Saturday, September 14, 2013

Flick of the Day: Jurassic Park

When I was 7 years old, in the summer of 1993, I was brought to the cinema to see a new film. Unlike today, I knew absolutely nothing about what I was about to see. As one gets older, very few things surprise you on the silver screen. You become overpowered with the amount of previews and reviews and blogs and advertising spots to such an extent that you are never surprised by what you see in the cinema and very often have built up your own expectations to such an extent that the film can never live up to it. What made that film I saw in the Forum Cinema in Glasthule so exciting was that I had no expectations, I hadn't read the book or seen the trailer. That kind of experience is something that sadly I cannot relive again and am unlikely to experience again. However, what I can do is re-watch that film and experience the excitement once more of entering Jurassic Park.
On a stormy night in some remote jungle location, a team of workers and security personnel are delivering some unseen creature to its new enclosure. A terrifying accident occurs and a worker is killed. John Hammond, played by the elder statesman Richard Attenborough,  the visionary showman and founder of InGen is forced to bring in outside advisers for his new theme park. This is a park unlike any that have come before. This is a park filled with animals that have not existed on Earth for 65 million years. Hammond invites the gruff but brilliant palaeontologist Dr. Alan Grant, played by the always excellent Sam Neill, and  palaeobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler, played by Laura Dern. Along for the weekend are Jeff Goldblum's oddball mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm, an oily lawyer named Gennaro and Hammond's grandchildren Lex and Tim. The grand scale of Hammond's vision soon becomes apparent and how through the wonder of scientific hokum they have managed to recreate living, breathing dinosaurs on a tropical island off the coast of Costa Rica, Isla Nublar. Were this just a trip to the zoo, albeit a quite magical and dangerous zoo, it would not be half as entertaining as it is. The arrival of a tropical storm, as they are wont to do on tropical islands, combined with sundry errors on the part of Hammond's team of wizard like geneticists leads to the inevitable outbreak of chaos. What follows is a hugely entertaining game of survival as the visitors to park seek to escape with their lives.
Given how much cinema has become overrun with their usage, it is easy to forget how much of a novelty the CGI effects used in Jurassic Park were upon its release 20 years ago. It was only true judicious use of this ground-breaking technology combined with life-sized animatronics that Steven Spielberg was able to deliver on the vision of Crichton's best-selling science fiction adventure. Looking back now, the CGI hasn't dated horribly and still looks impressive while Stan Winston's animatronic creations help give the various dinosaurs character as they run amok. The scene involving the raptors on the loose in the kitchen is still as thrilling as it always was.
Given the visual hoopla on display, it would be easy to fall into the trap so many disaster movies fall into of casting shall we say sub-par performers in the leading roles. I am thinking here of some of the cast of bridge trolls that populate the god-awful 1974 Charlton Heston starring Earthquake (Tagline "When The Big One Finally Hits L.A."). Spielberg thankfully fills the cast with some fine actors. Sam Neill, perhaps the finest antipodean talent of a very talented generation of actors, is superb as the rock around which the cast is built. Laura Dern has since gone on to develop a fine career as character actor and Dicky Attenborough brings gravitas as he always did. There is even an arm-tingling performance from Samuel L. Jackson and a deliciously slimy turn from Wayne Knight as the duplicitous Dennis Nedry. Jeff Goldbum remains one of my favourite actors to this day and he has great fun playing the wacky Malcolm.
The summer blockbuster has changed immeasurably in many ways since Spielberg invented the genre with Jaws in 1975 and in many ways for the worse. Gone are the days when films need to be based off anything as substantial as a best-selling book. I think the nadir has to be basing a film on a theme park ride but who am I to judge? In any case, Jurassic Park still stands out today for its technical prowess and lashings of adventure. Why not watch it once more, luxuriate in the excitement of your youth? I know I will.

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