Saturday, August 13, 2016

Stubs – Jurassic Park

Stubs – Jurassic Park (1993) Starring Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Michael Crichton, David Koepp. Based on the novel “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen. U.S. Color, Science Fiction.

The summer blockbuster owes its roots to two men: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Their films: Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, etc. set the bar very high for Hollywood. $100 million of box-office became the standard of success and budgets grew exponentially as a result. Every summer, films had to be bigger and do better at the box-office. People expected spectacle and these two delivered. Both men got rich and powerful with their success and forever changed Hollywood; which is why their recent bemoaning of its state rings sort of hollow.

Michael Crichton was a writer who had seen his own success, starting with his novel The Andromeda Strain published in 1969, which had been made into a movie in 1971. He had apparently had the idea to do a story about dinosaurs since grad school. He was at the time working with Spielberg developing an idea that would be the hit TV show E.R. In 1990, prior to publishing the novel, Jurassic Park, Crichton demanded and received a non-negotiable fee of  $1.5 million for the films rights, which Universal bought for Spielberg and Crichton received another half million to write the screenplay.

Of course, this being Hollywood, once Crichton was done another writer was brought on board, David Koepp. Crichton’s screenplay, which only used about 20% of the book, would go through more excision at the hands of Koepp and Spielberg. The book is much more violent and bloody than the movie and there are characters who survive the movie, who do not survive the novel. Crichton wasn’t yet thinking sequel, though that would change after this film was released.

The film had a long pre-production, over two years, but finally got underway on August 24, 1992, with Hawaii standing in for Costa Rica. Filming also took place in this little town some people occasionally use for filming, Hollywood, using stages at both Universal and nearby Warner Bros.

Filming completed on November 30th, but that’s when the post-production phase began. That would last until April, 1993. The final film would not be completed until May 28 and was released on June 10, 1993.

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is in the need of advice for his new business venture. At great expense, he’s developed a theme park featuring genetically altered dinosaurs. Problem is prior to the opening, one of his workers is killed by a Velociraptor. Hammond's nervous investors' interests are represented by attorney David Gennaro (Martin Ferrero), who accompanies them to the island. Gennaro has also brought with him Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a mathematican and chaos-theory expert, to look at the set up.

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), center, is flanked by attorrney David Gennaro (Martin Ferrero),
Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil)
on a helicopter flight to the island.

Hammond invites palaeontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) to his island to give him and it their seal of approval. Almost as soon as they arrive, Drs. Grant and Sattler are surprisd to see a herd of Parasaurolophus and a trio of Brachiosaurus.

Gennaro, Hammond, Macolm, Dr. Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Sattler look on in amazement at a herd of dinosaurs.

At the park’s visitor center, the group learns that the dinosaurs’ cloning was accomplished by carefully extracting the DNA of dinosaurs from mosquitoes preserved in amber. To prevent breeding, all the dinosaurs are cloned as females. Where the DNA strands were incomplete, scientists have used DNA from frogs to fill the gaps.

The gates to Jurassic Park.

Before they got out to tour the grounds, Hammond’s grandchildren, Alexis (Ariana Richards) and Tim Murphy (Joseph Mazzello), arrive and join them. But things do not go as planned. Not only don’t the dinosaurs appear, but one of them, a Triceratops, gets ill. With a tropical storm approaching, the tour is cut short. At night, most of the employees depart Isla Nublar for mainland Costa Rica, all except the group, the park’s game warden, Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck), chief engineer Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) and Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), the architect of the park’s computer systems.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Ray Arnold, the chief engineer at the Park.

The group, minus Dr. Sattler, return to the tour, while she stays back with the park’s veterinarian Gerry Harding (Gerald R. Molen) to study the Triceratops before Harding departs the island.

During the storm that follows, Nedry, who is in cahoots with a rival corporation, plans to steal dinosaur embryos. To make his escape, he deactivates the park’s security system. When the power goes out, the automated Ford Explorers, used for the tour, stall and most of the park’s electric fences, designed to keep the dinosaurs away from the tourists, stop working. Without the fence to stop it, a Tyrannosaurus Rex escapes and attacks the tour.

Freed from her enclosure, a T-Rex attacks the tour of the park.

Grant and Alexis escape injury, but they are the only ones. Malcolm is injured, but Gennaro, who is hiding, is devoured and Tim, who is trapped in his vehicle, gets pushed over the embankment by the raging T-Rex.

Also trapped in the storm, Nedry gets lost and goes off the road, crashing his jeep. When he gets out to try and wrench his car free, he attracts the attention of a Dilophosaurus. For a guy who works at a dinosaur-themed amusement park, Nedry knows surprisingly little about them, treating the dino like a dog. Nedry appropriately dies like a dog, though the movie doesn’t really show us the attack. The embryos, stowed away in a fake-bottom shaving cream can, end up buried in a mudslide.

Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) about to get his just rewards.

Hammond sends Muldoon to retrieve the tour group and Sattler goes with him. When they get to the Jeeps, they find Malcolm and what's left of Gennaro. Grant and the children appear to still be alive, but there is no time to search for them, since the Tyrannosaurus Rex returns. The three escape in their Jeep just ahead of the dino.

