The Jurassic Park series is awe inspiring and deeply flawed; a game changer for effects, but story-wise mostly pedestrian. Steven Spielberg directed the first two films with an eye toward some of the most awe inspiring set pieces put to film, with stars like Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum stuck in the midst of dino-mayhem. For the third picture Joe Johnston took over and stripped the series down to its bare essentials. In terms of great dinosaur action these films deliver and are fun to revisit, even if there are scenes in all three that bog them down. Our review of the Jurassic Park Blu-ray trilogy follows after the jump.
In the first film, Steven Spielberg was partly trying to get back on his game. There’s no denying Spielberg is one of the great masters and showmen of cinema history, but it’s also worth noting he was coming off one of the worst sections of his career. The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Always and Hook were the films he made previous to Park, and all were either lesser films or great works that didn’t connect with audiences. Cinema wasn’t entirely ready for serious Spielberg, and so Empire was not treated as a great film (which it is) while attempts to recapture the magic of his earlier work led to a redress of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Hook – one of the biggest mis-steps of Spielberg’s career. And so when Spielberg talks about his nervousness about Jurassic Park in the supplements, it’s easy to understand why. He wasn’t cold, but he wasn’t the wunderkind any more.
But 1993’s Jurassic Park is inarguably a game changer, and reinvigorated Spielberg to lead to his next great masterpiece. Sam Neill stars as Dr. Alan Grant, who – along with Dr. Ellie Sadler (Laura Dern) – is hired by John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) to approve his new theme park with the promise of corporate funding for years. The two make their deal, and head off to Isla Nublar, where Hammond and his crew of scientists have genetically engineered dinosaurs using DNA found in mosquitos that were caught in amber. Along for the ride is also Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a chaos theorist who dresses like a rock star.
At first the scientists are awed by the sight of real live dinosaurs (and so are audiences, the first shot of the dinos is a stunner), but quickly suggest that cloning dinosaurs is a dangerous decision and doomed to failure. These sequences are where the film really cooks, and I’ve always loved Goldblum’s “standing on the shoulders of giants” dialogue – which in my mind cam eot symbolize the era where CGI became a cinematic crutch. Then the sceintists go on the ride, and it’s then when Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) sabotages the operation, and shuts down the electrical fences for most of the park. And it’s here where Grant – who seems afraid of becoming a father in a labored plot point – is saddled with Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex Murphy (Ariana Richards), Hammond’s grandchildren, after a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex attack. From there it’s about survival, especially when the fences go down on the Velociraptors.
The biggest failing in Jurassic Park is that Spielberg seems to want to go soft on Hammond. The idea of a rich guy creating this park is ripe with dramatic opportunities, but here he’s just a benevolent old fool who never seems to feel the weight of leading many people to their deaths. Between that and the children – who aren’t terrible, but are never exactly naturalistic – there are enough flaws to make this seem inferior to Spielberg’s similar opus Jaws. Spielberg – much like audiences – falls in love with having dinosaurs on screen, and so they get a lot of hero shots even after killing off people. It’s not a deal breaker, but it makes much of the film feel conflicted. The end celebrates the T-Rex, but we’ve also seen him kill repeatedly – imagine a triumphant shark. It’s the same problem Peter Jackson fell into with his King Kong remake.
Perhaps this is a bit harsh, but like so many modern blockbusters, the film is about the set pieces, and if the film isn’t brilliant as a whole (man, that ice cream scene is a slog), when Spielberg’s on full attention, the film is as good as anything he’s done. From the first attack to the Velociraptors storming the kitchen, it’s got some great set pieces. And the melding of practical effects with CGI is mostly seamless. There’s some shots of dinosaurs running around and such that aren’t to the level of modern effects, but for the most part the work here is jaw dropping, and it really did set the template for future digital work, but still manages to impress. James Cameron’s Terminator 2 may have gotten there first, but this took it to the next level. We were seeing things in a way that were unachievable three or four years previous, and though it’s unfortunate the industry started to abandon practical effects, there’s no denying the work here.
The Lost World, Spielberg’s follow up, fixed some things, introduced a nastiness, and has high highs, but bored lows. Spielberg seems only engaged with a number of the set pieces, and introduces a daughter character for Goldblum’s Malcolm who gets to use her time training in acrobats to defeat a Velociraptor.
