Friday, August 14, 2009

Flashback Friday: Jurassic Park

Last Friday, I wanted to feature my Flashback Friday post on the monster hit film Jurassic Park, since it was the feature film for Portland's Flicks on the Bricks last week. A group of us from MAYAs attended. This film still remains on my Top Ten Favourite Films of All Time list. There's just something amazing about Jurassic Park, no matter how many times I've seen it. For the record, I had seen the film five times in a theater. The first time was in Rome, Italy. They didn't have theaters that played the original English language version of the film, so I had to watch it in Italian. It wasn't difficult to follow, especially since I had read the novel months earlier.

The next time I saw it was during my vacation to Prague in October 1993, where it was called Jursky Park (in the Czech language). There were ads all over the city for the film and strange enough, the theater played the film in English with Czech subtitles. Movie tickets were also the highest ever ticket price in the Czech Republic. A whole $1.25! Ah, the inexpensive vacation that was Prague in the early 1990s! You could buy a small bottle of Coca-Cola for the Koruna equivalent of 25 cents. A ride on the streetcar was a mere four cents. And a one bedroom apartment rented for $25 a night.

I also watched Jurassic Park when the film made it to the base theater in La Maddalena, Sardinia. I had the unfortunate experience of sitting next to a kid (about 8 years old) who kept talking through the first half of the movie. Comments like, "I'm not scared!" or "That man is fat!" or "This is boring!" When I had enough of his talking, I leaned over and asked, "Do you mind not talking? People are trying to watch the movie without your commentary." He freaked out and was quiet for the rest of the film. I admit that I experienced a thrill when the dinosaurs finally made an appearance in the movie and scared the shit out of this yakky kid. He looked so scared and pale, I felt sorry for him. I was that way for Jaws back in the 70s, though I was also quite a bit younger than the boy was.

When I was in Naples to see an eye specialist, I took advantage of the Stars and Stripes Bookstore to pick up American published paperbacks that I couldn't get in La Maddalena, Sardinia. A couple of the books I bought were Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and Congo. In January, I had read my first Michael Crichton novel (Rising Sun), which I simply could not put down. It was rare for me to find a book that captured my interest all the way through, even if I found the subject matter a little too anti-Japanese for my liking. I became an instant fan of Crichton with that novel and wanted to read more. Jurassic Park simply blew me away. It was awesome. Even the scientific detail didn't cause me to lose interest. I couldn't wait to see which parts of the novel made the film. To this day, its my second favourite Crichton novel. Congo is my favourite because of the idea of a Gorilla who could use sign language to communicate with humans. I never heard of such a thing until I read that novel in 1993.

Nothing spelled sure-fire summer blockbuster than a movie about dinosaurs based on a Michael Crichton novel and directed by Steven Spielberg. This was the first film that I thought would break a billion dollars worldwide, but it missed the mark just slightly. Titanic was the film that actually became the first movie to make a billion dollars worldwide. This film captures all the elements of a great Spielberg film: science-fiction, special effects, children, awe and magic. What can I say, but classic!

Since I have the special Collectors Edition Trilogy (that came in one trifold package, rather than three separate DVD cases), I was planning to watch the trilogy on DVD some point this summer. Glad I waited. Its been awhile since I last watched any of the Jurassic Park films. There's no question that the first film is far superior, if for no reason other than the sheer novelty of it. No matter how many times I've seen it, the film still induces the awe factor in me. I still laugh at all the jokes (Jeff Goldblum definitely stole the film from his human co-stars, though no one upstages the dinosaurs). Its fun to watch this film again with an audience, outside in the center of downtown Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square on a cool Friday evening.

As I watched this film again, I was once again impressed by Laura Dern. Her characater embodies exactly the kind of lady I'm looking for in a wife. Smart and serious about her work, but also with a sly mischievious streak when it comes to getting children to loosen up a guy she has a crush on (that would be Dr. Alan Grant, the paleontologist). Oh, and yes, Dr. Ian Malcolm (the chaos theorist who wears black like he's too cool to be one of those scientists)...she is "tenacious"! Just the way I like 'em.

