Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Preparing for Jurassic World - A Series Recap

     In preparation for the much-anticipated release of Jurassic World this week on June 11th, The Fangirl Initiative is celebrating the event with a countdown of articles surrounding the Jurassic Park franchise. There are plenty of things to be excited (or nervous) about when preparing for this premiere. However, it’s very possible that you haven’t watched the movies in years (unless you’re like me, in which case you’ve already marathoned the first three films to make sure you’re up to date before this Friday). But for those of you who are a bit rusty with the Jurassic Park series (or haven’t seen it at all), allow me to provide you with a fresh, spoiler-free reminder of what Jurassic World could be (or at least ought to be). There will also be a pretty structured comparison between the three existing films.

Hogwarts Jurassic Park, A History

     If you didn’t notice, this seems to be the year of the 80s/90s remakes.

   Of course, Hollywood has been banking on sequels since before the start of the millennium, but this year they’ve been diving into major franchises that range from legendary (like Star Wars) to the simply bizarre (like Mad Max). Frankly, it’s all very exciting — if for no other reason than because it gives everyone an excuse to go and watch some really iconic pieces of filmmaking (and then their parodies, naturally).

     Of the many blockbusters that graced the silver screen in the 80s and 90s, one was the impressive 1993 science fiction adventure Jurassic Park, based on a novel by Michael Crichton and directed by Steven Spielberg (the mastermind behind Jaws, E.T., the Indiana Jones saga, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan). The book was very graphic (after all, it featured carnivorous dinosaur attacks), and the movie adaptation involved a major downplay of the blood and gore. However, Spielberg was careful to keep the story filled with enough adrenaline to make his audience jump. He created a perfect mixture of terror and awe, showing the wonder of behemoth creatures and then the consequences of trying to live alongside them. The result was both a swashbuckling adventure and a chilling, survival-based thriller.

     Needless to say, Jurassic Park was an instant success. In a way, it even sparked its own genre centered around men and dinosaurs, inspiring more productions like Dinotopia, Primeval, and Terra Nova. And of course, a slew of sequels followed. The Lost World: Jurassic Park was released in 1997 and Jurassic Park III came to theatres in 2001, both gaining impressive revenues but mixed reviews. While no other sequels were attempted until Jurassic World, several lines of comic books and video games were released with storylines that continued where the films left off.

The Plot

     Jurassic Park

     The first movie focuses on paleontologist Alan Grant and his partner, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler. They receive an invitation from an eccentric billionaire named John Hammond, who wants their opinion on a theme park that he’s constructed on a remote island near Costa Rica. Of course, this theme park is anything but ordinary, because it houses — you guessed it — dinosaurs.*

     *   (I almost didn’t even include that fact for spoilers’ sakes, but let’s face it; even the title is enough to give the premise away. It’s like trying to keep the subject of Vampire Diaries a secret. There’s really no point.)

     Along with Hammond’s grandchildren and the chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, Grant and Sattler must take a test ride through the park to approve it for public audiences. However, before the day is over, human greed and tampering with nature will threaten the lives of every person on the island… and not everyone is going to make it out alive.

     The Lost World: Jurassic Park

     Four years after the incidents of Jurassic Park, this film shows Ian Malcolm (the chaos theorist from the first movie) still struggling with the near-death experience he had in Hammond’s theme park.

     When Hammond informs him that there is a second hidden island, Isla Sorna, kept specifically for breeding the dinosaurs, Malcolm wants nothing to do with it… until he finds out that his girlfriend was already sent there to photograph the creatures in their natural habitats.

     Now he and a few trusted companions must fly in on a rescue mission, not knowing that a wave of trophy hunters are also on their way in the hopes of making some fast cash.

     Jurassic Park III

     Another four years later, paleontologist Alan Grant receives an impressive financial offer from an eccentric couple who want him to fly them over Isla Sorna for their anniversary. However, once they arrive there, it turns out that the couple enticed him there under false pretenses… and before long they find themselves trapped on the island with no way to escape.

