(Sick) triceratops, velociraptors, and T-rex, oh my! With the recent success of Jurassic World, I finally correct a glaring deficiency in my film literacy by taking a look back at the original Jurassic Park. I enjoyed the film, marveled at the dinosaurs, and kind of wished I was watching Jaws instead.
From the opening frames of this movie, you know you’re watching a Steven Spielberg film. It looks like the opening of an Indiana Jones or even Close Encounters, right down to the location titles. Firmly in familiar cinematic territory, the film introduces our adventurers and starts hinting at what’s to come. Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sadler (Laura Dern) are studying dinosaurs and have just been fully funded for the next three years by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) but on one condition, that they come and give their opinions on his new amusement park. Little to they know it features real, live dinosaurs, cloned from the blood preserved in prehistoric mosquitoes. Along for the ride is a hot shot mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and Hammond’s grandkids, Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards).
For me, it’s the opening set up that’s my favorite part, because after the dinosaurs appear the film devolves into mindless action sequences for the rest of the film’s running time. They’re expertly crafted action sequences, for sure, featuring expertly crafted dinosaurs, but when your film is all action I’m gonna have a hard time paying attention to it. One can’t help remember Jaws, where the shark famously didn’t show up until the end. Jurassic Park doesn’t keep the dinosaurs under wraps for long, and once they show up, they really don’t go away. There’s not a lot of suspense because it’s not like the main characters are going to get killed off in a mainstream family blockbuster like this one. The dinosaurs also really don’t go away, so you’re not waiting with baited breath, wondering when they’re gonna jump out at you. Another analogy: if Jaws is suspenseful with its monster like Alien, then Jurassic Park is overkill like Aliens.
The film’s themes are that of Frankenstein‘s, which is not to say they’re not valid, but it is to say they are not particularly new and the film doesn’t advance them outside of most other stories that deal with them. Richard Attenborough’s character did manage to get some actual sympathy out of me though, because he really seem to believe in what he was doing. You can see this in how the other characters relate to the kind old man, they know he’s horribly misguided but not in an arrogant way. They all try to break their reservations about the park to him as gently as possible. It’s heartwarming in a strange kind of way, even though in the hands of a different actor Hammond would have probably come across as despicable.
I think Jurassic Park is a good movie, but one that only could have been helped if I had already had a nostalgic connection to it. Seeing it for the first time now allows me to recognize why it is so famous, but I didn’t get into it a whole lot, especially in the second half. I appreciated the creation of the dinosaurs, and the set up in the beginning of the film. I just wish there had been a little more in the second half besides running from dinosaurs.
“God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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