Jurassic Park (1993)

22 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When it comes to monster movies, I can barely think of one with as much production value as “Jurassic Park.” The budget was huge enough to afford the best dinosaurs that could be created in Stan Winston’s Creature Workshop. As a result, we don’t merely get scary dinosaurs. We don’t go to see this movie for just-scary dinosaurs. What we get really seems like real dinosaurs.

Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” has some of the best-looking creatures I’ve seen in a movie. When you first see them the same time the protagonists see them, you’re in as much awe as they are. Here are these giant, elegant creatures traveling in herds. You look in awe and wonder because they look real, as do the other dinosaurs that the characters come across later in the movie—a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex, a herd of stampeding Gallomimus (spell-check?), and the fearsome Raptor. But of course, with those, you look less with awe…but more with fear.

The premise for “Jurassic Park,” based on a popular novel by Michael Crichton (unread by me), is an intriguing one. It features an eccentric billionaire named John Hammond who funds a theme park on a remote island only reachable by helicopter. What’s the theme? Dinosaurs!

This place is called Jurassic Park and it promises a tour through a forest to see live dinosaurs, cloned by the DNA found in a fossilized mosquito. (Don’t ask—it’s complicated.) The dinos are separated and kept obscure by electric fences. The park needs endorsements, so Hammond calls paleontologists Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sadler (Sam Neill and Laura Dern) and mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Also along for the ride are members of the park’s target audience—Hammond’s grandchildren Lex and Tim (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello).

The park’s tour turns to be a bust, but it only gets worse as one of the park’s operators—an overweight sleazeball, played by Wayne Knight (Newman from “Seinfeld”), has shut down most of the electrical system for his selfish reasons. Among those shut down are the electric fences, allowing the dinosaurs to roam free about the park while the people are trapped. The terror begins in a sensational sequence in which a T-Rex attacks the two kids in the tourist car.

So mainly the second half of “Jurassic Park” is a monster movie, as Grant and the two kids are separated from the others, who try to get the park back in control from inside the command center, and come across more obstacles and more beasts. The more dangerous of these beasts, you would suspect, would be the T-Rex, but that’s only because he’s bigger. The more frightening creatures on the loose are the raptors, which are smaller but more ruthless and more vicious. They wind up being the ones the characters have to face near the end of the movie.

OK, so the technical aspect of “Jurassic Park” has been praised. How does characterization do? Well…not so strong. Grant and Sadler aren’t fully developed as individuals and seem more like figures than actual characters. The Wayne Knight character is as developed as…well let’s face it, Newman. The kids are fine.

Hammond and Malcolm do close closer to being fully realized individuals. Hammond’s greed and love for dinosaurs gets to him and he slowly but surely realizes it when things go very wrong, and Sadler brings things to a new perspective for him in a scene midway through the movie. Malcolm is an interesting character, always discussing chaos theory and giving more input along the lines of “when-man-plays-god-man-loses.” The only reason Hammond doesn’t listen to him is because of his sharp wit, which Jeff Goldblum can deliver in a funny deadpan way.

The characters in Spielberg’s  “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” are well-developed and fully realized. In “Jurassic Park,” it seems more time was spent on making the dinosaurs look real than the characters who have to face them. But you can’t deny the thrilling action scenes, the fun monster movie style, and those sensational dinosaur effects.

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