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A blog about writing, reading, art, and history

Movie Review: Jurassic Park in 3D

My brothers and I went and saw Jurassic Park in 3D last night. The reason I went was because the film meant a lot to me as a kid and I didn’t get to see it in the theaters the first time around. My folks decided it would be too scary for us and so we didn’t get to see it until about a year later when staying overnight with some friends. I do, however, have the distinction of being one of very few people who read the Michael Crichton novel before seeing the movie. So at least I’ve got that going for me.

One conclusion I came to was that films that weren’t originally filmed with 3D viewing in mind don’t tend to translate well to 3D. One of the constant troubles with Jurassic Park in 3D was the multiple levels of foreground. The best example of this was the foliage between the characters and audience in the jungle scenes. In general, it’s best to keep from having things like branches, leaves, and other foliage in the way of your characters because they tend to be visually distracting. Jurassic Park breaks this rule constantly in order to create a foresty atmosphere or to heighten the tension when a character is being stalked—thus many scenes have leaves and branches in the way, blurred out to keep the audience focused on the characters and situation. In 3D, however, this translates to a lot of blurry leaves in the audience’s faces, distracting from the rest of the scene.

The characters, I think for the most part have aged well. Lex and Tim, the two kids, I actually found to be a lot cooler that I remembered them being. Lex (Ariana Richards) in particular I remember hating as a kid because she screamed a lot, but watching again last night, she didn’t really come across as the quintessential screaming-girl character from the quintessential action film. In fact, she didn’t really scream all that much, and there was a certain, almost comedic timing to her screams. Similarly, I appreciate Laura Dern’s lack of screaming throughout the film. Other than the one chase scene where she screams “shit” a lot, she isn’t much of a screamer. As there is little I detest in an action or horror film character than a constant screamer, I gained a new appreciation for certain aspects of Spielberg’s vision of Jurassic Park‘s characters.

A couple years ago, when I was teaching a freshman composition class, I gave an assignment that required students to take a particular film and write two reviews of it, each geared toward a different audience. For the sample paper I wrote two reviews of Jurassic Park, one from the standpoint of someone who enjoys any kind of action/adventure movie and one from the standpoint of a viewer who read the novel and was expecting more of a scientific thriller. While I still enjoy the movie, writing a negative review from the standpoint of a Michael Crichton die-hard was kind of a fun exercise. Here’s a copy of the negative film review:

Leave it to Steven Spielberg to turn Michael Crichton’s gripping scientific thriller into a by-the-numbers action/adventure story. Despite top-of-the-line CGI-rendered special effects by ILM and outstanding casting by Spielberg’s people, in many ways the movie remains “Indiana Jones meets Land of the Lost.”

In particular, the director’s decision to cast Sam Neil’s character, Dr. Alan Grant, as a kid-hater forced to protect two frightened pre-teens comes across as a fairly hackneyed plot-device. While this does stay true to the original story in that Dr. Grant does get stranded with Tim and Lex for a large part of the novel, making him a kid-hater who needs to be reformed over the course of the movie doesn’t really add anything to his character, nor to the overall conflict of the story. Instead it merely succeeds in creating a few laughs early on and a touching scene aboard the escape helicopter at the end. For the rest of the film, this aspect of his character is conveniently forgotten as he and the kids spend most of the film either screaming and running from the T-Rex or wandering aimlessly through the jungle.

The relationship between Dern and Neil’s characters is another unnecessary plot-device that fails to add any conflict or substance to the film. Indeed, their relationship as teacher and grad student in the book comes across as more sincere and heart-felt than their alleged romance in the movie.

Despite all of this, the basic premise behind the novel remains true: the discovery of an astonishing new technique for cloning dino DNA leads to its reckless plan to capitalize on this discovery by turning it into a theme park for families. Yet the helpless terror that the characters face when the illusion of control crumbles before them is never really achieved in the film. Certainly, there are a number of intense chase scenes and battles between giant reptiles, but the focus on relationships between characters are clichéd and distracting enough to prevent the film from becoming the epic thriller it could have been.

While deviations from plot and characters are typically necessary when turning a story from novel into movie, the feel-good adventure movie that is Jurassic Park utterly fails to deliver Crichton’s terrifying vision of cloning gone bad on a secluded island in the Pacific Ocean.

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