I’ve seen “Jurassic Park” in theaters more than any other movie. I was 15 when it came out and it made for a bit of a perfect storm because my childhood fascination with dinosaurs bumped up against the movie-going freedom of adolescence.
Throw in an intense love of movies, Steven Spielberg at the top of his game, and a huge technological leap forward in special effects and it’s no wonder I saw it more than a dozen times that summer.
But time has passed and that was what … let’s see… carry the one… twenty years ago!?! Crud. Anyway, “Jurassic Park” has been re-released in theaters and has been converted to 3D to boot.
The conversion to 3D wasn’t at all distracting (which is actually the highest compliment you can pay to a movie converted from 2D), but the biggest joy was getting to see one of cinema’s greatest thrill rides back on the big screen.
It has been several years since I had actually watched “Jurassic Park” from beginning to end, so I sat down intent on unraveling exactly what it was about this movie that blew my teenaged mind, oh, so many years ago.
First and most obvious is the “wow” factor. Look! Dinosaurs! Walking around! “Jurassic Park” is remembered as a landmark moment for computer-generated effects, but a significant amount of dino-action came from state-of-the-art, practical puppets created by legendary makeup artist Stan Winston.
Giving the actors and audience something tangible to interact with actually helped to sell the big effects-driven sequences that slipped in (almost) seamlessly with the rest of the action. Too bad none of these facts rubbed off on George Lucas.
Often overlooked are the humans of “Jurassic Park,” which is a bit of a shame because Spielberg really did assemble a rock-solid cast.
Spielberg and kids go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so it’s no surprise that Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello are great as the resident children-in-distress.
Sam Neil gives a workman-like performance as the heroic lead and Jeff Goldblum crushes the comic-relief/moral-center role with his wonderfully weird charm.
I had kind of forgotten what a weak link Laura Dern was in this movie. She was clearly miscast, and she and Neil have all the chemistry of a wet bag of potato chips.
Also forgotten, but on a more positive note, was how great Richard Attenborough was. His is probably the best performance in the movie as a sort of bizzaro Walt Disney who has to come to grips with the fact that his hard-fought dream has turned into a nightmare.
There’s also some great supporting turns from the likes of Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson, and the forgotten Bob Peck as the park’s game warden, who brilliantly chews lines like “Quiet! All of you! They’re approaching the Tyrannosaur paddock” and “We’re being hunted.”
The script gets a nice polish from the novel’s author, Michael Crichton, who interjects enough science and plausibility to allow you to suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours without hating yourself in the morning.
Plus, there are the underlying themes of humility in the face of nature, and the dangers of the careless application of science and technology, which are pretty meaty for a dinosaur-eating-people movie.
But really, what makes “Jurassic Park” great is that it is a Steven-Spielberg-master-class in constructing action set pieces. From the initial T-Rex attack on, the thrilling sequences are almost too many to count.
From the car in the tree to the electric fence to the velociraptors in the kitchen, each is fantastically conceived and executed to the point that Spielberg doesn’t let you off the edge of your seat for over an hour.
Any summer blockbuster is lucky to have a single scene this exciting and memorable and “Jurassic Park” boasts a good half-dozen.
Film as entertainment really doesn’t get much better than this and what might be most impressive of all is that this movie hasn’t aged nearly as much as I have.
I think the highest compliment I can pay “Jurassic Park” is that while I sat there trying to deconstruct the nuts and bolts of this movie, about halfway through I lost myself and I was 15 again with my only concern being escaping those darn raptors.
No other movie that comes out this year will be able to top this heady blast of nostalgia.
“Jurassic Park 3D” is rated PG-13 for intense science fiction terror.