Jurassic Park (1993), which I saw in its 3D release last night, suffers from slow and incohesive development throughout the first half of the film and too much silliness mixed into the more suspenseful latter portion. There were a few good action sequences — a T-Rex snapping at children through the collapsed glass roof of an SUV stands out, but just as often the movie resorts to implausible scenarios nearly reaching the ridiculousness of Deep Blue Sea.
Yet the central liability of this picture does not lie so much within its dull periods, or moments that rendered me incredulous; rather, its most grave shortcoming is that it lacked the true sense of wonder which I expected from the great maestro.
Jurassic Park also felt dated, and I don’t mean from the technological point of view. Big Hollywood monster movies and the related superhero genre have been a ubiquitous presence on the cinematic landscape for decades now — I suppose going back to the beginning of film. Having seen a number of these competing movies in the twenty years since Jurassic Park was released has perhaps jaded me; raised my threshold of what constitutes a good monster movie. I imagine at the time it was made, this movie might have been quite cutting edge — but I doubt that too. Why? Alien. The better movies in the Alien franchise feature monsters that aren’t necessarily so much scarier than those of Jurassic Park. But those movies are so much more frightening. That’s because it does not matter the exact degree of horribleness in which a monster manifests itself — whether a T-Rex or an “Alien” — when either can just as easily kill you. It’s because a good monster movie relies on that old stand-by Hitchcockian idea of building suspense. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hitchcock’s Birds movie, but I’m certain he was able to get a lot more out of a few seagulls and crows than Spielberg got out of giant, menacing, teeth-gnashing dinosaurs.
Mystery, wonder, and terror: Alien
Maybe that connects in a way to my comment about Jurassic Park lacking a sense of wonder. This movie was aimed at the lowest common denominator: young kids. It was made as a ‘family picture’, and, as such, seems deliberately dumbed down. There’s nothing wrong with a good, grand family picture. Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Back to the Future are all superb yet available to the same age group that Jurassic Park targets. But they are at the same time great movies, classics that still resonate today with moviegoers of all ages.
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This brings me to a note about Mr. Spielberg: he has been prolific over the years, but unevenly so. Compare Jaws to Jurassic Park. Close Encounters to Minority Report. Compare his true stories Catch Me If You Can and Lincoln. Not much else to say about that — he’s been very productive but inconsistent. It makes me think again of someone like Stanley Kubrick, who produced one masterpiece after another.
One final negative — the latter-day 3D appliqué on this release rang a little flat. Children, especially those with an interest in dinosaurs, and their families, have loved Jurassic Park — it’s raked in nearly a billion dollars. Lucky them: Jurassic Park IV is coming out next year. But this one’s not for me. 4/10