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After Twenty Years, Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” is Timeless

April 8, 2013

By John C.

Jurassic Park 3D PosterThe thing that I love about Jurassic Park is that it perfectly encompasses what I admire about Steven Spielberg’s style of filmmaking as a whole.  There is a sense of wonder that is felt in the opening and closing scenes as well as in the many moments when the characters are in awe of the scientific creatures.

But this classic feeling of “Spielbergian” wonder is sharply juxtaposed by a thrilling sense of terror when things start to go dangerously wrong partway through the expertly acted film.  After twenty years, Jurassic Park remains one of my favourites, and the flawless 3D conversion which opened over the weekend adds new layers of both wonder and terror to the film.

Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his partner Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are palaeontologists, invited by the rich John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to visit Isla Nublar, a revolutionary theme park where his team of scientists have literally brought dinosaurs back to life.  His two grandchildren, Lex (Ariana Richards) and her younger brother Tim (Joseph Mazello) are also along for the ride, as is the brilliant “rock star” mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).

Although Dr. Malcolm is a vocal detractor of the park, the sleazy lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferraro) just wants to get the island open to the public so that they can start rolling in the money.  But everything starts to go wrong when the crooked head of security, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) shuts down the power in an attempt to steal the dinosaur embryos.  When the system goes down, the gates go up, which sends the whole park into a state of chaos as a thunderstorm rages around them and the resourceful Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) tries desperately to get everything back on line.

There were and still are two ways to watch Jurassic Park, and this is one of the many reasons why it stands the test of time.  First of all, the film works brilliantly as a thrilling blockbuster, a creature movie that unleashes a virtually unstoppable threat to the characters.  But second of all, the philosophical and ethical debate about whether it was right for the humans to clone the dinosaurs in the first place is still just as timely after twenty years.  The discussions of chaos theory are profoundly affective, and the scientific explanations that are offered throughout the film make the payoff all the more satisfying.

There is something thrilling about the way Steven Spielberg puts all of the multiple characters in peril throughout the film, allowing every sequence to play out on multiple levels as the actions of one person invariably affects another.  The genuine suspense that masterfully builds up towards the finale is still felt, despite the fact that several scenes have become indelible parts of pop culture.  I first saw Jurassic Park on tape when I was about eight years old, and have seen it a couple of times over the years since then, but in many ways the experience of watching the film in a theatre made me feel like I was seeing it for the first time all over again.

The 3D that has been added works as another filmmaking tool, something Steven Spielberg might have used if he had the technology at his disposal in the first place.  The images appear to pop off the screen in 3D, and the effect is particularly immersive during the iconic scenes when they first drive through the gates and in the later sequence when they have to escape over an electric fence.  The dinosaurs are still breathtaking, and it’s easy to understand why people were so blown away by the special effects in the first place.  Everything about Jurassic Park holds up so well, that it almost feels like it could be the first big blockbuster of the 2013 movie season, rather than a film that originally transported audiences to another world back in 1993.

The year 1993 was a big one in general for Steven Spielberg.  Almost exactly six months after breaking box office records with Jurassic Park in June of that year, the famously busy director released his vitally important masterpiece Schindler’s List, another film that feels equally timeless.  The Holocaust drama went on to win seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, as Jurassic Park picked up three Oscars including Best Visual Effects.  These two achievements came in the middle of Steven Spielberg’s career, eighteen years after he practically invented the summer blockbuster with Jaws in 1975.

Maybe the problem is that we consider films old once they reach a certain age, but instead we should be thinking about the twenty years that have accumulated behind Jurassic Park as the age when it will start to reach a whole new generation of people.  From the brilliant writing and striking cinematography, to the impeccably crafted sense of wonder and terror, everything about the film still feels just as fresh and it’s hard to believe that it was a product of 1993.  Every aspect of Jurassic Park was perfect, and it still is after twenty years.

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