Wednesday, 28 December 2011
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson
By Alan Bacchus
Back in the day, this picture was considered a bit of a 'comeback' film. After nearly a decade of successful but tepid films from the hit maker, the headlong, thrill ride-style of filmmaking in Jurassic Park signalled a return of sorts to the late ‘70s/early ‘80s period of Spielberg’s career. That said, Jurassic Park feels a lot different than Jaws or Raiders. It has the mark of an older filmmaker, a family man with a little edge lost, but still a master of action, suspense and cliffhanger cinema.
With today's eyes, any soft spots, false notes, bad casting and sappy sentimentality are glossed over by Spielberg's remarkable adaptation of Michael Crichton's techno-action novel.
The novel was a terrific page-turner with a cleverly structured narrative written as a mysterious scientific puzzle of sorts before launching into a full-blown adventure story. The novel worked best in the set-up and less so with descriptive action. As co-writers, Crichton and Koepp did the best they could to retain as much of the scientific, historical and ethical diatribes of the novel with the need to satisfy the demand of tent pole/blockbuster entertainment.
Spielberg's film works essentially as a series of impeccably crafted set pieces. The opening sequence still dazzles with a group of park rangers trying to corral some unearthly beast inside a seemingly indestructible cage. Some critics at the time complained that he showed us his dinosaurs too early in the film. On the contrary, look closely and Spielberg is very clever with his reveals. While he does show off some of his dinos in full wide shots early on, it's the kinder, softer dinosaurs, like the gentle and graceful Brontosaurs. Yet, he conspicuously hides his menacing creatures until the midway point, including the famous T-Rex sequence.
Before then, Spielberg masterfully teases us with a brilliant first-half set-up. By the time the T-Rex reveals itself and attacks with full force, the scene is a confluence of layers and subplots - the fearless ignorance of Hammond, the sabotage of the clandestine corporate rival and the science lessons effortlessly supplied to us.
The scene is still remarkable, particularly the CG-rendered dinosaur, a technology still in its infancy. The CG dinos still look fantastic because of their placement against real live sets, actors and props as opposed to the overuse and reliance on CG in George Lucas's new Star Wars films.
For cinematography fans, the film is also significant for being Spielberg’s last collaboration with a cinematographer other than his current go-to man, Janusz Kaminsky. While I admire Kaminsky's work, there was something to be said about the varied lighting Spielberg received from working with a variety of cinematographers over the years (e.g., Allen Daviau, Mikael Salomon, Douglas Slocomb, Vilmos Zsigmond). Dean Cundey's work here is terrific, as he provides a significantly different look than Kaminsky's work in The Lost World. Cundey's bold colours and brilliant backlighting pop Spielberg's characters out of the frame better than Kaminsky could ever do.
Rick Carter's production design is deservedly celebrated. While the dinosaurs are wonderful, it's the details of his sets and props that put Jurassic Park in the relatable and believable world of today. The design of the park, from the gift shop toys to the detail on the ID badges of the employees, is all from Spielberg and Carter, who spared no expense in putting the audience into an identifiable situation.
Sure, Sam Neill and Laura Dern are mostly boring as the heroic duo, and the injection of the two children into the story still has me rolling my eyes. But the ability of Spielberg to ratchet up the tension and sustain a level of spine-tingling suspense from beginning to end is the stuff of cinema geniuses like Alfred Hitchcock.