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Non-Review Review: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is one of the “big” blockbusters which defined the nineties. It’s easily recognisable and has thoroughly entrenched itself deep in popular culture – along with Independence Day or Terminator 2. Also, like the two aforementioned films, it’s actually quite good. Of course, coming from director Stephen Spielberg, the man who invented blockbuster cinema with Jaws, can’t hurt. 

I call him "Rex"...

If you doubt the movie’s impact, take a look at the number of iconic moments that pop into your head right off the bat. There’s the glass of water vibrating as the T-Rex approaches, the lawyer on the toilet, the introductory flight over the island, the raptors in the kitchen… I could go on. Remarkable for a film frequently regarded as one of the movies to spearhead the heavy- (some would say over-) use of CGI in movies, the special effects have aged remarkably well. Although the union between animatronics and CGI isn’t seamless, it holds together. Perhaps its a sign of the director’s skill and restraint – something to be appreciated all the more with the glut of CGI-filled movies we see week-in, week-out these days. 

In fact, John himself – brought wonderfully to life by Richard Attenborough – seems almost like a director, trying to bring his audience something more “real” rather than something that can be dismissed as a mere illusion. In one key scene, he discusses his origins running a motorised flea circus, that required incredible suspension of disbelief from the children. However this illusion – and Ellie correctly points out that the attraction is also an illusion rather than being anything real – would be “something special”. It feels perhaps like Spielberg is talking through his characters, trying to explain his desire to offer something new and magical for everyone. 

However, as fantastice (and revolutionary) as the special effects were (and, really, they’d provide a lot of the movie’s appeal on their own), the true charm of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park – particularly compared to the glut of similarly-themed monster movies that followed – is that Jurassic Park never really lets go of the fact that it is essentially a B-movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a B-movie made to the highest standards, but it is still – at its core – a B-movie. It is a story of science gone wild, a cautionary tale of the consequences of man meddling with nature. Despite populating its cast with scientists and archeologists, it’s a movie that steadfastly protests that there are some boundaries man should not cross. “God creates dinosaurs,” Dr. Ian Malcolm summarises the movie for us, “God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” There’s a telling sequence early on when – having assembled a whole selection of dino-experts – the mind behind the parks is somewhat disappointed that the only one on his side is “the blood-sucking lawyer”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. 

Doctor Malcolm has quite a flare for this sort of thing...

The fact that the movie treats the chaos theorist, Dr. Ian Malcolm, as an absolute stand-in for science betrays this core conservative streak. Most scientists rigourously pursue greater knowledge in the hopes that the universe can be rationally explained. However, the school of chaos theory offered in the film is more of a philosophical position: there are certain things that cannot be predicted, no matter how perfect your model. There is always a flaw in the system. 

Despite the on-coming tropical storm – which serves as a convenient plot device to isolate a small cast on an island that would otherwise be populated with a few hundred people – the inevitable faults in the park are, of course, all human. The circumstances which lead to the rampaging dinosaurs preying on the helpless by-standers are created by flaws in the men responsible for designing the attraction – Nedry’s greed and John’s ego chief amongst them. The movie seems to avoid blaming the dinosaurs for the carnage – they are, after all, only doing what nature intended (“they’re not monsters, they’re only animals,” one of the characters explains to a frightened child, “they just do what they do”). This movie could proudly stand alongside the monster movies of the fifties – the tales of atomic paranoia manifesting themselves in giant ants or blobs, so perhaps it is perfectly apt that this is a story of genetic experimentation gone wild. 

This ignores the fact that movie is fantastically made. Of course all its technical aspects – right down to the lead performances from cult actors as diverse as Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, who lend the movie a much quirkier aspect than you’d normally see in a blockbuster – are incredibly impressive. Go on, hum the overture. I won’t blame you. 

Spielberg’s direction is perfect, demonstrating that there’s really not a director who can please a crowd quite as skilfully. He manages to draw real emotion from the film, even amidst all the giant flesh-eating dinosaurs – the humour is wonderful, never so much as to overwhelm the thrill or excitement. There’s even room for Spielberg to work in his favourite themes (the awkward relationship between father-figures and children (here reflected in the merry band of the archeologist and the two grandkids) without it feeling forced or awkward. 

Jurassic Park is easily one of the better blockbusters of the nineties (and also one of the better blockbusters ever produced). Sure, it’s hokey and ultimately quite light, but it’s also enjoyable and unashamed of its pulpy roots – while never really descending into camp. Now, if only the sequels were half as good.

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7 Responses

  1. I agree; it’s definitely one of the best blockbusters to come out of the nineties and it still stands the test of time. The last time I watched it was about a year ago and although the special effects looked dated, it’s still a great movie and thoroughly entertaining.

  2. As well as the effects, the humour and the whole notion of dinosaur cloning itself (which I thought, at the time, was going to happen any day…I’m still waiting..), all of which made this film one of my favourites as a child, I always felt that Jeff Goldblum was one of the best ingredients in this film (This may have been influenced by the fact that I was an eight year old who was unusually “enthralled” by him) (From a young age, I’ve always been drawn to the cynical and dark characters in films/tv, so that also sometimes makes it difficult to be objective! Shredder from the animated TMHT was another one). Each character was also so well-defined to a sterotype – There was something for everyone, so to speak. I remember numerous discussions with my sisters about which character was the best and why – A discussion often preceding hours of playing the boardgame.

    To sum up, when I used to watch it, I always loved the plot, the special effects, most of the cast and Goldblum’s delivery of humour, which I guess leaves very little that I didn’t like about the film. I think nostalgia has a huge part to play 🙂 The m0vie blog seems to induce film and superhero nostalgia quite a bit!

  3. Also, these captions – My favourite captions so far.

  4. Saw this as a kid, I loved it. I still love it, thanks to the great Spielberg filmmaking and the good cast. It’s missing the edge of the book, but I’m willing to forgive it because it’s just so fun to watch.

  5. One of the great blockbuster of all time and my best movie theater experience to date (I think it can’t be beaten being a kid and all). Fantastic review Darren!

  6. What is astounding is how well the special-effects stand up today. I know the film didn’t use as much CGI as some might think, but that’s testment to the quality of the model makers and puppeteers. It says a lot about fantasy cinema not needing total CGI ala Episode 1, 2, 3 et al.

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