I tend to shy away from reviewing films based on the technical merits of the aspect ratio but the 3D IMAX re-release gave me the irresistible opportunity to review 1993’s “Jurassic Park” and, coincidentally, make it seven times I’ve seen it in the cinema. It’s my personal record for seeing a film on the big screen. Of course, I’ve seen it dozens of times since on VHS, DVD and Blu Ray. It’s one of the films I’ll always upgrade to the latest format.
Cards on the table, I was a huge dinosaur nut as a kid. Loved them – couldn’t get enough. Although I was 19 when Jurassic Park came out, you better believe I was there at the earliest showing I could get to. I can still remember the genuine feeling of awe as I saw, for the first time ever, truly realistic dinosaurs walking, breathing, coming to life right in front of me.
“Jurassic Park” is also, for me, a film that marks the end of an era. It was the last film Spielberg made before he lost his innocence making “Schindler’s List”. “Schindler’s List” changed him both as a person and a filmmaker and he’s never been the same since. He lost something in the change, a sense of swashbuckling, joyous abandon that he’s found it impossible to recapture after confronting the darkness of Oskar Schindler’s story. But before he irrevocably grew up as a filmmaker, he took us for one last trip to an island far, far more exciting than Neverland: Isla Nublar, 120 miles west of Costa Rica.
For “Jurassic Park”, Speilberg assembled with a cast that’s pretty hard to fault. Sam Neil is excellent as reluctant hero Alan Grant and while Laura Dern’s Ellie Satler lacks any real chemistry, Richard Attenborough’s jolly charisma more than makes up for it. Jeff Goldblum is at his most Goldblum-ish here and his amusingly annoying turn as Ian Malcolm makes it nigh-on impossible to believe he would end up being the leading man of the sequel. Add to this the best performance by children since “E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial” and you’ve got a near-perfect blend of wonder, action, thrills and special effects. While many liberties were taken with the source novel (and later recycled into the two lesser sequels), the core story is lean, propulsive and exhilarating. It’s expertly paced and the score by John Williams serves it well.
Expanded to the IMAX screen, “Jurassic Park” increases in majesty and spectacle, showing more than ever before a master at the height of his powers. While IMAX serves “Jurassic Park” well, the 3D is less successful. There are occasions, especially in the early scenes where the 3D places awkward landscape elements into the foreground, distracting from the rest of the frame.
It’s in the set pieces that “Jurassic Park” really delivers in IMAX. The T-Rex attack on the two Jeeps is magnified into a viscerally intense, terrifying spectacle which proved too much to handle for the seven-year old I saw it with. Looking at it anew, it really is a masterpiece in delivering and sustaining real, prolonged threat and danger on screen. Once the T-Rex has lumbered off, the film belongs to the velociraptors who quickly work their way through the rest of the disposable cast, including a pre-mega stardom Samuel L Jackson and a brilliant subtly reptilian performance by Bob Peck as Game Warden Robert Muldoon, doomed to fall prey to the “clever girl” he so fears and admires.
Ironically for a film which set new standards for the power and use of technology in movie making, it’s the computers that really date Jurassic Park now. From Dennis Nedry’s Apple MacIntosh workstation to the children’s excitement at the tour jeep having an “interactive CD ROM!”, to the graphic interface used to fix the phones and door locks, the computers and other technology seem as clunky and out of date now as the massive tape spools and blinking lights of movies in the 1970s. But it’s a minor gripe in a film so full of sights and sounds to savour.
The film builds to a thrilling and satisfying climax and I always enjoyed the fact that, in the finale, the T-Rex actually ends up being the hero and saving the survivors from the raptors, cementing its reputation as the world’s coolest dinosaur by far. “Jurassic Park” is a perfect example of the summer blockbuster, and I won’t rule out seeing it an 8th time on the big screen if I get the chance.