Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Great Alphabet of Films—J is For

 Jurassic Park 

      For me, this selection was easier than "I" because there were really only two formidable contenders. However, there's still a difficult choice to be made. It's either Steven Spielberg's landmark science-fiction film Jurassic Park, or Steven Spielberg's watershed thriller Jaws. Either way, Steven Spielberg owns the "J" category of film. What the "J" category represents is a kind of battle of generations, or at the very least, a tangential appraisal of cinematic history. Does a moviegoer value the birth of the "summer blockbuster" more than the inventiveness of tangibly real, special effects driven extravagance—the latter, which reflects the modernized "blockbuster?"
      I'm fully aware that what I'm about to write is going to wrangle the film critic-sphere, but ya gotta stick to your guns. Based on my examination, today's moviegoer is more entranced by bigger, better and bolder displays of filmmaking. The old "summer blockbuster" model would experience grave difficulty trying to flourish in today's hyperactive environment of 3D affairs, faster frame rates, costlier productions, or what can be more explicitly termed, a special effects bonanza. If I was older than 25, I'd probably go with Jaws, but since I'm not, my pick is Jurassic Park. You have my blessing...go ahead, curse my name for the next five minutes. Even the "Curse of the Bambino" came to an end. I guess the spirit of March Madness hasn't vacated my system just yet because I'm clearly vouching for the—cue Dick Vitale's voice—upset baby. 

      Spielberg's most financially successful film follows two dinosaur experts—Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern)—who are invited by millionaire codger, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to preview his new amusement park on an island off Costa Rica. The eccentric millionaire is looking to gain the seal of approval. By cloning DNA harvested from pre-historic insects, Hammond has been able to create living dinosaurs for his new Jurassic Park, an enormous animal preserve housing real braciosaurs, dilophosaurs, triceratops, velociraptors, and a Tyrannosaur Rex. Accompanied by cynical scientist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who is consumed with chaos theory, and Hammond's two grandchildren (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello), they are sent on a tour through Jurassic Park in computer controlled touring cars. Unbeknownst to the group, two massive incidents foretell doom. A tropical storm converges on the island, knocking out the power supply. And an industrial saboteur looking to extract dinosaur embryos out of the park (Wayne Knight) vandalizes the electric system. Consequently, the dinosaurs (cue Chaos Theory) start to rage out of control. Grant's new mission hinges upon survival. He must bring Hammond's grandchildren back to safety as the ferocious pursuit from the mammoth, carnivorous beasts' ratchets up.
      Graced by state-of-the-art special effects from the team of Stan Winston, Phil Tippett and Michael Lantieri from George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic, Spielberg's enormous adventure represents a pivotal moment in the history of modern cinema. Jurassic Park presents awe-and-fear inspiring sights never before visualized on the screen. The most spectacular of these sights involves the feral, lifelike dinosaurs that methodically stalk through the film with astounding naturalness. Regardless of one's enjoyment of Jurassic Park, it's prodigious success became the flagship for a brand-new (now old) entertainment empire, capturing the unbridled imagination of its audience. As a kid, I've always had a fascination with dinosaurs. And after the film was released, every toy store I ever stepped foot in sold Jurassic Park merchandise. 

      Based on Michael Crichton's novel, Spielberg's film is an enthralling, shrewdly scientific account of a recondite theme park. Crichton, who wrote the film with David Koepp, presents his story as a spellbinding, obsessively detailed treatise on both the possibilities and the perils of modern science. The story is tailor-made for Spielberg's considerable talents, combining the scares of Jaws with the high-tech, otherworldy romance of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind—capped off by the challenge of rendering the dinosaurs themselves. If Jurassic Park has any flaws (as a kid, it had none) it would be the film's blanket characterization of its characters, who possess little depth (other than Goldblum). More than likely, Spielberg sacrificed some of the character development to ensure the dinosaurs resonated with the audience.
      Occasionally conjuring up the scare value of Jaws, this film's dinosaurs trample its humans both literally and figuratively. Wonderfully graceful and believable, these dinosaurs set a dizzying new standard for computer-generated special effects. They create a magnificent illusion. You will believe you just stepped foot in this dinosaur-ridden world. Plotting the dinosaur's movements and stunts is Mr. Spielberg's strongest suit. He choreographs some ingenious engagements, such as the frightful sequence, which shows vicious velociraptors stalking Hammond's grandchildren through the large kitchens of the visitor's center. Anyone can stage a fight, but few can capture the child-like response to such a predicament. 
      Considered one of the greatest films of all-time, Jaws is not only the father of the summer blockbuster film, but one of the seminal, "high-concept" films. However, I wasn't able to witness the greatness of Jaws for what is was really designed for—in it's thriving habitat—the multiplex. On the other hand, Jurassic Park is a film I can recall with near flawless ease. My experience at the theater on that early June day in 1993 awakens to memory, a wonderful feeling of awe, as I marveled at the shear breathtaking landscape of computer-generated, pre-historic behemoths. Regardless of Jurassic Park's prehistoric CGI, which is colossally outdated by today's standards, I can always look back at that day, and excitedly reminisce at the sight of those dinosaurs. Jaws is unquestionably a better film, but Jurassic Park is without debate, a more meaningful moment in my own personal history of cinema-going.  Ultimately, Spielberg's action-adventure epic defined a new era of filmmaking while simultaneously capturing the sentimental magic of the medium—an effortless ability to scare as well as awe. 

