Hold On To Your Butts, It’s the Jurassic Park Retrospective!

The retro summer of reboots, reimaginings and remakes (Mad Max, Poltergeist, The Terminator, Insidious, Fantastic Four, Sinister, etc.) continues this weekend with the release of Jurassic World.  The best part of this never ending Hollywood phenomenon is the opportunity to revisit the originals.  I mean, how long has it been since you watched Jurassic Park?  It’s never a waste of time  to watch a classic like it, The Road Warrior, Poltergeist or Terminator 2.  With luck, the new installments are worthy additions to their legacies.  If not, at least your memories of the good ones help ease the pain of dashed hopes.

Jurassic Park (1993)

You don’t get any more classic than Jurassic Park.  Michael Crichton’s novel and Steven Spielberg’s movie struck a chord with dinosaur fans, and who’s not a dinosaur fan?!?  Both were blockbusters.  The thing that resonates for me with Jurassic Park is its sense of wonder.  It’s the unique element against which I judge it’s sequels and its wannabes.  When doctors Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) first visit Isla Nublar to vet John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) scientific breakthrough and witness his genetically-engineered dinosaurs, and John William’s music swells, we are as amazed as they are.  Wow, real life dinosaurs!

Childhood dreams come true!  Jurassic Park feeds on the imagination of a child, something we all had at one time, but may have just forgotten as we grew older.  However, it also feeds on pure, fundamental terror.  Big dinosaurs are cool to look at, but how would they interact with humans?  (They never did, you know, unless you believe that those pictures of cavemen riding on their backs are real.)  The big ones seem too slow and dumb to do much harm, but what about those vicious little velociraptors?  Besides, these aren’t exactly “real” dinosaurs.  To complete the cloning process, they had to mix frog DNA into incomplete dinosaur DNA chains.

Who even knows the implications of that, except for the fact that dinosaurs assumed to be all female can now somehow breed.  That’s just one element of risk that’s part of the potential for chaos about which Malcolm is so eager to warn others.  If they listened to him, though, there wouldn’t be much of a movie.  It’s better when things do fall apart, such as when a Tyrannosaurus Rex snatches someone from the outhouse by their head, just to name one of the things that could and does go wrong.  It’s all a terrific, yet simple, set-up for an exciting adventure.  In the hands of Spielberg, Jurassic Park is as good as it gets.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

So what the (excuse me) fuck happened four years later with The Lost World?!?  While it has one scene of genuine suspense, it’s otherwise a phoned-in effort by Spielberg. To this day, I refuse to believe that he really directed it.  Technically, the execution is just plain bad.  There are sloppy edits, the sets don’t look real, some of the special effects are fake, some sequences are horribly staged… Even the score (again by John Williams) is lackluster and doesn’t match the action.  I’m not just saying I didn’t like The Lost World; I’m saying that from what little I know about filmmaking, it’s a bad movie!

It’s production must have been rushed.  That’s the only excuse I can imagine.  As is the expedition John Hammond sends to Isla Sorna, a neighboring island to Isla Nublar, where it turns out the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park were originally created.  After the “accident” from the first movie, the facility on Isla Nublar was shut down, but the remaining creatures were allowed to live on their own.  And Hammond wants to study them.  Meanwhile, the evil corporation InGen wants to retrieve the dinosaurs and take them to the mainland where Jurassic Park San Diego is in the process of being completed.

I don’t fault The Lost World for it’s plot holes and contradictions; it’s a pretty faithful adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name.  Perhaps the book itself was rushed.  The Lost World is literally a darker movie than Jurassic Park, and I think it’s intended to be a darker story as well.  But it’s absolutely no fun and there’s absolutely no sense of wonder.  It’s way too long and perhaps should have focused on the one part that hadn’t already been done in the first movie: the T-Rex running rampant in San Diego.  Instead, it’s more of an epilogue, extending the movie far longer than it should.

Jurassic Park III (2001)

Like clockwork, four years later brought the second sequel, and it has the opposite problem: it’s perhaps too short at less than 90 minutes.  Nevertheless, I like Jurassic Park III a million more times than The Lost World.  It’s hard to argue that it’s a good movie, but it is pure, simple fun.  Hang gliding near Isla Sorna, a man and his son accidentally land on the island of dinosaurs.  His wife, Amanda Kirby (Tea Leoni) and ex-husband, Paul (William H. Macy) somehow con Alan Grant and his protegee, Billy (Alessandro Nivola) into going on a rescue mission.  That’s it.  No subplots, no opposing forces, just basic survival adventure.

At times, it’s strained.  No sooner does Alan Grant say, “No force on Earth or Heaven could get me on that island,” than he’s on his way there in a chartered airplane.  I guess money is a force greater than Earth or Heaven.  The timing of everything is a little loosey-goosey, too, particularly for everything that miraculously happens in order for the movie to conclude.  Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Captain America) directs a script by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.  (Look up those last two.)  Spielberg and Crichton are nowhere to be found, except for it being an Amblin Entertainment production and referencing “characters” based on those created by Crichton.

Oh, and did I say Jurassic Park III is fun?  I mean, there’s actually a dinosaur that is more dangerous than a T-Rex (Spinosaurus)… and the two actually fight.  Fighting dinosaurs, man!  And there’s an aviary that contains flying dinosaurs (Pteranodons)!  Flying dinosaurs, man!  There’s still not as much wonder as in the original, but at least it’s more hopeful than The Lost World.  I may be partial to it because the Kirbys are from my home town of Enid, Oklahoma.  When you’re watching a big budget movie and hear your home town mentioned, especially when it’s Enid, Oklahoma, you can’t help but show that movie a little love.

Jurassic World

I’m going into the latest installment blind.  I have no clue what the story will bring and whether it will be original or a retread.  All I know is that it stars the very popular Chris Pratt and features a Seaworld-like arena where a swimming dinosaur launches out of the water.  It’s directed by formerly independent movie director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) and written by… uh-oh, there are a lot of people who wrote it, including Trevorrow.  That’s not usually a good sign.  But I like going into it “innocent.”  That way, the potential is wide open to witness a classic (Jurassic Park) or be disappointed (The Lost World) or surprised (Jurassic Park III) by a sequel.

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