In 10 Words or Less
Man's ego versus nature's uncontrollable power
Loves: Big adventure
Likes: Steven Spielberg, dinosaurs
Dislikes: Mawkish sentimentality, post-production 3D conversions
Hates: The very idea of velociraptors
I remember anticipating the release of Jurassic Park as a young teen, thinking that this movie could potentially change the world of moviemaking. When I sat down in that seat in the theater, in the days before the internet, yet in the prime of blockbuster movie hype, I don't know if I could have been more excited. As the theater speakers in the walls of the old UA Sunrise Mall 9 rumbled to life with the sound of long-extinct and suddenly alive dinosaurs, it was like nothing I've seen before. 20 years later, watching the film on high-definition Blu-Ray with 7.1 surround sound (and in 3D to boot) the movie remains as entertaining as it ever was, and though I'm far more cynical and experienced than I was then, the film remains a classic thrill ride.
Based on the popular book by the late Michael Crichton, Jurrasic Park takes the core of the Frankenstein concept, namely, if man could play God, should he, and updates and ramps up the stakes, by giving life not to a man, but to dinosaurs, the mammoth creatures who once ruled the planet. Wrapping it in a delightfully modern and satirical idea like creating something as frivolous and commercial as a theme park around the cloning of these killing machines just makes the story all the more enjoyable. While that sounds like a very high-minded and serious endeavor, which was certainly far more true for the original novel, that's just the skeleton of this film, upon which a run of high-energy scenes are hung, along with director Steven Spielberg's trademark blend of heartstring pulling and crowd-pleasing adventure.
Dr. Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has managed to clone dinosaurs, and has built an island theme park near Costa Rica that would serve as a Mesozoic-era Lion Country Safari. However, an incident involving some of the more...aggressive...beasts causes his investors some concern. In order to assuage their fears, some experts, mathematician Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) and archeologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), are brought to Jurassic Park to testify as to the safety of the park. And since, if it was all fine and dandy, the movie would be about 20 minutes long, it stands to reason that things don't go well, thanks largely to the nefarious scheming of the park's chief computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight.)
Though a solid dinner conversation between Hammond and the experts pays some lip service to the ethical and logical issues of introducing a new species into an environment, no less cloning a long-lost, most-likely deadly species, once we meet the dinosaurs, it's all about chasing and escaping, as the humans run for their lives from a terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex and a pack of vicious Velociraptors. In Spielberg's skilled hands, these moments are hugely suspenseful, and sometimes can result in some pretty big scares. While the adventure elements are excellent, the more Spielbergian parts just feel a bit shoehorned. A love story, of sorts, between Grant and Sattler is just awkward (partially because the duo doesn't spend a lot of time together), while the evolution of Hammond's point of view, as he watches his dream collapse in front of him, isn't as dramatic or poignant as you might like.
In theory we are supposed to side with the humans, and in the case of Goldblum's sleazy, chaos-theory spouting Dr. Malcolm that's quite easy, the real stars of the show here are obviously the dinosaurs, whose realistic movements combine with the forces of nature they represent to create truly scary villains. The T-Rex may have his turn in the spotlight thanks to his sheer size and ferocious roar, but it's the raptors who are the real threat, proving once again that brains will more often win out over brute power. The acting imbued into their animation makes them into genuine evil, lending their every appearance a sense of fearfulness. When Hammond's grandchildren, on the island for a visit (and more cynically as plants for the experts' test ride) are being stalked by the raptors amid the prep tables of a kitchen, the dinos' ruthless tactics and creepy facial expression make it easy to believe the kids are in real danger. However, they never tip over the edge into anthropomorphized cartoon territory like they easily could have with a lesser crew of filmmakers.
If anything really doesn't work it's the reliance on deus ex machina solutions to plot dead-ends. For anyone new to the party, the film's finale is brought about in a manner where, if you are paying attention, you have to say, "Wait...no one noticed that?" especially when earlier in the film, its obviousness was the center of a major set piece, The power of coincidence is a bit too strong in powering forward Jurassic Park, especially with Malcolm constantly referring to chaos theory. Nothing should work out so well so often (though Spielberg has a pretty impressive batting average, so what do I know.
