Skip to main content

Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists.


Jurassic Park
(1993)

I’m uninspired by the prospect of seeing Jurassic Park 3D. Rather than going to such a length I thought I’d revisit one of the ‘berg’s biggest movies two-dimensionally, as nature intended. It is, after all, it’s twentieth anniversary.


I saw the film twice in the cinema on its initial release, something of a rarity usually reserved for films met with high esteem or requiring further cogitation. That wasn’t the case with Park, it was for purely for reasons of being sociable. The second visit confirmed my reservations, and seeing it again now only reinforces them. This is a very well made film. Spielberg is at the height of his powers. The use of special effects is frequently stunning, putting many a movie to shame made several decades down the line. But it feels cynical and hollow.


Sometimes overtly so (the pre-emptive displays of Jurassic Park merchandise could be viewed as oh-so-clever and self-reflexive, but the alternative is that it’s shamelessly crass). Sometimes because the script is so calculated that it lacks any real inspiration. The virtual retread a few years later would only confirm the shortage of really great ideas. But Michael Crichton was essentially doing an undisguised Westworld with dinosaurs, plus a bit of cod-science thrown in, so why should that be surprising? And Spielberg had long wanted to make a dinosaur movie, an entirely understandable itch to scratch. It’s just a shame he made this, rather than mounting a remake of The Land that Time Forgot.


Jurassic Park really scores with the set pieces. Once you’ve listlessly endured the not-really-very-good introductory sequences, that is. Sam Niell’s Dr Alan Grant freaks out a fat kid by describing the predatory habits of velociraptors. Richard Attenborough’s hammy Scots accent masquerading as a character introduces us to the science via a cute (read, patronising) cloning-for-idiots cartoon. An employee of the Park is up to no good in a really loud and obnoxious manner (he’ll get his!), only made bearable by the Wayne Knight’s gleeful performance.


Then there’s the introduction to the dinosaurs. Having the characters as audience surrogates is okay when its Grant and Ellie (Laura Dern). When it’s a pair of kids (hey, this is Spielberg) who happen to be Hammond’s niece (Lex, Adriana Richards) and nephew (Tim, Joseph Mazello) you wonder if you’ve strayed into some strange throwback Disney movie. To be fair to Richards and Mazello, their performances are fine, and Spielberg’s smart enough to not to make them precocious (although a climactic life-saving bit of computer whizzery on Lex’s part stretches patience pretty thin). But there’s no reason for them to be there, other than that’s what you used to do in family movies.


Worse, Spielberg regular John Williams ladles on the majestic grandeur of these beasts with a syrupy trowel. There, I’ve said it. I don’t like his Jurassic Park theme. It’s symptomatic of every identikit, fawningly emotive score he’s delivered in the past 20 years. Don’t get me wrong, he knows exactly how to punch up the dramatic scenes, but the cheap awe and spectacle need muffling.


To an extent, the director is just remaking Jaws. With better special effects. He relishes holding back his big reveals (an opening velociraptor attack with the camera only ever showing its victim, a cow lowered into their enclosure shows us nothing but frantic foliage). He revels in building tension (the famously rippling glass of water as the T-rex approaches, Knight’s encounter with a dilphosaurus). And it cannot be stressed how masterfully he integrates the effects. The combination of CGI and practical is nigh-on seamless, and the foregrounding of the physical elements (wind and rain, light and dark) lends weight and tangibility to them. Spielberg seems enthused here in a way that was only sporadically evident in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and was almost entirely absent from Hook. It’s just a shame he didn’t build a better script.


Surely its straightforwardness is to its credit? Entrepreneur invites scientists to his dinosaur theme park. Theme park goes wrong. All concerned must escape to safety. If it was as tightly wrought as the premise makes it sound, yes. I might have preferred James Cameron’s (who tried to buy the rights) take, but he’s not exactly economical and to-the-point either. Spielberg being Spielberg, other less-desirable ticks and obsessions intrude clumsily on the main plot.


