As Jurassic Park returns to theatres in a 20th Anniversary 3D edition, it’s a good time to reflect on how movie making has changed. There can be no doubt it’s still a great film, but will today’s young audiences, raised on a steady diet of CGI effects, view it with the same wonder as those in 1993?
Despite the outdated computer hardware on display throughout, the story (from the late Michael Crichton’s novel) is still fresh, given the debates about DNA research and cloning we’re still wrapped up in. Billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) has sunk his fortune into building a game preserve for dinosaurs, recreated from DNA found in fossilized mosquitoes. Hammond claims to have spared no expense, but there have been problems, and when a worker is killed by one of the particularly nasty velociraptors, his investors raise concerns.
Hammond invites dinosaur expert Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to visit the park – along with his paleobotanist partner Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and stylish mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) – in the hopes of getting an endorsement. But when the park’s computer technician (Wayne Knight) triggers a shutdown of the security systems as part of a corporate espionage scheme, both the scientists and Hammond’s grandchildren are trapped in the jungle with some very dangerous creatures.
You may have heard the story about director Steven Spielberg’s experience filming Jaws. In the pre-CGI 70s, the robot shark they were using had all kinds of problems, and looked, well, like a robot shark. So Spielberg shot his movie around it, leaving the monster off screen for much of the film. The result was terrifyingly successful, and it’s a lesson Spielberg carried with him, including its very effective use in many parts of Jurassic Park.
I took that little detour to make a point about how movies have changed now that CGI is so prevalent. Back in the 90s, the sight of realistic looking dinosaurs on film was still a major selling point. A quick Internet search for the original 1993 movie trailer will illustrate – even the marketing took a page from Spielberg’s playbook, avoiding showing too much of the dinos. Compare it to the trailer for today’s 3D version, which shows much more of the creatures and effects. The promise of spectacle is no longer there, it’s all laid out for us. We’re still captivated by amazing visuals, but the computer has made it too easy – we expect it now, and it’s given to us on a silver platter to entice us into the theatre. And, possibly, we’ve become jaded by it.
In fact, I wonder if Spielberg would have even made Jurassic Park the same way if he started on it today. Would we still get the remarkably lifelike Stan Winston animatronics to fill in some of the close up shots, or would everything be green-screened in, just as amazing to watch, but somehow slightly removed from reality?
All of this is academic. You probably just want to know if the kids will like it (and if you’ll like it just as much again). They will (and you will) – the action is breathlessly paced, it has great kid actors (Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards), and those dinosaurs are still as lifelike and terrifying as ever. There are some minor problems – Goldblum’s character is shunted to the sidelines far too early, and I still think the ending is a bit of a cheat – but overall it’s well worth seeing again, even if the 3D updates are middling at best.
Mostly, however, it’s a chance to see a film from an era when computer-based visual effects were still relatively new, and be amazed at how well they’ve held up.
Tags: movie review