Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Jurassic Park

Here we go again with Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly blog about one of the movies I own.  Today, we get to a film where I constantly amaze myself at how much I love it:  Jurassic Park.  This is originally in my notes at June 6, 2015.

Well, with Jurassic World coming out in a week, I think it's a perfect time to return to Jurassic Park.  I surprise myself at how big a fan I am of Jurassic Park.  When it made its debut on Blu-Ray a few years ago, I was downright giddy at its release, and watched it again with an excitement I hadn't felt since I first saw it in 1993.  It was my birthday movie that year.  I almost regret not going to see it's 20th anniversary 3D re-release just so I could see it on the big screen again.

Of course, what made Jurassic Park famous are its special effects.  Every once in a while, an event picture comes along that's such a quantum leap forward in visual effects, that the movie-going public as a whole has their collective jaw drop and ask, "How did they do that?"  The first Star Wars was such a film.  T2 did it with its liquid metal.  And of course, Jurassic Park did it, with computer animation finally becoming the go-to tool in the VFX artist's toolbox.  But, as many a fan of practical effects will point out, computer animation is actually used quite sparingly in Jurassic Park.  Having watched many "making of" specials on the film over the years, the rule of thumb tends to be that whenever it's a full body shot, it's computer animated.  When all you see is a head or the legs, it's animatronic.  And watching it again tonight, there's a lot of scenes where it's the head or the legs. 

Maybe it's because I've watched it so many times over the years, but I think I can tell now when it's an animatronic and when it's CGI.  It's the trick I developed watching the Star Wars prequels.  Whenever C-3P0 is Anthony Daniels in the suit, C-3P0 moves like a robot.  When C-3P0 is computer animated, he moves much more fluidly.  It's the same with the dinosaurs.  The computer animated ones are a little too fluid, and the animatronics are a touch too robotic.

But let's talk about the characters.  Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant.  I always liked Alan Grant.  Maybe it's because of Spielberg's direction, but Grant and Indiana Jones seem to be cut from the same cloth.  I can easily see Grant and Jones being colleagues at some university.  Watching it again tonight, I noticed Grant has one moment that seems to be pure Indy.  Right after Grant and the kids escape from the T-Rex, we've got Lex (the girl) with Grant, and Tim is trapped in the wrecked vehicle up in the tree.  Grant is going off to rescue Tim, but Lex is panicking.  She keeps repeating, "But he left us...he left us," in reference to the lawyer who ran away from Tim and Lex when the T-Rex attacks.  Grant just looks her in the eye and says, "But I'M not going to do that."  It's...so Indy.  No wonder Harrison Ford was Spielberg's first choice for the role. 

Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Satler is just adorable.  But she's a dedicated professional, too, who knows when it's time to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty...quite literally in the scene with the giant pile of triceratops poo.  In the original novel, she was actually one of Dr. Grant's grad students, and not a fellow Ph.D.  That's a trope that pops up a lot in sci-fi tales like this...the professor romancing one of his grad students.  I asked a friend in academia if that's actually a common thing...she says no.

Should we talk about deviations from the novel?  I'm sure I'm not the only guy in 1993 who ran out and picked up the novel when the movie blew our minds.  Quite a few changes were made.  In the book, the lawyer is actually more heroic, and actually helps defend the compound.  Probably the best change was to the kids.  When the shit hits the fan and the dinosaurs attack, Lex is rendered almost catatonic with fear, while Tim goes into full G.I. Joe survivalist mode.  Lex was toughened up a bit, and actually has her big hero moment when she reboots the computers and locks out the velociraptors.  And Tim is softened to be more kid-like. 

I like how Spielberg chose the novel to adapt.  Spielberg had long been talking with novelist Michael Crichton about collaborating on a project.  When Crichton revealed that he was writing a novel about dinosaurs brought back to life through cloning, Spielberg ditched the original project they were working on and said, "We're making that instead."  The original project they were working on was a character drama about a busy night in a Chicago hospital's emergency room, which they eventually reworked into the legendary TV series E.R..

Did I ever tell you my George Lucas theory about Jurassic Park?  OK.  As has been documented by now, Spielberg was in such a rush to start on Schindler's List that he asked his old friend George Lucas to step in and help out with the post-production.  On the running commentaries for the Star Wars films, Lucas points out that he likes to end his films with the last 2 minutes being free of dialogue, and with just music on the soundtrack.  And how does Jurassic Park end?  The last 2 minutes are free of dialogue, and just music on the soundtrack.

I think George Lucas came up with that ending.

And we can also thank Jurassic Park for the Star Wars prequels because, upon seeing the advancements in visual effects, Lucas said, "Technology's finally caught up with me.  I can make more Star Wars now."

And the music.  One of John Williams' finest scores.  I've always wanted the soundtrack.  Why don't I own the soundtrack?

When I finally got around to seeing Jaws, I couldn't help but see allusions to Jurassic Park.  I remember an interview back in 1993 when Spielberg was asked his opinion of Jurassic Park.  He said, "That's MY Jaws 2...it's Land Sharks."  I must concur that Jaws does have the better characters.  The explanation after all these years was that, the animatronic shark broke down so much, that they spent their downtime writing and filming character scenes.  No doubt Jaws would have been more like Jurassic Park if the shark worked and they could do all the special effects scenes they wanted.

Jurassic Park is, quite simply, the work of a master firing on all cylinders.  I love it.  I love it a lot. 

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