"Jurassic Park" Review: Let's Find a Way
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"Jurassic Park" Review: Let's Find a Way

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film Reviews | April 5, 2013 | Comments ()


"Let's be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven't got the power to destroy the planet - or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves." -Ian Malcolm

I saw Jurassic Park in the theater when I was thirteen years old. It's possible that I was that kid who obsessed over dinosaurs. It's conceivable it was taken to the point that I would have informed you matter-of-factly that the correct name for Brontosaurus was actually Apatosaurus or that the plates on the back of the Stegosaurus ran in two alternating lines instead of the old interpretation of a single row.* So yeah, I'd read Jurassic Park once or twice and saw the film on opening day. And, yeah, dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurus Rex life sized on the big screen was up there with the first time I saw boobs. If there's one thing that Spielberg gets right, it's wonder

It's got a big budget, superstar director, groundbreaking special effects, spectacular creatures brought to life, gigabucks of revenue, and a shallow story based on an evil selfish corporation and selfless scientists tossed into a dangerous jungle environment, the plot existing primarily to shuttle the action from set piece to set piece. Sound familiar these days?

Sometimes age does a funny thing to film: the initial impressions don't go away, but intensify. The magnificence of the dinosaurs on screen holds up with rapturous awe, aside from some awkwardness in closeups (particularly with the raptors late in the film), while the weakness of the story seems more glaring in retrospect. Plot Point A happens for no other reason than to show Neat Thing X on screen. Rinse and repeat. That's not to say it's not effective in its own way. Spielberg working at his peak could draw dramatic tension out of a bored goat chained to a pole: the iconic water shaking with footsteps, the raptors hunting the children through the kitchens, the harrowing assault of the Tyrannosaurus upon the convoy.

But it loses its way near the end, and as the script runs thin on expendable side characters, the built up tension deflates. The last half hour turns almost cartoonish: Is there the slightest feeling that the velociraptors are really going to kill the faux family foursome?

Surprisingly, it's Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm who holds up the least well over time. While he has all the best lines in both the novel and the film, his role is more caricature in retrospect than the brilliant and quotable smart ass I remember.

Life finds a way, he tells us. Progress is the rape of nature. Fine words from a computer-using, chaos theory-spouting, glasses-wearing, artificial fabric-wearing neo-hippie whose life depends on cars, planes, antibiotics, and sweet sweet morphine. Life finds a way. That includes us. Standing on the shoulders of giants? Of course we are, that's what civilization is. Hell, that's what life is. Hey, internet user, did you mine the copper to spin wires and refine the petroleum into plastic in order to build your own computer built on electromagnetic theories that you derived from scratch with a quill you plucked from a raven and ink distilled from the blood of a bear you killed with a sharp stick from a tree that you chopped down with the axe you carved by beating two rocks together in just the right way? Velociraptors don't evolve their own six inch claws by themselves in a lifetime, they grow on the shoulders of their ancestors, raw species memory. Memes or genes, it's the same principle: life always stands on the shoulders of giants.

It's a flaw in the novel too, if you give it a reread, a sense that there's something hollow at the heart of an otherwise gripping yarn. Crichton's got a lot of brilliant ideas, and wonderfully researched and synthesized information, but it never comes together into any sort of gestalt. On one hand we gape at the brilliance of the scientific methods used, the audacity of the plan, the wonder of the dinosaurs, and in the other we have street corner philosophy about the dangers of science. The Frankenstein myth is just a Luddite wet dream unless it is tempered with an awe for the act of creation. Malcom's rants about the inability to control or place limits on life apply equally to his admonishments of the park's designers. That impulse to create stupidly and shortsightedly is the exact same impulse that drives the dinosaurs to worm around every control placed upon them. Life is creation. Each implies the other.

Jurassic Park is a beautifully filmed movie that still has the capacity to awe, but its attempts at deeper meaning fail to resonate.

"But we have soothed ourselves into imagining sudden change as something that happens outside the normal order of things. An accident, like a car crash. Or beyond our control, like a fatal illness. We do not conceive of sudden, radical, irrational change as built into the very fabric of existence. Yet it is." -Ian Malcolm

* If you find yourself compelled to argue these points, please take a deep breath and realize that my passion in dinosaurs faded soon after. So, if you insist upon parading your doctorate in paleontology and pointing out that the correct name is now Snookisaurus or that the plates of the Stegosaurus are now understood to be its testicles, remember, you are arguing on the internet with a teenager from 1993.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Sunsneezer

    For those wondering about the 3D conversion, everything I saw in the 3D trailer made me believe a 3d conversion could be done right, and that this would be the first one. They even nailed some hard stuff like the reflection/transparency of the jeep windows so well I have no idea how they pulled it off!

  • robot_monster

    Jurassic Park has visual effects that are not only historically ground breaking, but that also mostly still hold up as among the best to this day. Any artist that was involved should be proud of their brilliant innovative work.

