Saturday, October 15, 2011
Jurassic Park review
Jurassic Park was just re-released in the cinema. It's my understanding that it was exactly the same movie, just the print was restored or something of that nature. Now, I saw Jurassic Park in the cinema when it was originally released, and have not seen it since. I vaguely remember enjoying it at the time, but then I was probably 10 or 11 back then and my tastes weren't terribly refined, so I wasn't sure whether I would enjoy now, or my overly-critical adult self would spend the whole movie wincing at obvious flaws, cheesy acting, and poor effects.
As it happens, I did not wince. Even though I haven't watched the movie since it's original release (at least not in it's entirety, I may have caught bits on TV now and again, not sure to be honest), I could still remember a lot of scenes. That alone is an indication of how good the movie is, but what's more telling is that I pretty much knew who was going to live and who was going to die, I was watching scenes that I remembered a little, and yet still my heart was pounding, I was glued to the screen, completely engrossed.
As I watched I started to wonder how come, when movies had achieved such a pinnacle so long ago, we've so rarely managed to produce anything of such caliber since? Surely we've got it figured out by now, if Jurassic Park is any indication? But then I tried to figure out why it's so good, how it succeeds when others fail, and realised I could not arrive at any concrete conclusions. Perhaps that's the problem; movies are an art form, it's not simply a case of sticking to a set formula, and very minor nuances can sometimes make all the difference. And I suppose most movie productions are driven by business these days, so the art gets pushed to the side a little.
So lets try to talk about why it's so good (although this will be more of a list of good points than any real analysis of them), starting with the special effects: a few of the CGI scenes look a little bit low-budget by modern standards - as in, if you saw this quality of animation in a modern summer blockbuster you'd be a little disappointed, but if you saw them on a TV show you'd marvel at the high budget and quality of the effects. And that's only maybe 2 or 3 scenes out of a movie that's full to the brim with dinosaurs. There were times when I was frankly stunned, the T-Rex scene being a prime example. The movie also used animatronics, which were brilliant, and most of the time I struggled to tell the difference between the two. This really was a ground-breaking movie that still holds up very well almost 20 years later.
The characters were interesting and likeable. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) starts of with a bit of a 'grumpy old man' vibe, more comfortable around books and bones than around people, but when it all goes wrong he doesn't hesitate to risk his life for others, and steps turns out to be surprisingly capable. And he grows as a character as well, initially having a strong dislike of children but then bonding and caring for two.
Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) is likewise tough and capable, facing danger head on when necessary, but in her case it's arguable more impressive from a writing standpoint because the character is incredibly upbeat and positive. What's impressive about that you ask? Well, most of the 'tough' female characters I see in media have a bad attitude. I can only assume that most male writers feel the need to have their "femme-fatale" show how tough she is by delivering constant one-liners and verbally putting down all the "macho men" around her. Personally I think the need to put others down speaks of a lack of confidence, and find such characters un-likeable. Ellie doesn't need to criticise people around her, rather she's quietly confident, but never the damsel in distress.
Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is entertaining, not silly or slapstick but light-hearted. His presence helps balance the movie, the fact that he's somehow able to make you laugh in the middle of a T-Rex chase without ruining the tension is impressive.
John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is positively charming, a millionaire who isn't a complete jerk - what a concept. And while generally mild-mannered and almost child-like in his enthusiasm, he's certainly no pushover; from the first moment he steps onto the screen he has his way and everyone else is simply swept along.
I loved Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck), not for anything he did or said, but just because of how he carried himself: the hardened professional hunter who's been places and seen things, things he'd rather not talk about and you probably wouldn't want to hear. Just a fun character who I wish we had seen more of.
The character of Lex Murphy is perhaps not developed much during the movie as she spends much of the time being terrified and running for her life, but Ariana Richards does an absolutely amazing job - I have never seen such absolute terror portrayed on screen in my life. She's not forcing screams out at the top of her lungs as she claws at her face, nothing so melodramatic. No, she honestly seems to be so terrified that her mind and body have simply shut down, completely unable to deal with the situation. She sits there, completely petrified, her eyes so wide it must hurt, and just shakes. I honestly believe part of what makes the dinosaurs so scary in Jurassic Park is her reaction to them. Her naked terror is one of the most vivid things I remember from the movie.
Joseph Mazzello, as Tim Murphy, also does an impressive job as an annoying but inquisitive young boy. I think I was subconsciously relieved that it wasn't me he was pestering as I watched him chase Alan between cars, apparently oblivious to the fact that he wasn't wanted. His performance is very natural, unlike some children I've seen on screen who are basically just led around by the adults, stopping to woodenly deliver lines when called for.
Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) is a lawyer who's out of his element, and while he sees Jurassic Park as license to print money, he doesn't fall into the trap of being an outright slime-ball. Dennis Nedry (Nerdy?), played by Wayne Knight, is entertaining without overdoing it. And hey, look! It's Samuel L. Jackson back before he became Samuel! El! Jackson! Never seen without a cigarette in his mouth, he somehow manages to make the role of computer engineer a dramatic one.
The fact that all the characters are well written and acted is a big part of what makes this such a good movie. We care about them, we see the wonder and fear in their eyes and we feel amazed and terrified. The other part is that it's not an action movie, or a horror movie, but an adventure movie. When we finally see dinosaurs on screen, they are shown as majestic, fascinating creatures. We stare at them with a sense of wonder, and even at the end when we fear them, we don't hate them. And that's something special.
Jurassic Park is full of memorable moments and brilliant details. The waves in the glass of water as we start to hear a deep booming sound, the sight of a Tyrannosaur's gigantic eye staring in from the car window, the sudden moment that the leaves part and there's a raptor RIGHT THERE... you won't forget this film in a hurry. One of my favourite moments is when a raptor is peering in through a glass porthole, suddenly it snorts and the glass fogs up. It sounds like a small thing, but somehow it just stayed with me, perhaps because it was one of the moments that made them more real.
After a review like that, I can't possibly give it anything less than a 10 out of 10. I've never been particularly fond of dinosaurs, but even so I enjoyed this movie immensely. If you haven't seen it yet, you should, and even if you have the chance to watch it on a big screen is worth jumping at.