America elected a black president, the world economy shit the bed, over 45 large-scale armed conflicts went down, jeans got tighter, morals got looser, New York City saw its dual monuments burn to the ground, global connectivity skyrocketed, Converse came back, New Balance went, soccer never caught on, the price of college doubled, Michael Jackson went in, out, in, out, and finally in public favor (at the cost of his life), and the availability of information exploded.
And the funny thing? After all this, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park STILL look good.
Perhaps a more essential question is whether the actual storytelling of America’s one-time “Biggest Movie Ever” holds up. In short, no doubt. But given that the return of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 dinosaur flick has been touted as a mega-million/IMAX/3-D/whatever-the-hell-else spectacle, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know that all of the generally mindless, sometimes soulful scares are still as raw and as visceral as one remembers them. The film is presented with no edits, CGI addendums or extra footage, leaving the end product to stand simply for itself.
With 20 years (or 16 in this reviewer’s case) of hindsight, Jurassic Park serves as a total anomaly in the history of blockbuster filmmaking on one very simple basis: the spectacle serves the storytelling, not vice-versa. The impact of this film on the usage of CGI has been well-documented (in short: afterwards it flooded the market), but seeing Park on a massive screen was surprising in the sense that one realizes just how rarely Spielberg caves into special effects. The dinosaurs here are largely animatronic, giving every roar and every step a sense of physical dimension that many films simply don’t do. Spielberg’s outlandish set-pieces remain remarkably effective, especially the long-awaited reveal of the T-rex at the hour mark. It’s worth noting, for an artist widely criticized for perceived overt sentimentality, just how often he dangles children’s lives about in this film. He makes them writhe, climb, fall, bleed and scream, and while I certainly recognize that in a sense he’s using them, he still does it rather well.
And perhaps it’s because this aspect was criticized upon initial release, but the human dimensions of Jurassic Park go largely underrated. Where the heroes of today’s blockbusters are all too content to play it cool as absolute chaos rages around them, screenwriter David Koepp wisely allows them the space to express genuine awe at what they see. The performance of Jeff Goldblum remains sharp and rambling, while Sam Neill’s arc from withdrawn fossil expert to warm, genuine hero is still convincingly pulled off, cliches and all. Seeing Wayne Knight, the cruel fat guy from Seinfeld, getting eaten alive by dinosaurs remains insanely satisfying. It’s also a neat gimmick to see Samuel L. Jackson performing, the year before his Pulp Fiction Jheri curls lifted him to cult stardom.
For reasons fairly self-evident, this is a landmark film. History has taught us (or at least, taught me) to be utterly grateful for films such as this, where the highest available standard of technology is employed not for the sake of itself, but for the sake of genuine artistic fulfillment. In this case, what exactly is being fulfilled? If a detractor were to say, ‘little more than a warning not to tamper too much with nature’, I couldn’t fault them. But even still, with Jurassic Park we witness Steven Spielberg at a peak of confidence and assurance as both a storyteller and technological innovator. As history taught us, he was only just getting warmed up this year, dropping Schindler’s List a mere six months after its June ’93 release, but Spielberg managed to stretch cinema’s boundaries with Jurassic Park. It wouldn’t be the first time, it wouldn’t be the last, but it just might be the most fun of them all. A
[Note: The actual 3D aspect of this film’s release did exactly what it should in situations such as this: enhance the depth of field and immersivity of the experience to the extent that it eventually disappears. The technology is not a gimmick, but a tool, and while this re-release was no doubt financially motivated I sincerely believe it was done for reasons of integrity as well. It is a success.]