Jurassic Park ✮✮✮

Lou Lumenick, over at the New York Post, reminded me this week that my San Jose Mercury News review of “Jurassic Park” was the first to run in the country, if not the world. It appeared a week before the 1993 sci-fi adventure opened, causing much gnashing of teeth in the Black Tower at Universal. Seems the studio had promised Newsweek that their, ahem, pre-opening cover story-review would be first. Here are excerpts from my review of the dino-epic, which returned this week reformatted in IMAX and 3-D.

Jurassic Park — The Ride

by Glenn Lovell

Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton, past masters at high-concept thrills, have done a powerful amount of supposing in “Jurassic Park” and come up with what everyone and his cousin are calling the Tyrannosaurus rex of the summer rip-’em-ups.

Unveiled on Universal’s back lot Wednesday, the $60 million condensation of the Crichton bestseller about a park with for-real, bio-engineered dinosaurs is hardly in the same class with Spielberg’s “Jaws” and “E.T.” Its story is too thin; its characters stick-like and predictable. The direction, although competent, feels forced and mechanical, as if the filmmaker’s heart and mind were elsewhere.

Thank goodness, then, for the sharp-toothed foragers, a seamless combination of life-size models and computer-generated action sequences. The dinosaurs, seen from afar in herds and in drooling close-up as they prepare to attack, are so lifelike and fluid they upstage their puny human prey. . . .

But then, we don’t go to Spielberg movies in search of Chekhovian complexity. The ride’s the thing. And in this case, it’s a killer-coaster with enough charging and sneering carnivores to throw a scare into kiddies and parents alike. (Though not as lip-smackingly gruesome as the book, this sci-fi fantasy repeatedly places a 9- and 12-year-old in mortal jeopardy and, according to producer Kathleen Kennedy, should be off-limits to children 8 and under.)

And the effects, which combine animation, computer graphics, puppetry (the sick triceratops was operated by a team of 25 puppeteers) and articulated mock-ups? They’re beyond masterful. The dinosaurs, with one or two exceptions, are so detailed and fluid, you’ll believe you’ve
fallen through a time warp and awakened 135 million years ago. . . .

Spielberg wasn’t on hand for the press send-off of his latest fantasy. It’s now obvious why. His contribution as storyteller was minimal. The guys who brought the big guys back from extinction are the stars of this presold vacation biggie. They’re the real magicians.

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