Prior to the summer of 1993, everything in the movie world was as it had always been.
After that summer, everything was different.
The difference-maker was a simple monster movie. Yup. That’s all it was – a simplistic, almost paint-by-numbers tale of ordinary people on the run from giant monsters. On the surface, that really doesn’t sound like enough to get worked up about.
Then again, the name of this monster movie was Jurassic Park. And its director was Steven Spielberg.
And a monster movie is exactly what audiences were expecting when they filed into movie theaters that summer. When they emerged two hours and seven minutes later, their eyes were open to a brand new world of filmmaking.
A world in which dinosaurs and humans could share the screen; it was a world where within a few years it was conceivable that you might be able to look at a T-Rex (or even a giant shark) in a movie and not feel compelled to say, “That looks fake.”
This past Tuesday, Universal brought Jurassic Park and its two sequels (The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III) to Blu-ray with Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy.
Jurassic Park (1993)
The original’s tale of science and nature run amok is still the best of the lot.
I still have a pretty vivid recollection of seeing the film upon its initial release and being completely blown away by the leap that visual effects had taken. I had seen computer-generated optical effects before, but before this movie I had always been very much aware I was looking at a series of ones and zeroes.
James Cameron had flirted with computer-generated imagery with The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. One look at this film can tell you that Spielberg wasn’t content to simply flirt; he was determined to take this girl on a date.
In the film, eccentric billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) recruits a pair of dinosaur experts – Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Ellie Sadler (Laura Dern) to endorse his slightly unorthodox theme park, Jurassic Park, where geneticists have developed the ultimate attraction: Dinosaurs.
As is often in the case in these movies (and as was foretold by Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm in the film), things go wrong, and it isn’t long before Grant, Sadler, Malcolm, and Hammond’s grandchildren (Joseph Mazello and Ariana Richards – who got a crash course in this sort of thing a few years earlier in Tremors) are running for their lives when a power failure sets all the dinosaurs loose.
Again, the special effects are amazing in this picture, and as long as there’s something SFX-oriented on-screen, the movie is mesmerizing.
To dig any deeper into the film, though, shines a light on its flaws. Its morality-play aspects are enunciated in too much of an on-the-nose manner for my tastes, and Hammond – who, for all intents and purposes took it upon himself to play God – is taken to task by almost everyone in the film and pays no penance.
Obviously, this is a mindless actioner, but to set up an arc for Hammond and to never pay it off is something of a cheat. Indeed, there’s a scene where Hammond chastises Wayne Knight’s character, the corrupt hacker Dennis Nedry. “I don’t blame people for their mistakes,” Hammond says. “But I do ask that they pay for them.”
For all the weak threads in the story, though, there’s no doubt that as long as Spielberg keeps dinosaurs on the screen, the movie is quite an attention-grabber. The raptor scene in the kitchen remains one of the most suspenseful scenes in any film in recent memory, on par with the major nail-biter Spielberg’s own Jaws in many ways.
In the end, there’s no arguing that this movie changed everything in terms of visual effects. The Star Wars prequels could not exist without this movie, nor could Avatar – whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing is in the eyes of the beholders, but that’s a subject for another sermon.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
I’ve got a pretty vivid recollection of seeing this picture in theaters as well. I was just as bored with this movie then as I was when I popped the Blu-ray into my player.
The plot (if you can call it that) is simple enough to follow: Apparently there was a second Jurassic Park (Site B, Hammond calls it), and the financiers behind the original park want to get their money’s worth, so they send a team to the island to retrieve as many dinosaurs as possible so they can open a Jurassic Park in the mainland United States.
Hammond enlists Malcolm to head to the secondary island to prevent the dinosaurs from being relocated. Malcolm is naturally hesitant (having done something similar once before), but when Hammond reveals that Malcolm’s girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) is already on the island, he has a little more incentive.
As per usual, things do not go entirely as planned, and eventually a T-Rex is loosed to rampage through the streets of San Diego.
This movie is poorly acted, with rare exception (Goldblum tries his best, as does Moore; a young Vince Vaughn appears in the film, but he hadn’t quite nailed his craft at that point), and the script is full of plot holes.
It’s clear that effects took significant leaps in the four years that fell between the original film and the sequel, but The Lost World lacks the emotional punch and “never before seen” grandeur of the first film.
The action set pieces are better in this movie, even if they don’t carry the impact or weight of those seen in the original.
Ultimately it’s an improvement over Jurassic Park in terms of the staging and intricacy of the action scenes, but it isn’t quite as much fun.
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Sam Neil reprises the role of Dr. Alan Grant, who’s been hired by a millionaire couple (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) to serve as a tour guide for an aerial tour of the island.
