Twenty years, two diminishing-returns sequels, multiple theme park attractions, and endless merchandising may have conspired to dull your memory of that magical first viewing of Jurassic Park. The 1993 sci-fi adventure, adapted from Michael Crichton's thoughtful thriller about chaos theory and genetic engineering, was in a way the last gasp of director Steven Spielberg's aesthetic adolescence, before he turned from high-spirited crowd-pleasers like Jaws and Indiana Jones towards somber Oscar-bait such as Schindler's List and Lincoln. I'd feared that the film would fare badly once expanded to the oversized IMAX 3-D format, but aside from some dated clothes and computers, everything about the movie -- from acting to editing to still-astonishing special effects -- feels fresher than ever in this anniversary re-release.
Fanboys, you can relax; unlike in his censored re-release of E.T., or his buddy George's butchered Star Wars special edition, Spielberg hasn't changed a frame of the familiar story. (Even a famous flub incorrectly dating Disneyland's debut was left uncorrected). Hubristic gajillionare Dr. Hammond (Richard Attenborough) still recruits a pair of paleontologists (Sam Neill, Laura Dern) and a maverick mathematician (Jeff Goldblum) to spend a weekend on his island zoo, where they struggle survive an onslaught of escaped ex-extinct animals. The cast (which also features Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, and a couple obligatory annoying kids) completely commits with wide-eyed wonder, pulling the audience into accepting the absurd premise -- a task aided by the believable computer generated dinosaurs, whose organic animations outshine most contemporary CGI effects.
Of course, you can easily experience all of the above on DVD in the comfort of your own home. The reason to venture into the cinema to see a two decade old film is the exceptional 2-D to 3-D conversion. I'm generally not a fan of "upgrading" older films to three dimensions (Titanic and Phantom Menace 3-D were marginal at best) but this is the first time I thought it genuinely added to the experience. The depth effects look consistently natural and involving, with a minimum of the obvious Viewmaster-like layering artifacts that have plagued past conversions. And a judicious helping of in-your-face moments will make you jump in your seat, as befits the B-movie subject matter. The effectiveness of the 3-D, especially in intense interior scenes like the infamous kitchen escape, and lush exteriors such as the Gallimimus stampede, is a testament to the intelligent visual compositions originally created by Spielberg and cinematographer Dean Cundey.
With classic (even cliche) yet ever-compelling plot, an old-fashioned sense of storytelling craft, and a pace that accelerates from slow burn to runaway roller coaster until the satisfyingly succinct denouement, Jurassic Park is a blockbuster that has stood the test of time. Add in overwhelming IMAX 3-D sights and sounds, and you've got an E-ticket primed to thrill a new generation of viewers.
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