Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Welcome to Jurassic Park

Foregoing the fact that the 20th anniversary of Steven Spielberg's mega-opus Jurassic Park makes me feel quite old, it's a great movie to catch up with.  In 1993, it was a wonder of summer blockbustery spectacle, yet there's an uncanny and unique wonder to the film, one that seems to improve with time.  Like many films that come around at that certain and magical time when a budding movie geek is building his palette and taste, Jurassic Park in many regards feels like an old friend-- a big, lumbering beast of a that might potentially eat me one day.  It's in that respect that the 3-D conversion re-release doesn't exactly read (at least to me) as a corporately cynical way of milking a long in the tooth franchise, but instead like a celebration of a film that time has only improved upon its legacy.

Revisiting this special friend, it's remarkable how the astounding and groundbreaking effects still hold up and the razzle dazzle of twenty years ago can still be held in the same regard (or perhaps even higher so) than the mega-digitized-extraganza-spectacles of today.  Even some of the dated imagery has a delightful effect opposed to the you-know-it's-all-fake Deceptacons and Avatars of today.  More importantly, there's just enough sense of character that there's enough of a rooting cause for them.  Just as importantly, many are incidental (or in the case of Wayne Knight, evil enough) that it's okay to root for dino-carnage as well.

Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, there's little point in arguing that Jurassic Park is high art, it's a high calorie roller coaster ride (made literal when it became an existing theme park attraction at Universal Studios; synergy in motion), but under the expert skill and showmanship of Spielberg, it's a great roller coaster ride that chugs along at an exceptional pace.  And for a plot that conceived on the silly premise of the return of dinosaurs, only for them to attack humans, there's such a grandiosity to the spectacle, it nearly is art.  Spielberg is essentially riffing on Jaws, his first great film and the grandfather movie for the whole summer blockbuster craze to begin with.  And similarly makes the frightening fun and the fun frightening.  I've previously addressed the effect Jaws can have on a five-year-old.  A couple of years later, I was ready and willing participant to Jurassic Park.

Looking back it's startling and thrilling in the sense that nearly every splice of the film is iconic.  From the helicopter circling down on the waterfall and pristine island to Richard Attenborough's "Welcome to Jurassic Park," to the car ride of eventual doom and the escape acts.  The T-Rex was the always the centerpiece, but the tease of his entrance was just as, if not more memorable.  Just as the chords of John Williams' Jaws score announced terror before we faced it, the same effect occurred here in the benign image of rings in a water cup.  And then it happens...

It wasn't just the mastery of technology, it was the mastery of suspense.  Spielberg, still working the mindset of an industrial Hitchcock, builds till the moment of panic.  That edge of your seat gamesmanship that happens to be more fun than the payoff itself.  In that sense pass the popcorn and bemoan the state of the current crop of Hollywood offerings.

My favorite shot of Jurassic Park to play along with the great piece, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," offered at The Film Experience, comes very early on in the film.  It involves little technical whatsits but clearly, authoritatively and quietly sums up what the feeling that the filmmaking experience should be.

And Jurassic Park still does that even twenty years in...blindsides you in the magic and wonder of the cinema.

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