The Appeal

     In General

     Even if you haven’t seen the films, I can guarantee that after watching any trailer for the Jurassic Park series, you’ll be at least curious. That’s because Spielberg has an incredible skill with showing audiences just enough to get them hooked, while still keeping a large portion of the film a secret: in fact, this is often called the “Spielberg Effect.” The previews for the very first film didn’t even show any dinosaurs at all — but Spielberg teased his audiences so well that they were curious enough to come and see the movie in droves when it was released.

     Of course, the trailers were’t the only reason why the movies have been successful. We have the dinosaurs themselves to thank for that: specifically the fact that they simply look so real.

     Due to the growing development of computer animation, the early 90s were filled with extremely impressive fantasy and science fiction films. Studios still relied almost 80% on animatronic puppets and physical props, but they also had the safety net of CGI whenever a shot seemed too impossible or too expensive.

     Jurassic Park sprang up right in the middle of that “golden age.” Many of the actors and actresses in the film actually interacted with physical ‘dinosaurs,’ that special-effects artists had rigged up on the set. As a result, the wonder in their faces and the movement of their fingers when they touched the creatures was entirely natural. Audiences could (and still do) sense that the dinosaurs were physically present with the humans; they could see the texture of scales and see how a person’s touch could effect the dinosaur’s movements.

     And think of all the souvenirs that came from the films as a result! My college has the styrofoam head of a T-Rex proudly on display in their Communications building (it was massive, but still light enough for me to hold on my own).

     Physical props often go overlooked nowadays, because why spend hours creating a puppet with limited movement that will get thrown away later when you can instead create a digital puppet with millions of possible muscle contractions? But the major appeal of the Jurassic Park series is that Spielberg generally made an effort to include physical animatronics on the set (at least in the first few films), which made the adventures seem more tangible than any cheesy 3-D effect could.

     Now how about the films individually? How do they hold up against one another? I’m glad you asked…

     Jurassic Park

     The Characters: 1st Place
     While the main appeal of the series is probably the presence of dinosaurs, another reason why so many people are partial to the first film is because the characters are all so vibrant. The colorful personalities of the wonder-filled children, the introverted Dr. Grant, the cynical Dr. Malcolm, and all the rest make for a fun mix that allows the audience to relate to at least one — if not several — people on the screen at once.

     The chemistry between characters helps to drive the plot, keeps the movie interesting even when the dinosaurs aren’t present, and encourages viewers of all kinds by portraying competent women and children.

     The Plot: 1st Place
     For one thing, it’s hard to imagine that a sequel could really beat this film out for originality. The story is simple in concept, but it also has a wide scope that incorporates the viewpoints of several people from all different walks of life. And unlike today’s action flicks where there have to be explosions and deaths every five minutes to keep the audience from boredom, Spielberg builds up anticipation gradually and doesn’t feel the need to rush into the action-thriller portion of his movie. The result is a well-paced and well-planned mix of intrigue that enhances the adventure as it grows.

     The Dinosaurs: 2nd Place
     Now I know that some of you have probably noticed (and are likely fuming) that I’ve only given this film second place in this category. To be sure, the movie very nearly did get first place; it used animatronics wherever possible, and as a result looked larger than life. I'm sure it would earn first prize from many of you if you were writing this article.

     However, on the rare occasions that it did use CGI to animate its dinosaurs, they do occasionally look ever-so-slightly off from their surroundings, as many CGI creations did in the early nineties. The movie is certainly to be lauded as revolutionary for its time, but in an impartial comparison of how real the dinosaurs appear or feel… it just falls a tiny, tiny bit short. But that's just me being nit-picky.

     The Lost World; Jurassic Park

     The Characters: 3rd Place
     While the characters in this film aren’t necessarily deplorable, most of them don’t go through any major development or interesting changes. In fact, billionaire John Hammond even appears to have relapsed and practically forgotten all the lessons he learned in the first movie; this sequel seems to have been made mostly for viewers to gawk at more dinosaurs.

     The Plot: 3rd Place
     Because of its poor characterization and its inability to see where it’s going, this movie doesn’t really give itself a place to go or a foundation to build on. There are some major decisions made by the characters that don’t make sense, and many of them manage to survive situations that really aren’t survivable (maybe Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was partially inspired by this movie). 

