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Welcome (Back) to Jurassic Park

I have written many times here on the site that I am a big fan of revival screenings of classic films.  I am delighted whenever an opportunity comes to see a great movie back on the big screen.  I loved when Back to the Future returned to cinemas in honor of its 25th anniversary, and I was thrilled when Ghostbusters was screened at theatres nation-wide on several Thursdays in October last year.  I don’t understand why the studios don’t do more of this sort of thing.  I can think of so many classic films that fans like me would eagerly pay to get to see back on the big screen again!

Lately, one of the ways that we’ve been getting to see the occasional older film back in theatres is through a conversion to 3-D.  I loved seeing Toy Story and Toy Story 2, when they were re-released as a 3-D double-feature in 2009 in advance of Toy Story 3.  I didn’t get to Titanic 3-D (which I had interest in but never had time to see — I like Titanic, though I consider it one of James Cameron’s lesser works), and I didn’t have much interest in seeing Star Wars: Episode I in 3-D.  But when I read about the re-release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park in 3-D, I knew I wanted to be sure to see it.

I love Jurassic Park.  Seeing that film for the very first time in theatres back in 1993 remains one of the great movie-going experiences of my life.  The film absolutely blew me away.  It wasn’t just the extraordinary visual effects (so groundbreaking at the time for their use of CGI to bring the dinosaurs to life), though that was of course part of it.  It was the whole visceral experience of the film.  The movie scared the hell out of me.  Right from the prologue scene at night on Isla Nublar, and of course straight through from the T-Rex attack all the way to the Velociraptors-in-the-kitchen sequence at the end of the film, I was gripped by the intensity of the filmmaking.  I remember the experience like it was yesterday.

I have seen Jurassic Park many times since, over the years, on TV or video and then on DVD, and I’ve always enjoyed it.  But the opportunity to see the film again on the big screen?  How could I not eagerly snap that up?

Well, no surprise, seeing Jurassic Park in 2013 of course couldn’t live up to my memories of getting my hair blown back by the film as a kid back in 1993.  But I nevertheless had an absolutely marvelous time experiencing Jurassic Park on a big cinema screen, rather than on my TV.

The film is staggeringly well-made.  This is the work of Spielberg in his prime, with total mastery of all the cinematic and visual effects tools at his disposal, and complete control over what emotions he wants his audience to feel and when.  Working with a terrific ensemble, Spielberg takes things slow at first, giving us time to get to know all the characters.  It’s a long time into the movie — past the half-way mark, I believe — before that T-Rex attack and all hell breaking loose.  But I love the first half of the film, and even having seen the movie many times I never get impatient to “get to the good stuff.”  Part of that is the great combination of writing, directing, and acting, as I love each and every one of the characters introduced into the story — even the despicable ones like Nedry (Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight) — and love spending time with them, and part of it is the great joy I have in watching how carefully Mr. Spielberg sets up each and every story-telling domino, before gleefully knocking them all over in the latter half of the film.

That T-Rex attack is still magnificent to behold.  It’s a staggeringly effective scare-sequence.  It’s a LONG sequence, and John Williams’ score is totally absent, and yet each and every time I see it I am totally gripped by the scene, following every beat as the power goes out, The T-Rex attacks, the kids’ car gets smashed and knocked over the cliff, and on and on.  My jaw is on the floor each and every time in awed appreciation of how skillfully the whole thing was put together.

Re-watching the movie, I was stunned by how effective the film’s visual effects are, twenty years later.  In 1993, Mr. Spielberg was at the cutting edge of CGI, but I would expect that when viewed today the visuals would look impossibly dated.  And on the big screen, any imperfections would of course be magnified, right?  But, to my surprise, that wasn’t the case at all.  The visuals of Jurassic Park remain astonishing.  Yes, there are a one or two animatronic shots that are a little un-convincing.  (I’ve never quite been sold by the hatching baby Velociraptor or the sick Triceratops, but frankly those shots stood out to me back in 1993 — their effect hasn’t been changed by the years.)  But for the vast majority of the film, the dinosaurs look incredibly, impossibly real.  What an astounding job Mr. Spielberg and his array of artists did on this film.  And while I just noted a few of the animatronic shots that didn’t work for me, the reason that over-all the dinosaur effects hold up so well is because of the incredible skill with which Mr. Spielberg and his team mixed CGI shots with animatronic shots. There actually is far less CGI work in Jurassic Park than you might think, and all of the best sequences (like the afore-mentioned T-Rex attack or the Velociraptors-in-the-kitchen sequence) seamlessly combine CGI with animatronic work.  Bottom line: Jurassic Park is every single bit as visually stunning and convincing as it was back in 1993, and that is an astonishing truth that only magnifies the film’s incredible visual effects achievements.

I also, of course, have to note one of the other major components in Jurassic Park’s effectiveness: John Williams’ score.  I noted above the way that Mr. William’s score drops out of the T-Rex attack, a canny choice by Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Williams.  But the gorgeous score is a major factor in the film’s over-all effect — it’s like another character in the movie.  Watching this film in the theatre, when the InGen helicopter carrying Hammond, Dr. Grant, Dr. Satlow, and Dr. Malcolm approaches Jurassic Park, I wasn’t just enraptured by the gorgeous shot on the big screen, though that was super-cool.  No, I was captured mostly by the effect of hearing John Williams’ triumphant main Jurassic Park theme blasting from the theatre’s sound-system.  Glorious.

For lots more of my thoughts on Jurassic Park, please click here to read what I wrote about the film when I last re-watched it back in 2010.

I was curious about the effectiveness of the 3-D conversion, but to be honest I walked into Jurassic Park 3-D despite the 3-D, not because of it.  I’m not a huge fan of 3-D, and while I have seen some AMAZING 3-D films in recent years (many of the recent Pixar movies, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; and Avatar was amazing even though I didn’t really care for the film) I have also seen a lot of really terrible 3-D work.  (I loved Thor, but seeing that film in muddy 3-D made me swear off all 3-D films for a while.)

So how was the 3-D?  Well, it was just fine.  Cool in places, but over-all the best I can say is that it wasn’t at all distracting.  Luckily they didn’t over-do the 3-D effects with too much silly in-your-face shenanigans.  Frankly, after about 20 or 30 minutes, I totally forgot about paying attention to the 3-D being introduced into the scenes, and just got swept away by the film.

I noticed only one example where the 3-D seemed to mess something up.  In the scene, before things go crazy, in which Grant, Satlow, Malcolm and Gennaro are having lunch with Hammond, you see the characters gathered around a table in a darkened room, while projected screens appear behind them.  In the close-ups of Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), there’s a white light from one of the projectors over one of his shoulders.  It’s meant to be in the background behind him, but the 3-D made the white circle of light seem to be hovering somewhere in front of his face, which was weird.

But other than that, the 3-D was fine.  Fun in a few places, but over-all not intrusive.  The fun for me of seeing Jurassic Park 3-D had nothing at all to do with the 3-D.  It was all about seeing this great film back on the big screen, with a booming sound-system, the way I so enjoyed it back in 1993.

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