Tuesday 27 September 2011

Jurassic Park

Raiders Of The Lost Park

Jurassic Park 1993 US
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screening at UK cinemas for two weeks only.

Warning: Big dinosaur sized spoilers on this one...
if you seriously haven’t seen this movie before.

You know I couldn’t believe, when I heard the news of Jurassic Parks limited re-release at the cinemas, that it had been 20 years since I first went to the cinema to see it. The most I would have said it had been out was maybe seven or eight years. Well, as it happens I was right to an extent. It hadn’t been 20 years... I checked and it’s only been 18. What the heck? Drumming up business for BluRay sales and such like. Shame on you Mr. Spielberg. I remember a time when it was “all about the movies”.

Still, I’m not complaining too hard. It’s definitely a classic film and a bit of a masterpiece for one of America's most commercial movie makers. I’ve always liked the film and it truly deserves the status it holds with film enthusiasts and here’s why...

Jurassic Park is one of those movies which very much takes the Hollywood line of “cause and effect” cinema to its most resilient and unshakeable and, though I’ve never been an admirer of that A leads to B leads to C kind of linear and logical progression in US moviemaking... it has to be said that when a movie of this stature is released, and that whole way of focussing and sharpening a script until everything (and I mean everything) in it is relevant to what comes after and before it, then just occasionally it’s a real pleasure to be watching a movie that gets it all so right.

Starting off with a very bleak opening sequence that completely killed the illusion created by its almost cutesy, cuddly advertising, Spielberg does exactly the same thing that David Lynch did with Wild At Heart... and that is to demonstrate just how dangerous one of the main (non-human in this case) characters can be. After a few, almost atonal scene setting notes from Johnny Williams score play out to start off and continue through the sequence, we get a truly great piece of film-making where some well equipped “experts” try to transfer a Velociraptor from a cage into its enclosure. Of course something goes wrong and in an absolutely brilliant and very chilling sequence comprising of sound and rustling foliage in which we never actually see the dinosaur, a man is dragged into the cage to be eaten. The disturbing impact of this and the foreknowledge that even a bunch of well-equipped specialists could not compete with this particular breed of dinosaur does a lot to the way in which you view the rest of the film. You can watch people make googoo eyes at cutesy Brontosaurus’ and Triceratops’ all you like but you know that your central characters are really going to have to tread through the movie carefully if they want to make it back out alive.

From there on, the movie never lets up the pace (even in the talkier sections) and everything thats said or focussed on in one sequence has some kind of pay off in a later scene... all except one. Nedrys “samples” which he’s stolen from the super-rich owner John Hammond (played charmingly by Richard Attenborough in the movie but who is actually almost a villainous character in the original novel) are buried in their shaving foam tin protector under some wet mud while Nedrys is being chomped up by a roving dinosaur. This was possibly left in to be picked up on in a sequel but, ultimately, neither of the two Jurassic Park sequels chose to pick up on this little gift to future filmmakers in the franchise.

Other than that slight detour, though, it really is full steam ahead on this movie in which Spielberg really shows us he is one of the true “children of Hitchcock” in the way he controls the audience thrills and suspense. People forget how dark a movie this one actually is and frequently take very young kids to see it. There was a 6 or 7 year old in the audience behind me when I revisited this in the cinema the other night and he never made it past the break out of the Tryannosaurus Rex before his dad had to remove him from the auditorium. Spielberg even manages to throw in a cross cut set of sequences where Laura Dern and Samuel L. Jackson attempt to get the park booted up again while Sam Neill and two kids are climbing down a dead electric fence. The suspense across these two sequences is tremendous because you know that if one group are successful in their endeavour, the electric fence is going to spring back into life and one of our other characters will suddenly be toast.

The one thing I would flag up as slightly underwhelming though is the CGI work in the movie. I know it’s because of this movie that George Lucas realised that the effects were such that he could move ahead again on his Star Wars movies and finally shoot the prequel trilogy but, seriously, the effects didn’t look that great back in 1993 (especially the Brontosaurus animations) and they really don’t hold up well today when they are being screened on digital equipment. I’ve noticed this before but some of this digital stuff seems to make old effects movies look worse and certainly makes some of the stuff really look like its laying on a separate plate within a shot. This is not good and the only thing that I could throw up in its defence is to remind people that CGI hasn’t really got that much better in recent years than it was back then... especially when it comes to dinosaurs. Have you seen those awful CGI effects in the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong? And Yoda looks more like an animated cartoon these days than a real person (of course he's a real person, don’t be n√§ive).

Packed full of some great and iconic moments (including a sound activated glass of water which is a steal from the start of the sequence of the tanks rolling in at the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia from The Unbearable Lightness Of Being) it was truly a joy to rewatch this movie in a cinema again. Jurassic Park really is like a well oiled machine... a big, well oiled, movie making machine which really knows how to reach the audience and push the right emotional buttons to engage with that audience. Especially with the assistance of Johnny Williams melodic and mostly sugary score which, though it doesn’t musically reference the 1933 Max Steiner scored version of King Kong like the music in the first sequel to Jurassic Park did in one place, has loads going for it and even the most casual viewer will most likely have at least one or two of the main, pulse pounding tunes lodged in their heads for a good deal of time after their screening.

You know, I remembered there’s a shot where a girl falls out of a heating vent, is caught by her friends and pulled back in right as a Velociraptor makes a jump for her leg and just misses... I clearly recall that back in 1993 I was so on the edge of my seat by this point in the movie that my right leg gave an involuntary kick as if to kick the Raptor away from me at that moment. I’m glad to say that, this time around, I had sufficient control of my bodily functions to not get caught out like that again but as I was watching it I realised that, really, there is a lot of power oozing out between the frames of this movie. It really is one of the great American works of commercially accessible art and it really needs to be taken out of the closet every ten or so years and appreciated and celebrated all over again. Every now and again these days, Hollywood is still capable of making, not just a good or halfway decent movie, but a really great film. Jurassic Park is one of them.

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