Back in 1993, what was astonishing in “Jurassic Park” was the special effects that seemed to bring dinosaurs back to life. Two decades later, rediscovering Steven Spielberg’s mastery of cinematic storytelling is the best reason to go see it again.
It is back in theaters with the best 3D conversion I’ve seen, avoiding the cheesy Viewmaster effect too often the result of adding 3D effects after a movie has already been filmed. Other than a couple of shots where the foreground is distractingly blurred, the effects are immersive and organic, and the dinosaurs-jumping-toward-you moments are sparing and effective.
My favorite moment in the film has always been when the characters are trying to outrace the charging T-Rex in a jeep. All of a sudden, we see a toothy dinosaur coming at them fast and angry in the side rear-view mirror. It takes a moment for the words on the mirror to register: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” Spielberg has found a way to make us laugh and ramp up the tension at the same time. And it is even more compelling in 3D.
The movie holds up remarkably well, other than the computers and walkie-talkies used by the characters, which will seem to today’s audiences almost as prehistoric as the dinosaurs. On the other hand, its then-state-of-the-art special effects, a combination of mechanical creations and computer images, are still as immediately believable as the high-techiest creatures on screen today.
Spielberg has gone on to weightier and more prestigious projects, but this thrill ride of a popcorn pleasure is one of his best and a masterpiece of the genre. It shows his unparalleled gifts for pacing and for the visual language of movies, and his ability to make us invest in the characters. That is what makes all the special effects pack an emotional wallop. He conveys more with ripples in a glass of water — or a sneeze — than most filmmakers can with 15 pages of dialogue.
The story, based on a book by the late Michael Crichton, begins with hubris, the sin of pride so great that a man places himself with the gods and thus sets the stage for his downfall. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is a vastly wealthy man who dreams of extracting dinosaur and plant DNA that has been trapped for millions of years in amber and using it to reboot species of flora and fauna that have not been seen on earth. Spielberg grounds the story with a strong moral core that lets us enjoy the catastrophic destruction ahead without any inconvenient pangs of conscience.
Spielberg also makes sure we have someone to root for, lining up our loyalties with a quick introduction to characters we can both identify with and admire. Laura Dern and Sam Neill play experts in paleolithic animals and plants. They are (1) interested in science, not money (except to pursue more science), and (2) in love. That’s all we need to know. But just to make sure, he adds in a couple of children (Hammond is their grandfather), who not only get our automatic protective instincts going but give Neill’s character a chance to grow. At the beginning, he does not like children. At the end — spoiler alert — he does.
Go to see “Jurassic Park” in 3D. Go to take your kids who were not born when it was released. Go to see it the way it should be seen, on a big screen in a theater filled with happily terrified fans. Go to see Samuel L. Jackson before he was SAMUEL L. JACKSON. And for a young female computer whiz who could grow up to be Sheryl Sandberg. But most of all, go for the resoundingly satisfying delight of watching pure Spielberg movie magic.
Parents should know that this movie has non-stop peril, with characters injured and killed and some graphic scenes of injury, including a severed limb, brief strong language (s-word, SOB), drinking and smoking
Family discussion: How many different controls were in place to prevent the dinosaurs from hurting anyone and how did each one fail? What have been the biggest changes in science and technology since this movie was made? Learn about current experiments with gene splicing of animals by reading Frankenstein’s Cat by Emily Anthes
If you like this, try: your local museum to see dinosaur fossils and Spielberg’s “Jaws” and “Duel”