Monday, October 31, 2011

Still Underwhelming Me, Jurassic Park Entertains, But Not Much More.

The Good: Interesting idea, A few good lines, Generally good acting, Good direction, Good DVD bonus features.
The Bad: Light on character development, Predictable reversals, Erratic special effects
The Basics: Jurassic Park is an action adventure film that milks a simple premise and fractures into a weird high-minded debate on science vs. commerce and people running in horror.

I remember when Jurassic Park was THE big special effects film of the summer. It was back in 1993 and I was working at a summer camp and most of my peers were excited about the movie. I saw it at a cheap theater on my day off and was unimpressed. I pretty much never gave the film or the franchise that sprouted up from it another thought until my wife and I were at the library looking for a movie to watch. I knew she was a fan and I suggested it when she was steering me toward inane comedies instead. What I was not prepared for was an afternoon where she asked me to hold her close and every five minutes asked, "Aren't you scared?!" I swear, she was less freaked out during A Nightmare On Elm Street and frankly I found the movie to be exactly as I had remembered it.

Jurassic Park is a very average summer blockbuster attempt that hopes audiences will be dazzled by the special effects, dramatic score and people running on screen to not notice the predictability of the character arcs and camera movements that telegraph virtually everything. I've found films resonate with me more when I actually care about the characters and Jurassic Park might have actors performing well, but there are no characters I empathize with for very long and frankly the film and franchise could have ended with the whole lot of them getting squished in a flung car and I am fairly sure I would not have felt cheated. That said, Jurassic Park is entertaining and for those looking for an entertaining popcorn movie they can watch and shut their brains off for, this certainly fits the bill.

After an incident on an island near Costa Rica that costs a man his life, an insurance agent is sent to get experts to testify to the safety of a new theme park. Shrouded in mystery, the creator of the theme park, John Hammond, journeys to a dig where he convinces doctors Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler to come with him to the island home of his new theme park. Flown with the lawyer and fellow scientist Ian Malcolm, the pair finds themselves on a remote island populated by genetically engineered dinosaurs! Amazed by the potential and impressed by the ambition, the scientists nevertheless resist the spectacle of Jurassic Park to do a real and thorough inspection of it.

However, when one of Hammond's workers is corrupted by greed and attempts to flee the island in advance of an impending storm with the genetic material used to clone the dinosaurs, Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm find themselves stranded in the park with Hammond's grandkids, Tim and Lex. While Sattler is able to return to the base to try to restore power to the malfunctioning theme park, Malcolm is wounded and Grant and the kids must brave a night where they are hunted in the wild by carnivorous dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex and a trio of velociraptors.

Jurassic Park is two movies, unfortunately neither one is terribly extraordinary. The first is a high-minded debate on the limits of scientific enterprise, the second is an action-adventure film. The way the first Jurassic Park fails is that it comes out of nowhere. After seeing the first elements of the process of creating the dinosaurs, Dr. Malcolm suddenly starts spouting off about the irresponsibility of the endeavor. He makes accusations - like that the scientists did not earn the discoveries they employed to engineer the dinosaurs - that have no support in the context of the film. After all, in the appropriately hokey theme park film, the process of capturing dinosaur DNA is detailed and the process of making the dinosaurs from it is laid out. The way it is described is exactly how science works; discovery builds on discovery and the prior discoveries are applied to the current methods and the field is pushed forward.

This is not to say Malcolm - or writers Michael Crichton and David Koepp - does not make some good points, especially on how commerce is exploiting science for its own gain in the concept of Jurassic Park. The problem is how it comes up. Malcolm is far less an individual or a character as he is a random string of thesis lines. His mention of chaos theory and his philosophical arguments come with almost no backing within the movie and no real context. All of a sudden, Jeff Goldblum (who plays Malcolm) is speaking and he sounds smart and right, but his arguments are poorly supported - save by the action adventure that follows - and they come up at annoyingly random intervals.

As for the other half of Jurassic Park," the movie is very much a typical and uninspired action-adventure flick. That half of the movie features computer-generated dinosaurs chasing humans, cars getting flung and quick reversals. Unfortunately, while director Stephen Spielberg is usually able to make the shots look good, he hardly ever makes them surprising. As the kids run from velociraptors through a kitchen, the angles used to reveal where the dinosaurs are coming from are all the most predictable and cliche ones (most notably after featuring a kid looking left and right, the dinosaur is revealed to be above). There are the cliche reversals of people tripping and slipping in the rain while running and the usual last-minute rescues and quiet moments suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a new villain.

Almost as bad is the cliche character development. Dr. Grant is characterized as a man who does not like or want children and he is paired up with Tim and Lex. The result is that he spends most of the movie protecting the kids by putting himself in extreme danger. That the character does not swear off children for exactly the reasons he began the movie loathing them for is counterintuitive. In other words, Jurassic Park proves every liability Dr. Grant complained about, but he seems more open to children at the end than at the beginning!

The special effects are erratic, most notably in the computer generated dinosaurs. In Jurassic Park the technology was being pioneered to integrate computer generated beings into live-action films. It is not there yet in this movie and many of the CG-dinosaurs are lit with a poor sense of realism for the real world. Conversely, the actors in the film do a great job interacting with the virtual characters. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and the young actors Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards all have a strong ability to play opposite nothing real and convince the audience they are looking at real creatures! This is pretty wonderful, especially as many movies since have failed to have performers follow eyelines and such of virtual characters.

Jurassic Park also has a pretty wonderful supporting cast with actors like Wayne Knight and Samuel L. Jackson having memorable (if small) roles in the overall story. And if one shuts their brain off, Jurassic Park is fun, but it is hardly the greatest movie of all time or even a masterwork that is smarter than a popcorn movie.

For other epic science fiction or fantasy film series', be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Star Wars Saga
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
The Back To The Future Trilogy


For other movies, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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