Friday, June 20, 2008

Review - Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
1994 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

I remember the hype that lead up to this movie. Spielberg hid all footage of the dinosaurs but had to use them to promote the movie so there were things like onset pictures of the director with black dinosaur outlines behind him where they blocked out the models. Everyone inside hollywood seemed to think that Jurassic Park was going to be a monster hit but the public only had promises. Then the big day came and despite a few flaws the movie was everything that was promised.

Jurassic Park is based on the Michael Crichton novel and in it a theme park developer manages to clone dinosaurs to populate an island safari park. Before opening the park to the public he needs experts to sign off on the safety and so he pulls in a mathematician and two paleontologists to examine things. As must always happen when people in a Crichton story go to a theme park the exhibits run wild initiating a lot of screaming and running.

Let's talk about the bad first. The story is just a loose framework for hanging action sequences on and does not hold together well. People do stupid things just to move the plot on to the next section and coincidences abound.

Thematically the movie is lost. It pounds a message "Don't play god" (handed down from people who don't have enough information to make an actual judgment) because nature is better but all of the chaos is directly due to human intervention and the lack of anything resembling safety procedures at the park.

And I know the park must have been built outside of the US (Costa Rica to be exact) since there's no way in hell that OSHA would let it be a workplace let alone allow people to tour it. Not a single safety device functions: seat harnesses don't hold, car doors on rides don't lock, back up generators for vital systems don't exist, animal handling is done poorly at best, and so on. If the elementary procedures required for Six Flags were in place then this movie could not have happened.

The characters are annoying at best. When they're not telling us that creating dinosaurs is evil (as opposed to building a death trap of a theme park) they're filling times with reaction shots of them looking awed at the majesty of nature. And there's a pair of "cute" kids who act poorly and scream a lot.

But you know what? Who cares about that. We're here for the dinosaurs and that's what this movie does well. From the point where the first shot of dinosaurs roaming the island occurs the viewer will rarely be more than a few moments away from another spectacular sequence involving the animals. They look incredible and perhaps more importantly they move so smoothly and with enough grace to give them a real feeling of life. Jurassic Park is about as close as anyone has ever gotten to putting real life dinosaurs on the screen and the old Godzilla style tail draggers have all but vanished from their depictions.

And the action sequences involving those dinosaurs are done as well as anything Spielberg has ever shot. If there's one thing that man does well (or perhaps I should say did well) is frame exciting action sequences. In that regard I would say Jurassic Park is his masterpiece but there is Raiders of the Lost Ark as well; perhaps the two of them can fight on top of a collapsing ancient monument while dodging lava bombs from an erupting volcano.

So I guess a final judgment comes down to what you want. Clever story and brilliant acting? Go somewhere else. On the other hand if you want to say "Ooh! Dinosaurs!" then this is the only movie worth watching.