Twenty years later, 'Jurassic Park' returns for a 3-D reboot
April 5, 2013 8:00 AM
Special effects wizard Stan Winston orchestrated the teams behind "Jurassic Park's" dinos, including the terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex.
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steven Spielberg couldn't have directed it any better. As if on cue, the 9-year-old in the 3-D glasses gasped.
It happened milliseconds after Sam Neill took off his hat and then his aviator sunglasses and placed his hand on Laura Dern's head and gently turned it to see the wondrous sights outside their Jeep: dinosaurs come back to life at Jurassic Park.
Ms. Dern, who plays a paleobotanist and girlfriend to Mr. Neill's famed paleontologist, is so stunned her mouth literally drops open.
She was a stand-in for moviegoers everywhere who, much like dinosaurs once did, moved in herds 20 years ago to see Mr. Spielberg's version of Michael Crichton's best-selling novel. The dinosaur epic earned almost $915 million worldwide (in today's dollars that's roughly $1.5 billion) and spawned two sequels, with a third due in 2014.
The movie stars Sir Richard Attenborough as an eccentric tycoon who develops a theme park off the coast of Costa Rica with genetically re-created dinosaurs and predicts, "There's no doubt, our attractions will drive kids out of their minds."
They did, but will audiences flock again to "Jurassic Park" now that it's returned to theaters in 3-D?
This weekend will tell. Older moviegoers who feel nostalgic about the dinosaur epic may want to see how it looks years later, while it will be fresh territory for many children. One holdover from 1993 is the question, is it too scary for kids?
At a recent Saturday morning preview, some moviegoers raised the armrests dividing their seats so girls or boys could nestle closer as the carnivorous dinos got loose and wanted to pounce on some prey.
That 9-year-old who had gasped admitted to being scared, just as her siblings, 7 and 3, were; their mother had expected the littlest one to fall asleep, but she didn't.
After all, it's not just adults in jeopardy -- or clamped in a dinosaur's jaws -- in the picture. The park's creator has invited his grandchildren, portrayed by Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards, to the island for a test run and they make you believe they are nearly frozen with fear when a Velociraptor hunts them in the kitchen.
When the movie was released in June 1993, author and screenwriter Michael Crichton admitted: "I don't want to be the reason why some parent has a kid who can't go to sleep. Under the age of 6 or 7, it's not a discussion: The film is just too intense. ...
"I have a 4-year-old who's going, 'Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park.' But she can't see it, and neither can anyone in her preschool class."
Mr. Crichton, sadly, isn't around for the re-release; the best-selling author died in 2008 from cancer, with "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World" among his greatest successes.
Twenty years ago, though, People magazine reported the results of a 500-parent poll on how old youngsters should be before watching the movie. The highest percentage -- 23 percent -- said age 10.
In a recent phone interview, Ms. Dern said she allowed her 11-year-old son and his friends to see the 3-D version but not her 7-year-old daughter. Her decision was complicated by the fact that her children are watching the character of Ellie and their mom and both are in danger.
"These kids have seen things that are just incomparable in terms of horror, frankly, and are real," she said. "Like there are mean people and you can't as a mother say that mean people don't exist. Luckily, in this case it is fantasy and we can say that that guy in this movie isn't real and won't ever come back. So that's quite helpful."
Of course, one guy isn't coming back because he's hiding in a bathroom stall and a dinosaur grabs him, shakes him and then proceeds to snack on him.
Reviews then and now
On June 11, 1993, Post-Gazette film critic Marylynn Uricchio gave a rare four (out of four) stars to "Jurassic Park."
She started her review this way: "When the first visitors to Jurassic Park encounter a herd of Brachiosaurs grazing in a field, there's a moment of utter stillness, of sheer amazement, of breathtaking splendor. With a jolt of recognition, you know without a doubt that this is what they really were like.
"Don't let all the hype fool you. 'Jurassic Park' is even better than the buzz that has surrounded it. It goes from fascinating to frightening without missing a beat or loosening its grip on the audience.
" 'Jurassic Park' puts us in the hands of a master movie-maker who knows how to manipulate every last shred of suspense and wonder from us. By the end of the movie, you're left exhausted but exhilarated. It's that good....
"It builds to a thrilling crescendo, but underneath the slick entertainment is a serious point about the nature of creation. It's one that Spielberg makes sure we won't forget -- at least until the sequel, and the door is left wide open for one."
So how does the movie hold up?
Surprisingly well, given that it's 20 years old, which might as well be 65 million years for some aspects of filmmaking and promotion.
A few signs of the times are there, as when granddaughter Lex (Ariana Richards) burbles with excitement about an "interactive CD-ROM" and Samuel L. Jackson turns up in a supporting rather than starring role. Today's technological trappings such as smartphones and iPads are missing but when a raging storm hits the island park, they likely would be rendered useless anyway.
The cast is as solid today as it was then, with Pittsburgh native Jeff Goldblum supplying the necessary snap, crackle and pop as a chaotic mathematician who hears about all of the so-called safeguards on the island and responds, "I'm simply saying that life finds a way."
And it did, especially once actor Wayne Knight -- Newman! from "Seinfeld" -- sabotages the security system and tries to make a getaway with stolen dinosaur embryos he is selling.
The 3-D makes some of the images in the foreground slightly out of focus now and again and the smoother dinosaurs such as the Brachiosaurs along with a hatchling don't seem as authentic as their bigger, pebbly skinned brethren. But the T. rex and Velociraptors and virtually all of the others look as remarkably real as the day they were reborn.
The sounds, including the T. rex roar modified from a baby elephant's yell, were always as terrifying as the sights. As for the story, a cautionary tale and a monster movie with heartfelt undercurrents as Mr. Neill's character discovers his paternal side, remains as timely as ever.
As Mr. Spielberg has said, "This is not science fiction; it's science eventuality."
The April issue of National Geographic asks on its cover: "Reviving Extinct Species -- We Can. But Should We?" If you're talking about dinosaurs in 3-D, the answer is yes.
The movie, of course, is still rated PG-13 for intense science fiction terror and runs 127 minutes. This time, we give it 3.5 stars.
"Jurassic Park" went three for three, picking up Academy Awards for sound, sound effects editing and visual effects. Mr. Spielberg and composer John Williams were winners at that same ceremony but for a different 1993 project, "Schindler's List."
"The Lost World: Jurassic Park," the 1997 follow-up, received a lone nomination for visual effects; it lost to "Titanic." The third movie, "Jurassic Park III," received no nominations.
Supersize it, please. Everything about "Jurassic Park" was big -- as Mr. Goldblum quips upon seeing the wooden gates, "What do they got in there? King Kong?" -- from its audience, free publicity and merchandising to its box office bottom line.
Two decades ago, Universal Studios licensed more than 100 companies to flood the market with official products, from video games and traditional board games to trading cards, puzzles and action figures.
"Jurassic Park" spawned cinematic copycats or knockoffs, and the October 1994 delivery of videocassettes in "Jurassic" Jeeps to stores in New York, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale was big news. As stores do today with "Twilight" and other anticipated DVDs, some started selling them at 12:01 a.m. on release day.
Get your 3-D glasses here
There are two kinds of 3-D movies: Those created for 3-D and those converted later, sometimes shortly after filming, sometimes years later.
Fourteen years after its debut, "Titanic" sailed into theaters again in 3-D in April 2012 and Disney struck gold with the re-issue of "The Lion King" in 3-D in September 2011 and again in January 2012 with "Beauty and the Beast."
The release of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" was delayed while the movie was converted to 3-D and it stormed the box office last week and landed at No. 1.