In what may be one of the most enthusiastic recommendations I make all year, I urge every single person reading this to collect all available friends and family and rush to see the 3D, IMAX re-release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park as soon as possible. Unless you simply dislike dinosaurs, and therefore have no soul, I guarantee it will be the absolute most fun you have had in a theatre this year.
I know it is far and away the most enjoyable theatrical experience I have yet encountered in 2013, and given that no new Spielberg-helmed dinosaur adventure will be hitting screens this year, I doubt that sentiment will change over the next nine months. While the excellent 3D conversion and wondrous, large-format IMAX presentation certainly help to enhance the excitement, the film itself, now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, remains the main attraction. When it comes to edge-of-your-seat, deliriously entertaining adventure filmmaking, nobody does it better than Steven Spielberg, and Jurassic Park, just as wonderful today as it was in 1993, is one of the greatest testaments to this undeniable truth.
Like most children of the nineties, I was absolutely infatuated with Jurassic Park as a child. I was too young to witness its groundbreaking theatrical success, but I discovered the movie on VHS soon enough, and watched it over and over (and over, and over…and over) again, always eager to revisit Isla Nublar for an adventure with tyrannosaurs, velociraptors, and all of the park’s other incredible inhabitants. The DVD was one of the earliest movies discs I owned, and in addition to watching the film religiously in this new format, I also devoured the special features repeatedly, entranced by the fascinating production stories of how Spielberg and company made such astonishing movie magic.
Revisiting the film for the first time in many years, that magic has not diminished in the slightest. From the moment the opening titles appeared, I felt like a child again, as completely enveloped by the wonder, horror, and non-stop exhilaration Jurassic Park provides as ever before. Yet viewing the film with an adult’s eyes does add new, invaluable layers to the experience, for I find it utterly mesmerizing to see all the ways Spielberg so precisely plays his audience like a fiddle. No other director, alive or dead, is as good at pacing adventure films for maximum tension, awe, and satisfaction, and while Jurassic Park is not as great a film as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jaws, it may Spielberg’s best realization of this fundamental trait.
There is a giddy, borderline-sadistic quality to the way Spielberg doles out action in Jurassic Park, meticulously putting the pieces in place in the first act so that when it all comes together during the iconic T-Rex reveal – still among the greatest of all cinematic set pieces – the audience is already perched perilously far along the edges of their seats. When the action does start coming, it is relentlessly intense and wildly go-for-broke, completely shameless in its attempts to excite, terrify, and thrill.
Yet pace always remains the most valuable and important component, for the sheer scope and scale of the film’s spectacle is only allowed by Spielberg’s mastery of crafting genuinely emotional and narratively rewarding in-between moments. The human element of Jurassic Park does not approach works like E.T. or Close Encounters in terms of dramatic success, but the film is just as heartfelt and sincere as any other Spielberg film, and the presence of strong human touchstones is crucial to investing in this adventure. It helps that the cast is terrific from top to bottom; Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough may have the most iconic parts, but Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and the young Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello are just as important, if not moreso, in making the movie click.
Spielberg is also careful to include plenty of material that plays to the mysterious, alluring beauty humans find in dinosaurs. The tyrannosaurus and velociraptors may be threatening, but Jurassic Park takes time to present dinosaurs we, along with the characters, can view as purely majestic. We are perpetually fascinated by these creatures for a variety of reasons, and Jurassic Park encompasses just about every single one, the still-miraculous visual effects – created by the legendary power trio of Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, and Dennis Muren – working entirely in service of bringing our universal dinosaur dreams to life.
Every single component of Jurassic Park is finely tuned and precisely calculated to produce maximum enjoyment, to deliver an all-encompassing entertainment powerhouse, and one of the greatest joys of this IMAX 3D re-release is the ability to watch the film with a crowd. Seeing Spielberg’s machinations pay off in the communal reactions a large audience shares is profoundly impressive, especially having never gotten the chance to watch the film theatrically before.
Jurassic Park looks extremely good on IMAX, with Spielberg and DP Dean Cundey’s cinematography translating flawlessly to the large-format presentation. It surely could not have been planned as such back in 1993, but the way human forms are placed within the frame, often shot full-figure from the feet or knees up, is very similar to modern films shot with IMAX in mind, and the dinosaurs, of course, dominate the frame, top-to-bottom, whenever present. The photography creates a truly immersive sense of scale and proportion, and on IMAX – where the 1.85:1 image takes most of the 1.44:1 screen – these qualities shine through more powerfully than ever.
The 3D presentation, meanwhile, is the second-best post-conversion I have ever seen; only James Cameron’s Titanic re-release, an absolutely flawless 3D recreation, is superior, and that puts Jurassic Park in fine company. There are certain problematic shots here and there, where the film’s original two-dimensional photography simply cannot translate well to 3D, but for the most part, the stereoscopic image is deep and detailed, convincingly lifelike and entirely zany when necessary. Moments where Spielberg originally sent things flying at the camera – like a falling Jeep, or a leaping velociraptor – are exploited to full, goofy effect, and the 3D constantly allows a deeper, fuller examination of the rich and thoughtful production design. As with most 3D conversions from 35mm, nighttime scenes showcase the most depth, while the brightest shots appear a tad over-digitized. Unlike Titanic, Jurassic Park is unable to retain its filmic, 35mm appearance throughout, succumbing to digital processing more often than I would prefer. It is not a huge problem, but one worth noting, as the film and the 3D effect look best when the grain structure is left in tact.
But in the end, the 3D is most valuable as an extension of the IMAX presentation and original, immersive elements of the production, an addition that serves to highlight and heighten the wild amounts of fun Jurassic Park has to offer. I am not typically a fan of 3D, especially post-conversions, but the format seems entirely natural here, fully transforming Jurassic Park into a cinematic theme park of its own. The film remains the best dinosaur adventure there can or will ever be, and in IMAX 3D, it is arguably more enjoyable than ever before. It may be twenty years old now, but Jurassic Park is undoubtedly the most entertaining American film to hit screens so far this year, and I suspect it will remain so until the summer movie season begins next month.