    But sorry, both on release as well as now, the movie as a whole is a waste of their talents, the talents of the crew and the actors, and your time. The single adjective that comes to mind is 'bland'.

    Apart from two very good scenes notable for their suspense and visual storytelling, (which is to say, their basic directorial technique), Jurassic Park always seemed to me from the first viewing to be a side project that Spielberg largely phoned in between real movies.

    Its possible to argue that the source material was problematic (If I remember there were 2 pages of prologue and 1 paragraph of novel near the end of Crichton's book that were interesting). But as everyone knows, in the best cases, books have nothing to do with movies, and also that a weak novel can often serve as license for a great movie.

    As far as John Willimam's work here is concerned, well listen to Jaws, or even The Fury, or The Cowboys or any number of his scores. JP does not measure up. But this isn't a slight against Williams. After all, what did he really have to work with here? His television music had more to launch off from, and it shows.

    In terms of film making, JP is an embarrassment compared to something like Alien, (already well over a decade old at the time), and as far as the dinosaur genre goes, the grade B Valley of Gwangi from the sixties in some ways has arguably more going for it.

    JP is certainly not up to Spielberg's own high standards- if anything, the movie seems more like Lucas on an extraordinarily good day post- 1980.

    Pop the original Kong into the DVD player to see how dinosaur movies are done. Not only for the music, the visual effects, the story, and the production design, but for the whole enchilada.

  • Lighten up, Francis.

  • par1964

    Now THAT was a good movie!!!!

  • ViciousTrollop

    The moment when they first fly to the island still gives me goosebumps because of John William's fantastic score. This is one of my favorite film scores of all time.

  • Aaron Schulz

    I dont know how they inspire vertigo on normal TV during that scene but damn they still do.

  • Slash

    In that "Standing on the shoulders of giants" line, he goes on to say that the scientists basically used the technology (from the giants, I assume he means people like Watson and Crick), but didn't develop the discipline that you use to attain it (in the movie, anyway, it's been long enough since I read the book that I can't remember exactly how it went there).

    Which is a good point. He's telling the rich guy that he (rich guy) bought the technology and is now "wielding it like a child's toy" to create a dinosaur theme park.

    It seems to happen a lot. Rich people doing things with money just because they can, without much regard for discipline or self-control, and almost no concern for whom it might hurt.

    Also: "That impulse to create stupidly and shortsightedly is the exact same impulse that drives the dinosaurs to worm around every control placed upon them."

    No. Or rather, the difference is, we know what we're doing when we manipulate genetics. The dinosaurs (or any "dumb" creature) is mostly just doing what it's supposed to: survive and reproduce.

    Doesn't that imply a greater responsibility on our part than on theirs?

  • Jerce

    Chrichton, gods love him, never had but one plot: flashy technological advancement blah blah; human hubris blah blah "look on my works ye mighty and despair!"--massive obvious flaw in plans/design; chaos destruction danger! hero saves the day/survives, epilogue of chilling portent/leaving door open for sequel.

    I've read nearly all of his books, loved some, meh'ed others--but all of them follow this tasty recipe.

    Jurassic Park, for all its flaws, is far and away the best book he ever wrote.

  • psykins

    I've read some of his later stuff, and he gets kinda MRA and climate change denying...so there's that, I guess.

  • Dragonchild

    He was the ultimate self-loathing academic hypocrite, and good on SLW for calling him out. I could never get into his stories because the "falls" were always a case of bad preparation (and they'd have to be, otherwise there'd be no plot) that does little to point out any downside to utilization of science. OK the catalyst was hubris but you don't need science to eff up, so what's science's role in all this? Wall Street took down the entire global economy selling real estate while NASA was planning to land a car-sized rover on Mars. I get from Chrichton's insufferable fans that his protagonists are supposed to be academics, but my point is that scientists are NOT regressive hippies -- not all of them, anyway. They don't really think in terms of "progress" so much as reason and accumulation of knowledge. When they take a political stance at all, it's usually because humans are about to do something REALLY stupid -- like stop vaccinating themselves.

  • Wembley

    So Crichton is the Nicholas Sparks of Science Thrillers?

  • DarthCorleone

    An argument with a 13-year-old! Cool - I might actually be able to win that one. Oh, crap. My dinosaur knowledge is also limited to that of my 13-year-old self...and I'm older than you, so it's hampered by that extra passage of time as well.

    Jurassic Park remains one of my top five theater experiences ever. That first viewing just knocked me on my ass. As I drifted off to sleep that night, I could still hear that t-rex roar. The movie did diminish with subsequent viewings (and, wow, the sequel was awful), but it's always going to hold a special place in my cinephile heart.

  • Maguita NYC

    My Jurassic Park was the worst experience ever!

    I was 16 and had already moved away from home. Lived in a dorm and did not watch TV. There was freedom. And there was partying. So why waste time on TV?

