“Jurassic Park” Legacy A Prehistoric Journey 25 Years in the Making
I am your a-typical kid (at heart). I didn’t much care for dinosaurs when I was younger. Monsters scared me more than they entertained me. The closest way I found to relate to dinosaurs was a joke in 1982’s “Airplane II: The Sequel” in which a member of the ground staff, Johnny is asked to recount history: “Let’s see. First, the Earth cooled. Then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat so they died and they turned into oil.”
It isn’t a very funny joke, but it fits the theme of this article.
25 years ago, Steven Spielberg wowed us with the original “Jurassic Park,” Despite the fact that Steven Spielberg’s name was attached to it, I had no real interest in seeing that first film. A friend of mine strongly encouraged me to go see it and when it made the rounds a second time, I caught it.
What worked for me in that original film was not the technology or the dinosaurs themselves. It was the story and the people who inhabited that world. Michael Crichton and David Koepp managed to create an environment full of danger, of wit, of adventure. They managed to capture the strength of the core argument: should humans play God. It’s a timeless story, of course. Mr. Spielberg did not cast the film with notable, A-List actors either and that’s a plus to the film. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Sir Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum, Martin Ferro, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Bob Peck, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazello and B.D. Wong all offered a richness of character that we would not see in future entries. There’s enough background into each of their characters that addresses several key questions, namely who, what, when where, how and why.
The technology used to create the dinosaurs is rudimentary by today’s standards. But, in 1992, when the first teasers started rolling, audiences were hooked. The film would go on to win multiple technical Oscars and would usher in a new theatrical digital sound format, DTS.
Four years later, Mr. Spielberg and company came back in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” Both Laura Dern and Sam Neill bowed out and Jeff Goldblum made a significant appearance. Sir Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazello return in cameo roles. Julianne Moore stepped in to the Sam Neill character, which was a welcome change. Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Peter Stomare, a shaved Richard Schiff (for those who have seen every episode of ‘The West Wing,’ the loss of the beard was remarkable) and Arliss Howard are along for the ride.
“The Lost World” exposes a second site for InGen’s testing. A family stumbles on the island and a young girl is injured prompting an expedition led by Goldblum’s Ian Malcom. His girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding is already on the island in the natural element studying the creatures, who have not been contaminated through human contact. Arliss Ludlow, Hammond’s greedy nephew and current CEO of InGen has also sent a hunting team to collect samples to bring them back to the U. S. Mainland. It becomes a race.
The effects in this film are just as jaw dropping as the first. My initial reaction to the film was not as positive when I originally saw it. Moore’s performance and Goldblum’s humor are what brought me around. But, I also like Postlethwaite’s character, Roland Tembo.
This film was a tipping point for CGI to replace traditional animatronic dinosaurs, opening up some of the action shots, which hold up even today. The story is nowhere near as strong and the last act is dismal (I was surprised to learn that fan pressure pushed Crichton to write the novel for this film, which David Koepp based his script on). Spielberg’s direction is on point and it is as rousing an adventure as any other Spielberg film.
“Jurassic Park III” was the first film in the series not directed by Steven Spielberg. Joe Johnston of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “The Rocketeer,” and “Jumanji” fame took the directing reins. Sam Neill returns along with Laura Dern in a cameo role.
“JP3”’s scale is much smaller than the two previous entries. It features a strong supporting cast with William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan and Michael Jeter. Don Davis scored the film with John Williams composing his Jurassic Park theme. The script by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne (“Downsizing”), and Jim Taylor focuses on a family looking for their lost child on the original Site A, Isla Nublar.
I was unkind to this film when it first came out. The story lacked the same pizzazz and grandeur that marked the first two. The characters were also so very transparent, making them less effective. The story does do a good job of containing itself to the island again, instead of trekking off. There’s an ongoing gag throughout the film about a missing satellite phone and Sam Neill’s presence in the film strengthens the adventurous nature of the story.
2015 saw a reboot of the series with Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World”. I have a more extensive review of the film over on my website, The Movie Revue if you care to indulge. In fact, it was one of my first attempts at a professional review.
The film, featuring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard is a CGI spectacle where the effects are the story. Vincent D’Onofrio, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson co-star. Mr. Trevorrow co-wrote the screenplay with Derek Connolly, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver (story by Jaffa and Silver). Their story has some interesting ideas that aren’t really expanded upon. Pratt is an adventurer, but his is more brawn. His intelligence is high and he asks the moral questions, but spends most of the film running. I likened him to Indiana Jones, which I don’t think is wrong, but I think it is the wrong character for this type of film. Ms. Howard’s character is frigid and rubbed me the wrong way. I understand why the character is the way she is, but it also felt completely out of place. There are two bright spots: B.D. Wong’s take on a character he’s been playing for 25 years and the kids. For the first time since the original film, they fit the roles the story had in mind for them. Michael Giancchino offers a solid take on John Williams’s themes.
The film broke opening box office weekend records and went on to become the second highest grossing film of 2015. Audiences wanted this film even if critics didn’t agree and I get it. There’s something compelling about huge monsters fighting one another or the chills we get when a dinosaur threatens our characters.
As I said, I am your a-typical kid (at heart). I am not a huge fan of monsters (though they’re growing on me) so I am not necessarily the target audience for the modern “Jurassic” films. It is the characters and the stories that interest me, particularly the first film 25 years ago.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the latest film in the series is now playing at a theater near you. While I am not a fan of it, it is the perfect summer popcorn film and it will eat audiences up.
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