Jurassic Park arrives in a three-disc set, with two Blu-Ray discs and a DVD, in a standard Blu-Ray keepcase (with a two-sided tray) which is held in a holofoil-embossed slipcover. The disc sports the usual curved Universal menu design which offers the choice to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the special features (along with how-to info, BD-Live and the ticker options.) Audio options for the 2D version include English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Spanish and French DTS Digital Surround 5.1 tracks, while the 3D version includes English DTS-HD master audio 7.1, DTS-HD 5.1 and DTS digital surround 2.0 and Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Both films feature subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French.
For a film that was such a milestone in the world of movie visuals, it's pretty disappointing that Universal couldn't offer a better presentation than this. The VC-1-encoded, 1080p transfer just simply lacks in punch. The level of fine detail is hit or miss (often resulting in the image looking too smooth); color, though mostly appropriate, is a touch muted; and though the black levels are pretty solid, the overall soft look make the film's darker moments harder to appreciate. There are no obvious problems with digital artifacts, dirt isn't present, and noise is minimal (which is probably why there's less detail than expected/hoped for) but there's an odd amount of jitter in parts, that's not a result of handheld camera work (for instance, the opening titles.) Overall, it's a good looking film, and the dinos still look great, but it just feels like it could look better.
That goes double for the MVC-encoded 3D version. I tried to approach this version with an open mind, but I've yet to see the post-production conversion that can match a film shot for 3D. (The company behind this release, Stereo D, also did the conversion on Titanic, which was actually pretty nice.) This movie is not the one to break that streak, as it may be the least impressive 3D version I've seen. The effect in some places is like a pop-up book, where the foreground elements stand distinctly separate from the background (especially outside the amber mine), while the dinosaurs occasionally look like something Ray Harryhausen created, thanks to the effect of the 3D conversion. Sometimes, the 3D is impressive, mostly when the scene is deep, like when the jeep falls down the tree, the T-rex chase or when the Velociraptors leap at the camera, or when it comes to little things like the rain, but mostly the 3D feels too artificial to work well. The fact that the transfer suffers from the usual 3D problem of an overall darker image, when some of the film's best scenes are dark to begin with, just makes more of an issue.
In approaching this new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, I couldn't wait to see how my in-theater memories of the roars of the dinosaurs would compare with the in-home translation offers on Blu-Ray. Well, no problems here, as this track, which was updated and enhanced for the new theatrical run, will make you feel like you are right there, with the LFE rumbles of T-Rex' stomps and the blasts of Velociraptor screams shaking you with their power. The little touches help make the experience more enveloping, with loads of atmospheric sound effects and dynamic mixing (when the tension wires are ripped away by the T-Rex, your head will spin from the effect of them whipping around you. Dialogue is also quite solid, with no notable issues. The only audio problem came during the first T-Rex appearance, where the sound of the bugs and birds in the jungle oddly dropped out for a moment. Otherwise, it's a beautiful presentation.
There's no audio commentary for this film (Spielberg has never recorded a commentary for one of his films) but pretty much anything else you'd want in connection with this film is included here (with the exception of no reference to the film's intense merchandising. It would have been interesting to find out a bit about the Jurassic Park rides at Universal's theme parks, considering the theme of the movie.) We instead start with a 3D-exclusive extra, the 8:27 "The World of Jurassic Park 3D," a featurette focusing on the conversion effort by Stereo D, with Spielberg offering plenty of thoughts on the process, with lots of in-progress footage to show how the effect was achieved. For anyone interested in 3D films and the controversial process of 3D conversion, it's worth checking out.
The remainder of the bonus features were found on the previous Blu-Ray release, starting with the three-part "Return to Jurassic Park" featurette (running a combined 1:00:44.) The first third of a look at the franchise (the other parts are on the other films' Blu-Ray releases), the three parts, "Dawn of a New Era," "Making Prehistory" and "The Next Step in Evolution," serve as a decently deep look at the film's production, from the story's origins to the advances in technology that made the film possible to the actors' experiences, the technical elements and all the post-production work that polished the film. There are some interesting behind the scenes bits, like the effects of a hurricane on the set, a visit by King Kong's Fay Wray and a look at some scenes with music or sound effects only. As this is a more recent overview, a lot of what's here is repeated elsewhere in the extras, but this is the best presentation you'll get.
