Jurassic Park Review

Posted: June 20, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: June 11th, 1993

Running Time: 2 hours and 7 minutes

Written by: Michael Crichton and David Koepp

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

If I were to use the term “popcorn movie” to describe any big-budget blockbuster today, then I bet I’d most likely be met with responses of “That’s a stupid excuse!” But what if I used it to describe a movie like Jurassic Park? Ah-hah! The naysayers aren’t so vocal now, are they? That’s because “popcorn movie” really is the best way to describe this film. It’s driven mainly by thrills and a sense of adventure, emphasizing the majesty of special effects, and you know what? It works with Jurassic Park because the craft behind it is so good. If you want to look at this film purely from a critical perspective, fine, but just know you’re missing out on the point. Sure, you can nitpick a number of things here, but Steven Spielberg and co. instead want you to be absorbed in the experience, to (as the title implicates) go on a ride. And what a ride it is.

Based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, the park of the title refers to an island/theme park conceived and created by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), CEO of bioengineering company InGen. Jurassic Park is an attraction where tourists can come and literally see living, breathing (and cloned) dinosaurs, all thanks to dinosaur DNA found in a mosquito trapped in amber for 65 million years. But before the park can open, it needs to be approved in various ways. So, Hammond extends weekend invitations to paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), with chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Hammond’s own grandchildren also along for the trip, to experience the park and consequently endorse it. At first, the doctors are in awe of what Hammond has created — who wouldn’t be? — but soon, the moral quandaries of what Hammond has done become relevant. Just because you can play God, does that inherently mean you should? But those questions are soon pushed aside by a tropical storm which descends on the island, a storm that’s used as a smokescreen by scheming Jurassic Park computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) to disable the island’s security measures so he can steal dinosaur embryos for a corporate rival. Of course, disabling the security means the people on the island are no longer protected from the more dangerous dinosaurs, such as the raptors and the colossal T-Rex, making it survival of the fittest.

Even though I’m not quite as in love with this as most other people, there’s still no denying that Jurassic Park is a really, REALLY good movie. And it’s the best of the series. Obviously. The best part about this movie, though, is that it understands the importance of building atmosphere and anticipation. Steven Spielberg deftly captures that sense of both wonder and terror necessary for a story like this, sometimes blending them together fluently, making this movie a truly exciting adventure. As an action-adventure, Jurassic Park works incredibly well. There’s just enough excitement and thrills here so that we never get exhausted. Unlike the sequels, which seemed more concerned with gorging on blood and guts and terror while never really taking the time to relax and take in the aspects of this environment that truly are breathtaking, like this movie does. John Williams’ score plays a large part in that, too, as the main theme is really a peaceful and wondrous one. But on top of all that, Jurassic Park just proves how great Spielberg can make genre films that would have most likely ended up feeling like more of the same in the hands of any less capable director.

The special effects and tone are the first things to praise about Jurassic Park. Twenty-one years later, and this movie holds up effectively in those departments. One of the things I noticed about this movie upon my latest viewing — and this builds off Spielberg’s tension-creating approach to the story — is that he never overexploits the dinosaurs, which is wise. He knows both when and how to use them so that their appearances have impact (and the same can be said for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, but I digress). This also serves to lend the bigger moments in the film that much more suspense, because there never comes a moment where you go, “Okay, enough of the T-Rex!” And speaking of, the big T-Rex attack sequence halfway through is still great. Not only does it echo Spielberg’s approach of using the biggest and most terrifying monster sparingly but effectively (just like in Jaws), but you really get the sense that he wants you to be as frightened as the characters in the scene are; note the complete lack of music during this sequence. It really makes this a MOMENT and makes the T-Rex a true presence to behold. Not only that, but it also happens to be the film’s most entertaining set piece. The decision to hold back on the number of dinosaur appearances also ensures that if there are any true imperfections with these special effects, they’re not really on-screen long enough for us to notice them too much.

If this film has any shortcomings, in my opinion, it’s that the characters are pretty thinly developed. The main performances themselves are fine, though. Sam Neill’s Alan Grant is given the most character evolution here, and he handles it very well. He also has a really good, natural chemistry with Laura Dern, herself a likable presence throughout. Richard Attenborough nicely embodies an almost schoolboy giddiness in the film’s first half, but manages to transition nicely into burdened disgrace when the shit starts to hit the fan. And then there’s Jeff Goldblum, not only the welcome comic relief but also the believable voice of reason when it comes to discussing what exactly Hammond has brought to life, and for what purpose. But again, we’re given what feels like the most basic character backgrounds for all of them, something in which elaboration would have been welcome. The film also has a few plotholes scattered about here and there, such as the T-Rex enclosure mysteriously becoming a big drop into the jungle during the attack sequence, Nedry not knowing the way to the docks of an island he works on and so forth. However, spending too much time dwelling on things like this seems pointless when you consider the big picture.

That big picture is simply: Jurassic Park is a highly enjoyable movie. You’ve got a problem with that? Take it up with the T-Rex.

***1/2 /****

NEXT WEEK: Robots and explosions and babes, oh my!

  1. It’s a perfect film, plain and simple. One of Spielberg’s best. Nice review.

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