*Jurassic Park's First Official Trailer.


  1. I left 25 a long time ago and I'd go with Jurassic Park too.
    There are a lot of things going on scientifically now with cloning and modification and other "achievements" it always makes me think about quotes from this movie and how humanity can be so arrogant.

  2. Jurassic Park every time. Jaws was just yucky (and maybe a bit too real). Mind you, I never think of Costa Rica in the same light any more!

  3. I never tire of watching Jurassic Park. That T Rex stole the movie.

  4. although when you watch it today, it's not that amazing, back then it was such a groundbreaking movie, kinda like AVATAR is today.

  5. Hi Matty :) I jumped straight to the Nic Cage post! lol he's my idol. I loved the video of him. I can't say that I've taken much notice of his hair. It's his chest fur that gets my attention. hehe

  6. I only recently saw Jurassic Park after traveling to one of the sites where a portion of the movie was filmed (Redwoods). I definitely prefer it over Jaws. I think Jaws gave swimming in the ocean a bad rap.

  7. Awesome movies, the both of them! Robert Shaw and his story of the USS Indianapolis? Sam Neill and his heavy sighs over the incubator eggs? Loved them.
    Good post. I'll check you out again, fella.

  8. Probably blasphemy...I never really cared for Jurassic Park. But I definitely recognize it for the blockbuster it was, and the special effects were top-notch at the time. A great "J" post!

  9. I'm 25 too, and while Jaws spooked me as a kid, I agree that Jurassic Park rocked my world when it came out. I was kind of into dinosaurs before that, but was obsessed after seeing the movie. I never got any of the toys, but when it was released on VHS, I carried the tape with me everywhere.


    - allison writes

  10. @ Rachel

    That quote is awesome. The best part about it is Peck's delivery!

    @ Ruth

    Nice. I needed confirmation for my decision. And yes, the science elements of the film were vast.

    @ Lauracea

    I've never been to Costa Rica, but I agree, if I ever go, my impression will be slanted from this film. Glad to know you agree with me!

  11. @ M Pax

    The T-Rex, as a kid, was frightening and epic. He did steal the movie.

    @ Dezmond

    Yep. It does have that Avatar quality. As I wrote in my piece, "Regardless of Jurassic Park's prehistoric CGI, which is colossally outdated by today's standards, I can always look back at that day, and excitedly reminisce at the sight of those dinosaurs" Hehe-I love quoting myself. Jk.

  12. @ Ricky


    @ Niki

    Awesome! I loved writing that Nic Cage. "chest hair fur." All I can do is laugh my ass off. Thanks for the comedic contribution!

    @ Susan

    Lucky you! They don't film to many movies in my state, but then again, I can hop on the train to the city! I could never go in the ocean again without a terrifying self-consciousness.

  13. @ Susan

    Thanks! Yep, both films are classics for a reason. Choosing which one was more "classic" was a bit of a test. But based on all this feedback, I made the right choice! Phew!

    @ Liz

    Thanks! And kudos for your honesty given everyone elses showering praise for Jurassic Park. Your writing into enemy lines, lol. I'm jk.

    I can understand your tepid appraisal of the film. The story and characters were a bit underdeveloped and stoic. It was all about the special effects and high-concept CGI. It's not a flawless masterpiece of film, say like The Godfather!

    @ allison

    I salute you for sharing my age and sensibility! I didn't go so far as to carry my VHS tape with me everywhere, but I owned, what equates to, a regular Bronx zoo of dinosaur toys.

    And I'm glad everyone here is pretty much in agreement with me. I thought there would be more criticism or skepticism with my pick. I always thought people were more fond of Jaws—of course, excluding my generation and younger. Glad to know my presumption was wrong. Though there's still time for some Jurassic Park bashing, I suppose, but I'd prefer none.

  14. As always, excellent choice. This movie doesn't have a single fault in my eyes--I actually liked the characters, and thought they were fun, even if they were a bit charactered. But compared to the rest of Hollywood cinema, I think Ellie gives most "love interests" a run for their money. Can you imagine what she'd be like if they remade the movie? She'd be "that pair of tits that ran from the dinosaurs. But boy, could they run." But Spielberg really knows how to do it--aliens, dinosaurs, this is what the people want. Lastly, I'm going to have to disagree with M Pax, though--the raptors, my friend. The raptors steal it every time. They can open doors!!!