    What I'm saying is, because of my silly disregard of all things television, the ONLY information I had gotten was that Jurassic Park supposedly revolutionized "special effects" (don't think we called it CGI back then...) That's all. I DID NOT KNOW IT WAS ABOUT DINOSAURS!!!!

    Here I was out on a first date with George, all made-up, short skirt, cute top and heavy eye liner. The theater was packed. We were lucky to be seated next to each other. Roll previews. George puts his arm around me; The movie starts.

    You know how sometimes EVERYBODY is into the movie? How everyone laughs at the same time, everyone breaks into tears at the same exact moment? This time around, Everyone shit their pants at the same time, in a terror-filled night we would never forget.

    It started with the lawyer on the throne. By then, we were already on edge. The girl in front of me was going "ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod" and the sound of her shrill getting deafening with every approaching earth-trembling footstep, and then the guy behind went "FUCKKKK NOONONONONOONOOONNONOOONOONO". And then the T-Rex chewed on the lawyer.

    From that moment on, mayhem reigned in that theater: People were shrieking, praying, calling for their mommy, jumping with fear at every sound, every click, heck, every time the soundtrack quieted down, we knew what was coming! I believe the woman in front of me fainted. The guy behind me could only repeat "FUCKNOFUCKNOFUCKNO" for so long, before he too suddenly quieted down. I believe he went catatonic. Again and again with every chase, every kill. No popcorn was eaten that night. No soda was sipped. No candy was chewed. All littered the floor of that theater, forgotten.

    Me? I'm positive to this day the bloodied half-moons of my fingernails are still indented in George's left arm. Poor George no longer held me, but tried getting away from my grip, and that nightmarish theater. Unsuccessfully.

    We stayed seated (rooted) until the end of closing credits. We were all afraid of facing the new world outside. One where giants walked all over our shriveled frightened shoulders.

  • Monica

    That sounds awesome.

  • PaulRingo

    What about the 3D - is it worth it??????

  • DeltaJuliet

    I thought it was great. I have seen the movie 100 times and I still jumped. Although, my son and I saw it in IMAX 3D...not sure if that makes a difference. The effects were amazing.

  • crispin

    But how was the 3-D? That's the main reason why it's being re-released.

  • Valerie

    Seriously! Nice review, but Hello McFly, we've all seen Jurasic Park, we know it's great. What I want to know is if this is the shabby post-3D of Clash of the Titans?

  • melissa82

    But what of Congo?



    Yeah, when are we gonna get Congo in 3D? Huh?

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Man, the sign language would just come completely alive.

  • "You are arguing on the internet with a teenager from 1993."

    You say that like it's a bad thing.

  • David Sorenson

    That describes most of my interactions with people on Facebook.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I never took either the book or the movie to have deep meaning but that might just be an indication of how shallow I am.

  • kirbyjay

    Pretty much the last thing I look for in a movie is deep meaning

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Good review. I'd quibble this point: Memes or genes, it’s the same principle: life always stands on the shoulders of giants.

    It doesn't. Life stands on the shoulders of what came before, but that's not always giants. That's why you end up with evolutionary bizarre things like platypi, dodos and corkscrew duck dicks. Nature doesn't always evolve the most genius. *Everything* evolves, and if we're lucky it's the genius that survives.

  • Did someone say corkscrew duck dicks?

    Speaking scientifically of evolutionary bizarre things, perhaps this list of other crazy animal penises will also be of interest. Since we're on the topic anyway. Educationally.


  • Sara_Tonin00

    That corkscrew comment came out of a Pajiba Love the other day - i can't take credit for knowledge of that. Though after skimming that scienceray piece, I had my memory jogged about a racy Native American myth about a trickster god who transforms himself into a duck to have sex with a maiden on the other side of the river without her knowing...weird to know it might have been based on fact.

  • competitivenonfiction

    This blog cracks me up every single time I read it.


  • Sara_Tonin00

    Whoa. That fringehead video is going to give me nightmares.

  • Maguita NYC

    Don't know why, but those 2 fringeheads fighting/sucking face remind me of Julia Roberts.

    *Start from 2:11 mark. http://www.youtube.com/watch?f...

  • kirbyjay

    And to think I was attracted to homo sapiens....

  • Holy crap! Bookmarked. WOW.

  • competitivenonfiction

    Oh God - the penises. I don't think I'll be able to look a whale in the eye ever again.

  • Maguita NYC

    Now you know what a dickhead looks like.

  • Pamela Franck

    Kate. I agree that Jessica`s rep0rt is incredible, on sunday I got Chevrolet when I got my check for $5598 this - 5 weeks past and in excess of 10-k this past-month. it's definitly the coolest job I have ever had. I began this 9-months ago and right away began to earn over $76 per-hr. I follow this website, Big31.com

  • How could you, when there's an 8-foot penis in the way?

  • koko temur

    Great stuff, thanks!

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