Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Blast from the Past Movie Review #2: Jurassic Park (1993) (SPOILERS)

Last Saturday, I saw Jurassic Park 3D with a friend and some of his friends. Given how I first saw the movie in 1993 in the theaters, it seemed an appropriate time for another "blast from the past" movie review.

(Before we begin, one caveat. I spent a substantial chunk of the movie outside of the theater when I first saw it at age 8. The scene at the beginning with the raptor killing the worker was frightening and I wasn't inclined to see more, so I didn't really see a lot of it the first time around. I did watch the whole thing on video many times later.)

The Good

The film moves along incredibly quickly and is almost never boring. The dinosaur attack sequences, especially the T-Rex chasing the Jeep, were really well-done. And there is so much foreshadowing, especially where the raptors are concerned. One of the biggies is that Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) tells the obnoxious kid at the beginning of the movie how raptors would hunt by ambush and later Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) is killed that way.

There's a lot of subtext I never noticed before--namely how Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) has his hands all over Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) much of the time. He uses his explanation of chaos theory as an excuse to play with one of her hands and at another point, he's playing with her hair in the middle of the conversation. And although it's implied Ellie and Dr. Grant are an item, I didn't pick up on the massive "territory issues" going on between Grant and Malcolm before the T-Rex escapes. Also, Malcolm's foolhardy attempt to distract the T-Rex from the kids and Dr. Grant makes a lot more sense--not that long before, he'd told Grant he had three children. He's reacting a lot more emotionally than the superficially child-unfriendly Grant is.

And Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) does display some foresight. When he makes his bid to steal the dinosaur embryos, he is sure to leave the power on for the raptor pen. Ironically it was undoing his work by rebooting the system that allowed them to escape. This shows he'd at least considered the possibility that he wouldn't be able to turn everything back on in fifteen minutes after delivering the embryos and for reasons either selfless (not disliking Hammond and friends to the point he wanted them dead) or selfish (not wanting to get in trouble) he didn't want to risk their lives.

Also, when Donald Gennaro is attending the presentation on how the cloning actually works with the others, he uses the word "auto-erotic" instead of "animatronic" when he is wondering if the scientists were real or if this was a mock-up of the lab.

Finally, the park's veterinarian is named Gerry Harding. Sarah Harding, who becomes Malcolm's girlfriend later (in both the book and film), is also an animal scientist of some kind. Given how Harding becomes involved with Malcolm even though most people think he's a conspiracy-theory nutbag for trying to reveal what really happened in Isla Nublar, if it turns out she's related to that Harding (Crichton apparently said she's his daughter), that makes a lot of sense. The senior Harding might have followed his non-disclosure agreement in public but told his daughter what really happened in private.

I don't recall anything specific that was improved by the 3D--I don't even recall anything jumping out at me--but I do remember seeing a lot more detail on the T-Rex at the end when she roars in the middle of the visitor's center. There's blood on her teeth from killing the raptor and there are some wounds on her shoulder from when the raptor leaped on her and started clawing. That was cool.

The Bad

Malcolm's theory about how the park was destined to fail makes no sense. If he focused on Hammond's cutting corners to save money (i.e. no moats or other passive barriers to contain the dinosaurs if the fences failed, automating everything, etc), that would make a lot more sense. Instead he comes off as a borderline pantheist--nature will rebel against any attempt to control it, the project is destined to fail for that reason, and dinosaurs should not be cloned because nature "selected" them for extinction.

(Ahem. Absent God, the extinction of the dinosaurs was a cosmic accident. Had the space rock been knocked off course just a smidge, it would have missed the Earth entirely and it'd be an evolved Gallimimus or something typing this blog post about some other movie.)

Yes, the park did fail, but he had no way to really know that. It's like the young-earth people correctly pointing out the Piltdown Man was a fraud. Yes, they were right, but for the wrong reasons.

And then there's him calling discovery "the rape of the natural world." Yes, scientists have sometimes been careless and destructive (the "bone wars" that saw many fossils destroyed come to mind), but he was denouncing exploration of the natural world categorically.

Also, it seems like they abandoned the park for no reason. Relatively few people (Nedry, Muldoon, Arnold, Gennaro) actually died, the power was restored, the most dangerous animals (the raptors) were dead (with the possible exception of the one locked in the freezer, which would probably be a lizard-sicle within a few hours), and subduing the too-big-to-hide T-Rex wouldn't be that difficult. The San Francisco Zoo didn't get (permanently) shut down due to a couple tiger attacks, after all. In the second film InGen people reference spending over $120 million to destroy the park (including language implying they'd killed the dinosaurs)--surely it would have cost less to recapture any escaped dinosaurs and clean up the mess they'd made.

The Verdict

Overall, it's a very well-done and entertaining movie. 8.5 out of 10.

Another Note

The computers used in the movie are incredibly dated, with Lex (Ariana Richards) going gaga over a computer having a CD-ROM, which I remember being a new and awesome thing at the time. Obviously that's not something that can be helped given how the movie was made in 1993, but it's interesting to see how computers have evolved in a relatively short time period.


  1. I believe you missed the point a few places. Malcolm said the park would fail and nature would find a way in regards to them being in able to control to dinosaurs breeding. Their in ability to even find 2/3s of the dinosaurs was the problem. Otherwise it is a standard Frankenstein narrative about not playing God. Also, while animals do escaped from zoos,comparing 15,000 lb T-Rex to a 700 lb tiger is specious.

  2. But what about his arguments from before the frog DNA thing was revealed? He went in convinced the park would fail because of his theory, much like how the young-earth people are convinced evolution is a hoax because of their religion. He ended up being right (just like the critics of the Piltdown Man), but his underlying rationale was unsound.

    (The "we can't find 2/3 of the dinosaurs" wasn't in the movie, but perhaps it should have been to make it clearer that Hammond's idea to automate everything was the problem.)

    Furthermore, I could argue a 15,000-pound T-Rex escaping from an enclosure on a tropical island is less dangerous than a tiger escaping from a pen in a zoo in a major city. More potential targets around.

    And the size of the predator is really irrelevant to the point I was making that it would have been easier to put the park back together with better safeguards and reopen it than destroying the park and killing the dinosaurs. A T-Rex, due to its size, is easier to track down and subdue or, if needed, kill. The raptors, due to being smaller and smarter, are a much bigger problem.