Grant and the children are on a survivalist/nature walk and come across broken shells of dinosaur eggs. Apparently, the dinosaurs have mutated from just being female. Apparently, the frog DNA they used to fill in the gaps, the West African bullfrogs, can change sexes in a single sex environment, a capability the dinos have inherited.

Dr. Grant with Hammond's grandchildren Alexis (Ariana Richards) and Tim Murphy
(Joseph Mazzello) go on a nature walk after surviving the T-Rex's attack.

Back in the control room, Arnold is unable to undo what Nedry had done, so he and Hammond decide to reboot the entire park’s system, not sure what will happen. The reboot works, but there is still the power which has to be turned back on manually, at a shed on the other side of the compound. While the others retreat to an emergency bunker, Arnold sets out for the maintenance shed.

When he doesn’t return, Muldoon and Sattler go out to look for him. On the way, Muldoon becomes aware that they are being stalked by Velociraptors, freed when the electricity went down. Muldoon stays to hold them off and Sattler runs to the shed. Once inside, she manages to turn the power back on.

Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) goes out with Dr. Sattler to look for Arnold, but he won't return.

Meanwhile, Grant and the children have come to one of the 10,000 volt electric fences and have to climb over it, which is easy with the power off. Unbeknownst to them, however, is that the electricity is coming back on. Tim is afraid of heights and stalls his descent off the fence and Grant is too late to prevent the boy from being shocked and thrown from the fence. Grant manages to revive the boy without any lingering side-effects.

Back in the maintenance shed, Sattler is attacked by a raptor who has managed to get inside. Looking for a place to hide, she has a run in with what’s left of Arnold, his arm. She manages to escape, but Muldoon is not so lucky and meets the same fate as Arnold.

Grant, Alexis and Tim finally reach the Visitor’s Center, and Grant leaves them in a banquet room with food still laid out as he goes searching for the others. After gorging themselves on the days old food, the children realize they are not alone. A pair of Velociraptors have found their way into the center, which the children are forced to battle.

The kids are forced to battle a pair of Velociraptors at the Visitor's Center.

Reunited, Grant and Sattler head back to the visitor center and the four of them go to the control room. Alexis restores full power and they can finally call for help. Their escape route however is blocked by two raptors, but the group is saved when the Tyrannosaurus suddenly appears and kills both raptors. Hammond pulls up in a Jeep with Malcolm, and the entire group flees. Down at the helipad, Grant tells Hammond that he’s not going to endorse the park, an opinion Hammond seems to agree with.

Hammond takes one last look before fleeing the island.

On the flight back to the mainland, a flock of pelicans fly nearby, a reminder that the fearsome dinosaurs have evolved into birds.

Let’s start our criticism of the story with that last bit: Dinosaurs evolved into birds. Then why weren't the gaps in their DNA filled with bird DNA? You can blame the book for this, but this is a really nice device rather than anything close to scientific fact. And that’s the problem with the science in the movie and the book. Few of us are geneticists so there is a real tendency to BS us with a lot of scientific words that may or may not be truthful.

It’s sort of like listening to a politician of any party. If you have no other knowledge on the subject they’re speaking about a lot of what they say makes sense. But it’s when you do know something or see the results that you realize they don’t know what they’re talking about.

But in the summer of 1993, audiences weren’t interested in learning science, they wanted to be amazed and seeing CGI dinosaurs walk across the screen was more than enough to carry this film about the $900 million worldwide box-office number, making Jurassic Park the biggest film of all time, up to that time. But records are made to be broken and Jurassic Park's mark has since been eclipsed several times, including by its own sequel, Jurassic World (2015), which finished its theatrical run with $1.67 billion worldwide.

The special effects, which are what the movie was really all about, were state-of-the-art for their time and still seem to hold up pretty well today. It is the practical effects, when they interact with non-CGI dinosaurs, where things don’t stand up as well. By comparison with their computer cousins, these look more like a couple of guys in a dinosaur suit. But there is really very little of the practical special effects.

Considering that the human characters are of secondary importance, the acting is pretty good, but not great. All of the actors seem to have that amazed look down pat. For the most part, Neil, Dern, Jackson and Attenborough are well-known and respected actors and Jackson had not become the box-office juggernaut he is today.

"All-right everyone look amazed on three. 1...2...3."

I don’t mean to leave out Jeff Goldblum. He had a real knack for showing up in blockbusters, though rarely as the lead actor. He seems to play the same part over and over again in these films, the smarter-than-everyone else scientist with a little Woody Allen nebbish-ness thrown in for good measure. He plays that part here and once again, an important, but secondary role. In fact, the movie could probably be told without the Malcolm character at all.

For the most part, Jurassic Park is a nice film to put in a time capsule. Not the greatest film ever made, but certainly one that shows Spielberg at his zenith as a cinematic story-teller. While he would certainly direct more important films, he would never direct a bigger movie (though he would have his name on several that were). No one used special effects better than he did, though I’m sure Star Wars and possibly Star Trek fans might not agree. He is also much to blame for movies' over-reliance on the FX, as everyone tries to imitate his success with them.

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