Jurassic Park review

When I was five I got a book about dinosaurs for Christmas. It was full of illustrations of colourful and exotic creatures with ridiculously long names. So long in fact that they even provided phonetic versions - I seem to recall that diplodocus was 'dip-lo-doke-us'. If a film with apparently real dinosaurs had been made when I was that age I would have been ecstatic. Alas, I had to wait until 1993 but even then, some 15 years on, Jurassic Park was a magical experience.

Remastered and re-released ahead of all three films coming out on Blu-ray, Jurassic Park remains a joy nearly two decades after its initial release. Based on Michael Crichton's novel of the same name, the story is one of an amusement park gone wrong. John "no expense spared" Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) finds some "dino DNA" in an amber-trapped mosquito and with a bit of help from some science nerds quickly populates a small island off the coast of Costa Rica with dinosaurs.

After a worker on the island is killed, he invites mathematician Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), paleobotanist Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and paleontologist Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to assess the viability of the project along with his lawyer Gennaro (Martin Ferrero). Also along for the ride are Hammond's grandchildren, Tim and Lex. But things soon begin to go awry...

Jurassic Park is essentially a rehash of Crichton's own Westworld, the 1973 film about a Western-themed amusement park in which the star turns, robot cowboys, run amok. Starring Yul Brynner as a terrifying gunslinger, consciously or not, Westworld probably provided inspiration for James Cameron's The Terminator with its machines that stop at nothing/man as creator of its own downfall premise.

Here the dinosaurs are the villains of the piece and even with the advances in technology, they still look fantastic. Aside from a couple of slightly dodgy animated long shots, the velociraptors and the T-Rex in particular are as scary as hell. It helps that there's also some animatronics going on and overall it's mightily impressive on the special effects front, especially at the IMAX.

As with Avatar, this is a film big on visual spectacle and the years have not diminished the awe-inspiriing nature of our prehistoric pals on the big screen. Unlike Cameron's 3D CGI-fest however, Jurassic Park has a decent script and even beyond the dinosaurs, some great characters. There are however a couple of lapses of judgement from the usually impeccable Spielberg so let's get the flaws out of the way.

Firstly there's the entire premise, that of Jurassic Park. Never mind the safety of staff and guests, just how is anyone bar the mega-wealthy going to be able to afford to fly to Costa Rica, and then get a helicopter to an island a further 150 miles away? "It's for everyone," claims Hammond. "Yeah, we'll have coupon days," chirps Gennaro. Weirdly the business model seems even less credible than creating dinosaurs. Then there's Sir Dicky's accent. Ostensibly Scottish, it wavers all over the shop and could have been avoided by having him play an eccentric Englishman. Finally, and as often seems to be the case in Spielberg films, the female characters aren't given much to do or cry when they do it. Laura Dern is mainly an emotional wreck while young Alex is a bit whiny. Okay, so at least that's realistic but did we need quite so much mithering?

These are but minor quibbles. Jeff Goldblum is the epitome of cool as chaotician Ian Malcolm even if his purpose for being on the trip is to explain clever science stuff - the sort of thing Professor Brian Cox now does on the BBC - flirt with Ellie, and ruffle the feathers of Sam Neill's grumpy Dr Grant. Goldblum is hugely entertaining and almost steals the show, while Sam Neill is his usual solid self. Neill's character meanwhile benefits from a typical Hollywood 'life lesson' - at first suspicious and even hostile towards the children but eventually warming to them and it's to Spielberg's credit that it's not too vomit-inducing.

It's not the only lesson, and Spielberg's films are of course full of them. The dangers of playing God (also evident in A.I.), respecting nature (Jaws), children in peril (E.T., Jaws again) are all present here with the notable addition of 'greed will be your downfall'. In Dennis Nedry's case it's certainly not a case of the geek shall inherit the earth. I've just noticed that Nedry is an anagram of 'nerdy'. Coincidence? I think not.

By and large, and as you'd expect from Spielberg, this is an exemplary piece of filmmaking, well structured, not a scene or line of dialogue superfluous and brilliantly paced and executed. As in his masterpiece Jaws, there's a scary and faintly mysterious opening sequence and then a good hour of story before the monster is revealed, in this case the Tyrannosaurus Rex. But just when you've recovered from the shock and awe of that sequence - the tremors in the cups of water, the 'objects in the mirror appear closer than they are' gag - the terrifying velociraptors are unleashed and the rollercoaster ride continues.

Surprisingly undated - Lex's excitement over an "interactive CD-ROM!" aside - Jurassic Park stands up remarkably well and is well worth revisiting on as big a screen as you can find. You'll laugh, you might even be scared but the two-hour plus running time will whizz by and you'll be clamouring for a T-Rex lunchbox before you leave the cinema.

Official Site
Jurassic Park at IMDb

Justin Bateman is a Screenjabber contributor

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