A set of archival featurettes are up next, created around the time of the film's original release. These begin with the in-depth James Earl Jones-hosted "The Making of Jurassic Park" (49:39) broken down into pre-production, production and post-production. There are some good stories and interesting collateral shown, as you get to see timelapses of the dino models being created, as well as learn about the culture change that occurred as the film shifted from stop animation to CGI, a major turning-point in film technology.
An original featurette on the making of the film follows (4:50), though this is just studio-produced fluff promoting the film. "Steven Spielberg Directs Jurassic Park" (9:07) is far more interesting, as a clip from the film is followed by on-set footage of Spielberg directing that scene, offering a unique perspective on the art of directing. The last short archival featurette, "Hurricane in Kauai" (2:09) talks about the big storm that threatened to severely disrupt the film's Hawaii production. This story is told better in other areas of this set. If nothing else, these four pieces will give you an appreciation for how far technology has advanced in the past 20 years.
Another batch of old footage is presented as "Behind the Scenes," and though most of this looks its age, there's some great material. "Early Pre-Production Meetings" (6:20) looks like it was shot on home video around Spielberg's kitchen table, but it's fascinating as they discuss the details of the dinos' movement, they play with models and listen to Spielberg come up with great ideas and curse! Then there's some "Location Scouting" (1:59) as the director shoots mock footage of possible locations, using his finger as a stand-in for the dinosaurs.
"Phil Tippett Animatics: Raptors in the Kitchen" (3:04) is an awesome video representation of Spielberg's storyboards for the scene, done in stop-motion animation, like Robot Chicken. How close these animated storyboards came to the final film is an amazing testament to Tippett's skill and talent. There's also an animatic for the first T-Rex attack (7:21), which is made of a variety of techniques, including stop motion. For more insight into how the movie was made from a technical angle, check out "ILM and Jurassic Park: Before and After the Visual Effects" (6:32), which illustrates how the CG work was done, while "Foley Artists" (1:25) looks at how the film's sound was created, including the materials used to replicate the hatching of a dinosaur egg. Good stuff all around, as the found footage and peeks behind the curtain help reveal some of the film's production secrets.
The remainder of the movie material includes storyboards, production art and a trailer. The storyboards for five scenes, including one with a baby dinosaur that was cut from the film and one for the film's original, more violent, yet more realistic ending, are presented as automatic slideshows, and run a combined 22:32. The production art is also in auto slideshows, three brief ones (a total of 5:20), covering photos from the set (fun old pictures), gorgeous design sketches and beautiful concept art of several big scenes, including one from the book that didn't make it into the movie.
The trailer (1:18) is an odd inclusion, mainly because the quality is simply awful, as it's delivered windowboxed. It's also another example of the time before the science and art of the trailer were perfected.
The final featurette is a promotional look at the new Jurassic Park video game, being developed by the episodic geniuses at Telltale Games. It looks decent, and is probably better than anything that's come before from the franchise, but only so much is shown of the game, with the focus being on the effort that goes into creating a game.
Also included with this set is DBOX code, for anyone with a motion-control seating set-up, as well as a digital copy of the film and an Ultraviolet stream to watch.
The Bottom Line
20 years later, the leaps in visual magic that made Jurassic Park such an eye-opening experience at the time still impress, in a film loaded with thrill-ride action, some genuine scares and suspense and general filmmaking expertise on the part of Spielberg and his team. Though the visuals feel like a bit of a let-down, they don't take too much away from the film (even in the disappointing 3D version), and the audio is rather fantastic. Meanwhile, the extras arrive in such a massive quantity, that even if they weren't as good as they are, they'd be worth looking at. That they deliver such an in-depth, 360-degree look at the making of the film, told from a number of perspectives makes it all the more worth picking up. If you already own the previous Blu-Ray, there's no real need to get this one (unless you need to see it in somewhat mediocre 3D) but if you don't own Jurassic Park on Blu-Ray, you can't go wrong with this release.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.