Sorry I’ve been neglecting this blog. I’ve been busy. Now I’m left with a backlog of things I want to post about! But here’s a start.
So, Jurassic World is finally out, and I can’t wait to go and see it. So I thought I’d reminisce a little about the existing films in the franchise.
Jurassic Park: The Definitive Dinosaur Movie
What can you say? The first Jurassic Park is a true classic. It’s got an intriguing, cohesive story, a cast of colourful characters who play off each other very well, and one of John Williams’s most iconic musical scores. We may be here for the dinosaurs, but you need more than that to build a great film, and Jurassic Park provides. As for the dinosaurs themselves, the film finds a good balance in the different types presented: not too many to keep track of, but enough to provide an interesting mix, much like a cast of human characters. The T-Rex and the Velociraptors are very different types of predator, but both frightening in their own way. The dinosaurs behave like real animals, and even the sounds that they make, most notably the T-Rex roar, have become iconic themselves.
One thing that strikes me about Jurassic Park is that it’s one of those special-effects-driven movies where the consciousness of CGI hardly ever crosses my mind. Even in the trailers for Jurassic World, I look at the dinosaurs and think, “Yeah, computer.” But when watching Jurassic Park, I really believe the dinosaurs are there. Yes, you can recognise CGI when it’s there, but you have to look quite closely and the engaging nature of the film doesn’t leave you especially inclined to. And this is from 1993! Six years later, there came a BBC TV series called Walking With Dinosaurs, which aimed to be like a documentary depicting dinosaurs in their natural habitat – and even with all the effort that went into that, it doesn’t look quite as good as Jurassic Park.
Why do the special effects work so well? For one thing, there’s the perfect combination of CGI and animatronics; the filmmakers knew exactly when to use one or the other, and the animatronics themselves couldn’t look much better. Then there’s the filming itself: the CGI dinosaurs are often shot from a distance, or in low light, or moving quickly in the case of the Gallimimus – so the audience doesn’t get to see many details that might spoil the illusion. And, I imagine, there was simply more effort put into detail than many projects even today. It all comes together to bring the audience the nearest thing we’ll ever have to real dinosaurs.
I read the original book by Michael Crichton several years after seeing the film, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the latter as it is a really thrilling read. The book and the film do differ in some interesting ways: the book has a lot more sub-plots, and there are some characters who die in one but survive in the other. John Hammond is a very different character in the book: a typical callous, greedy businessman and very poor listener – I very much prefer Richard Attenborough’s twinkly-eyed, well-meaning grandfather in the film. One thing that the book does handle better, however, is the factors other than Dennis Nedry’s sabotage that lead to the park breaking down, such as the dinosaurs gaining the ability to breed. In the film, this is just briefly mentioned in one scene; in the book, it’s clearly a very serious problem – not only are the raptors among the breeding species, but it means some of the extra dinosaurs can get off the island without anyone noticing.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park: Is It Really That Bad?
The Lost World: Jurassic Park doesn’t tend to be looked on too kindly. I really loved it when I saw it in the cinema at the age of 10, but I wasn’t exactly a discerning film critic in those days. Today, I am able to recognise certain flaws in it, but I still think it’s an enjoyable film overall.
It does admittedly have quite a few problems that put it well below the first film – but the first film set the bar very high. Perhaps one of the biggest problems is the editing; it feels like a lot of scenes got left on the cutting room floor, which affects pacing and sometimes makes things confusing. Reading tie-in magazines – and the official sticker album – at the time made me aware of some of these: for example, the baby T-Rex’s leg was supposed to have been broken when InGen boss Peter Ludlow accidentally falls over on it, which gets left out of the final film. The crew of the SS Venture all being apparently killed is most bewildering of all: the T-Rex in the cargo hold would have had a tight squeeze reaching all of them, and if there are any other dinosaurs on the ship, they are again edited out. As well as this, the characters sometimes make silly mistakes for the sake of advancing the plot – see Sarah taking her bloodstained jacket on the second-act trek having just talked about how well a T-Rex can smell – and their chemistry isn’t as good, with conversations between them not being as engaging as in the first film.
But there’s still a lot to like about it. The special effects are definitely just as good, with a mix of old and new dinosaurs to play with. The action scenes are thrilling with some brilliant set pieces. There are some very memorable moments: I especially like that shot of the hunters marching through the long grass, while the trails left by half-a-dozen raptors snake ominously towards them. The characters still manage to be diverse and likeable, unlike that other Jurassic Park sequel. I don’t even mind some of the things that other people moan about, like Kelly’s gymnastics or the T-Rex rampaging in San Diego. If that part had been left out, the ending might have ended up too similar to the first film. Seeing the T-Rex causing chaos in a city environment is admittedly quite indulgent – but ultimately, that’s what The Lost World: Jurassic Park is: just a bit of fun, maybe even a lot.
Jurassic Park 3: OK, Yes, It’s Hard To Defend This One
Jurassic Park 3, on the other hand, does rather deserve its criticism. The action is uninspired, and the characters are uninteresting at best and annoying at worst, but perhaps its biggest problem is just how unnecessary it feels. It doesn’t feel like a natural continuation; it’s just a weak story where events that have nothing to do with the previous films conspire to get Alan Grant onto Isla Sorna so he can face off against a few dinosaurs again. It’s like the filmmakers just wanted to make another Jurassic Park movie and tacked on a scenario because they couldn’t think of a good place for the story to go. Jurassic Park 3 is not the worst film ever, but you won’t miss much if you skip it.
Jurassic World, at least, does feel rather more relevant, even if the scenario of the park actually working out requires a little stretch of the imagination – but then, so does the idea of recreating dinosaurs in the first place. How will it fit into the rest of the franchise? I’m looking forward to finding out.