As the third sequel gets ready to roll off the assembly line, lets take a look back and try to figure out if they’ve made anything close to that first classic film.
Jurassic Park -1993
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, B.D. Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello
Screenplay by Michael Crichton, David Koepp
Review: Even if time has revealed how sanitized Spielberg was during this period (within a decade, he decided to take all of the guns out of E.T. to fit his world view) there is no denying that Jurassic Park is one of the top 5 achievements in his career. Yes, that is saying something. At the point in history when new concepts in dinosaur research converged with new concepts in filmmaking technology, Spielberg combined with Crichton to create a cautionary tale for the ages.
There are so many moments that stand out in this tale that it is impossible to watch without the mind reflexively filling in lines of dialogue, lines of thought and lines of vision. The pacing is perfect. The effects being brought into the industry by James Cameron (The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgement Day) are perfected by Spielberg. The result is a feeling of complete immersion from the first moment we see the Brachiosaurus until the T-Rex stands supreme over the museum lobby at the films’ end.
The cast is perfect. As Dr. Alan Grant, Sam Neill took his gifted opportunity and makes the most of it. His presence is measured, contemplative and heroic all at once. Laura Dern (Dr. Ellie Sattler) is at her most beautiful, and although Spielberg alternates her motives between scientific tenacity and one with a biological clock that makes her insist on pushing the topic of kids onto Grant every few minutes. Jeff Goldblum finds the perfect vehicle for his quirky acting style in Dr. Iain Malcolm. He has all the best lines and he doesn’t waste any of them. Sir Richard Attenborough gives a balanced approach of heart and ambition as the misguided park entrepreneur John Hammond.
Just as good are the supporting performances. Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry is one of the great antagonists for the 1990’s. He epitomizes greed, gluttony and arrogance, from his chastising computer animation, his delightful squeal to his can of Jolt cola. Sam Jackson counters this with his hard smoking and coldly realistic fellow programmer, Ray Arnold. Bob Peck rounds out the cast as the no-nonsense game warden who knows full well of what these newly unleashed animals are capable.
This movie is a landmark, whose reach far exceeds the limits of its grasp.
Very simply put, the first time we meet the T-Rex is one of the most riveting moments in cinematic history. The building of the tension from the first time we see the water shake in the glass until the giant screams into the abyss as the SUV flies off of the cliff is excruciatingly scary and breathtakingly beautiful. Spielberg incorporates conventional and computer animated effects seamlessly.
The Velociraptor chase through the kitchen is so well choreographed it would have been the best scene in the film were it not for the T-Rex scene. The blend of sight and sound is incorporated to a chilling effect. We’ve already seen examples of how effectively they hunt in the wild. Now we get to see examples of how they can adapt to an unfamiliar circumstances. As they learn, we get the thrill of anticipation and the hope that their knowledge doesn’t come at the expense of the kids. The tip tapping of the talons linger in the mind’s eye to this day.
So many other fantastic moments build on one another it would be hard to singles out many more, but the entire sequence at the fence really works, alternating back and forth between Grant with the kids and Ellie at the switch. This is the kind of thing that George Lucas tried at the end of Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Just when we need a computer hacker, we get one of the plucky kids (Richards) who just happens to be an expert at Unix. This is a Spielberg special, I like to call The “Little Jimmy” complex. Whenever the plot needs an expert at something, there never fails to be a kid in the vicinity who is an expert at whatever they need. Spielberg hardly originated the concept. Indeed, it was something Crichton wrote into the original novel. Spielberg sure perfected the cliche from the variety of family “adventures” he produced or directed. The worst example of this was The Goonies, but lets not go any farther down that road.
John Hammond: All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.
Muldoon: Clever girl.
Dr. Alan Grant: You’re married?
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Occaissionally. Yeah, I’m always on the lookout for a future ex-Mrs. Malcolm.
John Hammond: We spared no expense.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: That is one big pile of shit.
Rating: (***** out of *****)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park -1997
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Arliss Howard, Richard Schiff, Richard Attenborough, Peter Stormare, Vanessa Lee Chester
Screenplay by David Koepp
Review: As good, as fresh and inspired as the first film was, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, is…not.Even though the source material of Crichton’s 2nd book is better than we have for the first film. Spielberg cannibalized it and somehow left the best parts out.
The first problem, though, is casting. Julianne Moore just feels wrong as a naturalist. Her severe countenance can’t portray a believable smile and it’s hard to picture her out of the comforts of the liberal stronghold of a major city. In hiring Vince Vaughn and bringing back Jeff Goldblum they have just 2 of the same type of smartass. They copy each other more than once to the detriment of the detriment of each and a net negative. The script tries to compensate by turning Malcolm into more of a grouch. This just doesn’t help at all.
