Back in 1993, when the first film arrived, the world went dino-nuts, the dawn of the modern age of computer generated imagery was created in an instant, and when historians look back through time to discover where it all went wrong, where Hollywood self-destructed, they'll discover that this was the point of origin.
But I digress... Let's begin:
As much as I love Jurassic Park, and as much as I love Steven Spielberg, there are an awful lot of things that bug me with the first Jurassic Park film, and frankly, I want to get those out if the way first. When Spielberg directs a film - even if it's a bad one - it has a certain rhythm and style. He rarely makes clunky or inelegant films. However, something's off with this one.
Just take the opening scene, the arrival of a Velociraptor in a cage. Doesn't it feel strangely staged? I can see what the film is going for and it does accomplish what it needs to do, but I almost feel like I'm watching a reconstruction and not a real scene. From the awkward shots of workers anticipating the arrival of a dinosaur, with all the excitement of wax figures, to the fact that you can clearly tell there's no animal in the cage during those wide shots. Like I said, it feels off.
Then we proceed to the introduction of our two leads, Sam Neill's Dr. Alan Grant and Laura Dern's Dr. Ellie Sattler. Ah, City of Awkwardness, once again we stroll through your beautiful streets. Can I just point out the freakish pronunciation Neill employs throughout the entire movie, as if English is his second language? And let's not forget that the film fails so miserably to establish their relationship that I was genuinely surprised when it was revealed that they're a couple. Then we're introduced to Jeff Goldblum's character Dr. Ian Malcolm. Of course Goldblum specializes in weird acting, and he seems to love the opportunity to go even more overboard here. I kinda like it, so I won't trash him, but please make a mental note of how he behaves in this film, we'll need that when we revisit his character in the sequel.
Alright, so the film takes us to the titular park and sends our heroes on their first tour, along with park owner John Hammond's grandchildren. This is where the "Dr. Grant doesn't like kids"-subplot truly kicks in. Really? That's the best you could do? Gee wiz, ya think he's gonna like maybe I dunno know, change his mind about kids after going through some traumatic experiences with these ones? It's not like there is a whole lot of different places this plot can go. It's so annoying. And lame.
Finally, my last complaint about the film is the glaring continuity errors. Now, I usually never notice stuff like that, or I notice it and let it pass, but there are so many here, it just bugs me. It seems lazy. Come on guys, $65 million should buy you at least one script girl.
Okay, I'm done. Enough with the hating. It's going to sound like I don't even care for the movie, which I do, despite its flaws. Actually, the most striking thing about Jurassic Park is that it's still a kick-ass ride. Even after all these years, bigger and better movies, and repeated viewings, the magic of discovery is still breathing in the belly of this beast. I get chills every time we see the island for the first time - all credit must go to John Williams for the spectacular theme - I still get a rush when we see the first big dino, and I hold my breath when the T-Rex escapes from his pen! And I've seen the film at least 20 times!
Of course the central idea of the story is ludicrous. And I'm not even talking about the cloning. No, I mean the fact that this whole park and all these creatures have been created in secrecy... Seriously? When you think about the sheer logistics of this whole endeavor, it doesn't make ANY sense.
Also, why would you make raptors?
But it doesn't matter! This film suspends disbelief so efficiently that real life scientists looked positively amateurish, because they hadn't already done the same thing. It all begins with the introduction video, which carefully in layman's terms explains what's going on, so even the cheap seats can understand it. It's one of the most perfect examples of effective exposition in a movie. Not only does the film manage to build up a believable premise, it even manages to tackle the ethical questions inherent in this premise, despite the fact that it's really just an excuse to create a cool action movie... You've got to respect that!
Once we get past the sense of discovery, the ethics and the introduction to the park, the film transforms into a non-stop series of epic action set-pieces. That's the last hour of the movie. It starts with the "glass vibrating"-shot, and ends with the roar of the T-Rex. Between these two moments we get one exhilarating scene after another. The T-Rex escapes! The kitchen chase with the raptors! The rebooting the park sequence! Even down to the ridiculous climax, which somehow works.
This is the true backbone of the film. This is where Spielberg never makes a wrong move. Now, of course he gets a fair amount of help from a crack team special and visual effects people. Yes, Jurassic Park was a great breakthrough, 15 years ago, but the truly amazing thing is how well it holds up next to modern effect blockbusters. This is mostly due to a pitch perfect combination of CGI and animatronics. This has literally never been done better.
Shots of large scale robots, created by Stan Winston and his team, are cut back-to-back with computer generated images from Dennis Muren and the boys at Industrial Light and Magic. Back then there was no other way of doing it, because the workload would have been impossible if it was all CGI. But there's an added bonus to this, which seems to elude most modern visual effect supervisors: It's a lot harder to figure out how a sequence is done, when there a change of technique every other shot. A new technique means different flaws to look out for, and you can fool the audience longer, by switching back and forth constantly. This is why much more elaborate - and by all accounts "better" - CGI sequences fail to work in modern films, because even the most untrained eye can spot the flaws, when they are repeated over and over again. Think of it like this: The magician can make the ball disappear convincingly once, but if he does the same trick 20 times in a row, almost everyone in the audience will be able to figure it out.
I also have to praise the cinematography of Dean Cundey. I know most cinephiles will probably prefer Janusz Kaminski's back-lit, monochromatic style in Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), but I much prefer the more colorful and - dare I say - romantic feel of Cundey's work in this film. This feels appropriate since we're dealing with a fairlytale here, in a manner of speaking.
Finally, let me just give a shout-out to the great supporting cast. I've already voiced my concern about the the leads, but I have nothing bad to say about the secondary players. The late great Bob Peck, as the matter-of-factly game keeper. Wayne Knight, as the portly, backstabbing computer expert. Even Samuel L. Jackson is good, despite the fact that all he does is smoke and punch a keyboard. Richard Attenborough still creeps me out, though.
First time I saw Jurassic Park at the cinema I went right out and bought a second ticket for the next available show. I still feel the magic I felt back then, when I watch the film today. There are very few films I can say that about. That must mean something.
Next up: The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the only sequel Spielberg ever did, not counting The Indiana Jones Trilogy, and Jurassic Park III (2001), the sequel he didn't even want to do.
Oh, and one last thing: I want to give a shout-out to my grandmother Johanne, who can't pronounce Jurassic Park (she calls it "Jura-sic Park"), but still loves to watch all three movies, even though she's in her late 80's. Makes me so proud.