director Steven Spielberg
viewed: 04/07/2013 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD, SF, CA
Twenty years ago, the year 1993, the film Jurassic Park, the big blockbuster of the summer, the breakthrough film for computer generated special effects. In acknowledgement of this anniversary, Jurassic Park has been “spruced up” with a 3-D-ification and trundled out to the cinemas to cash in.
While I avoid 3-D if I can, I don’t mind catching an older film on the big screen if it was one that I wouldn’t mind watching again. I had been considering Jurassic Park for the kids for a while, so this was up our alley. We did indeed forgo the 3-D.
Frankly, I don’t consider Jurassic Park to be a great film. Steven Spielberg has made better films before and since, and despite the film’s notoriety of employing digital effects so significantly and successfully, it is an enjoyable, at times memorable, fairly entertaining thrill ride of a movie.
Actually, the thrill ride factor I think is the way that I’ve come to think of the film. The best bits of the film are bits: shots, moments. The ripples in the water cup’s surface as the stomps of the T-Rex become audible. The T-Rex in the wing mirror (“The objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”) The refracting eyeball of the T-Rex as he looks inside the jeep. The image of the velociraptor as its silhouette mimics its illustration on the wall. The slide down the tree from the falling van. The velociraptors hunting the kids in the kitchen.
The whole, however, is not the sum of its parts. There are several “Wow” moments. The first reveal of the living dinosaur (Clara actually said “Wow” in the theater at that — thus still effective 20 years later). The sick triceratops. The death of the lawyer on the toilet. The death of the conniving tech assistant in his vehicle in the rain.
But like a thrill ride, it’s just a track through a series of diorama-like set-pieces, albeit some quite memorable flashes. It actually scared the kids pretty good. It’s effective, certainly, in that sense.
There is perhaps an even more elaborate discourse on technology regarding the film. I reckon that I’m not knowledgable enough to be the one to articulate it well, but this film, whose crux is the digital beast has an interesting portrayal of technology within its narrative. Being made before the dot-com/Internet explosion, the technologist of the film is Dennis Nedry (played by the puffy and slimy Wayne Knight, most notable as “Newman” from Seinfeld.) He’s a bad guy, who tries to steal dino DNA to sell to a competitor. He’s a junk food-eating slob. He is callow, and while smart enough to design the systems of the park’s security systems, he finds an ignoble death.
While Samuel L. Jackson is the terse engineer who understands the work that Nedry has done enough to filter through its “2 million lines of code”, the tech hero is the young girl Lex (Ariana Richards), who is able to recognize the platform (“It’s Unix. I know Unix.”) and then gets in and hacks the system to enable doors to be automatically locked to withstand the velociraptors. She’s “not a nerd” but a self-proclaimed “hacker”. While a lot of this depiction comes down to the writers, Michael Chrichton and David Koepp, showing what they know or don’t know about technology, it is an interesting portrayal of the types that made the creatures “live” perhaps.
It’s always amused me the way computer screens are depicted in films. Whether it’s a futuristic science fiction universe in which computers would theoretically be thousands of generations evolved from our present day to just showing what computer geeks of our time see when they are in “the matrix”, it’s always very dissociative from reality. When Lex is in the Unix code (supposedly), she’s actually looking at a low-res 3-D map of the park’s buildings. And the schematic that she finally stumbles upon is like an electronic blueprint, the audience never sees a line of code.
There is also a weird little moment when Wayne Knight’s character’s face appears on the computer screen with a cartoon body, remonstrating those who try to “break” his password.
This idea of technology represented in film often catches my eye. I don’t know if there is anything of significance in it. It just always strikes me as weird.
As for the film as a whole, it’s entertainment. It’s good entertainment. As cinema, … well, it’s good entertainment. That the thrill ride based on technology of 20 years ago still delivers its thrills and chills is a testament to the workmanship on it. Spielberg is no slouch, even when he’s slumming (as arguably he was on the film’s sequel).