The movie differs from the novel in a few instances. A major one is the creator, John Hammond (played by Sir Richard Attenborough). In the novel, he's a greedy capitalist who is all about profits and ends up as dinner for one of the dinosaurs. He was unapologetic to the very end. In the film, he's a kind old grandfather who doesn't realize what he's done. He sees his creation as a good thing for the world, though he ends up proving Dr. Malcolm's chaos theories true (which seems to center on the law of unintended consequences).

One of the best lines in the movie is delivered by Dr. Malcolm, who accuses Hammond of standing on the shoulders of giants, who used the technological research of others to create this park without first stopping to ask whether they should be doing this in the first place.

At BYU, a friend of mine took a Puppetry class in which he recreated a scene from Jurassic Park that had our dorm floor laughing, as well as his class (supposedly). The scene he recreated (as a shadow puppet show) was the one where the lawyer runs from the SUV into the little restroom hut and ultimately gets chomped by the Tyrannasaurus Rex. Despite his hit puppet show scene, this friend ended up getting an F in Puppetry class, which is hilarious. How do you fail a class so lame? That's like failing Underwater Basketweaving 101! Its because he majored in video games that semester. He skipped class to play video games all day and ended up flunking out of BYU his first semester.

My personal favourite scene is when Dennis Nedry (the bad guy) becomes dinner for the Gremlin-like dinosaur (I think its called the Apatosaurus, if I'm not mistaken?). I was glad to see the audience cheer as I did when he is attacked and eaten. He was an annoying character (especially in the intro scene when he laughs like a moron over every little thing).

What I love about the film, besides the actors, dinosaurs, and storyline is the iconic music (John Williams is such a brilliant composer who has created memorable film scores for Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, and E.T., to name just a few). The music is perfectly majestic for this kind of film. Also, the ending was great because it reflects a line that Dr. Grant gave early on in the movie: once you learn about Velociraptors connection with the modern bird family category, "you'll never look at birds the same way again." Its a beautiful image to leave the movie with.

Another thing that I loved about the film is the classic logo design, which I consider to be one of the best (surpassing even the Burton Batman logo, the Dick Tracy logo, and maybe even the Ghostbusters logo). Since I wasn't in the United States when the film was released, I don't know if they sold T-Shirts with this logo on it, but I would have loved one. In the film, there's a scene where you can see the souvenir shop in Jurassic Park's main building. I thought that was a nice, tongue-in-cheek touch.

After the success of the film, Michael Crichton wrote his first sequel, which came out in 1995. He brought back Dr. Ian Malcolm as the main lead, with new characters and a new island. The story is pretty lame. Instead of revisiting the first island (Isla Nublar), create another one (Isla Sorna) and say that the dinosaurs were really bred on the other island, which they neglected to mention in the first novel and film. If Jurassic Park was an awe-inducing classic, The Lost World: Jurassic Park was merely half as interesting.

There's a reason why Michael Crichton never wrote a sequel to his novels, or why Steven Spielberg never made a sequel to his movies (aside from Indiana Jones). Most sequels suck. There's nothing new to tell about dinosaurs run amuck. Essentially, The Lost World was a formulaic repeat of Jurassic Park...complete with a girl, a lady for the romantic tension, and some more ferocious dinosaurs. It was more mayhem, with less heart. I love Dr. Malcolm's line when the others gush after seeing live dinosaurs for the first time: "First there's oohs and ahhs, but then there's yelling and screaming." (I don't know if I got the phrase word for word).

The sequel is essentially an expensive commercial for the Mercedes SUV, which was featured prominently in many scenes. Its kind of ironic when you think about it. Oil is basically fossil fuels, which we can thank the extinction of dinosaurs for, and the American obsession with SUVs in the late 1990s and this decade only sped up the timeline for peak oil, which could bring about our own form of destruction. The circle is complete! Or as Dr. Malcolm observed in the first film: "God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs." Laura Dern's character wittily adds, "Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth!" I love those lines!

Released in 1997, it did receive some hype and attention prior to the launch date. The film opened with a scene that was taken from the first Jurassic Park novel, which I thought was cool. I liked that scene. Its of a little girl who was attacked by the tiny scavenger dinosaurs, nicknamed "compys" (I forget the official name). That was the main new addition to the sequel. Sure, they look cute and adorable, but they are carnivorous and feast in groups, like pirahnas. If faced with the blind Tyrannasaurus Rex or a group of persistent compys, I'd choose T-Rex every time!