The second and really much more important problem is in the decision to mess with the plot of the book. Instead of keeping it on the island, Spielberg and Koepp bring dinosaurs back to San Diego, breaking the 4th wall. It takes away any possibility that this fantasy could be possible and then just makes it a pale imitation of King Kong. This requires the introduction a legion of “hunters” that try to give the feeling of Aliens. There are too many of them to care about, even if Postlethwaite offers a little complexity.
If romance was a bit cheesy in the first film, it’s altogether a foreign concept here. What is going on between Moore and Goldblum? With Vaughn and Moore? With Peter Stromare and all of those little Compsognathus creatures?
It is nice to see that one of the ex-Mrs. Malcolms was a black woman, and Chester is great as his daughter, if for no other reason than Spielberg doesn’t make her a genius that saves everyone due to a brilliance only she can provide. Well, there is that one scene where she turns into a gymnastics hero and kicks a raptor off of a high place to its death.
Another source of grief is how they portray the raptors in this story. The brilliant door opening menace displayed in the first film has been replaced with Stormtrooper level incompetence whenever convenient.
The most effective, and really the most heart-wrenching scene is the moment is the parents of the baby T-Rex taking out their rage on the two trailers. As if it weren’t enough to have the people trying to keep from falling down the cliffside, we have the arduous journey of Shiff’s Eddie Carr, who singlehandedly leads the effort to save them from above and gets torn apart for his troubles. If ever there was one character who did not deserve to die…
- San Diego.
- Trying to pass northern California as an island of Costa Rica.
- The rest of the film.
John Hammond: Don’t worry, I’m not making the same mistakes again.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, you’re making all new ones.
Rating: (*1/2 out of *****)
Jurassic Park III -2001
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter
Screenplay by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Review: The third effort feels as much like a money grab as the second, but at least it actually looks like it takes place near the equator. This time out we have parents (Macy and Leoni) who are seeking their child who went missing after a tragic parasailing adventure. After Dr. Grant emphasises that he would not ever go back to the island, he is too easily tricked by Mr. and Mrs. Kirby into joining them on their search. Along for the ride this time is Grant’s assistant Billy (Nivola) who dotes on his boss in a very creepy way.
The guys with the guns that shoot big bullets all die first, leaving the seemingly less likely to survive alone to wander through the jungle looking for their son. Inexplicably, Eric Kirby (Morgan) has become an expert at survival, in the best “Little Jimmy” tradition. He’s screaming with the rest of them minutes after rescue, however, so all is good.
Along the way we see something new, called a Spinosaurus. He’s bigger and tougher than the T-Rex and can swim when necessary. We also see more of the Pteranodons that were flying free at the end of the previous movie, but in accordance to one of the best scenes in the second book, are contained in a giant cage. The Compy’s are back
Oh, and there are more Velociraptors. Lots of them. And they’ve picked up plenty of new attributes that just so happen to match whatever aspects they want to add to the plot. At least they aren’t acting like keystone cops this time.
Still, there is plenty in this film to satiate those with a thirst for seeing monsters chase around one dimensional characters. There is no way on this planet Macy would ever end up with Leoni. Then it’s also more unlikely that Leoni or Macy would last 5 minutes in a jungle environment, much less with giant monsters in pursuit. And as for little Eric Kirby, it’s a mental block, I am sure, but to me he’ll always be Tommy Tammisimo, pretending he has emotions for that advertisement in The Sixth Sense.
As an irrelevant aside, someone should get an award if they can guess what parts of the script were contributed by Alexander Payne. My guess is it had something to do with divorce.
Discovering what happened to that satellite phone.I will give you a hint: it takes quite a journey.
The Spinosaurus battle with the T-Rex, even if it seems a little short.
The barely living body of Mr. Noodle (Jeter) sitting out there, limply awaiting rescue. Resist the temptation to help.
What is all this crap about Raptors worrying about their eggs. Tell me one bird that knows where the hell their egg is when it is taken from the nest. Even less likely is that any bird would track down their eggs while leaving the others behind.
The 3 dimensional creation of the Raptor’s voice box. No way in hell they fall for that crap.
Seeing the cast run through herds of various dinosaurs show how far the series has fallen when it comes to getting effects right.
Dr. Grant: With the best intentions? Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.
Rating: (*** out of *****)