Whilst the sequels are a so-so pair, no one can deny that illustrious five star rating, when the first film is as brilliant as it is.
Before checking out this year’s long awaited reboot Jurassic World, revisit the original blockbuster mega-hit that started it all, in all of its popcorn glory. And then, if you have the time, check out the sequels too. Winner of three Oscars and the hearts and imaginations of children everywhere, Jurassic Park, much like Spielberg’s similarly groundbreaking Jaws, serves as a kind of “How-To” guide for making perfect escapist cinema. More than just a fun diversion though, the film has managed to stand the test of time thanks to impeccable direction, inventive set-pieces and an astonishing abundance of historic moments. It’s legacy sells itself; the opening of the gates, the ripples in the glass of water, the first dinosaur reveal; all images that have stuck in the contemporary consciousness with the same staying power as Luke Skywalker standing in front of the twin suns of Tatooine, or E.T and Eliot’s moonlight bike ride.
Reducing a summer blockbuster to purely its technological achievements can seem a little bit conceited, however it would be a gross oversight to neglect mentioning Jurassic Park’s landmark innovations in the realm of special effects and sound design; over 20 years on and that CGI still somehow holds up. Of course one of the film’s smartest moves was always how it employed a perfect mix of computer generated and practical effects; and Stan Winston’s breathtaking animatronics are still among the best ever put film. It also remains a remarkable achievement in terms of audio, with an immerse mix that’s a joy to experience even on the small screen and some of the most recognizable sounds in the history of cinema.
Of course whilst most of the attention Jurassic Park has received has always been directed towards its technical accomplishments, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing beneath all the sheen. In a modern cinematic marketplace that is rife with cynicism and dark, brooding anti-heroes, it’s a surprisingly powerful thing to find a film that has been crafted with a childlike sense of genuine awe and wonder. Bursting with warmth, a tangible sense of threat, relatable characters and memorable dialogue, Jurassic Park does everything that a great summer blockbuster should do and more.
As for the sequels, they aren’t nearly as bad as you’ve heard (or indeed remember). Whilst The Lost World provides cringe inducing awfulness and moments of unabashed brilliance in equal measure,
the 3rd installment comfortably coasts along without ever really rising above “just solid.” The Lost World then at least make more of an effort, with some stand-out, and at-times scary, moments coming to mind. It also comes with one of the most under-appreciated John William’s scores, going for a darker, more primal sound, rather than simply rehashing the iconic theme from the original. However it is nonetheless regrettably hampered by dull family drama and periods of unforgivable dreadfulness.
Jurassic Park 3 meanwhile doesn’t inspire much in the way of contempt. Frustratingly though, the franchise continued to be unable to recapture the magic, as everything just feels very by-the-numbers. There’s nothing here to rival the highlights of even The Lost World, never mind the first one. JP3 does at least bring some new additions to the series, but even they feel a little limp. Whilst bigger and meaner than the T-Rex, the new Spinosaurus is undeniably lacking in the personality department and whilst the sequence in the Pterodactyl enclosure shows glimpses of imagination, it quickly reverts back into mediocrity. Yet whilst neither of these films live up to the towering legend of their predecessor, they don’t do anything that leaves a bad enough taste in the mouth to diminish memories of the peerless original.
The Jurassic Park Trilogy (1993- 2001), directed by Steven Spielberg and Joe Johnston, is distributed on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK by Universal Studios, Certificate PG.