Movie Review: Jurassic Park

Posted: March 29, 2011 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Jurassic Park (1993/Universal/Dir. Steven Spielberg)

I decided to re-read the book before watching the movie, which might be considered a mistake by some people. I know people who would have said I should have skipped one or the other of my experiences, but I had my reasons. I wanted to be able to compare the two products, movie and book and see what the differences were. My thoughts can be condensed, and then expanded upon. Jurassic Park: The Book is kind of a dumb diatribe against science, written by a profoundly stupid man. Jurassic Park: The Movie is a fun movie with a few weak spots. I’ll expand on those two statements, but that’s the gist of my feelings.

That’s how a raptor gives you the finger. I’ll show you a T-Rex later.

Jurassic Park, as a book, was first published in 1990. From what I understand, the rights were bought before it even hit the streets. Spielberg had an interest upon hearing the concept for the book when Crichton started writing it, and eventually got to make the movie. In 1993, the movie based on the book came out and a lot of people who had never read the book or heard of the author were suddenly grabbing it off the shelves. This really opened Crichton’s readership to a larger audience that perhaps didn’t know what they were getting into. See, Crichton was a right-leaning thriller writer and the book is a modern Frankenstein with some hugely anti-science rants included. I was very disappointed reading the book this time, because it’s flaws are hugely magnified with the passage of time and much of what’s in it is just plain wrong and I’m not just talking about the science. I’m not going to go into that whole thing because I already did here, but suffice to say the book and the movie have very different tones. While the book is a thriller the movie is an adventure. That’s an important distinction that informs every part of this review really. The book feels incredibly dated, while the movie has aged surprisingly well.

Now you wait and see, the 3-D presentation will totally be worth the extra $5.

Let’s start with the characters. There are none in the book. There are some barely sketched people, but there aren’t really any characters in the traditional sense. You can’t describe anyone in the book without saying what they look like or what their job is. These are archetypes, floating around this island. What’s worse, these are those “The Best at Everything” people that get put into Gear Porn books like this. Alan Grant is the greatest paleontologist that ever lived, Ian Malcolm is the greatest mathematician that ever lived, John Hammond is the greatest Andy Carnegie clone that ever lived, Tim Murphy is the greatest little kid that ever lived… and I goes on like this. Likewise, the baddies are the worst that ever lived. Nedry is the most duplicitous computer programmer that ever lived, the raptors are most dangerous animals that ever lived, and Lex Murphy is the most annoying little brat that ever lived… we’ll get back to her. Everyone is the most, the best, the worst, there are no normal people, not a single regular kind of guy. You get them in Jack Higgins’ books too, but Jack gives you a bit of characterization from time to time. However, as most the Sean Dillon books have the same plot (Sean shoots some people then goes scuba diving for something) we can’t claim Higgins is free from criticism either. Hardly the point, because we’re talking about Crichton’s inability to write a single character in this book. It’s not just this book either, I’ve found that character is on of Crichton’s biggest weak points. In the movie however, Alan Grant is a complete person, who has an actual character arc. John Hammond also has an arc where he changes his point of view. Some of the other characters get minor arcs as well. The movie is a more complete story with an emotional journey that we take with these people. Also, Hammond is more like John Harvey Kellogg what with the white suit and all. Just throwing that in because Kellogg was a local boy.

They thought he was going to show them dinosaurs. Instead they got the “disappearing cucumber” trick.

So what about story. The story is often touted by people as the good thing about the book, which I can see. If you’re looking for broad strokes, the movie is the book. It more or less follows the actions of the book, with a few things here and there thrown in or out. For the most part though, the story and series of events are kept in tact. In cases such as these, it’s the things that a director decides to change that are more telling than the things they decide to keep. Since we’re going to have to talk about it at some time, let’s just go into the differences between Crichton and Spielberg’s sexual politics. Ellie Satler is just about useless in the book and Lex Murphy is an argument for culling and girl-child at birth. There are no actually positive female characters in the book. At best there are a couple of condescending nods towards the fact that women can be more than possessions or baby machines. Mostly though, females are a negative force within the pages of the book. Lex is actually dangerous in the book, serving only to get people noticed by the dinosaurs or act as a millstone around their neck. She’s so irritating by the end that you wonder why Tim and Grant don’t just drown her and then throw her body out for the T-Rex to distract it while they escape. Contrarywise, in the movie it’s Ellie that gets the power back on (instead of Alan) and it’s Lex that gets the computer system running (instead of Tim) giving them something to do and a reason to exist. Ellie isn’t handled very well, because she’s saddled with some very stupid speeches, but she has a considerable improvement over the book. I suspect that Spielberg changed Lex because if he hadn’t, he would have been accused of making Lex the Grandchild of Willie Scott. Because of all the screaming, Willie got him in a lot of trouble back in ’84. That’s not to say Lex has an easy time, but her reaction and the actual troubles she has serve to make her more sympathetic.

