Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jurassic Park

The first and biggest issue I have and have had for the past 17 years is that Jurassic Park is not considered the greatest movie of all time on any list but mine own.

First we will briefly speak about the novel by Michael Crichton, and the screenplay adaptation. Move onto the film's technical achievements and then the film's creative and aesthetic aspects. I think I'll finish by talking about why I love it.

Michael Crichton has written some groundbreaking stuff in his day. May he rest in piece. I consider his work to be the pinnacle of science fiction. The emphasis on the science makes the fiction all the more believable. Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov defined the genre however, when I read their work I think of fantasy. Stories in the future that are unattainable to us here in the present. Crichton's work makes me believe, still to this day, that dinosaurs might make a comeback and space bacteria might kill us all, or not.

Jurassic Park is broken down into sections that are defined by Ian Malcom speaking about chaos theory and the sense of foreboding that goes along with it. This is a distraction and hard to grasp for a 9 year old wanting to read about dinosaurs, however even when I first held the book in my hands it all became clear, halfway through the novel. When I reread it I have the exact same experience. A series of small vignettes explaining history of everyone involved, small to minor characters, as well as all of the science and politics involved in creating the story that takes place in three days on an Island. These are extremely complex ideas - cloning, chaos theory, the politics of running a company and the corporate intrigue that goes along with it, evolution, migratory patterns, animal behavior, computer processing, and dinosaurs - and he helps me understand and comprehend every single aspect of it.* Also, the novel begins with rumors of El Chupacabra. 

In adapting the novel to a screenplay someone decided that throwing 75% of all of that work out would be a good idea. Then they decided to compress all of that into a few scenes, one of which includes a talking cartoon strand of DNA during something thats kind of like a ride.

What a great plan. After using those same vignettes for a few select expository scenes, which are extremely quotable, and not only give you an idea of exactly what is going on but provide a huge sense of the danger, adventure and excitement which will soon be coming, we begin the real story and get on with it. We see our first dinosaurs and experience the joy the characters are feeling at actually seeing these beasts in real life. Who as a child did not love dinosaurs? And not since Harryhausen was anyone capable of suspending disbelief that long. This will be a great segue so in closing, Crichton and David Koepp, butchered the novel and created a perfect adaptation that is a perfect ADAPTATION for a film, that leaves in everything important and wonderful and is not lacking of the original novel's brilliance. The book is not better than the film simply different.

Back to the segue. Astonishment and wonder. Sam Neil and Laura Dern's reactions help sell the special effects and we buy into the device one hundred percent from then on. However, the performances would be over the top, if the special effects weren't spot on. THe blending of CGI and Puppetry creates a perfect mix of beauty and awe. The fear comes later. It makes me wonder why in work that is being produced today, by much of the same people i.e. the prequels and Crystal Skull we have effects that take us out of the action. Is it acting, story, directing, or simply the use of puppets that make me feel like these creatures actually exist? Maybe I just love dinosaurs.

Back to the opening scenes. I think these best describe how I feel about Spielberg and how he sets up his shots. The composition, the use of light and movement, the angles and pacing of these scenes are beautiful interesting and help me ease into a world that does not exist to the point that I believe everything.

The most negative thing I am going to say is that all of John Williams themes sound the same. Superman, Indy, Star Wars etc. can perfectly meld into one another and are a little bland. Out of context. In context, they are perfect, they overshadow the action for about 7 seconds in each movie and only then it heightens the emotion beyond all recognition. Also, Elfman and Zimmer are in the same boat. Jurassic Park's score stands alone in terms of it's beauty and emotion and fear. he is a genius and this is my favorite overall score of his. Not my favorite theme but throughout the entire movie I think it is consistently the best. No note seems out of place and I never feel like there is background music happening.

I feel like Spielberg not only spends a great deal of post production story boarding and planning, but also casting. If I was going to direct a crazy visually driven action movie about dinosaurs eating everyone and want to be taking seriously, I would need some great actors wouldn't I. Every actor fits smoothly into their role and is believable as who they are, no big name, and no persona bigger than who they are, overshadows the acting. Sublimation is the best word I can think of to describe the entire cast. Name one week link. I mean really, Samuel L. Jackson, one of the biggest personalities in Hollywood, plays a small computer technician and his first line is heard over a loudspeaker, and he allows the other names to steal the show. Attenborough, one of the best and worst directors of all time, is charming endearing and powerful as John Hammond. Every time, i meet someone named John I have to quote, "Hello John, Hello John, Oh Hello John." Goldblum = awesome. And Sam Neil and Laura Dern created such a casual comfortable relationship with one another where you know in a second everything that they hold dear and you truly believe that they are capable of surviving. It's as if Alan Grant is a grand nephew of Indy. Bob Peck as Muldoon, to me feels like R. Lee Ermey. Someone playing who they actually are. Finally words cannot describe Wayne Knight. Everyone found humor and high stakes in every page of the script

All of these are reasons that this movie is perfect. But why do I love it? I love Jurassic Park because I feel like a kid again whenever I watch it. I love Dinosaurs and for 129 minutes they are real. I am transported to a world of wonder and imagination, horror mixed with joy. And also because everything in the Park's gift shop was available for purchase at Target. Yes, everything.

*See Christopher Nolan's INCEPTION for a more recent example of complex ideas and stories being told by an expert. 

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