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Jurassic Park

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Review by Jeremy Kleinman | posted September 20, 2000 | E-mail the Author
The Movie

Although in the seven years since its initial release, numerous films have built on the inventive story telling methods pioneered by "Jurassic Park," Jurassic Park remains a truly remarkable and impressive film and a great addition to any movie lover's collection.

"Jurassic Park" tells the story of the creation of a theme park filled with genetically re-engineered dinosaurs and the problems which arise when things go awry on the secluded island where the park is located. The film is packed with excitement and thrills as some of the dinosaurs begin to hunt the humans on the island. Some of these scenes might be a bit much for young children or fairly timid viewers, and there are a few scenes in which children are put in peril, however, for those who can stand these more intense scenes, such scenes in the film are exciting and fun. Much of the second half of the film offers edge-of-your-seat thrills which will often get a viewers heart racing a bit more. Because this is somewhat of a family film, many of the suspenseful scenes are more exciting than scary, and it is constantly entertaining to watch the interactions between humans and dinosaurs .

The film is based on the novel by Michael Crichton, and Crichton's constant attention to even the most minute details is carried into the film version quite well. Despite the somewhat far fetched central notion in the plot, between the efforts of Crichton and Spielberg, the film seems fairly believable. The film encourages a suspension of disbelief of the viewer with dazzling visual effects and the surround sound serves to envelop the viewer in the suspenseful action.

Unquestionably, the visual effects and dinosaurs take center stage, the film is made even better by a number of enjoyable performances. The stars of the film, Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum all put in strong performances, particularly Goldblum who offers a bit of comic relief as caustic chaotician Ian Malcolm. In addition, the film features a fine performance by Sir Richard Attenborough as John Hammond, the Park's proprietor, and good supporting performances by Wayne Knight (who basically plays a computer genius version of his "Newman" character from Seinfeld) and Samuel L. Jackson (about a year before his career skyrocketed with "Pulp Fiction").

Although contemporary films, such as "Walking with Dinosaurs" now use CGI visual effects with great frequency, due recognition must be given to the film which was a quantum leap forward in visual effects. While the film has attained landmark status for such developments it is also an extremely spectacular film. In the DVD's bonus materials, Steven Spielberg speaks about the wonder and fascination with which children view dinosaurs. With this film, Spielberg instills similar feelings in viewers of all ages with an extremely majestic and enjoyable film. While the film does contain some scenes of violence and suspense which might be a bit frightening for children (or more timid viewers) this is a film which is not to be missed and makes a great addition to any film lover's collection.

The Picture

Jurassic Park is offered in Anamorphic Widescreen presentation, with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film generally looks extremely good throughout the film, although there is a bit of pixelation which can be perceived in some of the darker images. In addition, in at least one instance, there is short perceptible freeze in the picture before a scene change. Nevertheless, the film still looks fantastic, seven years after its initial release.

The Sound

Jurassic Park is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, and the sound is phenomenal. The digital sound transfer of this film booms from the first scene, and the film makes fine use of surround sound throughout the film. The surround sound presentation is impressive during many of the more dynamic scenes in the film, but is also equally impressive with more subtle background noise and sound effects during some of the quieter scenes. This DVD definitely joins the ranks of other "showcase" DVDs as "The Matrix" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" as a great DVD to demonstrate the quality of digital surround sound presentation. The sound effects, music and dialogue all come through with extreme clarity. The volume need not be adjusted, but some of the dinosaur cries are a bit loud and jolting, though it is all part of the fun of the film.

Bonus Materials

While film fans will obviously lament Spielberg's decision not to record a feature-length commentary track, the extra materials included in this DVD make it a nice special edition. The DVD contains a documentary featurette on "The Making of Jurassic Park," and a good number of technical production pieces, including footage from pre-production meetings, location scouting, a look at Phil Tippett's Animatic work, storyboards, a look at the film's foley artists, a section of photographs, design sketches and conceptual paintings from the production archives, cast and crew bios, production notes, DVD-ROM materials, and a dinosaur encyclopedia. In addition, the DVD contains previews for Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and Jurassic Park III, however the latter is not too impressive, as it only has dinosaur noises, a shot of the island, and the logo for the film.

The dinosaur encyclopedia allows the viewer to selects either the triassic or the jurassic period or a number of dinosaurs (mostly from the movie) Selecting either of the periods, the viewer will find a written synopsis of the characteristics of the time period. For each of the dinosaurs featured in the encyclopedia, the encyclopedia contains a fair amount of information. After presenting the viewer with a simulation of the sounds these animals may have made, the encyclopedia provides further information including their body shape and characteristics, their height, weight and length, when they lived, and the animal's role in Jurassic Park. The inclusion of the Dinosaur Encyclopedia is a nice addition, particularly for those who know little about dinosaurs and would like to know more. While "Walking with Dinosaurs" does provide a far superior introduction to a number of the dinosaurs included in the encyclopedia, this is enjoyable and informative nonetheless.