The problem with this film is that it follows a similar formula to the first film. In the first one, Dr. Grant rescues Tim from an SUV that the T-Rex pushed into a tree. In the sequel, T-Rex pushes an RV off the cliff with the scientists inside. Also, like the first one, the girl in the sequel manages to outwit the clever Velociraptor.

The film does go off on an amusing tangent by the plot to bring the Tyrannasaurus Rex to a Dinosaur theme park in San Diego. You could tell that Spielberg had tremendous fun with this, especially since there was talk of reviving the Godzilla franchise (which did occur the following year). It was like he was trying to pre-empt Godzilla with this movie. A kind of direct challenge: see if you can do better! The most hilarious scene belongs to a rip on the classic concept of a kid waking up from a nightmare. He sees a Tyrannasaurus Rex in the backyard and walks to his parents bedroom to wake them up. They start arguing about meals or TV before bedtime until they realize in horror that they are staring face to face with a real live dinosaur who had just eaten their dog. Love it!

In 2001, the third film was released. This one received little hype or attention, which showed that the public was already bored with cinematic dinosaurs. Besides, Steven Spielberg had passed the directing honours to someone else and Michael Crichton never wrote another sequel. I believe that he only wrote The Lost World for some quick cash, because it wasn't up to his usual standards. However, there was enough discarded bits from the first novel that never made it into either movie, so it made sense to use it for the third film.

Of course, I'm talking about the pteradactyl (I think that's what they were called when I was a kid, but in the film they are called something else). These were my favourite dinosaurs when I was in elementary school. Something about a flying dinosaur just struck me the right way, though most of that might have had to do with Rodan being my favourite Godzilla movie in my youth. I loved Rodan.

In Jurassic Park III, they manage to get Dr. Alan Grant to venture back to the mayhem. The plot is lame (a couple's son is paragliding with a stepfather near the island and goes missing, so the father concocts a scheme to convince Dr. Grant to return to the island to help them find their son). I liked the cameo with Laura Dern, who is married to someone else and has a dino-loving tyke of her own. A hilarious scene in this film is that the little boy gets distracted from delivering his mommy an important phone call. His distraction? None other than Barney, the annoying singing purple dinosaur that preschoolers loved in the 1990s.

The star of this film is an all new dinosaur more ferocious than the Tyrannasaurus Rex. I had never heard of this dinosaur until the movie, but its called a Spinosaurus. It brings true terror into the hearts of the rescue crew and their private plane. To this sequel's credit, the action is way more intense than the other ones, from early on and nearly non-stop, but the storyline was just lame. Uninspiring. Pointless. And virtually unbelievable. Dr. Grant manages to get saved from becoming the Velociraptors' dinner by the couple's son, who managed to live eight weeks on that island alone! They never really explain that possibility to complete satisfaction. Its simply outlandish and practically kills the suspension of disbelief.

What I most liked about this sequel, though, is that they basically used the scene from the first novel that I was disappointed didn't make it into the first movie. That scene is the experience in the giant bird cage where the pteradactyls fly around. Its great that the producers of this film series decided to resurrect that scene and build a movie around it. I just wish that they could have come up with a better plot than a lame rescue. There's hardly a convincing way to get Dr. Grant back to the island (though this supposedly took place on the island in the second film, which never made any mention of a giant birdcage). The couple entices Dr. Grant with promises to fund his excavation in Montana (just as John Hammond did in the first film). Its a shame that Grant could be bought so easily (not to mention implausible).

There was talk about a Jurassic Park IV (subtitled The Extinction), but based on what I read online, the studio pulled the plug last year after Michael Crichton died. I'm guessing, though, that the lackluster audience for the third film really killed the chances for the fourth one. Why make another one? Its expensive and they have nothing profound to add to the franchise. Just leave it be. As it is, I can never watch Jurassic Park enough times, but its rare that I would have the urge to pop the sequels into my DVD player.

The third film ends like the first one does, though. Once again, Dr. Grant watches the scene from the helicopter of birds flying. But in this one, its not birds. Its pteradactyls. Because of the theory proposed by this film series, its true. I have never looked at birds the same way since.

1 comment:

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

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Best,
Trish & Rob