Loose weight? Do you know what kind of career I’m going to have by being the obnoxious fat guy in things? Without the fat, I’m just obnoxious!

One of the other big changes is that the park doesn’t just go haywire because it does, but because of human forces. In the book, we’re given an extremely bad explanation of chaos theory and why it says the park will fail. Actually, it’s never really explained how Malcolm knows the park will fail, just that he does. I suspect Crichton didn’t really understand chaos theory and was BSing his way along, because it’s never properly explained. Malcolm is pretty useless, since he never actually explains how he comes to his conclusions or tries to warn anyone in a way that might save any lives. He’s a character that exists solely to say “I was right” when the park falls down and never really explains how he knew it would happen. Even when he states he knew this or that would happen, it’s often things that he couldn’t possibly know and could have easily been accounted for if the writer wasn’t skewing things to make him correct. I was quite pleased when he died in the book, because that at least shut him the hell up for a while. In the movie, Malcolm is the guy who says “I got a bad feeling about this.” and is far less arrogant as a result. He’s just the guy who, in any classic sci-fi movie, just delivers what is supposed to be a pithy “We shouldn’t meddle in God’s domain!” style line before being eat by the giant ant or whatever. Also, the park doesn’t just collapse because math said so, the park collapses because Nedry kills the computer system. It’s very clear in the movie that the whole problem stems from Nedry, even if there are a few weird statements that don’t fit in any context. Ellie talking to John about the flea circus and how she didn’t respect the power and that was a huge mistake being a big one. I have yet to figure out how her not respecting the power of Jurassic Park made Nedry let the raptors out.

I don’t have a joke, I just like this shot.

The other main change between book and movie is the behavior of the dinosaurs. In the book, the T-Rex stalks Grant and the kids for about 200 pages in a complete disregard for expense vs. profit. If the Rex had eaten all three of them, that energy would have been nothing compared to the energy expelled in following and hunting them. Furthermore, the Rex follows them even though they injure it on several occasions, which is just ludicrous. Worst of all though is how the Rex continues to hunt them over hill and dale, through forest and field, when the T-Rex is literally dumber than my cat. It wouldn’t have the brain power to obsess over the three tiny mouthfuls, it couldn’t remember them later, it barely had the brain power to remember to roar after making a kill. That’s another problem that the book has that the movie lessens. In the book, there is a scene where the JP team think they’ve escaped, only to have a raptor turn in the chair behind the desk and reveal that it’s been sitting there stroking a white procompsognathus before explaining the Raptors plan all Jurassic Park 2 style. In the book, they are constantly referred to as beign more intelligent than Apes, with good language skills, art appreciation and an aptitude for Chinese/Mexican fusion cooking. The movie still has the raptors over the top, but for the most part, the animals act more or less like animals instead of some sort of directed monsters angry at humans for cloning them in the first place. The book is really weird on this point and all the dinosaurs seem to be exacting revenge, possibly because Ian Malcolm told them to. Perhaps Malcolm holds dark powers in the book and the destruction of the park was all his doing just so he could say he was right. It’s about as good a theory as any other.

Oh, hey! That’s right! Samuel L. Jackson is in the movie!

While a lot of the effects don’t hold up, most of them do. The story still stands and the performances are all top notch. The score is one of John Williams’ best, and the main theme is something I keep finding myself humming once in a while for no good reason. What I’d forgotten is how much banter and quipping is in this movie. There is a lot more than I remembered. I like the movie, I think it hold up admirably well after all this time. If you want a copy, you can get it pretty cheap. Should you watch it? Yeah, probably, once in a while you should pop it in. What about the sequels? Yeah, you should watch Jurassic Park. I like things about the sequels, but neither of them is a patch on the original.

Official Score:
81 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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