However, (guess what?) things do not go as planned. The plane crashes, the couple turns out to be broke, and their real purpose in enlisting Grant was to find their son, who is lost somewhere on the island. The real problem, though, is that they’re lost on Site B, an island Grant has never been to.
For this movie, Joe Johnston takes the reins as director, and the movie drops the science-fiction moral dilemmas and goes for straight adrenaline-pumping action, a formula that works surprisingly well.
The action scenes are better and restore a lot of the pulse-pounding excitement of the original film, and dispensing with the constant ethical quandaries the characters in the previous movies enjoyed pontificating about has immensely helped the pacing of this movie.
There’s never a slow moment in Jurassic Park III, a movie which, while it may not be the best of the three, is certainly the most enjoyable.
Neil seems a little more comfortable with the part of Grant this time around, and the performances from Macy and Leoni are quite good as well.
In terms of video presentation, I have very, very, VERY few complaints regarding Universal’s 1080p VC-1 transfer. All three films feature some minor haloing. That’s it. That’s my complaint.
As for the rest, these movies look absolutely fantastic. Every scale on the dinosaurs comes across as incredibly lifelike, and the jungle-esque setting of each film offers the kind of backdrop that can really show off what Blu-ray can do. All of the greens and browns are rich and warm, and even the night scenes are extremely clear. All-in-all, an amazing visual transfer.
The audio is equally up to the task, with a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. These movies have never sounded better. The roar of the T-Rex will rattle your speakers (in that good way), and every line of dialogue is crisp and clear. The ambient noise (as has been in the case of most Universal Blu-ray releases in recent memory) is treated well and adds to the rich texture of the films.
Beyond the Feature
The Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy offers a boatload of special features. Many of them have been ported over from previous DVD releases of the movies, so I’ll focus on the Return to Jurassic Park series, six mini-documentaries that cover various aspects of each film’s production.
Return to Jurassic Park: Dawn of a New Era (25:25) – This doc covers the design and development stage of the film’s production and combines on-set footage with new interviews with Steven Spielberg and some of his right-hand wizards. A large portion of this piece covers the CGI revolution, particularly the transition from stop-motion animation which was thought to be the go-to means of bringing the park’s dinosaurs to life in this picture before those newfangled computers won out.
Return to Jurassic Park: Making Prehistory (20:16) – I found this segment particularly interesting as it deals mainly with miracle-maker Stan Winston and the challenges faced in seamlessly blending his practical, mechanical puppets with their computer-generated counterparts. These first two docs are really interesting stuff and truly hit the nail on the head in regards to what a transitional and, indeed, revolutionary picture Jurassic Park was in terms of the visuals.
Return to Jurassic Park: The Next Step In Evolution (15:03) – The nuts and bolts of the post-production process are covered here, with particular focus on the sound design of Gary Rydstrom and the musical score of John Williams.
The Lost World
Return to Jurassic Park: Finding the Lost World (27:40) – This doc goes into detail regarding the conceptualization of the sequel, including some fascinating tidbits on the direction that Spielberg thought the story might take. There’s also the standard making-of segments, with interviews with Spielberg, Goldblum, and a host of others involved with the film’s production.
Return to Jurassic Park: Something Survived (16:30) – Here’s another look at the post-production process, this time with a heavier emphasis on the new visual effects techniques used in the film. The highlight of this documentary, though, is an admission from Spielberg that The Lost World couldn’t hit the same high notes as its predecessor. First Crystal Skull, now The Lost World… when did Steven Spielberg become such an apologist?
Jurassic Park III
Return to Jurassic Park: The Third Adventure (25:00) – Sadly, the most fun of all the Jurassic Park flicks has the weakest installment in Return to Jurassic Park. There are interviews with director Joe Johnston, Sam Neil, William H. Mach, and Trevor Morgan, and the interview participants all seem game, but by this point, the story’s become pretty familiar, and Universal does little to spice it up.
That, however, is a minor critique on what, on the whole, might be the best selection of bonus features to hit a Blu-ray collection in quite some time. The dominant complaint about Blu-ray special features that I hear about is the fact that Blu-rays seldom carry over enough of the DVD extras.
Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy is by no means guilty of this offense. By my count, ever bonus feature from every prior digital aftermarket release of each Jurassic Park movie is present and accounted for. It may not seem like much, but I really appreciated Universal’s effort to pack everything onto these discs.
At the end of the day, not every second of the Jurassic Park movies is cinematic perfection. But more often than not, these movies offer all the fun and imagination that made us all fall in love with movies to begin with.
The Jurassic Park movies are the flawed kind of eye candy, throwaway fluff that’s derided by critics more often than not. They’re definitely not great movies.
But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t great fun. And it certainly doesn’t mean that this isn’t a great collection.
Universal has truly outdone itself on this one. Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy needs a spot on your shelf.
Shop for Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com.