Thursday, September 18, 2014

Watch This: Jurassic Park

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

Jurassic Park (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Last month saw the passing of the great British actor/director Richard Attenborough, whose career in front of and behind the camera spanned an astounding 65 years.  Attenborough directed the Oscar-winning epic Gandhi (1982), and is well-remembered for his classic portrayal of vicious hoodlum Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock (1947), but his most lasting cinematic legacy may be his turn as billionaire theme park owner John Hammond in Steven Spielberg's hugely entertaining blockbuster Jurassic Park.  The film was adapted from the bestselling novel by Michael Crichton, whose Hammond was cold and greedy.  The Hammond of the movie, in contrast, is kind and benevolent, though no less hubristic, and Attenborough imbues him with an almost childlike sense of excitement about his newest theme park attractions.

The film follows a small group of visitors (scientists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, mathematician Ian Malcolm, lawyer Donald Gennaro, and Hammond's two grandchildren, Tim and Lex) as they take a preview tour of Hammond's new theme park, located on an island off the coast of South America.  Hammond's team has found a way to extract dinosaur DNA from blood found in mosquitoes frozen in amber millions of years ago, and to use the DNA to clone living dinosaurs.  Despite warnings from Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm that these creatures cannot be controlled, Hammond is determined to move forward with the opening of the park.  Of course, the tour does not go as planned, and a power outage resulting from the unscrupulous behavior of a park employee leads to a breakdown of the park's security systems.  With the dinosaurs loose on the island, the remaining visitors and park employees must fight for their survival.

Although the film features a talented ensemble cast, they're not given much in the way of character development (Attenborough's Hammond and Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm are both certainly memorable performances, as is Samuel L. Jackson's supporting turn as chief engineer Ray Arnold).  But it's easy to overlook this fault, because the real stars of the film are the dinosaurs, rendered through a combination of animatronics and computer-generated effects that still feel more realistic than many effects found in today's films.

In the 21 years since its original theatrical release, Jurassic Park has lost none of the magic that made it such a worldwide phenomenon.  There is an almost palpable sense of wonder that pervades the film itself (some credit must go to composer John Williams for his superb musical score), and it's easy to see why it captured the imaginations of moviegoers around the globe.  Spielberg has always been a master of grand-scale spectacle, and even with repeat viewings, the film's most thrilling sequences still amaze: the T-rex attack on the tour vehicles (beginning with the iconic moment featuring the cups of vibrating water), the gallimimus stampede, and Tim and Lex's game of cat-and-mouse with the velociraptors in the kitchen.

As was the case with the previous Watch This post about Titanic (1997), I feel like this is another instance in which most readers will have already seen the film at least once.  However, Jurassic Park is absolutely worth another visit, and should certainly prove a wonderful cinematic experience for first-time viewers.

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