Jurassic Park: Digital IMAX Presentation

Rating – *****

“There’s no doubt, our attractions will drive kids out of their minds”

There are films I love, a wide range of titles I’ll often proclaim to be ranked in my own personal “top 10 or top 20”. This accolade gets clumsily applied to pretty much anything directed by Kubrick, Tarratino, Cameron, or Fincher. The truth is I never collate this list with any degree of precision, and frankly, who would care to read it. Though there is a film, only one I might add, that I can say with absolute certainty, and a level or reverence bordering on pseudo-religion, which sits at the very top of this list unchallenged. Steven Spielberg understands the art of pure entertainment (and it is arguably a valid art form) more than any other filmmaker. For you see, children (and the child-like instincts within adults) love to be scared. But pure fear alone would simply repel and traumatize…. especially any 8 year old as sensitive as I was back in 1993. The stroke of genius was to merge this primal instinct with something else that every kid on the face of the earth loves…… dinosaurs. Spielberg lures us in initially with majestic herbivores to illicit awe and fascination. But then, right when we the audience are eating from the palm of his hand, he turns on us. The storm clouds set in rapidly, the power goes out, and this prehistoric playground is transformed into a garden of nightmares. One that is stalked by fierce animals with very sharp teeth and a relentless drive not just to murder, but devour, the unfortunate protagonists.

“He left us!”

Speaking of the human cast, almost every other review I’ve read of Jurassic Park over the years includes a sentence similar to, if not verbatim “the characters may be cardboard, but the real stars are the spectacular dinosaur effects”. Popular wisdom would appear to have cultivated the notion that Jurassic Park’s human characters are forgettable or unremarkable. As if simply by being a mega-money-spinning blockbuster (the most profitable of all time at one point) denies it the luxury of a good script, that this weakness is somehow expected or simply there by default, I couldn’t disagree more. Firstly, David Koepp’s screenplay impressively balances the scientific rhetoric with authentic human drama, comedic touches, and dozens of highly quotable lines. At the centre of this is Jeff Goldblum’s career defining portrayal of Ian Malcolm, he effortlessly forms the charismatic core around which the talented ensemble cast orbit. Goldblum’s naturalistic, almost garbled delivery is perfectly suited to lines which range from thought-provoking to wryly amusing. “I’m always on the lookout for the future ex-Mrs Malcolm”. “You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you’ve patented it, and packaged it, you’ve slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it“.

Richard Attenborough also shines as John Hammond. Deviating from the somewhat colder character in Crichton’s source novel, Attenborough initially portrays him as a mischievous almost childlike entrepreneur. Yet bubbling under the surface is a ruthless and reckless determination (think Walt Disney meets Rupert Murdoch), one that comes crashing down in the latter stages of the film. Hammond is suddenly humbled and vulnerable, the wizard behind the curtain. Nestled amongst a parade of gripping setpieces is a character-based scene I’ve always loved. Ellie discovers Hammond sitting alone in the darkened cafeteria, wistfully tucking-in to pots of melting icecream. In this quiet moment of contemplation he recalls one of his early forays into family entertainment, a quaint little flea circus. “They all moved, motorized of course, but people would swear they could see the fleas. “I see the fleas, mummy! Can’t you see the fleas?” Clown fleas, high wire fleas, fleas on parade”. Then he pauses and with a level of tender sincerity that transcends a mere “monster movie”, he says “But with this place… I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion, something that was real, something they could see and touch…. An aim not devoid of merit”. Accompanied by John Williams’ masterful score (almost reminiscent of a infant’s bedtime musicbox in this scene) I find it incredibly touching. Perhaps one could transfer Hammond’s sentiment to Spielberg’s own goals as a master cinematic showman?

So how about the dinosaurs themselves, is there anything new to be said? Well yes, seeing the newly restored film projected pristinely on London’s giant IMAX screen put to rest any fears that ILM’s now comparatively “prehistoric” CG would somehow fall apart after 18 years of visual effects “advancement”. If anything it reaffirms the baffling anomaly that creature VFX have mostly stagnated, or actually regressed in the last two decades. All rose-tinted admiration aside, sure, today I might be inclined to suggest a little more texture detail in the brachiosaur’s skin, or perhaps dial down the motion blur on the gallimimus as they leap over that log. But then we come to the Tyrannosaur and the Velociraptors… they just look real. Always have, always will. Back in the early 90s, Phil Tippet’s animators were accustomed to manipulating steel armatures to produce old-school “go-motion” Harryhausen-like creatures. The abrupt leap to animating with a keyboard and mouse was too much. So a solution was devised. Similar articulated creature props were created, but they were rigged with fancy gubbins so the movement was recorded and translated directly to the computer’s twin CG model. A strange pioneering blend of stop motion and motion capture which appears to have been long forgotten. Combine this level of talent with the underlying fear that what they were doing might fail miserably. The results are sublime and unbeaten, the CG dinosaurs have a soul, every nuanced gesture feels authentic. Just watch the T Rex as it rolls the Land Cruiser over with it’s head, then pins down the stricken vehicle with one foot. Suddenly the rear tyre catches it’s attention, glistening in the rain. The rex instinctively lunges and bites it, only to recoil with dissatisfaction. These fantastic details are enhanced further by Gary Rydstrom’s frankly incredible, ground-shaking sound effects, which further unite the already seamless blend between CG and animatronic creatures.

“The world has just changed so radically and we’re all running to catch up”

Jurassic Park is far more than “just a movie” to me. It has genuinely influenced the course of my life. As a spellbound 8 year old leaving the cinema with my Dad, I couldn’t quite comprehend how it was possible to make a film like this…. but I knew I had to find out! Cue many happy summer days of recreating the film in my back garden via forced perspective rubber dinosaur hand puppets, a VHSC video camera, school mates…. and my reluctant little sister. Throw in the Hasbro toys, trading cards, bedsheets, Sega Mega Drive games, making of book, the novel and comics… yeah I was obsessed (ok, I still am!) . I think for many children of my generation JP was “our Star Wars”. Now almost 2 decades later, these people are old enough to be working in the film industry, and no doubt, like me, many of them are. Whenever the slightly laborious aspects of filming or post-production threaten to cloud my mood, I just remember why I’m doing it in the first place. To aspire to one day crafting something as accomplished and thrilling as the film which first ignited my creative ambitions, that surely is a goal worthy of pursuit… or perhaps I should say “An aim not devoid of merit”.

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~ by thewholebuffalo on September 25, 2011.

4 Responses to “Jurassic Park: Digital IMAX Presentation”

  1. […] original post here: Jurassic Park: Digital IMAX Presentation Tags: child, cinema, digital, disney, earth, facebook, imdb, movies No Comments » […]

  2. it’s Jeff not Geoff

    • Thank you anonymous nitpicker, noted and corrected. While we’re on the subject of spelling errors, did you know – When Dennis Nedry is stealing the dinosaur embryos from the containment tube, the dinosaur Stegosaurus is misspelled as “Stegasaurus”. While Tyrannosaurus is misspelled too, as “Tyranosaurus”….. highly useful trivia I’m sure you’ll agree 🙂

  3. After a conversation with a Ms. Pires not 2 hours ago, I was about to remove your site from my RSS feed compiler, due to it not being updated in over a year. How odd that I come to do so and you’ve finally been back to the cinema. Well done. Don’t leave it a year until the next one.

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