We invite you to Flickfeast and Chill and get to grips with the best new shows on streaming services. This edition, Chris Watt settles down with Netflix and The Jurassic Park Trilogy. Five minutes in and he’ll give you that look…
In cinema, the reptilian kings of existence have always been given something of a bum rap. They got the crap knocked out of them by King Kong, got dipped in paint and trapped in an animation cell for The Land Before Time. Doug McClure was always twatting them with something heavy. And on top of that, they were always getting speared by cavemen, which, while factually inaccurate, did at least give us the joy and wonder of A Nymphoid Barbarian In Dinosaur Hell. And outside of cinema? They were wiped out by a massive meteor. Which, had it been a movie, probably would have been destroyed by Bruce Willis.
Don’t even get me started on the YouTube dinosaur, who skateboards and dances and slips in the shower like a Tati-esque prehistoric tit. Really, the history of dinosaurs in modern media is nothing more than a barrage of humiliation and embarrassment. Like being in a Michael Bay movie.
However, this year marks something of a dino-celebration, as Jurassic Park turns 25. There are new DVD boxsets, commemorative fanzines, cinema re-releases, and now the first three of this massive franchise have arrived on Netflix.
Steven Spielberg pulled something of a hat trick in 1993, giving us not one, but two films, the first being Jurassic Park, the other being Schindler’s List. This is remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, he delivered arguably the most problematic double bill challenge of all time,(the ultimate Friday night popcorn movie smacking the bumper of the ultimate chin stroking thought stirrer) but more importantly, it displayed Spielberg as a master of multiple genre. To think that the same man made both these polar opposite films within months of each other (and shot them quickly too), is proof, if proof were really needed (and it isn’t), that he is a far more accomplished film maker than the legion of high faluten film snobs online would ever dare give him credit for.
Not that he needs credit. He’s Steven Spielberg, for crying out loud. Anyway, holocaust drama put to one side, Jurassic Park was where it all began. All the hype, all the toys and lunchboxes, tshirts and baseball caps. All the endless school trips to the science museum to see fossilized remains of massive reptilian bastards. Make no mistake, Jurassic Park was a goldmine.
But what of the film, 25 years on?
Jurassic Park (1993)
What strikes you most, rewatching Spielberg’s original film, is just how little the film has aged. The effects, rightly jaw dropping back in the day, remain just as effective. It’s interesting though to note that the sense of awe comes in part from great storytelling. David Koepp’s script, from Michael Crichton’s novel, builds in tension, teasing the terror out in small doses (from that shockingly scary opening attack), before allowing the story, the characters and the suspense to build until, at around the 40 minute mark, disgruntled employee, and ‘magic word’ enthusiast, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) shuts down the power, allowing all hell to break loose.
And break loose it does, starting with that now iconic T-Rex attack, still the set piece of the entire series, followed by the realistation that those pesky, intelligent Raptors are out and are now hunting the humans.
Impressively, the character development is kept on track, thanks in no part to a wonderful, everyman performance from Sam Neil, as Alan Grant, a man who hates computers, trees and, most importantly, children. This is probably exactly how his Tinder profile reads too.
It is through Grant that we witness most of the spectacle, as he is paired up with two kids, the grandchildren of resident park Santa Clause John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who came along for the ride, unaware that they were about to become a moving buffet.
Then there’s Jeff Goldblum, the man who launched a thousand gifs, as Ian Malcolm, the sunglasses-wearing mathematician with a penchant for leather and being a smart arse. There are other characters of course: a lawyer, a scientist, Samuel L Jackson, but they’re window dressing. After all, the dinosaurs need something to chew on.
Yes, the film has flaws. A nauseating animated sequence spoon feeds us scientific exposition, Laura Dern is given little to do but gasp, while there is one unforgivable moment, the first of what becomes a staple in this franchise, when screenwriter Koepp simply gives up and has the park’s complex, intricate computer system hacked by a teenager.
She’s probably the little bugger that hacked iCloud too. But for every damp squib moment, there are the shining examples of just how good a director Spielberg is. The raptors in the kitchen sequence is still utterly, utterly gripping.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
“Thank heavens for Site B” is a line of dialogue that pretty much sums up the lack of effort in this half baked follow up. We have a second island, on which there are all kinds of dinosaurs, roaming free, free as the wind blows. An island that, for reasons never made entirely clear, nobody has informed the tourism industry about.
And so, after a family dock in the bay of this paradise-like hell hole, and their little girl is attacked, a plot is set in motion, which sees a series of different interested parties (hunters, researchers, animal activists and, lets face it, probably a McDonalds rep) shell up on the island, to get things under control.
