Thursday 27 December 2012

Jurassic Park (1993)

I had planned to avoid watching any movies this week as I've worked up a backlog of eleven watched-but-not-written-about films, and had meant to write, if not necessarily post, blogs about a few of them before consuming any more material.  On St. Christmas's Day, however, I was at my friend Blodeuwedd's house for Christmas pancakes, and made the mistake of examining the Radio Times legendary double-issue.  A quick glimpse provided a pleasant surprise: Jurassic Park is on after Doctor Who.  And since Blodeuwedd is a great ambassador for dragons*, and since my erstwhile housemate Philip J. Cook had recommended this film to me as the best possible slice of 1993, we could hardly resist.

I've meant to revisit this film for some while.  If I'd been patient and waited for its 2013 rerelease, of course, I could have seen it on the big screen in 3D - but I was not patient.  Nobody is patient when it's Christmas.  The reason I'd been so keen to give this another viewing?  In my memory, the dinosaurs on display are Real Live Dinosaurs, photo-realistic, actually present, no fakery about them.  Perhaps, I thought, nineties technology and low-grade VHS had fooled my infant eyes.  I was a little fearful of dinosaur-disappointment.  '93 is practically the eighties, after all, and most of a decade passed between this and the CGI-fests of of the Star Wars prequels, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings (listed here in ascending order of beauty and believability).  Would the majestic creatures now look as if they had sauntered out of a computer game?

If you haven't seen the film, this must look a dull screen-cap.

Well, first of all, this Steven Spielberg is an excellent director.  I had completely forgotten this, or never noticed it when I was younger, but he made this film excellent.  Perhaps I've heard his more recent films maligned so often that I've forgotten why he's famous - but this is amazingly tense, brilliantly exciting, perfectly constructed.  It looks handsome and it sound terrifying.  Hitchcock couldn't have made pursuit by velociraptors more tense, and Kubrick could not have made a more attractive or intriguing film about a Tyrannosaurus.

But what about those CGI dinosaurs?  How have they fared?  To my surprise, relief and delight, they are real live, actual dinosaurs.  How, nineteen years ago, it was possible to computer-generate creatures so convincingly present in the same place and lighting conditions as the actors, I cannot say.  Looking at a chronology of CGI, this was the age of 'Reboot' and 'Veggie Tales'.  Much of the praise must go to the compositing, but the basic ingredients are so good that, if you were to tell me this film made use of some actual living dinosaurs, I might just believe you.

There are only fifteen minutes of dinosaur footage, this economical use presumably allowing far more time, money and attention to go into those beautiful minutes.  Of this, about half is computer-generated dinosauriness, the other half animatronics - basically any shot where you only see a head and neck, or just a claw, is animatronic.  I really couldn't tell which was which - and that, to my mind, is the mark of photo-realism.  Like Fritz Lang's frightning dragon* in Die Nibelungen (1924), there was, apparently, a full-size real live physical T-rex built for this film.  A scary prospect.

A real live dinosaur!

There are some characters and in this film too, and they're all just fine, but I'm sorry to say we don't really watch Jurassic Park for anything but the dinosaurs.  I'll give them a moment, though - because as exciting as the dinosaurs are, they aren't just here to add spice to something dry.  On the contrary, this is a highly quotable script, full of witty characters, divided into the likeable and the hope-they-die-soon-oh-good-they-just-did-horribly.  I found, some decade-and-a-bit since I last saw this, I still know a few exchanges line for line and shot for shot.

I feel I've written an overwhelmingly positive review for you here, which may seem either naive or insincere.  Perhaps it's just nostalgia, and the fact I watched it most merrily on Christmas Day, but I really did find re-visiting 'Jurassic Park' an enjoyable experience.  It's a fair bit more accessible than some of the films I've been watching lately, and I'm interested to hear what young viewers, seeing it for the first time, may think.  I understand it's returning to the cinemas in April 2013, so we may find out whether the world shares my delectation.  As much as I tend to shun 3D, I may make an exception on this occasion.
When you gotta go, you gotta go.

Something else to check out: a video trailer for a low-budget live production of 'Jurassic Park' from a little earlier this year.  It's everything you might hope, so be sure to at least take a glimpse.

Can't wait til April?  Need to see a Dinosaur?  Why not resort to materialism?

* P.S. Dinosaurs are basically dragons, aren't they?


  1. This is pretty much how I feel about Jurassic Park, and it holds up much better than, for example, Jaws 3, because it's not a film about Dinosaurs (I used a big D) its a film about people being killed horribly by dinosaurs and running away a lot. I'm sure Ben knows my aversion to fire arms. It's nice to watch a film that isn't full o' guns. (pistol whipping is ok).

  2. I feel I ought to make one point against Jurassic Park, if only to balance out my praise a little: all the decent female characters are dinosaurs, and thus have no dialogue, meaning the film fails the Bechdel Test by default.