To celebrate the film's 20th anniversary, Universal is releasing Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park back in theaters, converted to 3D (standard and IMAX formats). Adapted from Michael Crichton's hugely popular best-selling novel of the same name, the film represented a major breakthrough in CG technology, and spawned one of the most popular film franchises of all time, which is kind of interesting when one stops to consider that very few people seem to think the sequels are any good (a fourth film, to be directed by Safety Not Guaranteed helmer Colin Trevorrow, is slated to be released in 2014).
Generally, movie critics are told not to write specifically about themselves in their reviews, but, come on: you and I both know that the vast majority of readers looking at this review have seen Jurassic Park multiple times, and I have to write about something. My main surprise, having seen the IMAX 3D version of the film, is how much more it affected me than I expected it to. Jurassic Park is a movie that is ingrained in the pop culture consciousness, and I haven't seen it in years. I probably saw it 10 or 15 times as a teenager, and attempts to watch it in the last decade generally found me getting bored and flipping over to a movie I hadn't seen before. Seeing it in theaters helped revitalize the experience.
The biggest (and perhaps most obvious) advantage of the big screen over a home setup is the incredible surround sound. I have a nice stereo system, but I'd have to turn it up loud enough for the neighbors to hear me to get the kind of thunderous rumble that each T-rex roar delivers in the theater. Scenes such as the one where Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) observe the raptors being fed lunch gain an intense ferocity, while the kitchen chase with Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) offers more disparity between the quiet and loud moments. A film like this is a sound designer's dream, and the IMAX mix is glorious.
As a younger viewer, I also have more appreciation for the incredible cast that Spielberg has assembled here. Neill, Dern, Goldblum, Richard Attenborough -- not necessarily the kind of lead cast you'd expect to see in the average summer blockbuster (although Goldblum was having a nice run), but the right cast for the job. What's especially clever is how Spielberg allows them to grow into or subvert their usual qualities. Neill and Goldblum downplay their warmth and charisma to play a spoilsport and slightly sleazy egomaniac, respectively. Dern's empathy and charm leads to a series of action scenes that demand intensity. Attenborough's natural ability to infuse speeches with scope and wonder play up the park nicely, before he has to consider the greater ramifications of his creation. Bonus points for Wayne Knight's unforgettably slimy performance as traitorous computer hacker Dennis Nedry and a pre-Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson as a park technician.
And how does Jurassic Park look in IMAX 3D? Decent, actually. There are some dramatic close-ups that look really strange when converted (Bob Peck's mouth: "Shoot her!") and the occasional shot shifts too quickly or is cut so short that it's a bit jarring (proof of Spielberg's mastery: none of these shots are from action sequences), but 98% of the time, the extra dimension is pretty convincing, and nicely accentuates the thrills from time to time (a raptor head bursting through a cluster of pipes, the giant T-rex head pushing down into the SUV). Even more impressive: the 20-year-old visual effects hold up without any signs of re-rendering or digital polish. Even the print itself looks quite nice. All things considered, this is a fun celebration of the film's anniversary; conversion or no conversion, Jurassic Park 3D is just a fine opportunity to theatrically revisit one of the biggest and most entertaining blockbusters of the '90s.
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