“Welcome to Jurassic Park.”
With those words begin an adventure that started with the legacy of Willis O’Brien’s The Lost World. You see, dinosaur films are nothing new; they have held our childlike fascination since the industry was born. Jurassic Park was, however, something very new when it thundered into our cineplexes and forever into our imaginations 20 years ago. The marriage of brand new CGI technology with Stan Winston’s superbly detailed animatronics models transports you back 65 million years in time. CGI technology has improved since then and has become somewhat commonplace, but there is nothing common about Jurassic Park.
Jurassic Park not only broke ground in its fantastic visual presentation, but in its audio presentation as well. It was the first film to be released with an accompanying digital soundtrack in theaters that were equipped to handle it. With one roar of a T-Rex, digital audio was born in our movie houses. It was the perfect film to make the milestone. When T-Rex delivers his first roar on screen, we can’t help but be spellbound. The iconic scene was one of those perfect moments. Spielberg was smart enough to eliminate any of John Williams’ brilliant score. There is silence…until there isn’t. And it’s the ear-piercing shrill of the dinosaur that fills the room. There have been few cinematic moments that have been more memorable or immersive. It almost couldn’t have been better…almost.
Now you get to see all four landmark films (OK, maybe the third is not so landmark) for the first time all over again. I say for the first time because Universal has released the collection of four films (Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World) for the first time in UHD Blu-ray with wonderful new transfers in 4K with HDR. With the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming upon us swiftly, this is the perfect time to revisit the franchise so far.
Jurassic Park (1993)
If you don’t already know the story, shame on you. Most of you can skip this little paragraph and go straight to the head of the class. John Hammond (Attenborough) has an idea for an amusement park that would spin Walt Disney in his grave. Using blood from ancient insects caught in amber, InGen obtains dinosaur DNA. Soon cloned dinosaurs are the star attractions at Hammond’s Jurassic Park.
Bonding agents are a little nervous, so Hammond hires Alan Grant (Neill), famous dinosaur expert, and Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) to put their stamp of approval on the project. Approval becomes secondary when a disgruntled computer programmer shuts down the park’s vital systems to steal dinosaur embryos.
Grant and Malcolm along with Hammond’s grandchildren and Grant’s partner (Dern) spend most of the film being chased by the park’s prized T-Rex and the intelligent velociraptors.
The biggest surprise is noticing just how well these 20-year-old f/x hold up. That’s rare, at least for me. I can still love the classic f/x of 1960’s Star Trek or any 20-year-old film. I’ll accept the dated f/x because that’s the way it is, and they might have been groundbreaking at the time. But no matter how much you still love it, you can’t help but notice the “strings” of it all. We’re getting spoiled more and more each year. Folks like Peter Jackson’s WETA have delivered stunning images that just weren’t possible 20 years ago, or were they? Jurassic Park still looks incredible. The dinosaurs sell just as well today as they did back when.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Was there ever a doubt that we would be returned to the land of cloned dinosaurs? How do you make a blockbuster better? The simple answer is: you don’t. The story for this one is about as contrived as a good Godzilla film. Call it the politically correct Jurassic Park. The high point, however, is bigger, better, and cooler dinosaurs. The T-Rex and raptors are back, but now they’re joined by dozens of new species to gape at. The movie is actually fine until the ending. What was Spielberg thinking? Substitute Tokyo for San Diego, and we’ve seen it too many times before, done better.
John Hammond has been almost ruined by the events of Jurassic Park. He hires Malcolm (Goldblum) to go to a second island where the first dinosaurs were developed. Several groups converge upon the island, and the typical chaos ensues.
With the title of this sequel Spielberg and writer Michael Creighton pay homage to the beginning of the dinosaur stories. A story written by Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became the very first dinosaur film in 1925 with stop motion effects by Willis O’Brien, who would go on to animate King Kong almost a decade later.
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Desperate to fund research for his new theory of velociraptor intelligence, Grant is particularly vulnerable when wealthy adventurer Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) and his… wife Amanda (Téa Leoni) approach him with a proposition. They will open their checkbook to him if he will accompany them on an aerial tour of Isla Sorna, a second InGen site. Just adjacent to Isla Nublar, this quarantined island has become both a primordial breeding ground for John Hammond’s creations and a magnet for thrill-seekers eager to encounter them.
Accompanied by his protégé (Alessandro Nivola), Grant suspects that something’s not right when the pilot prepares to actually land on the island. Angry and alarmed, Grant begins to protest when out of nowhere an enormous creature appears in the path of the plane, forcing it to crash into the jungle treetops.