  15. Now your something tall dark and different... I have not seen many film blogs.. that are not just scifiction... I like it... very creative... and the header is great... I will be your newest follower... My son is 5.. saw Jurrasic park.. way to early...still loves.. it...

  16. @ M.

    Thanks! And that's what I'm talking about. An enthusiastic appreciation for the great films of our childhood! Although I wouldn't go as far to say it doesn't have a single fault, my love and respect for what Spielberg accomplishes is profound.

    Your comment about Ellie is right on the ball. If they remade the film, I think today's Hollywood would work hard to ensure that the "love triangle" idea is more prevalent. As we know, Hollywood has a great affinity for such tawdry affairs.

    And the Raptors are friggen great. That scene gave me the chills when I was kid. Now it just utterly amazes me!

    @ whisper

    Thanks, I'm trying! I just want to delve into all areas of film and avoid any centric content. I think most people would get bored just getting news or an opinion about a certain kind of film.

  17. Awesome movie..Spielberg changed the view about Dinosaurs and made Dinosaurus popular!

  18. Oh, I'm going to be the lone dissenter. I liked Jurassic Park, but I LOVED Jaws and still do. I never got to see Jaws on the big screen, but I own it and have lost count of the number of times I've watched it. The chemistry between Dreyfuss, Scheider and Shaw sizzled. I can quote them verbatim and I absolutely love their drunken singing. "Show me the way to go home..." I didn't get that in Jurassic Park. I think that Benchley and Gottlieb wrote a better screenplay than Crichton and Koepp. Crichton's characters weren't as layered and complex as Bechley's, either.

    I thought Jurassic Park's f/x were awesome and it was fun seeing it in the theater, but it held no real magic for me. Although I did love the raptors. It's a superior film in many ways and holds up far better than say, Avatar will, a film that was all f/x and absolutely no substance.

    I loved your J post. Very interesting as always.

  19. I did go with Jaws today - but you know - Jurassic Park is a classic film too, and I'm glad both of Papa Spielberg's monster babies are getting some love today! I think I anticipated this movie perhaps more than any I'd ever waited to see - this new "computer generated" dinosaur effect was supposed to be so real - and I was beyond intrigued to see that, growing up with and loving the Harryhausen stop motion dinosaurs but realizing they were always going to reveal themselves as special effects critters. As it's turned out, CGI beasties are no more seamless and unidentifiable as special effects - neither in their early days in JP or now when they're done for $5 on a laptop for Saturday nights Syuh Fyuh (I spell it phonetically) Premiere flick. Eventually they may get there - and Avatar is a contender - but they still have a ways to go. Back to Jurassic Park - fantastic movie, well chosen for your post - Cheers!

  20. "Jurassic Park" is revolutionary, but I still prefer "Jaws" - it's everything a summer classic horror blockbuster should be, and without any doubt one of Spielberg's finest.
    "JP: Extinction"?!? What the heck is that? A reboot, a sequel, or a joke? LOL :)
    Great article, buddy!

  21. Is it weird that I enjoy Jurassic Park even though it STILL scares me? I'm a little pathetic that way, with movies that are even a little bit scary!

  22. @ thinkingcap

    Thanks! Spielberg definitely intensified interest in dinosaurs. Merchandise sales rose exponentially.

    @ Melissa

    As odd as it sounds, I'm so glad there's a formidable dissenter. I was expecting more vitriol with my selection. I understand your enthusiasm for Jaws, and frankly, can't really refute it. Both films, as I said in my review, are "generational films." They both hold distinguished merits.

  23. @ Craig

    Thanks! I'm glad you're representing the Jaws contingency. Both are great films. Spielberg can never get enough love. Lol @ the Syuh Fyuh comment!

    Avatar was a groundbreaking technical achievement, though the story was a bit underwhelming. Cameron's visionary-like command of technology is unrivaled.

    @ Nebular

    Thanks! LOL @ the "Jurassic Park Extinction" observation. Not sure what that's referencing (it's probably just a fan creation), I just really liked the poster!

    @ Rachel

    That's perfectly fine. Movies are meant to scare and awe. At least your honest. I respect that big time!

  24. I absolutely loved this movie. It's one I will always watch when I catch it on TV. I thought the concept was brilliant. I agree with you; Jaws is a classic, and the fact it's more realistic allows it to prey on human emotion a lot easier. But, as you said, Jurassic Park was a memorable moment for me as a kid. I was ten; it was a Sunday outing with the family. And I loved every second.

  25. My thoughts exactly! I experienced the movie much the same way, and that is precisely why it holds such a dear place in my heart. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  26. Great review! Jurassic Park is no doubt one of my favorite films of all time!

  27. I love Jurassic park and with a seven year old boy who loves dinosaurs, it does tend to keep popping back p onto our screens. Great choice!

  28. Thanks! Haha, I loved this film as a kid, so I know exactly how your son feels. I must have drove my mother crazy with dinosaurs too.