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Film Friday: The 'Jurassic Park' Trilogy directed by Steven Spielberg & Joe Johnston

By Daniel S Levine,
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This year marks the 20th anniversary of two of Steven Spielberg's most well-known works. 1993 saw the release of both Schindler's List and Jurassic Park, two films so far removed from one another that you might not believe they were made by the same man. Schindler's List dominated the awards season that year and has become one of the most acclaimed films of the '90s. On the other hand, Jurassic Park is a fun blockbuster and became the highest grossing film of all time when it was released.

While the only way Universal has celebrated Schindler's List's anniversary so far is with a (fantastic) Blu-ray release, the studio is going all out for Jurassic Park. Next month, the film will be released in IMAX 3D and work is under way for a fourth film that will come out in 2014.

Jurassic Park started in the mind of science-fiction writer Michael Crichton. The author, who died in 2008, had a knack for making science entertaining, which translates perfectly to the screen in the first film. Of course, it helps that Crichton co-wrote the screenplay with David Koepp, who worked to add a necessary human element. That problem is the hardest challenge, as it is with any monster movie. You want to give the audience what it wants to see – that is, the dinosaurs – but without any characters to connect with, it makes sitting through the movie really boring.

Crichton saw Jurassic Park to be about much more than dinosaurs. His novel, and the film to a lesser extent, really focuses on the theme of business meeting science. How can science exist if there isn't anyone to fund it? What happens when the person funding it turns out to be a master showman and madman? You get Jurassic Park, a theme park any sane person wouldn't even think about, but John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) isn't exactly sane. As the film develops and the park unravels, this becomes more clear. Even when everything goes wrong, he's still trying to build his Disneyland.

The magic of the first film was the awe of seeing a Brontosaurus or Tyrannosaurus Rex on the big screen. The audience is wowed by the scenes as much as Ellie Satler (Laura Dern), Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) are. While computer graphics have become infinitely better since 1993, the reason Jurassic Park still amazes is that so much of it is not CG. Most of the original film is filled with creatures built by the genius Stan Winston and his studio, ensuring that they will look real in another 20 years.

Jurassic Park begged for a sequel, which Spielberg delivered in 1996 with The Lost World, his first film since 1993. (After making JP and Schindler, the guy deserved a break.) It's nowhere near the greatness of the first film, stripping the human element and giving us another kid to worry about. As a monster movie, its fun with neat one-liners, most of them from the always awesome Jeff Goldblum. But if you're trying to look beyond the fact that this is just an excuse to see a T. Rex trash San Diego, you won't find anything.

Spielberg promised his friend Joe Johnston that he could direct JP's sequel, but he decided to direct TLW himself. So, when plans started for Jurassic Park III, Johnston was given that chance. While Johnston has proven himself an apt director at genre films (Captain America was enjoyable), here he completely fails to make anything more than a B-movie. JP3 finds some sorry excuse to get Alan Grant back on the island (another kid is in trouble!) and throws in some more new dinosaurs with some familiar ones. It's a 90-minute commercial for toys and a theme park ride.

The real problem with this franchise, as proved by JP3, is that you need a legitimate reason to bring the humans – who all know that dinosaurs will kill them – to the dinosaurs, who are supposedly stuck on two islands in the Caribbean. In one of the documentaries on the first film's Blu-ray, Spielberg mentions the lost shaving creme can with dinosaur DNA that Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) stole. That's a good place for the sequel to start. Did the guys who wanted the DNA from Nedry want it so badly that they decided to go back themselves? Good luck, Colin Trevorrow.

TLW and JP3 never reach the heights of the first film, which makes you wonder if a fourth film is really necessary. Still, dinosaurs remain beloved reptiles around the world, even if they are extinct. The success of the original JP is proof of that, as is the fact that we still watch the movie, 20 years later.

You can talk about this film and others at the Film Friday Facebook page. You can check out past Film Friday columns here.

 
 

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