The “Jurassic” Chronicles: A Look Back

With Jurassic World hitting theaters this weekend, some may not be familiar with its predecessors. Sure, Jurassic Park is one of the most popular and iconic movies of all time, but its sequels didn’t leave a good taste in a lot of mouths. So before the world goes to the movies to experience motorcycle raptor bros, let’s take a look at the entire movie canon of Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park (1993) by Matthew Goudreau

While I would not call it a bad film by any means, I find more and more flaws with Jurassic Park as I age. That doesn’t mean that I find no enjoyment out of a re-watch. There are moments that still wow to me this day. The practical animatronics and digital artistry sprinkled throughout still hold up. It’s a fun popcorn film that delivers as both a family adventure and a suspenseful thriller. It’s in this dichotomy where I take issue with the film as a whole. In comparison to the novel by Michael Crichton, Steven Spielberg’s film is a bit of a mess.

At points, it wants to be a blockbuster for all ages. There are numerous moments designed for shock and awe at the spectacle of seeing dinosaurs on the big screen. I have no problem with this, but there are also scenes evoking the suspense of other Spielberg films such as Duel and Jaws. You can’t have your cake and eat it too with a film like Jurassic Park. I think the film works better when it is playing toward suspense. Not only does it fit the darker tone of the novel, but those moments are the true highlights of the film. The raptors are effective as scary predators until the climax, when they are defeated by two kids and the most light-footed T-Rex in existence. I’m not looking for a lot of logic in a blockbuster, but I am still baffled at how the T-Rex sneaks into the observatory to save Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and company. I’m equally baffled as to how John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) could not have suspected Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) of having ulterior motives, given his demeanor. Unlike prior Spielberg films, the human characters are not very interesting, save for Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Nedry. I attribute this more to the acting than I do the characterization and screenwriting.

Compared to Jaws and even E.T. to an extent, Jurassic Park feels like a saturated adaptation of the original novel to appeal to Spielberg’s blockbuster sensibilities. I don’t love any of the Jurassic Park films, but I enjoy the third movie the most. It’s definitely not high art, but it makes no presumptions about being nothing more than a B monster film.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) by Jon Espino

The Lost World: Jurassic Park suffers from sequel syndrome. It desperately tries to recapture the wonder and sense of adventure that the first one pioneered. Like chaotician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum returning) would agree, the first Jurassic Park flapped its wings and had a ripple effect four years later (and four years after that with Jurassic Park III), creating the potentially disastrous sequel The Lost World. This time around we follow possibly the sexiest creature (aside from the Raptors) that was in the first film, as he has fallen from grace both socially and academically after trying to tell people about his ruinous experience on Isla Nublar. We also meet one of his previously-mentioned children (Vanessa Lee Chester) and one of his girlfriends (Julianne Moore, who thankfully did Boogie Nights the same year) as he tries to warn her about the dino danger on sister island Isla Sorna. Of course he gets trapped on that island with her and his daughter, but wait, it gets better.

One of the biggest differences between the original and the sequel is the tone. The former retained a family friendlier tone by shying away from showing the gore and carnage. Why? Because it didn’t need it to get its point across. Lost World, on the other hand, embraces it’s darkness and shows the brutality of it all. Lost World also explores the darkness inside of humans, and their bestial nature, but Jurassic Park was originally all about feeding archeological curiosity and the spirit of exploration/survival. Now it’s just all about the horror, and a little of the wonder has died from the franchise because of it. That is, until Jurassic World, which, believe me, brings some of that wonder back.

Jurassic Park III (2001) by Jon Winkler

Believe it or not, Jurassic Park III is one of the earliest memories I have of seeing a movie in theaters and I thought it was AWESOME…then again, I was seven years old, so it’s quite easy to see the flaws of the movie now that I’m twenty-one.

Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Captain America: The First Avenger), with Spielberg as an executive producer, Jurassic Park III follows Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill reprising the role), nearly too broke to dig up bones. Fortunately, a married couple (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) wants to hire Dr. Grant and his assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola) to fly them over Isla Sorna. When they crash on the island, it’s a fight for survival, both of the characters’ well-being, and the intelligence of the audience.

Seriously, this is not only the dumbest of the Jurassic Park movies but maybe one of the dumbest action movies EVER. How does a prepubescent kid last eight weeks on an abandoned dinosaur island? How does a giant, vicious dinosaur break through a giant metal fence but not a human sized metal door? HOW DOES A BONE THAT MAKES HOLLOW WHISTLING SOUNDS FEND OFF RAPTORS?! Another problem is the CGI-overhaul, making all the dinosaurs look incredibly fake. What made the first installment so impressive was its mixture of practical and visual effects, along with how Spielberg paced the dino action out between scenes. Jurassic Park III is poorly paced, with too many fake dinosaurs and too little emotion or character development, even if it’s only an hour and half long. Spielberg knew how to balance character-driven storytelling and big-budget action. Joe Johnston did not (not yet anyway, because Captain America was pretty good).

Love it or hate it, people want more dinosaurs chomping at the bit. Let’s see if the adventure 65 million years in the making can still be enjoyable twenty-two years later.

Jurassic World hits theaters June 12, 2015

Jon Winkler is a 22-year-old movie/music nerd in Southampton, NY by way of Merrimack, NH. He loves watching, listening to, dissecting, mocking and talking about movies, television, music, video games and comics. He enjoys a good cheeseburger, believes CDs and vinyl are superior, likes to make people smile if they're having a rough day, and is rumored to be Batman (unconfirmed).