As sequels go, The Lost World feels a little like a cinematic dartboard of ideas. Throw as many set pieces at the thing and see which ones stick. That opening jump cut of screaming woman to yawning Goldblum (back for round two with his daughter in tow), a t-rex attack in which a latino gets stepped on, raptors in the long grass, and the pretty grizzly moment when the President’s advisor from The West Wing gets ripped in half.
Spielberg’s mastery of the set piece remains unparalleled here: Julianne Moore on a literal cliffhanger, her every move causing the pane of glass she lies on, to crack, is a standout. But, without a solid story at its core, it all feels fairly flat, and at times, downright boring. Sure, there is that weird, surreal sequence in which a T-Rex goes on the rampage in San Francisco, but a re-watch reveals that this moment is nowhere near as effective as you remember it being. Unless you count Pete Postlethwaite as a set piece, that’s pretty much all this film has to offer, as overall The Lost World is just a series of unanswered questions.
Who in their right mind would leave that island unattended? What the hell happened on that boat? Wheres Sam Neil? Is that Vince Vaughn? and why does Goldblum’s kid keep mentioning gymnastics? (The answer to this final question resulting in one of the flattest moments in the series: the raptor kick, the only moment in the franchise where you wish the film makers had the balls to actually kill a child.)
Strangest still is the title. After all, its not a lost world. They knew about it. Idiots.
Jurassic Park 3 (2001)
Jurassic Park 3 is a great example of the law of diminishing returns. Not in terms of box office, mind you, as this third instalment, now in the workmanlike hands of director Joe Johnston, with Spielberg taking a producer role, made a fortune worldwide. No, the diminishing returns in this case, are in a stripped bare story, paper thin and light on any character or charm.
The plot is certainly simple enough. Once again, children are the catalysts, as a set of parents (Tea Leoni and William H. Macy) set off to find their son, who has ended up on the original island thanks to his rubbish hang gliding abilities, (No, really, that’s what happens) where the remnants of Jurassic Park have become overgrown, and distinctly less welcoming, In tow is Alan Grant (a returning Sam Neil, still the best thing about this series), who has agreed to escort the parents on a flyover, but only a flyover.
Then they land anyway.
There is no stand out set piece here, certainly the film suffering from the lack of Spielberg’s instincts. The story is almost non existant, relying on Neil’s sturdy charm and the comedy double act of Leoni and Macy, who are on the last rungs of a crap marriage, but must put their differences to one side and band together to save their child. Their schtick, however, grows old fast and you begin to pray for a Pteranodon to swoop down and sign the divorce papers.
The other characters are a little like Star Trek day players, picked off one by one, with very little impact, or care.
What we have, in the end, is a film that really should have put an end to the franchise for good. And yet, cut to 14 years later, we have been blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with a new set of films, each one bigger and dumber than the next.
In today’s CGI, 3D, 4K, hi-def, decaf semi-skimmed cinematic landscape, there seems to be very little room for true spectacle. Those of us old enough to remember going to the theatre in 1993, can recall fondly the goosebumps we got seeing the brachiosaur for the first time, or the shivers we got seeing that glass of water vibrate, as the t-rex approached.
What makes the original film so timeless is an innate sense of wonder, married with an immense gift for visual storytelling. Pure, vintage Spielberg. In other words, never mind the sequels, embrace the origin.
In many ways, what makes Jurassic Park superior to its many sequels, is its refusal to play it safe and just throw CGI at the screen. Watching the later films, there is no sense of awe or genuine threat. We, the audience, have become desensitised to spectacle, in many ways, which is why when a film driven by its aesthetic, like Gravity, comes along, it only really delivers because of story and character. As Hammond put it, “I wanted to create something that wasn’t an illusion.”
It’s only in the light of the latest film in the series, Fallen Kingdom, that we realize that Jurassic Park was never really about bang for your buck. It was a rollercoaster ride, yes, but one kept firmly on track, with surprises, scares, characters you genuinely cared about and a gripping sense of confidence in its many memorable moments.
It’s the mosquito trapped in amber. The jelly wobbling on the spoon. The gob of spit lobbed at your eyes from a screaming, tweeting dino-prick. Jurassic Park is more than a movie franchise. It’s an Alan Partridge victory cry.
The Jurassic Park Trilogy is now available to stream on Netflix US and to own on DVD and Bluray.
Director: Steven Spielberg, Joe Johnston
Stars: Sam Neil, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern,