Friday, February 18, 2011

1994 Hugo for Dramatic Presentation, 1993 Saturn – JURASSIC PARK

Michael Crichton had an unhealthy obsession with amusement parks that tried to kill their patrons. Between his Jurassic Park franchise and his Westworld franchise, I can only assume that he had a very bad experience at Disneyland at some point in his life.

The titular park is filled with dinosaurs cloned from DNA discovered in prehistoric mosquitos fossilized in amber. It’s not all that far-fetched, other than the problem that we have no mosquito fossils from nearly that long ago. We do have a fair amount of mammoth DNA though, and scientists have speculated about developing clones and using elephants as surrogates. The film "Late Pleistocene Park" probably wouldn’t have grossed 900 bijillion dollars like this one though. The filmmakers also cheated by making their velociraptors twice as large as they really were, but paleontologists fixed that problem by discovering the larger utahraptors around the time of the film’s release.

Anyway, the plot: billionaire John Hammond brings in a group of scientists, a lawyer, and his grandchildren to examine the dinosaur-filled park that he’s building, but everything goes wrong and the dinosaurs run wild. It’s a fun romp, but the big attraction at the time was the dinosaurs themselves, which look a sight better than the first on-screen live action dinosaurs in 1925’s The Lost World. Between T2 and this film, we’re clearly in the midst of a cgi revolution, and I certainly remember feeling that at the time. Jurassic Park is far more ambitious as it attempts to use computer effects to create realistic living, moving creatures rather than silvery goo. As a result, the effects have not aged nearly as well. The running T-Rex and raptors still look pretty good, but the static shots that first reveal the prehistoric animals – which I remembered as awe-inspiring – look a bit like what you’d see in a cable documentary these days.

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed re-watching the film quite a bit. Overall, it’s aged better than I’d expected. I think there are two secrets to this success. The first in Spielberg’s direction – he’s at the peak of his abilities (Schindler’s List was released in the same year, believe it or not), and his talents for suspense and action show through. I also like Spielberg’s signature “smoky light beam” effect a lot more than J. J. Abrams' unhealthy lens-flare addiction. The performances also keep the film interesting – Spielberg has a talent for eliciting not-annoying performances from child actors and Sam Neill and Laura Dern are solid as the heroic paleontologists. Meanwhile, Sir Richard Attenborough and Jeff Goldblum chew through the scenery as an eccentric billionaire and rockstar chaos mathematician, respectively. Even Samuel L. Jackson, in a minor role, keeps things lively. Everyone involved from the director to the actors to the effects people walk the line between serious suspense and pulp romp, and they’ve created a memorable classic in the process.

Don’t worry though, Spielberg proved in Jurassic Park II: The Lost World that he’s fully capable of making horrible films as well!

Grade: B+

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