Once again stranded on an island inhabited by genetically cloned dinosaurs, Grant finally discovers his deceptive hosts’ true reason for inviting him on this journey. This excursion was never intended to simply be an aerial tour but, in fact, a search and rescue mission. The Kirbys are actually a middle-class, divorced couple reunited for the sole purpose of finding their 14-year-old son Eric (Trevor Morgan), who disappeared while vacationing with Amanda’s boyfriend. Aware of Grant’s prior trip to Jurassic Park as well as his current financial hardship, the couple desperately concocted this elaborate scheme hoping to find an experienced guide to lead them to their child. But they overlooked the fact that Grant’s prior visit was to Isla Nublar, not Isla Sorna. Now, as they attempt to locate Eric and find a way to escape with their lives, the marooned group must encounter terrifying new creatures undisclosed by InGen, including the massive Spinosaurus, which can hunt both on land and underwater, and the flying Pteronadons. And Dr. Alan Grant is forced to learn the dreadful implications of his raptor intelligence theory firsthand.
Jurassic World (2015)
“We need more teeth.”
That’s the problem with sequels, isn’t it? There’s always the belief that you have to go bigger and stronger than you did before. It’s an ideal that is also reflected quite literally in the story of Jurassic World. You know what kills worse than dinosaurs? Expectations. It is those expectations that will turn what is a pretty solid action movie into a disappointment for so many. No doubt, Jurassic World is a fun and entertaining movie. But it’s not Jurassic Park, and the truth is it never could be. If you go to this movie hoping to recapture what you felt the first time you heard the words “Welcome to Jurassic Park”, it’s never going to happen here. Thank God that you will always have the original. It’s even out there in an impressive 3D conversion. You can watch it whenever you want. You have to approach Jurassic World as something almost totally different. If you can, there is fun to be had.
Just as it has been in real life, it’s now been 22 years since John Hammond put together his Jurassic Park creation and disaster followed. Since that time the situation has been contained enough that we actually have a functioning theme park now called Jurassic World. There’s nary a mention of the original name and the events associated with it in the park itself. When an employee wears a Jurassic Park shirt, he’s reminded that it was in bad taste and told never to wear it again. The gates are moving people by the score, but the novelty is beginning to wear off, and attendance is starting to drop. It’s the reality of any big park today. The solution is always the same. It’s time for a new envelope-pushing ride or attraction. When you already have dinosaurs, where can you go next? The answer is a newly created super-hybrid dinosaur called Indominus Rex. The dinosaur was originally called Diabolis Rex or D-Rex, but was changed mid-production.
Claire (Howard) has two jobs to perform. She has been tasked with overseeing the unveiling of this new dinosaur. That means enticing Verizon to be the creature’s sponsor. I can see the ads now. A huge Indominus Rex roar followed by “Can you hear me now?” It also means getting Owen (Pratt), a man she once dated, to check the animal’s paddock for potential security issues. That’s not going to easy, because they dated once, literally, and she doesn’t have a very high opinion of the man. Her second job is to care for and entertain her two nephews, who are visiting as a distraction while their parents work out a divorce. Of course, the kids aren’t supposed to know about that part. Claire’s too busy and assigns the kids to her assistant. Yeah, that’s going to work out well.
Owen has been training raptors to respond to commands. This is very interesting to InGen’s security chief, Hoskins (D’Onofrio) who sees an opportunity here to offer them up as super soldiers to the military as a kind of dino-force to fight battles. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.
When the Indominus Rex outsmarts the crew and escapes, Hoskins looks at it as the perfect chance to put his dino-soldiers in action and make some news to sell the program to the feds. Meanwhile there are tourists getting eaten, most notably by a flock of Pteronodans that escaped as Indominus Rex stomps his way through the park. What follows is what Dr. Malcolm once described in the second film :”Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.”
“If something chases you…run!”
This is where Jurassic World differs significantly from the original film. What we have here is a straight-up action/adventure film. Much of that pulls out the typical high kill count, and most of that coming from stupid mistakes or outrageous circumstances. There’s really no new ground being broken once the screaming starts. It’s the same formula in a new wrapper. None of the interactions between humans and dinosaurs carry the nail-biting suspense of the kitchen scene in the original film. There’s not really any attempt to build anything close to that feel. Now, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an exhilarating ride with some wonderful special effects. Perhaps, the filmmakers took the only route that was honestly available to them. Let’s introduce some new dinosaurs including a genetically manipulated big baddie and just let the mayhem take completely over. From that point all of the character development we saw in the film’s first 20 minutes goes straight out of the window at 70 miles per hour, of course. Everything becomes about the adrenaline, and any emotional or character-driven moments are gone.
When it comes to what an actual Jurassic Park/World would look like, they got a lot of things right here. I live close enough to the Mouse House that I’ve gotten to spend many days in the world of the theme park. This movie captured the conventions of that world perfectly, from the $7 sodas to the kind of ride videos by celebrities preparing you for your experience. In this case it’s a humorous diversion by Jimmy Fallon playing himself in one of those pre-ride amusements. You have company sponsors putting their name… and their money … into various exhibits or attractions. The layout looks like it could have been pulled from almost any theme park map across the country.
