It’s been twenty years since Jurassic Park was released, and its influence can still be felt. This was the movie that changed the popular perception of dinosaurs, with the sluggish, reptilian beasts being replaced by an agile, bird like stable of creatures that have carved out a niche in the public’s imagination. What’s more, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel was the film that truly put CGI effects on the map; just about every major blockbuster since then, from Avatar to the Harry Potter series, owes it a debt. But even with all this in mind, the decision to rerelease Jurassic Park with added 3D effects (creatively titled Jurassic Park 3D) still involved some risk. After all, two decades is a long time in the world of visual effects, and there was no promise the original’s effects would hold up. Couple that with the addition of 3D effects and this could have gone down as a major disappointment; the fact that it avoids all these pitfalls only goes to serve as a testament to just how well everything about Jurassic Park, from the dinosaurs to the newly added 3D, works.
Jurassic Park is, at its core, a movie about dinosaurs: dinosaurs eating people, dinosaurs eating each other, dinosaurs learning how to open doors, and the filmmakers know this, making the story appropriately bare bones. Businessman John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has purchased an island where he has found a way to clone dinosaurs, with plans to turn the island into a zoo featuring the once-extinct beasts. He brings in paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) along with mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to inspect his park and endorse its safety measures. Despite the stringent, top of the line security measures, things, as they are wont to do, go horribly wrong. The island’s power gets knocked out, the dinosaurs escape, and soon the main characters are forced to find a way off the island while avoiding its many predators. While the performances and writing are all solid, the best thing about Jurassic Park’s story is that it doesn’t try to take center stage. Spielberg knows people are here for the dinosaurs, and makes sure the story doesn’t get in the way. This might seem like a backhanded complement, but it’s not; it takes skill to craft a story that does its job, and the fact Jurassic Park’s story avoids being too bloated is a testament to how much care truly went into this movie.
Once the dinosaurs make their appearance, it becomes clear this same care went into the special effects. Even after two decades, that first shot of a Brachiosaurus (a long necked plant eater, for those not in the know), looming over the human characters like a living skyscraper, still inspires awe. The CG effects blend seamlessly into the world, with the dinosaurs having a subtlety and realism of movement that rivals even modern day CGI. But one of the best parts about the computer effects is how judiciously they’re used. CG and practical effects work in tandem to bring these dinosaurs to life, avoiding the excesses of more recent films like Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, where an overreliance on CG turns what would be taut action scenes into cartoony spectacles that can easily leave the audience bored. The same principle of restraint goes into Jurassic Park’s 3D effects. Bad 3D can easily sink a movie, acting more as a distraction than anything. But Jurassic Park’s restoration team, who retroactively added the 3D to the film, uses it to make an even more immersive experience. The film becomes a diorama come to life; instead of a movie screen, the audience finds itself looking through a glass panel at the zoo, with the dinosaurs just on the other side.
If Jurassic Park 3D proves anything, it’s that the 1993 original has truly earned a place in film history. Much like Jaws or Aliens, it’s the consummate monster movie, with Stan Winston’s puppetry cooperating with nascent computer graphics to make an experience that still manages to excite after all these years. While they haven’t made any other changes to the movie besides the addition of 3D, it quickly becomes apparent that nothing needed to be changed. Despite tickets costing a hefty fourteen dollars, Jurassic Park 3D justifies its price tag, staying relevant and, most importantly, entertaining, even after twenty years.