us. That doesn't mean we let them watch horror movies. But adventure movies with monsters, like say Luke and the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. I was watching my youngest closely during the T-rex scene, nervously wondering how I would explain it to his mom if he was scared. Instead, when the lawyer gets eaten, he goes "whoaaaaaaghhhhahahahahahaha! Did you see that!" All boy.

Anyway. I guess I'm one of those weirdos who doesn't hold this movie in high regard. The FX are great, and until this film, no one had improved upon this:

But the film, and its writing just feels really dumbed down. Right from the beginning in the first scene with Sam Neil, which is one big info dump about dinosaurs. What kind of scientist dislikes computers? Then there's the silly, preachy and unscientific lines about nature from Jeff Goldblum's character.

Maybe it's because I read the book first. Everything about it was better. I hate sounding like that guy, but it's true. I know movies have a limited time to get across what an author can do in hundreds of pages, but still.

There are some great moments of Spielberg genius, though. The T-Rex attack should be required viewing in film school.

A (younger) friend on Facebook asked people to name their favorite John Williams score. The answers shocked me. No Superman. No JAWS. No Star Wars. No Indiana Jones. But several Jurassic Park responses. I nearly choked. The JP soundtrack is fine, but it could be the soundtrack to movie about a girl who raises an injured animal and releases back to nature.

The League said...

Oh, man. Having worked on campus at UT in the 90's, I can tell you exactly how terrified of computers faculty were up until just about 1999. And then there was this tipping point where everyone was suddenly onboard. But it wasn't until my last year, 1997-98, that even half of my instructors had email. And forget about a course website.

Ironically, the most digital class I had was "Age of the Dinosaurs" that had to spend about 1/4 of the time debunking stuff we'd seen in Jurassic Park. The course material included CD-roms, which I never saw before or after for a course, and which were a pain because they weren't super compatible with all systems, so I had to go to computer labs or a friends' place to use their computer as they wouldn't play on my Pack-Bell 486.

So, yeah, I'd say faculty were skittish around computers, but not the dinosaur dudes.