..

JURASSIC PARK

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough
Director:  Steven Speilberg
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 16x9 Enhanced
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  127 Minutes
Release Date:  October 10, 2000

Film ***

Jurassic Park is like the Star Wars of this generation.  It was the film that not only took conventional special effects a quantum leap further, but also used said effects in a way that was conducive to, rather than distracting from, the overall story.  It was the rare event movie that lived up to the event.  From the first moment the giant brachiosaurs ambled across the screen in front of a wide eyed, open mouthed Sam Neill and Laura Dern, audiences knew that the hype had been real.

I can still remember discussing the movie with my friends afterwards, and all of us were wondering:  how did they make the dinosaurs so real?  Animatronics had never been quite so intricate…and could robotic creatures run and jump the way these did?  Stop motion animation, or rather, the newest incarnation called go motion, was able to produce fluid motion on screen without the jerkiness of the old time fantasy films.  But these creatures were far too fluid, and too three-dimensional.  They were taking up space with the characters.  There were no matte lines.  This was seamless!

Speilberg, like the master magician he is, guarded his secrets for a good long time, keeping his audiences gaping in wonder at his creations while fueling the how-the-heck-did-he-do-that debate.  As it turned out, his creatures were a result of three art forms.  There were some gigantic, realistic, hydraulic dinosaurs courtesy of creature master Stan Winston.  There was also revolutionary new computer animation from Industrial Light and Magic.  These wizards were able to take Winston’s creatures and turn them into full, three dimensional CGI’s with fluid motion.  This motion was created with the aid of the go-motion animation technique:  rather than use the models in the film, the models became computer hardware.  The animators could move and shape them the way the old stop motion technicians used to do, but rather than photographing them, the information was inputted directly into the computer, making the figures easier to move and manipulate.

This isn’t even considering the many other revolutionary technical aspects of the film, particularly the incredible use of combining CGI effects with live action film photographed with moving cameras, or even hand held ones.  You can learn more about how these problems were solved in the excellent documentary included on this disc.

Jurassic Park, at its heart, is a throwback to the original monster films like King Kong and the silent version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.  It throws ‘monsters’ and men into a chaotic mix to see what might happen.  Here, there is even a bit of morality play at work, one that seems even more relevant today than when the film first came out.  Now that scientists are perfecting cloning and mapping the human genome, we must wonder what Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) wonders in the film:  “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they never stopped to think if they should.”

Dino diggers Grant and Sattler (Neill and Dern) are given the invitation of a lifetime by their benefactor, John Hammond (Attenborough).  He takes them away to a secret tropical island, where he and his team of geneticists have created the ultimate nature preserve.  By using DNA found in fossilized mosquitoes, they have managed to bring dinosaurs back to life.

The problems and issues are, of course, many.  Both doctors wonder how Hammond thinks he can possibly maintain and control an extinct ecosystem.  “These creatures have no idea what century they’re in,” remarks Sattler. 

But they agree to take the tour—an event that quickly turns sour as a deviant park employee sabotages the security systems in order to make a getaway with stolen embryos.  Now Grant, Sattler and Malcolm, along with Hammond’s two grandchildren, are trapped in the park with a giant rampaging T-Rex, flesh tearing raptors, and more.  Man and dinosaur were never meant to occupy the planet simultaneously, and it doesn’t talk long to appreciate why.

This movie is typical of most monster films in that the humans are the least interesting aspect.  All of the actors are good, and inject a certain amount of charm and likeability into their roles, particular Goldblum as the off-centered, wisecracking Malcolm.  But in reality, the humans are there for the dinosaurs to chase.  That’s how it’s always been from the original King Kong onward.  Speilberg makes the most of his movie, however, with his aforementioned special effects, and by creating a number of truly amazing and jaw-dropping action sequences.  This is blockbuster entertainment at its very best.

And, if monsters are going to be your main attraction, at least Speilberg knew how to make good ones.  They’re big, they’re real, and they’re very scary, and they make for one heck of a fun ride.

Video ***1/2

As long as DVD fans have waited for Jurassic Park to arrive on disc, we certainly hoped that when it came, it would be of benchmark quality, and indicative of how good the format can be.  Is it?  Close…but not quite.  I don’t share the same enthusiasm other DVD webmasters have shown for this disc.  I wanted it to be great, and it comes near, but falls a little short.  The main complaint is that there are a handful of lower lit scenes that don’t translate as well as they should.  These darker scenes are grainy, and sometimes a little hazy, with a bit of shimmer and noise usually associated with compression.  Brighter scenes, however, render excellently, with good contrast and sharp images, and mostly well contained, bright, beautiful coloring.  Only during a shot in the gift shop did I notice a bit of a problem with reds bleeding out onto their surrounding images.  All in all, there’s very little to complain about, but it still doesn’t quite measure up to the best DVD has to offer.

Audio ***1/2

Sound is another department that we all hoped this disc would shine in, and again, a few problems keep it from being as good as it should have been.  The 5.1 mix definitely delivers when it’s supposed to.  All the scenes you can think of, from the initial T-Rex appearance to the showdown with the raptors, are as good as you could ask for.  The .1 channel helps make the prehistoric creatures come alive in your living room, and the surrounds kick in for extra power and enhancement during the action scenes and thunderstorm.  Dialogue, however, is a bit problematic from time to time.  Clarity is not an issue, but I noticed several places along the way where the spoken words suffered some minor distortions, even to the point where you could hear the opening and closing of the track around the bits of dialogue.  The most noticeable case is during the tour when Malcolm is discussing his chaos theories with Sattler.  Jeff Goldblum’s voice crackles and buzzes on the audio as he speaks.  It sounds a lot like when you make a recording and have the levels up into the red:  it’s that kind of distortion.  The bottom line is that the action scenes sound superb, but as for me, I buy the disc for the whole movie, including the quieter parts, so I can’t give this audio track as high as praise as I would have liked.

Features ****

It’s a Collector’s Edition series disc from Universal, and it doesn’t disappoint.  For starters, you get some very cool animated menus with sound.  It starts with the famed Universal logo, then zooms into the earth, deeper and deeper until settling on a single T-Rex footprint.  Nice touch!  Then you get a terrific, extensive making-of documentary, narrated by James Earl Jones and covering everything from pre to post-production, how the revolutionary new visual effects came together, and features interviews with Speilberg and his crew.  There are three trailers, including a teaser for Jurassic Park III, pre-production meetings, storyboards, photos, sketches and paintings, a dinosaur encyclopedia, production notes, and talent files.  Plus, there are two very cool short films:  one on the art of Foley and sound effects, showing how the dinosaur hatching scene was brought to audio life, and a 3-D video storyboard detailing the raptors in the kitchen scene.  There’s not a commentary track, but to be honest, these extras are so in-depth and informative, you won’t miss it too much.

Summary:

DVD fans can rejoice at long last with the arrival of Jurassic Park on disc.  This is one monster of a fun film, with amazing and revolutionary special effects driving the action and the storytelling into a new stratosphere of blockbuster entertainment.  The disc itself is a well packaged one that boasts terrific, if not quite perfect quality.  It’s a definite keeper.