Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jurassic Park (3D)

Written for F*** Magazine, Singapore


Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello
Genre: Adventure, Thriller
Run Time: 126 mins
Opens: PG
Rating: 30 May 2013

It’s an adventure 65 million (+20) years in the making: two decades after Spielberg’s groundbreaking creature feature first stomped into theatres, it’s time to dust off those amber-encased memories to make a return trip to Jurassic Park. While the powers that be are struggling to keep Jurassic Park IV from fossilizing in development hell, a 3D re-release of the original has been trucked out. While we hope those glasses make us look as cool as Dr Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), that’s not likely.

Wealthy magnate John Hammond (Attenborough) creates a theme park on an island off Costa Rica, populating it with dinosaurs created through cloning technology. An accident necessitates a safety inspection of the park before it opens, and three experts are called upon to sign off on it: Palaeontologist Dr Alan Grant (Neill), Palaeobotanist and Grant’s girlfriend Dr Ellie Sattler (Dern) and chaos theorist/mathematician Dr Ian Malcolm. They are joined by lawyer Donald Genarro (Martin Ferrero) and Hammond’s grandchildren Lex (Richards) and Tim (Mazzello). However, trouble is brewing behind the scenes as the park’s computer systems architect Dennis Nedry (Knight) plots an act of industrial espionage, leaving chief engineer Ray Arnold (Jackson) helpless as a hurricane hits the island and its savage star attractions are unleashed.

There are many for whom this movie holds sentimental significance. Just as Spielberg’s Jaws was a landmark film for those who came of age in the 70s and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial defined the childhoods of many an 80s kid, Jurassic Park had a similar effect on the children of the 90s. There is no doubt that Spielberg has become a master of the art of the blockbuster, crafting films equally heavy on the spectacle and the heartstrings-tugging. While some may decry his style as schmaltzy, it’s indisputable that the “inner child” aspect of the director is an asset he puts to good use at the helm of films such as this one.

Jurassic Park was an industry game-changer, transforming the way big blockbusters were made. Twenty years ago, computer-generated imagery was newfangled and yet to be thoroughly proven as a filmmaking tool. In fact, Spielberg had originally planned to use go-motion puppets and models built by Phil Tippett but was won over by early CGI tests. Jurassic Park’s mix of digital dinosaurs and stunning animatronics work by Stan Winston Studios resulted in a film populated with what felt like living, breathing animals. While the lack of texture compared to those created using modern digital effects is evident especially on the big screen, the film’s visuals still hold up relatively well.

3D re-releases have been generally regarded as a money-grubbing studio move, and not without reason. However, the conversion job on this film has been competently handled; the effect of the added depth fairly noticeable. Majestic wide shots, such as the one in which the helicopter nears Isla Nublar, benefit the most. Does it add a great deal to the movie? No, not really. But perhaps it enhances the novelty of the experience and helps with the feeling of being a kid again, this feeling being one of the main reasons to revisit the flick.

Beyond the chased-by-dinosaurs thrill ride aspect of the film, some attention has been given to the themes explored in the novel on which the film is based, written by the late Michael Crichton. This is a cautionary tale of man playing God as told by an idealist; Spielberg delivering a masterful mix of wide-eyed awe and pulse-pounding tension. Perhaps this is why Hammond is rendered as a more benevolent figure, whereas he was an amoral opportunist in the book. While Jeff Goldblum may have stolen the show, it is Sir Richard Attenborough’s performance as a creator who witnesses his paradise slipping through his fingers that is quietly compelling and affecting. It’s comparable to François Truffaut’s appearance in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. An actor/director of Attenborough’s stature could have easily phoned in the performance, viewing this as nothing more than a bills-paying blockbuster – but he doesn’t, lending the character warmth and amiable naïveté.

While the stars of the film are undeniably the dinosaurs (the raptors in the kitchen and the T-rex bursting out of the paddock both as thrilling as this reviewer recalls) the human supporting cast isn’t half-bad either. None of the characters are really drawn with a lot of depth, but that’s just fine. Sam Neill plays an old-school palaeontologist who dislikes kids – naturally, he eventually becomes a father figure to Tim and Lex as he chaperons them through the park. Laura Dern plays off both him and Goldblum well, and the dynamic between the three doesn’t feel forced or unnatural. Bob Peck’s hammy gamekeeper Muldoon (the lines “SHOOT HER!” and “clever girl” come to mind) has become something of a pop culture icon and it’s fun to see Samuel L. Jackson before his evolution into the total cinematic badass we know him as today was complete. And while Wayne Knight has become better known as Newman from Seinfeld, to a large chunk of moviegoers, he’ll always be the greedy, duplicitous Nedry who falls victim to venomous spit.

Jurassic Park is a film that has aged considerably well, which is more than can be said for a number of 90s sci-fi action films. It’s one of those films that aims straight for the inner 12 year-old in most everyone, and it’s one of those movies you share with your kids; this re-release being a good way to do so. Monster movies have mostly been relegated to low quality straight-to-DVD shlock along the lines of Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, so a movie like Jurassic Park really makes one long for more straight-faced takes on such material, with real characters and emotion in addition to mayhem and destruction. It’s also the kind of movie that makes one wish Spielberg would make more popcorn entertainment in addition to the loftier films he has turned his focus to as of late.

SUMMARY: Jurassic Park is far from the worst contender for a 3D conversion, yielding satisfactory results and giving movie-goers a chance to relive a genuinely entertaining and well-made blockbuster on the big screen.

RATING: 4 out of 5 STARS

Jedd Jong


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