Fine Dino

At last! A big-budget summer movie that actually lives up to the hype.
Jurassic Park is the cinematic equivalent of a doctoral thesis on special effects wizardry from director Steven Spielberg. It's also a heart-stopping, jaw-dropping, eye-popping spectacular that supplies all the vicarious thrills of a trip to Disney World for a fraction of the price. And last but not least, it's probably one big advertisement for a future addition to the Universal Studios Tour. (You have to admire the audacity A a real-life amusement park featuring fake dinosaurs based on an imaginary amusement park populated with real ones.)

Buy the ticket. Enjoy the ride. It's a measure of the movie's success that you won't have time to analyze it once the thing gets rolling.

The movie's title (taken from the Michael Crichton book of the same name) refers to an amusement park constructed on the fictional Isla Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica. This is no ordinary tourist trap; there are no water slides, glorified roller coasters, or underpaid college students masquerading as cartoon characters. The attractions here are a tad more compelling.

Sir Richard Attenborough, in a bit of inspired casting, is John Hammond, a wealthy and benevolent developer (now there's an extinct species) who has created his own version of Fantasy Island. (Sir Richard, a knighted Commander of the British Empire who began his film career as an actor but went on to garner more acclaim as the director of Gandhi, steps in front of the cameras for the first time since 1979.) Hammond is Walt Disney with an edge. (You can bet the folks at Universal, who bankrolled the film, relished the prospect of poking a little fun at Uncle Walt. But, to Spielberg's credit, he doesn't take any cheap shots.) He's taken the science of DNA cloning to a new level. Like much of Crichton's (and Spielberg's) work, some of the underlying scientific concepts are valid, but their screen treatment is grossly exaggerated. Hammond's ability to clone dinosaurs from DNA extracted from prehistoric mosquitoes preserved in amber is a classic example. Contemporary science is nowhere near such a capability.

Improbable as it may seem, after going through all the trouble and expense of cloning dinosaurs back from extinction and customizing an entire island to serve as their new habitat, the billionaire suddenly finds himself in need of additional funds and investor approval. To that end he imports weasely corporate attorney Donald Gennaro to inspect the money-making machine firsthand and report back to shareholders. Martin Ferrero imbues the part with just a hint of the slime he brought to his recurring role as Izzy the snitch on Miami Vice.

A sleazy lawyer at risk is not going to evoke much sympathy from an audience, so Spielberg gives the counselor some company. Hammond invites renowned paleontologist (ever notice how all of Spielberg's scientists are famous?) Dr. Alan Grant and his colleague/love interest Dr. Ellie Sattler, a paleobotanist, to check out his version of Eden. Sam Neill and Laura Dern are competent but unremarkable as the stock Spielberg leads A stoic yet vulnerable when it counts. In a move that is sure to thrill feminists, Spielberg paints Sattler as a nurturer who really wants to have kids. Hell, she probably only went to paleobotany school so she could be close to her man. Dr. Grant, on the other hand, is a serious scientist. He doesn't have time for family values.

As contrived as the consulting scientist shtick is, it's nothing compared to the arbitrary inclusion of mathematician Ian Malcolm, broadly portrayed by Jeff Goldblum like a cross between a hotel bar pickup artist and an eccentric academician. Malcolm natters on about his pet "Chaos Theory" (shit happens) when he isn't putting the make on a surprisingly receptive Dr. Sattler. Malcolm also serves as Crichton's and Spielberg's mouthpiece; he's the one who articulates the filmmakers' view that the viability of DNA cloning is not as big an issue as its moral acceptability, and that science's attempts to control nature are doomed to eventual failure. Fortunately, Goldblum gets to leaven the heavy statements with the film's best one-liners; unfortunately, his character's connection to the basic storyline is even more tenuous than the paleo-folks'. When his existence threatens to jack up the Grant-Sattler romance with some sexual tension, he's incapacitated by a rampaging Tyrannosaurus rex and spends the last two-thirds of the movie on his back. Even less-sophisticated moviegoers will find themselves wondering, "If he's got nothing to do with the story, why did they include him in the first place?"

No Spielberg romp is complete without the kids. This time out the imperiled innocents are John Hammond's grandchildren, Alexis and Tim, whom the old man has invited to join the inaugural tour of his artificial world. You'd think a guy about to test a ride through a wild and primitive land inhabited by towering, prehistoric meat eaters would work out the bugs in his transportation and security systems before risking his own flesh and blood in a test drive. But what kind of movie would that make? Spielberg learned long ago that audiences don't really care how or why the kids got there, as long as they find themselves in danger quickly enough. Besides, he needed some youngsters to kick-start Dr. Grant's paternal instinct and get the warm fuzzies flowing.

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