There’s little left to say about ‘Jurassic Park’ and the phenomenal legacy it’s left on film history. How it smashed box-office records around the world, setting an all-time high unrivaled until ‘Titanic’. How it single-handedly rung the death-kneel for stop-motion animation and ushered in the era of photo-realistic CGI. How it realized the dreams of hundreds upon millions of children (and inner children), and proceeded, in the prophetic words of John Hammond, to “capture the imagination of the entire planet.” Life, despite countless odds, did indeed find a way.
Unleashed in cinemas twenty years ago this June, ‘Jurassic Park’ joins the growing ranks of classic films to undergo a re-release via a 3D upgrade. Unlike a number of dubious recent post-conversions, ‘Jurassic Park’ truly deserves its “classic” status, and has received a brilliant restoration, with unobtrusive 3D that preserves the original cinematography and sharpens the film’s visual fidelity. Although the 3D does little to enhance the overall experience of the film (it remains as exciting, ground-breaking, thrilling, and terrifying as it did two decades ago), the biggest drawcard is its release on the enormous IMAX screen. ‘Jurassic Park’, at long last, can finally be enjoyed on a visual and aural scale truly deserving of its larger-than-life subjects.
Of all Spielberg’s flights of childhood fancy (and there are a lot), ‘Jurassic Park’ is the one that defines not only his filmography, but the cinematic experiences of an entire generation. For those too young for the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, and with ‘Harry Potter’ still a sketch on J. K. Rowling’s commuter train, ‘Jurassic Park’ ticked the box of manic obsession for kids of the early 90s. “I wanted to make a movie for all those dinosaur lovers,” says Spielberg - and that’s exactly what he did.
JURASSIC PARK 3D - TRAILER
Daniel Lammin, fellow SWITCH reviewer and Spielberg enthusiast, was one such lover. For him, ‘Jurassic Park’ sparked not merely a love of movie monsters, but movies as a whole. “I was very young at the time,” he recalls, with discernible fond nostalgia. “My whole family made a trip to see it. I remember two things about that night: the first was that, by the end of the film, it was just me and my aunt left (my little brothers had gotten too scared and Mum had to take them out), and that I didn't move for two hours. That was the moment I fell in love with cinema as an art form; I suddenly saw what it was actually capable of.”
Those “capabilities” were no easy feat. When Spielberg set out to make his tale of dinos run amok, he was adamant it would rise above its schlocky premise and, in his own words, “would not be a monster movie.” While it has its fair share of carnivorous horror (I was personally forbidden from seeing it because of its more nightmare-inducing sequences), much of the film’s success hinges on the sense of wonder Spielberg brings to his prehistoric beasties. The beauty of the natural world is the film’s major thesis, most strikingly evident in the hatchery scene – the miracle and fragility of life distilled in a blinking, mewling velociraptor hatchling – and in Hammond’s iconic welcome to the dumbstruck scientists, dwarfed in the shadow of a grazing Brachiosaurus.
Of course, John Williams’ lush, rapturously soaring score is largely responsible for solidifying Spielberg’s (and the audience’s) wide-eyed sense of awe. Williams terms the feeling of the orchestral movement upon first viewing the dinosaur herds as akin to “entering a cathedral”, and it’s in conjunction with this magnificent suite of music that Spielberg’s film elevates itself above monster gore and sci-fi terror.
“[That scene] still makes me cry,” Lammin confides; a sentiment we both, for shame, share. “But not simply for the sight of the dinosaur: it's the look on Grant and Sattler's faces, the disbelief and awe. It's almost a religious moment.” In his marriage of reverent music and montage, Spielberg celebrates his creatures with child-like wonder – showing them the respect Hammond’s misguided scientists fail to impart.
Of all Spielberg’s flights of childhood fancy, ‘Jurassic Park’ is the one that defines not only his filmography, but the cinematic experiences of an entire generation.
If part of ‘Jurassic Park’s' phenomenal success as a superlative blockbuster lies in childhood wish fulfilment, the majority is in its sheer economy of filmmaking. Not a single moment of film is wasted – the plotting is tight, the characterisation lean, and the action breathless in its simple ferocity and ferocious simplicity. (Think how unremarkable scenarios such as the kitchen scene or tree escape are in their minimal, lateral execution.)
“It's a very simply executed film,” agrees Lammin, “but it still remains deeply affecting without attempting Christopher Nolan-style tricks. The dinosaurs are allowed to be present on the screen as characters themselves, and the camera serves to present them without getting in the way.”
This minimalist outcome is no coincidence, and extends to the substantial craft employed behind the camera. Every moment of the film was storyboarded to accommodate the many complex elements involved; particularly complicated scenes involving practical, composite, and CGI effects (such as the Tyrannosaurus escape) were shot as stop-motion animatics to streamline the on-set shoot. Due to scheduling conflicts, Spielberg oversaw post-production while shooting ‘Schindler’s List’ in Krakow; he would travel to Paris each weekend to view completed FX shots, overseen at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) by his good pal, George Lucas.
His dinosaurs, unprecedented both physically and digitally, were brought to life by an army of award-winning cinematic wizards, including animatronics by the legendary Stan Winston (‘Aliens’, ‘Terminator 2’), stop-motion design (and later digital pupeteering) by Phil Tippett (‘Dragonslayer’, ‘Return of the Jedi’), and sound design by Gary Rydstrom (‘T2, ‘Titanic’). Their work was rewarded with three Oscars (Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects) at the 1993 Academy Awards.
Their dinosaurs, both real and computer generated, persist to this day as the definitive renditions – as does ‘Jurassic Park’, the perfect synergy of Steven Spielberg’s cinema of imagination. Its enduring popularity is no mystery, but its disparate magical elements (both in front of and behind the camera) are seldom replicated – not least within its own franchise. With the third sequel slated for a 2014 release, the original casts a formidable shadow, and one more relevant than ever.
“‘Jurassic Park’ is a reminder of the potential artistry of a 'Hollywood Blockbuster',” says Lammin, “something I think filmmakers and audiences today could do with being reminded of. The sense of wonder the film had in 1993 is still preserved – that sense of seeing something you never thought you would see.”
Spielberg’s cinema – be it a presidential struggle for equality, an alien’s attempts to phone home, or dinosaurs brought to life by the double-edged sword of science – is the cinema of seeing things through bold, new eyes. It’s cinema filled with wonder: wonder at what is, what was, and what will be. ‘Jurassic Park’ is one such wonder.
65 million years in the making, may it last 65 million more. Welcome back to ‘Jurassic Park’.