‘Jurassic Park’ still has plenty of bite 20 years later

Photo via impawards.com

Photo via impawards.com

I was eight years old when I first saw “Jurassic Park.” That VHS tape based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel was (and still is) a staple in my family’s film collection. Granted, I may have been too young to recognize Steven Spielberg’s cinematic expertise, but I was smart enough to keep my hands close to my eyes during scary parts.

Seeing the 20th anniversary edition on an UltraScreen in 3-D was like watching an entirely different movie.

Maybe I shouldn’t go quite that far. After all, it is the exact same film that was released in 1993, just with a new 3-D shine. Entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) still invests in an island theme park filled with living dinosaurs. Specialists Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) still tour the island with Hammond’s grandkids Lex and Tim to give it their endorsements. And once the electricity is cut throughout the park, you guessed it, prehistoric chaos still ensues.

The difference was in the viewing experience – not just seeing things pop out of the screen but better understanding the film as a whole.

Though “Jurassic Park” premiered more than a decade before 3-D hit its prime, the quality of its conversion is comparable to that of more recent 3-D films. The effects are never overdone but have just enough impact to bring out subtle details. They especially emphasize the intricate animation, which is impressive for being made 20 years ago. The kids sitting behind me in the theater said it best, letting out a resounding “Wow!” when they first put on their glasses. Of course, they probably didn’t pick up the sweet irony of seeing dial-up computers in 3-D.

The additional dimension also amplifies the dinosaur scares, occasionally making the film feel like a horror movie, complete with bloodcurdling screams. Some dinosaurs actually look like monsters, especially the dilophosaurus with demonic wings on its neck and blue, acidic spit. Surprise raptor attacks made people literally jump out of their seats, myself included.

And apparently they’re scaring more than just American audiences. The Australian Classification Board changed the movie’s rating from PG to M, the Australian equivalent of PG-13, because it felt the 3-D made the film too intense for young viewers. This marks the first time a 3-D release of a film has been rated differently from the original and rightfully so.

The benefits of a big screen showing don’t stop at visual appeal. If nothing else, audiences could refresh their memories about the storyline. The plot to steal dinosaur embryos was only vaguely familiar to me, and I had completely forgotten about the first scene altogether. The amusement park setting also made me realize why Universal had no choice but to add a Jurassic Park ride to its theme parks.

Yet the re-release also brings to light what made “Jurassic Park” so successful. Wisconsin native David Koepp’s script is filled with wonderfully witty dialogue and language just scientific enough to keep average Americans in the loop. It fully develops the relationship between Alan and Hammond’s grandkids, a subplot well worth developing. The emotions from the strong cast of Neill, Dern, Goldblum and Attenborough feel genuine, which is sometimes hard to come by in contemporary films. Even Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello, who were 14 and 10 respectively when the film was released, bring strong performances. And of course, who could forget John Williams and his iconic soundtrack?

My only true criticism would be the inconsistent picture clarity throughout the film. It may be due to its age and today’s widely held mindset that everything should be in HD. Not even that minor flaw could have downplayed the great cinematography, courtesy of Dean Cundey. The connection between Alan’s birds-came-from-dinosaurs theory and the seagulls he sees flying over the ocean in the final scene demonstrates the true potential of cinema magic.

Even for long-time fans of the franchise, “Jurassic Park 3D” provides a new perspective. It lets audiences appreciate the aspects of the movie that couldn’t be appreciated from a 2-D showing and were easy to miss as an eight-year old, fearfully hiding behind my hands.

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