You're Older. Jurassic Park Isn't
Jurassic Park has hit cinemas again, bringing with it an eerie sense of déjà vu for 90’s kids around the country. Breaking box-office records in 1993, Jurassic Park is currently sitting snugly in fourth place in this week’s takings, beating out the likes of the puzzlingly popular Oz: The Great and Powerful. It’s evident Steven Spielberg still holds the throne in the kingdom of Hollywood, with his trident of Oscars and impressive beard, beating back younger competitors like the perpetually irritating Michael Bay. The film’s original audiences are now adults with dangerous levels of movie-cynicism in their blood, who scoff at the thought of a fourth Transformers film or another Die Hard. You can’t blame them, they’ve had to sit through three Star Wars prequels, each more abysmal than the last. But catching sight of the words ‘Jurassic Park 3D’ resonates with that gawking pre-teen in the 90’s. And you can safely assume they still secretly own all of the film’s original merchandise. Jurassic Park’s 20th anniversary should make us feel old. The special effects should look subpar and the scientific basis of the plot should be completely unsound. But they aren’t. As soon as the lights dim you’re completely struck by just how relevant the film remains to be; both as a hallmark in special effects and a poignant critique on the rampaging advances of modern science. Jurassic Park is like Helen Mirren: she looks as good today as she did 20 years ago.
It’s strange to think that the turn of 1993 heralded a new era of special effects. Now a commonplace occurrence, it’s difficult to imagine the filmic landscape without the wonders of CGI. A vast majority of the biggest films in the last two decades would be non-existent, had Spielberg not been the pedantic filmmaker he is. CGI technology was ground-breaking during the production of Jurassic Park; a completely unique avenue for special effects and one met with its fair share of derisive scrutiny. The original prospect was for Spielberg and crew to use stop-motion dinosaurs, a technology dating back to the first days of monster movies, epitomized in King Kong. But Spielberg was constantly dissatisfied with the results, as they didn’t strike him as being real. So he commissioned the technical wizard Dennis Muren (who bears more than a slight resemblance to Doc Brown), to create a viable alternative. Though James Cameron had utilised it with a hammy water tentacle in The Abyss and with the shape-shifting T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Jurassic Park was implementing CGI to an unparalleled extent.
While this garish display of unabashed nerdism is painfully funny, it made the film’s dinosaurs much more believable than they should have been. Spielberg and his team had jumped a step in the evolution of special effects. Animating the dinosaurs required a minimum of two hours of rendering per frame. In total, Jurassic Park contains 50 shots into which computer generated dinosaurs had to be inserted.
The rest relied on Stan Winston’s animatronic creations, chiefly the 6 metre, 5,9000 kilogram T. Rex used to tear apart the main characters in their cars and blow your three-year-old mind. Winston was a master in the field, having previously worked on Predator and the Terminator series. This combination earned the crew Oscars in 1994 and branded them the pioneers of mainstream CGI.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a then 32-year-old Peter Jackson was having his childhood dreams realised. Jurassic Park presented him with the technology to create the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. It’s staggering to learn that, far surpassing Spielberg’s attempts, Jackson used a total of 2730 effects shots in the LOTR trilogy. Nowadays it’s hard to come across any big-budget movie that consciously shies away from the allure of CGI. But they’re hard-pressed to outdo Muren’s original efforts and only a few have really improved on the technology. The worst of modern CGI I hear you ask? Deep Blue Sea. Take it back to the premiere of Jaws and you still have one fake-looking fish. And yes, this is Samuel L. Jackson making a rousing speech in a diving suit.
Ignoring the complete redundancy of the 3D additives, Jurassic Park 3D is a warm and welcome reminder that though we’re 20 years older, special effects haven’t become much more impressive.