The cast does what they can for a movie that isn’t really about people. Bryce Dallas Howard is trying her best to establish a strong corporate female role, but I have to say she mostly acts lost. When she tries to take control of a situation, it usually falls flat. I know there were complaints about that from the trailer, and everyone told us it was a misrepresentation of who the character is. No, it wasn’t. That’s exactly what she is. Vincent D’Onofrio is another character with strong possibilities, but he’s the most cardboard character in the film. We’ve seen his obsession before, and it just ends up sounding silly and ill-thought-out here. It’s not the actor’s fault. He makes the best of a sad situation, but there are moments you can almost see the actor about to roll his eyes before delivering rather stale villain material. There are the two boys who are meant to remind you of Hammond’s grandchildren. Fortunately, they are both better actors and characters. Unfortunately, the films uses them mostly as a device that never lives up to any potential. For too much of the film they are a red herring to where the real action is going on.
The only standout performance has to be Chris Pratt. It’s so easy to see why his star has risen so much in recent years. He’s the only character with any forcefulness, and frankly the only one we really care enough about that we don’t want to see him become dino-chow. He comes the closest to offering the cautionary tale that was so much a part of the original film. Here it’s mostly a few throwaway lines at best.
Of course, the dinosaur effects are pretty amazing. But they were that 22 years ago. Recently I was amazed at how well those original effects held up when the movie was released in 3D. This movie is just as spectacular, but the images haven’t really improved. I see no quantum jump from that film to this. Again, it’s a case of more replacing better. They’re very good, to be sure. But we’re already used to that and perhaps more than a little jaded.
The film racks up the carnage and ends up as a kind of monster mash-up with a few dinosaurs getting into the fight. The T-Rex is made out as the hero and gets cheered by the audience when he makes his appearance, much like Clint Eastwood standing on the bridge waiting for the bad guys to come and get wasted. The film does that a lot. At times I felt like I was watching a western with dinosaurs as the gunslingers. The movie gives them almost human qualities that didn’t quite work out for me at all.
There’s going to be money made here, for sure. We are all hungry for more Jurassic adventures. The film uses BD Wong, the only returning character, as a setup for future movies. This won’t be the last roar for the Jurassic movies. As long as they continue to make big money and deliver an entertaining ride, they will not soon go extinct. I just hope the filmmakers don’t become as jaded as the audience. We need relatable characters in emotional situations. It would be too easy to fall back on formula. “They’re dinosaurs, wow enough.”
Each of the films is presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Jurassic World is the lone oddity at 2.00:1 The ultra-high-definition 2160p images are arrived at by HEVC codec with average bitrates of 55 mbps. Even though the first film goes back to 1993, the visuals continue to be outstanding. This series was a natural to get a 4K release. All those years later and the dinosaurs still look good even under this kind of resolution and scrutiny. Yes, there’s a progression as f/x got better, but not as dramatic as you might think. Colors are wonderful on all of the films. The lush Hawaii jungles are exceptional with rich dark green vegetation prominent in each. The first film does lose some of the magic in the wide shots. The Welcome scene isn’t quite as glorious here. I suspect many of the f/z scenes were not done in the native 4K of the film prints. Yes, even Jurassic World used both 35mm and 65mm film. So they match quite well together. Black levels are superior, giving us those wonderful T-Rex images in the shadows. It’s still an effective moment and the shadow definition along with strong contrast allow it to continue to be a strong moment. There are many of those throughout the franchise. The 4K release makes these original f/x even more impressive because of the amazing textures present on the dinosaurs. The raptors are a particular standout here on all of the films. There is some evidence of DNR on the first film mostly that I could have done without. The grain is a bit washed. Perhaps the best thing you get from these discs is the added dimension of depth to the films. It’s not quite as dramatic as the earlier 3D conversion of the original film, but it’s a huge presence when you have all of these dinosaurs running around.
The first three films have been upgraded to a DTS:X track which defaults to a dynamic 7.1 track. Jurassic World is in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. The first film was an audio milestone. It was the first film released theatrically with a digital audio track. Of course, 7.1 wasn’t around in those days, but all of the films have amazing audio presentations. The subs are quite active and add some real push to those T-Rex roars. The surrounds offer tons of immersive sounds. The jungles provide birds and distant dinosaur sounds. Rain often provides a nice usage of rear speakers. Of course, something is almost always sneaking up on you, and that comes alive here. The raptors and their clicks and snorts are quite dynamic here. The score fills up the entire presentation with John Williams’ emotional theme even on films where he wasn’t the composer of record. The silence of the first T-Rex attack remains quite effective. Dialog manages to cut through all of this with perfect placement. You can catch it all in precise balance.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copies of the films and are exactly the same as the original trilogy release and the more recent Jurassic World Blu-ray release.
I’ve been told there are still a handful of folks out there who have never seen the original Jurassic Park, and you know who you are. You can run, but now it’s impossible to hide any longer. You have a date with a T-Rex and his nasty little friends. You have some serious catching up to do before you head out to see Fallen Kingdom. It’s time you booked a few of hours in “the only amusement park where the exhibits eat the customers”.