Most pointedly, Grant doesn’t particularly like children, so the film is obliged to follow his journey from cruel relish at scaring the little ones to reluctant, then hearty, recognition of the joys of fatherhood. To achieve this, we are told, the only thing necessary is to endure a life or death experience with prehistoric monsters. All the while acting as the surrogate parent to a couple of little urchins. It’s as irritatingly unsubtle as that. Every time Grant stumbles forward in this new parental paradigm, Spielberg cuts back to doting Ellie who just knows Grant will be making babies with her in no time.


If this weren’t bad enough, Neill is unutterably dull in the role. It’s not as if this is his fall back position, but cast the actor in a solid, dependable part and he starts to blend in with the furniture. There’s a lack of vitality at the core of the film. I don’t know that the permanently tranquilised William Hurt or the increasingly somnambulant Harrison Ford (both were offered, and turned down, the role) would have made Grant more interesting but you’d at least have felt their presence more directly.


It’s left to the supporting players to inject a bit of life into the proceedings. Of which, Jeff Goldblum (as Dr. Ian Malcolm) is more than capable. He’s easily having the most fun here; I suppose you could call it the Han Solo part, except that he’s put out of action just as the excitement starts. Goldblum’s one of my favourite actors; I love his delivery, and the idiosyncratic emphases he places on his sentences. His manner is a curiously antithetical combination of the excitable and the laidback. He enthuses over Chaos Theory in a way that makes it sound far more interesting than Grant’s fusty old dinosaurs. In theory, Goldlbum’s return as the lead in The Lost World should have been a masterstroke. Unfortunately, again, the script was the problem.


Then there’s Bob Peck as Muldoon, the game warden, whose “Clever girl” is one of the most famous lines in the film. It’s a great “warning” part, not as show-off as the grizzled old veteran played by Robert Shaw in Jaws, but possessed of instant gravitas nevertheless. Samuel L Jackson’s chief engineer Arnold is a fairly thankless role, but he makes it memorably wearied and (particularly today) notable for chain-smoking.


The climax of the film always struck me as curiously curtailed. Spielberg stages a breathless half hour or so of velociraptoring before the intervention of a friendly neighbourhood T-Rex enables our protagonists’ lucky escape. It’s a deus ex machina for our heroes and cuts off mid-melee. Throughout, Spielberg is very reticent with his dinosaur violence. Humans are fair game, but we don’t see any dinosaurs shot, blown-up, gored, dismembered or otherwise exsanguinated. That’s what you call Cameron for, I guess. I did like the falling “When dinosaurs ruled the Earth” banner fluttering down as the beasties form a tableau rumpus, however.


Most of all, Jurassic Park was a missed opportunity. It was a chance to do something really fresh and exciting with dinosaurs using modern technology, but Crichton’s tale is blandly formulaic; that the film works as well as it does is all down to Spielberg (the screenplay is credited to Crichton and David Koepp; the latter is a solid director in his own right, but is his work-for-hire for Spielberg has been consistently not-quite-there). The sad thing is, the series has become the last word for dino-stories. They’ve surfaced occasionally (Peter Jackson’s King Kong, the misfiring comedy take on Land of the Lost) but neither in central roles, nor wholly successfully. And now that Jurassic Park 4 is on the horizon, is there any hope that it won’t just be another stir-and-repeat of the previous three? It’s a shame Joe Dante (one of the original rights-bidders) couldn’t have been given free reign on John Sayles’ aborted script for it.

***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way, but today you got to play ball.

From Here to Eternity (1953) (SPOILERS) Which is more famous, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making out in the surf in From Here to Eternity or Airplane! spoofing the same? It’s an iconic scene – both of them – in a Best Picture Oscar winner – only one of them – stuffed to the rafters with iconic actors. But Academy acclaim is no guarantee of quality. Just ask A Beautiful Mind . From Here to Eternity is both frustrating and fascinating for what it can and cannot do per the restrictive codes of the 1950s, creaky at times but never less than compelling. There are many movies of its era that have aged better, but it still carries a charge for being as forthright as it can be. And then there’s the subtext leaking from its every pore.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.