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Movie review: Welcome back to 'Jurassic Park'

Posted: April 10, 2013 - 3:12pm

“Jurassic Park 3-D”

Universal Pictures

2 hours, 7 minutes

I remember when I was younger, my brother, who is several years older than I, remarked that he was amazed that I hadn’t seen “Casablanca.” It wasn’t a criticism, however — he was actually a little jealous, realizing that the experience he had at first seeing such a great film was something he would never be able to get back, no matter how many times he dived back into to Rick and Ilsa’s doomed romance, and that it was something I had still in front of me.

I know how he felt when I think back on first seeing “Jurassic Park” in theaters 20 years ago, being re-released in 3D this week for a two-decade anniversary. I wish I could get that sense of amazement back, that sheer awe at seeing an actual brachiosaurus astride the grassy hilltop as Sam Neill and Laura Dern pulled alongside in their brightly colored jeep.

My jealousy is tinged with sadness however. It sounds almost silly to gush about a scene like that today, in an age where anything and everything is possible on the silver screen — where digital effects make the imagination come to life with ease, yet often lose the soul in the process. I asked our babysitter, a young lady who I often use to try to gauge the attitudes of teenagers, whether she’d ever seen “Jurassic Park,” and she sheepishly said no, she hadn’t, but that she’d heard of it. It’s not surprising, I guess. A movie about dinosaurs coming back to life sounds positively low rent compared to “Lord of the Rings,” or “Transformers.”

It’s hard to describe the excitement caused by the original release of “Jurassic Park.” That scene — our first glimpse of actual dinosaurs — that’s a sense of awe we’ll not get back. And yet, it spawned every fantasy film since. People had never seen anything like it. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” had combined cartoons and real actors, yes, but it was a gimmick. A fun gimmick, certainly, but no sea change.

But when Steven Spielberg showed that computer effects could really, truly integrate with live action film, he opened the floodgates. And yet, like so many of the best films, the true genius of “Jurassic Park” is in the problem solving. Much like in “Jaws,” Spielberg realized that less is more, and that too much CGI would spoil the effect. The movie is, in fact, a perfect hybrid of the old and the new — brilliant model and practical effects mixed with top of the line computer graphics.

If you are under the age of 18 and haven’t actually seen “Jurassic Park,” I’ll lay out the plot for you. A wealthy dinosaur enthusiast and his team achieve the impossible. They figure out how to clone dinosaurs by recreating ancient DNA trapped in the bellies of fossilized mosquitoes. They then create said dinosaurs and place them on an island nature preserve — a kind of Mesozoic zoo, where everything runs exactly according to plan and no one gets eaten.

Oh, wait, that doesn’t make sense. These are dinosaurs we’re talking about. The film stars Jeff Goldblum in addition to Neill and Dern, and was the very definition of a smash hit. After “E.T.,” “Jaws,” and a half-dozen other hits, Steven Spielberg was a household name, but with this film he proved that he could stretch technological barriers and achieve basically anything. Considering that this film and “Schindler’s List” were released the same year, it’s safe to say that 1993 cemented Spielberg’s place in history.

Aside from the amazing effects, the film is perfectly paced — a Spielberg specialty. It’s almost like a great play or a great song. It hits all the beats at just the right moments. The excitement builds and builds, and then the director lets off just a little steam with a bit of comic relief before ramping it right back up. There are a few moments that are over the top and occasionally there are leaps of logic, but the entire affair is just so much fun that you overlook the tiny flaws in favor of the comprehensive experience. Neill, Dern, and Goldblum, along with Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, and Wayne Knight all play their parts perfectly, bringing together as close to a perfect product as possible.

Is it worth seeing this again in 3D? Yes and no, I suppose. Seeing the movie again on the big screen is a rare treat, and I’d encourage anyone to go. The best I can say about the 3D is that it doesn’t take away from the story, but it’s not necessary either. I think I’d have rather watched a pristine copy of the original film without the sunglasses, but I’ll take what I can get.

Re-experiencing this movie on the big screen was somewhat bittersweet, however. The effects are still incredible, and hold up well against today’s more intense and encompassing CGI. And yet, there’s no going back. It’s hard to describe how the audience reacted upon first seeing that dinosaur. How often these days do you hear a collective gasp? How often anymore is the audience moved to clap and applaud the screen? Not very, unfortunately. More often than not with big-budget spectacles, even with the ones I enjoy, I’m left slightly disappointed anymore.

“Jurassic Park” is an example of a movie that not only met expectations, but exceeded them in ground-breaking ways. I love the movies. I love the idea of the movies. I love going to the movies. But too rarely do I actually love the particular movie I watch. “Jurassic Park” is one movie that I truly, unabashedly love.

Grade: A+

“Jurassic Park” is rated PG-13 for dino-violence and mild language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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