    However, there are a few scattered, very exciting Spielberg-esque scenes that build impressive suspense.

     The Dinosaurs: 1st Place
     This movie did seem a bit more comfortable with computer-animation than its predecessor, but the puppets and animatronics were just as much improved, too — mainly when it came to Spielberg’s impressive scenes centered around the baby t-rex. As a result, the dinosaurs felt a bit more tangible (even if nothing else did. It's as if there was a trade-off between the quality of the dinosaurs and the quality of the plot and characters).

     Jurassic Park III

     The Characters: 2nd Place
     While perhaps not quite as stellar as the original film, this sequel did a decent job of bringing an unlikely team of people together, and sometimes it was fun — even a bit comical — to watch them interact. There were certainly times when they made poor or illogical decisions, and there was only one female character (who wasn’t exactly a competent role model for viewers), but they were still more dimensional than the characters in Lost World.

     The Plot: 2nd Place
     Once again, this film wasn’t up to par with Jurassic Park but was still more structured than Lost World… which is actually kind of strange, considering that this was the first of the films that wasn’t based on a novel. There were still several moments worthy of a facepalm or two, including the characters’ final escape, but I still enjoyed it in general, because it didn’t try to entirely mimic its predecessors by focusing on the t-rex or money-hungry business-moguls as the main threat(s).

     The Dinosaurs: 3rd Place
     Unlike the first two films which mixed computer animation with manual puppeteering, this movie tried to use almost no physical props or animatronics, and as a result it didn’t have the same larger-than-life feel whenever the characters came face-to-face with new creatures.

The Rating

     While there’s really no language or adult themes, the frightening thriller genre and the somewhat-gorey deaths probably merit a strong PG that’s very close to PG-13.

     Violence: The books are extremely graphic, but Spielberg made an effort to tone down the films so that younger audiences could join in on the adventure. There are still plenty of cringe-worthy deaths and bloody limbs, but the presence of young characters brave enough to endure through the danger is perhaps notable.

     Sex: None. Parenthood is discussed occasionally, and one formerly-married couple briefly change shirts in proximity to one another, but that’s it. There’s not much time for romance in you’re life when you’re being chased by velociraptors.

     Language: There’s very little language for the most part, except in reference to the excessive amounts of feces that dinosaurs can produce. It's all fairly PG-13 or below.

The Genre

     The movies are primal survival thrillers, with a good dose of action-adventure and science fiction thrown in. Many of the characters debate about whether or not man should really meddle with nature on such a scale.

     So is it worth it?

The Decision

     I suppose that depends on whether you really enjoy the action or sci-fi genre (chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you probably do). You may not have missed much by ignoring the sequels, but the original Jurassic Park really is a classic, and classics are few and far-between these days. It’s not a perfect film, to be sure…

     …but it jump-started a major genre (and a lot of hearts)

     and is still beloved by fans around the globe.

     And if you’re still on the fence, just give it time. There are plenty of trailers on Youtube that might interest you if you’re more of a visual person (like myself), whether for the original film or for the latest one set to be released this week, which had multiple impressive trailers including one where Chris Pratt (from Guardians of the Galaxy and Parks and Recreationgoes a hunt alongside velociraptors


     I’m not sure how much of Jurassic World will rely on the events of the previous films. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that it will probably ignore the third film altogether, possibly allude to one or two events or places mentioned in the second film, and stick mostly to the foundation that the first film built in 1993. While I wouldn’t outright recommend that you ignore the sequels, I’d definitely say that, of the three existing movies Jurassic Park is the one that’s most worth-watching. You may even find some friends who are in your same shoes, either because they’ve never seen it, or they just haven’t for a long time.

     In that case, set aside your next free Friday night; grab your popcorn, flop onto the sofa with the gang, and get comfortable. Jurassic Park is about to open.

1 comment:

  1. This is glorious. I agree with your comparisons of the three films. The second one only seems necessary to watch the third (Site B island). And nothing beats the first. :DD And yes, I've been watching the previous three in preparation for this weekend.

    I love the humor displayed through moments from the franchise. Perfection.