Here, Malcolm is sent to Isla Sorna – the second island used as a back-up to Isla Nublar. There the dinosaurs have been running free and have adapted to their terrain. It’s an island of uncontrolled dinosaurs, but unfortunately Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) wants to take them off the island and use them for a stateside theme park. John Hammond (Attenborough) sends Malcolm to Isla Sorna to retrieve his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) with the assistance of photographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff). But Ludlow has his own team, including great white hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite) and his nastier partner Dieter Stark (Peter Stormare). Malcolm’s group thinks the dinosaurs should run free so they set their captive animals loose, and that leads to all of them needing rescue. The film then concludes with a T-Rex running wild on San Diego.
There’s a number of jaw-dropping set pieces here, like when the rexes – protective of their young – send a camper off a cliff with Malcolm, Harding and Van Owen inside. That sequence really pops, and when Harding is stuck on a piece of glass as impact points grow larger you can see Spielberg is a master. Spielberg seems to enjoy Postlethwaite’s character more than anyone else’s. He respects the hunter and his goal, and Postlethwaite brings a weight and sincerity to his hunter that makes his sections pop. Besides that, there’s some great moments here and there – watching the Velociraptors hunt down Ludlow’s men in high grass where we can see the grass recede but not the animals.
More than the narrative, these films seem driven by the effects, and Spielberg brings his A-Game to sequences that involve them, though the sequence with the T-Rex loose in San Diego is too jokey to make much of an impact. But there are things to like, and those things are entertaining in a way that the first film isn’t – mostly because it’s not saddled with children to an excess. This film got a bad reputation for going darker than the first film, but by removing some of the worst elements and giving the film a human villain works to its advantage. Jurassic Park is more for families, and it works wonders, but The Lost World is the better story.
Jurassic Park III starts with a child being lost on Isla Sorna, and then cuts to Dr. Alan Grant (Neill). He returns this time to the island of dinosaurs because of Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda Kirby (Tea Leoni) – who hire him to give a toured guide of the island, but are really there to rescue their kid Erik (Trevor Morgan). The Kirbys have basically kidnapped Grant and his assistant Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola) as they don’t have the money they promised, nor plan to stay off the island. But what they don’t realize is that Grant doesn’t know the island they’re on. And so it’s another movie where it’s just about getting out of a situation – that’s the main problem with these films, they’re most just about survival.
In JP3 there’s a bigger and badder dinosaur than the T-Rex – the spinosaurus, which enters the picture killing the beloved tyrannosaurus. From there they must find Erik and escape the island, which also has pteranodons that can fly.
Though the other Jurassic Park films run over two hours, the third film is a little over 90 minutes, and that helps the film. The third film feels like a closer homage to the Ray Harryhausen-type films these films are drawn from, and so it’s more of a monster show. And though Johnston has never had the visual wit of Spielberg, the effect sequences here are just as impressive. If all three movies are good with reservations, the third film at least delivers with panache.
Universal presents all three films in a Trilogy collection on Blu-ray with each coming with a digital downloadable copy. All films are presented widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 7.1 Master audio. Jurassic Park was the first film to introduce DTS to the marketplace, so they’ve come full circle here. The transfers are solid, though not revelatory – mostly because these films have always been well looked after on home video. For the most part the supplements are replicated from the DVD releases, though each film comes with a new retrospective featurette. The first film gets three of those, the second two and the third just one. Says something, doesn’t it?
Jurassic Park starts with “Return to Jurassic Park” which is broken into three parts: ”Dawn of a New Era” (25 min.) “Making History” (20 min.), and “the Next Step in Evolution” (15 min.). It walks through the making of the film, the hurricane during shooting, and how it changed effects. All interviews for these retrospective documentaries come with comments from Spielberg Johnston, Neill, Dern, Goldblum, the effects crews, the child actors, and Peter Stormare. Then it moves to archival featurettes (66 min.) which walk through the same material as has been on previous releases, some older behind the scenes featurettes (27 min.). still galleries, a preview of the upcoming video game (5 min.) and the film’s theatrical trailer.
The Lost World continues the “Return to Jurassic Park” with “Finding The Lost World” (28 min.) and “Something Survived” (17 min.), which covers the making of the film in glowing terms, though Spielberg downplays the film a little. There’s also deleted scenes (7 min.), archival featurettes (84 min.), Behind the scenes (21 min.), still galleries and the film’s theatrical trailer.
Jurassic Park III has a commentary with the guys behind the effects: Stan Winston, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Michael Lantieri. They offer a jokey look at the making of the film. “Return to Jurassic Park” concludes with “The Third Adventure” (25 min.) and archival featurettes (78 min.), Behind the scenes (29 min.), still galleries and the film’s theatrical trailer.