The first rule of Jurassic Park is: Dinosaurs are awesome.
The second rule of Jurassic Park is: Birds are dinosaurs. This movie really, really wants to you to know that the birds that fly and walk among us are related to the dinosaurs we dream of doing the same. You can handle the truth. Paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) wrote a book about the lineage, which is dissected by the prepubescent Tim (Joseph Mazzello), whose squeaky incredulity makes him something of a boyish Shirley Temple. I have seen Jurassic Park maybe a dozen times at this point, and yet rewatching the new IMAX 3D version of that's out tomorrow, I kept expecting little Tim to punctuate his mad questions with, "Oh my gunnus!"
Although the early '90s peach fuzz on its picture and matinee monster-movie DNA suit it to the format, there's no real need for Jurassic Park to be in 3D. That is because there's no real need for any movie that isn't invested in playing with visual texture (a la Prometheus) to be in 3D—you will never feel like a brachiosaurus is going to crane his neck over for a pat on the head, or that a pack of the ostrich-esque gallimimus is going to stampede from the screen, knocking your snacks everywhere and stepping on your face.
But, in the words of Jeff Goldblum's mathematician character Dr. Ian Malcolm, "Life finds a way," and if converting Jurassic Park to 3D was the way to breathe life back into it, making it relevant to a contemporary theater-going audience, it was worth it. For a culture that has grown increasingly distracted in the 20 years since Jurassic Park was released, in a time when "chaos theory" seems like a good way to describe all the noise in the average entertainment-addled brain, I appreciated the opportunity to allow this cable-TV staple to occupy my attention. Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park is a virtually extinct brand of action blockbuster (like the ethically aligned but thematically disparate Top Gun and Robocop, for example) that never stops entertaining, whether intentionally or not. From its circus-like structure that reveals exotic beast after exotic beast in deliberate measure to its cornball script and consistently unnatural line readings (the dinos often feel realer than the humans), Jurassic Park is worth a revisit.
I think my favorite part of the movie occurs relatively early on, when the tour group consisting of Grant, his fellow paleontologist Dr. Ellie Sattler (the always mesmerizing Laura Dern), Malcolm, the grandkids of the park's owner and a lawyer that everyone (including the T. Rex) hates, stops at the side of the road to check out a triceratops. This is when wonderment is still fresh, before the fiendishly fat Dennis Nedry (aka Wayne Knight aka Newman) shuts down power, allowing the dangerous dinos to roam the park in, as luck would have it, a monsoon. Kneeling next to this passive monster, Sattler gushes "She's the most beautiful thing I ever saw!" The glint in Grant's eye confirms that he's right there with her. Meanwhile, the multi-ton motherfucker is lying on its side, wheezing, literally foaming at the mouth. What a bizarre creative decision—that isn't beauty, that's death. A brachiosaurus that snots all over Tim's sister Lex (Ariana Richards) and the T. Rex's bitchy attitude suggests that Jurassic Park is one of those sad zoos that's kind of rundown, where all the animals are kind of sick. It hasn't even opened yet. Cool thing to gasp at, everybody.
And then Laura Dern plays with poop.
The movie is abounding with dopey, outmoded relics of a time when virtual reality seemed like it was going to take over actual reality. "It's an interactive CD-ROM!" squeals one of the kids upon seeing the display in their tour jeeps. We hear reference to "thinking machines and super computers." "I'm a hacker! I'm not a computer nerd! I prefer to be called a hacker!" insists Lex, who goes on to restart Jurassic Park's security system, which is arranged spatially, like a highly pixelated early incarnation of Sim City. Hilariously enough, though, the depiction of amusement park rides (and their tedious short-film intros) has pretty much held true for the past 20 years—what you see in Jurassic Park is much like what you'd see today at the likes of Disney and Universal Studios (whose parent company also produced Jurassic Park and whose "Islands of Adventure" houses an extremely entertaining Jurassic Park ride). A shot of a pile of Jurassic Park merchandise seems less prescient than diabolical considering the amount of merchandise generated in this $2 billion franchise's wake.
Jurassic Park gives you enough to chew on regarding the ethics of cloning and messing with nature. It feels both weighty and fluffy –- a serious popcorn flick. Its surface influences are obvious—Godzilla springs to mind and King Kong is name-checked by Goldblum's character upon entering the park (behind-the-scenes footage on the Blu-Ray shows Fay Wray on set for a visit). But there are also shades of other less heralded movies like Gremlins—the disgusting, jelly-covered birth of a raptor gets coos from the weirdo archeologists, and the dilophosaurus, with its Michael Crichton-invented neck frill and venom spit, is an evil clown in the tradition of the head gremlin in charge, Stripe. Also, the grown-up raptors and their awful noises more entirely reminiscent of The Dark Crystal's Skeksis. Employing not just puppetry but the then-burgeoning CGI, Jurassic Park proved a sturdy bridge between tradition and the future. You can still detect green-screening, especially during the outside scenes up against the giant herbivores, but the raptors are particularly lifelike.
I'm not sure what moral message we should glean from Jurassic Park. Don't mess with nature, sure. Don't build things that can eat you, OK. But what of the idea that the crafty, agile raptors end up battling what seems early on like the ultimate antagonist, the Tyrannosaurs Rex? Don't trust little people? Don't judge a book by its foot-long teeth? A bunch of little dicks are nothing compared to a giant whopper?
I don't know, who cares, Jurassic Park is a terrific ride. Around the start of the last act, when the raptors began their ambush, a woman sitting in the row next to me began to laugh uncontrollably and part of the fun of the rest of the movie was listening to her failed attempts to suppress her guffaws. My friend ended up in the same subway car with her after the movie and she was still laughing, proclaiming to all who could hear, "That's a good movie." In the bathroom, the guy who pissed next to me whistled the secondary theme—the slower more elegant one. In my head, I sang along to John Williams' melody (this particular part): "I love dinosaurs, I love dinosaurs, I love dinosaurs so muuuuuuch…" They really are awesome.