Does Jurassic Park still stand up after 18 years?

News Seb Patrick
27 Sep 2011 - 10:15

Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is back on the big-screen where it belongs, but have the years been kind to it? The answer, Seb writes, is a definite yes…

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. The recent trend for re-releasing classic blockbusters of the 80s and 90s to be enjoyed by a new generation of cinema-goers is all well and good, but it does leave these films open to the question of whether or not they stand up to being seen on a big screen alongside the current crop of expensive, flashy, CGI-driven IMAX spectacles.

With Jurassic Park, that concern is palpable. In its time, it was arguably the greatest blockbuster of them all – and purely factually, the biggest. Really, the biggest film of all time, a fact that’s easy to forget given that it wasn’t very long before James Cameron and his toy ships came along to take that title.

But a lot has happened in those 18 years since. A film ostensibly on the same scale as Jurassic Park in terms of budget and visual effects ambition comes along every week of every summer, doesn’t it? On a gigantic, digitally-projected 2011-era screen with state-of-the-art sound, can Spielberg’s opus stand toe-to-toe with the Avatars, Inceptions and Potters of the world?

Fortunately, it becomes apparent within minutes of the film starting that the question is nonsense. Jurassic Park doesn’t just stand toe-to-toe with 21st century blockbusters – it stamps on them like the foot of the T-Rex squelching in the mud during its most memorable and revered set-piece.

The overfamiliarity bred by seeing it on TV every bank holiday and at Christmas doesn’t even damage the slower-paced opening act. The adrenalin surge from the viscerally terrifying pre-credits raptor cage sequence is enough to carry the viewer through some admittedly lame dialogue and the first appearance of Richard Attenborough’s inexplicably appalling Scottish accent.

But from the moment we get our first proper look at the dinos, what remains is pretty much the greatest thing you could ever hope to see blown up on an enormo-screen with auditorium-shaking sound. And what’s astonishing is that, despite being mostly created on machines with less processing power than an iPhone, the dinosaurs still look amazing on the big screen today.

The intelligent deployment of animatronics to complement the computer imagery in the necessary places undoubtedly helps (it means that in a number of scenes there’s a genuine tangibility to the animals that simply wouldn’t exist in a film that rendered everything in CG), but it’s simply the case that the very first time we see Alan Grant pointing in awe at a Brachiosaurus… we believe it.

(Maybe it’s because we want to believe it. The fact that Jurassic Park is specifically about dinosaurs and not another form of non-existent creature is undoubtedly one of the reasons it caught the public’s imagination so strongly – but from then on, we’re irretrievably hooked into the film’s fantasy.)

What’s undeniable is that from the first major set-piece – the T-Rex attack – onwards, we’re launched into a thrill-ride so intense, and so unmatched by any film since, that it wouldn’t even matter if the effects stood up to scrutiny or not. Spielberg, the modern-day master of tension, simply does not let the audience rest for a second. From the end of that first T-Rex encounter, it’s only minutes before the heart-stopping jeep chase sequence; later, we’ve got the nail-biting episode of Tim climbing the soon-to-switch-on electric fence happening at the same time as Ellie Sattler being menaced by velociraptors.

At times, it’s almost too much to take at once – and this sense is only magnified when shown on a screen that can portray the bigger dinosaurs at pretty much their actual size.

Indeed, as a promotional tool for the film’s upcoming Blu-Ray release, putting it back out in cinemas is arguably one of the worst things that Universal could have done. Sure, some people have pretty impressive HD televisions and surround sound systems nowadays. But for a film like this, they still can’t compete.

If anything, seeing this majestic feat of cinematic power in its intended form once more might make you never want to see it on TV again. You might well feel like lobbying for it to have a permanent residency at your local multiplex instead.

Jurassic Park is on limited release at UK cinemas now.

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