Story Boards- Spielberg provides extremely extensive storyboards for a couple of the most impressive scenes in the film- the T-Rex attack scene and scene with the raptors in the kitchen. In addition, there are two scenes which were not in the final film, one involving a scene with a baby triceritops which comes up to Lex and knocks her on her ass (possibly a bit too much comic relief for the film, thus it was omitted) and the original ending. In the original ending, in which a raptor hangs within inches of attacking all the characters and in which the Raptor is ultimately "fed" into the jaws of a T-rex fossil and then, after breaking free, is ultimately crushed, while a second one attacks and is ultimately shot down by Hammond. The story boards are extremely detailed and there are many included for each scene. The Foley Artists- This is a two minute look at a foley artist at work. Doing the foley for a scene in which a baby dinosaur is hatched, the artist explains how the sound effects are created, as she breaks up a waffle cone, squishes the inside of a cantaloupe and rubs cantaloupe on the outside of a pineapple to create the realistic sound effects for the screen. This is truly a fascinating process and an entertaining look at the work itself.

Location Scouting- With a shaky hand-held camera, the viewer is treated to visits to a number of the sets used in the film. Any doubt as to who is filming at these locations is put to rest as a quick view of the camera in the side view mirror of a car shows a familiar bearded place. This is a nice offering of insight into how a location is selected, and it is interesting to see some of the locations which were ultimately used in the film.

Phil Tippits Animatics- This section shows a stop motion rendering of the "raptor in the kitchen" scene, remarkably close to the final scene used in the film. These "anamatics" were stop motion claymation realizations of Spielberg's storyboards. The included scene is extremely impressive and shows the talent of the individuals involved in the making of this film. Similarly the footage of the early production meetings is interesting, if only to see Steven Spielberg doing his best chicken imitation. These meetings show the attention to detail related to the dinosaurs, which paid off well in the film. The picture quality on the footage of these meetings is somewhat poor, but the footage seems to come off better because it is not refined. It makes the viewer feel like either he or she is there, or that those on screen don't know they are being filmed.

The Production Notes- These notes are fairly extensive and covers the process of the realization of the film from Michael Crichton's inspirations for writing the book, through Spielberg's decision to take the project, through a tropical storm which threatened the crew and sets, how the filmmakers designed and built such lifelike dinosaurs, and through the end of filming. The notes explore the fascination which Spielberg identifies as universal regarding dinosaurs, and, while not making up for a commentary track, do provide the viewer with a quick insight into the process of adapting a fantastic book and creating an extremely impressive film. Similarly, the photographs and sketches from the production archives show a bit more of the process of making the film and add to the viewer's insight a bit.

The Making of Jurassic Park- This documentary is clearly the best and most informative of the special features included on the DVD. The documentary is hosted by James Earl Jones and is extremely interesting. The documentary takes the viewer on "a journey of discovery," showing a projection from the 1925 film "The Lost World" through the making of Jurassic Park. The documentary features interviews with Spielberg, Crichton, and many of the individuals responsible for the production of the film. The documentary takes the viewer through the early stages of pre-production, as Spielberg began to storyboard Crichton's novel, bringing together the graphic design team, the making of the animatronic dinosaurs, and the pains taken to adhere to the latest theories about dinosaurs and their evolution into modern birds.

The documentary lets the view in on the secret that a lot of the full-size dinosaurs were in fact computer-generated, as the production team stretched the then-current limits of computer generated imagery. Further, the manner in which the sounds of the dinosaurs were generated (from swan calls, a combination of a hawk, rattlesnake, and howler monkey, etc.) are extremely fascinating. The documentary itself is extremely well made and a fitting tribute to the majesty of a phenomenal film.

While it is ultimately disappointing that there is neither director's nor cast commentary on the DVD, the "Making of Jurassic Park" documentary, as well as a number of other looks at the technical side of making this film do provide the viewer with a good insight into the creative process which gave birth to this film and ultimately supplement the film nicely.

Final Thoughts

With dazzling visual and sound effects, an extremely well-written story and enjoyable performances, Jurassic Park showcases Spielberg's talents at their best and is an immensely entertaining film. The bonus materials included in the DVD bring the viewer behind the scenes during the production process and will provide the viewer with a greater appreciation for this fine film. This DVD is definitely worth purchasing.

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