I can’t even guess at how many times I’ve seen the three original Jurassic Park films. It will take a long time for me to catch up with the Jurassic World trilogy. Heck, the third one isn’t even due till 2021. Here are the “better” and “best” films—IMHO, of course.
#3 – THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)
Steven Spielberg returned for another turn at directing the second film in the trilogy. Loosely based on another Michael Crichton novel (REAL loosely based), The Lost World: Jurassic Park did well at the box office but did not resonate with critics. Still, this profitable film led to the inevitable Jurassic Park III, which I wrote about last week.
The film brought back Jeff Goldblum as chaos theorist Ian Malcolm in the lead role, as well as Richard Attenborough (cameo) as John Hammond, the park’s creator. Hammond has lost control of InGen to his slimy nephew, Peter Ludlow, who wants to duplicate the theme park in San Diego. (Dinosaurs in my back yard!) To Malcolm’s surprise there is another Costa Rican island, Isla Sorna, where numerous genetically engineered dinosaurs roam freely. Hammond wants Malcolm to join a team that includes his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), and document the dinosaurs in order to generate support for making the island a sanctuary for the creatures and stopping Ludlow from stocking his proposed park with them. Malcolm agrees to go, but only to rescue Harding from what he is certain will turn into a disaster.
There is a lot that I liked in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, including the improved CGI since the first film. One of my favorite scenes in the entire series occurs early in the film: the attack by Mr. and Mrs. T-Rex that results in the team’s high tech trailer left dangling off a high cliff. Also, the conflict between the two diverse teams is palpable, even when, of necessity, they join forces in order to reach InGen’s abandoned headquarters. And I may be biased here, but I thought that having the T-Rex attack my hometown was pretty cool—although some of the scenes were rather silly (and much of it was actually filmed near Los Angeles).
I also didn’t care for the subplot of Malcolm’s preteen daughter, Kelly, stowing away on the trailer and joining the team on Isla Sorna. A couple of kids did the same thing in Crichton’s novel, but they contributed to the plot in a way that the daughter did not. I found her rather annoying.
#2 – JURASSIC WORLD (2015)
I did the Snoopy dance when I found out that, after a fourteen-year hiatus, a new movie in the Jurassic Park franchise would be released. And wow, Jurassic World did not disappoint! Audience reviews were uniformly positive, and film critics gave it high marks, though many compared it to the “smart shark” movie, Deep Blue Sea. (Another of my favorites, so nothing wrong with that—though I think the comparison was a reach.) With advanced CGI, a solid cast, and a good story, the film grossed over $1.6 billion, which made a lot of executives quite happy.
The dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, has been built on Isla Nublar, the same island where Jurassic Park had been built—but never got to open, given the disaster portrayed in the original film. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the park’s operations manager, and with enough security to protect a couple of Third World nations, things have run smoothly for years.
But a perfect storm of problems is about to hit the park as Claire’s two young nephews arrive for a visit. Seems like a public with a short attention span, as well as corporate sponsors, demand “more teeth” every few years, so geneticists have come up with the Indominus Rex. This “monster,” as park CEO Simon Masrani calls it, has DNA from T-Rex, cuttlefish (for camouflage), velociraptor, and quite a few others. It has been isolated since birth with no social interaction, is quite vicious, and has the intelligence of the velociraptors, which we first saw exhibited in Jurassic Park III.
Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has worked with four raptors since their birth. They are highly intelligent, especially the one he named Blue. Owen clashes with InGen’s security chief, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who visualizes military applications for the raptors.
Claire asks Owen to examine the enclosure in which the Indominus is kept for possible breaches. The intelligent creature manages to escape, killing a couple of employees. Owen survives the attack.
With the deadly monster free to roam Jurassic World, the remainder of the film is now a breathless rollercoaster of action and peril. It kills or injures every human and dinosaur that it comes across, and it chases Claire’s nephews in particular as she and Owen try desperately to find them. Thousands of park visitors are at risk (including Jimmy Buffett), and as a last resort Hoskins orders Owen to release his raptors to kill the Indominus. Bad idea…
Jurassic World revived the once-fading franchise, and it made a lot of dinosaur-loving folks happy—including this old kid.
#1 – Jurassic Park (1993)
There is a scene early in Jurassic Park that pretty much explains why this film is rated the best in the series, not only by me but on so many other lists. Rich guy John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has recruited paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) to certify that his theme park on Isla Nublar is safe and get a lawyer named Gennaro off his back. After reaching the island they are traveling in a jeep to the main building when Alan and Ellie look up. The expressions of wonder on their faces as they see a lone Brachiosaurus and then numerous dinosaurs at a watering hole reflects the amazement that both regular moviegoers and critics felt when the dinosaurs first appeared. Wow, they looked so freaking real!
Steven Spielberg’s film combined new CGI technology from Industrial Light & Magic with the late Stan Winston’s animatronic dinosaurs. Gone were the days where dinosaurs were represented by blown-up shots of iguanas, geckos, and other lizards. Also, the herky-jerky stop-action shots of models. We were introduced to a new form of cinematic magic, and movie making would never be the same again.
Ironically it is technology, in the form of the human element, that drives the exciting story. As Alan and Ellie, along with our old friend Ian Malcolm, the lawyer, and Hammond’s two grandkids, begin a tour of the park in self-driving cars, Dennis Nedry, a geeky computer programmer, turns off some of the systems in order to cover his theft of dinosaur embryos, which he plans on delivering to a rival company for a potload of money. Everything goes to hell, of course, as more systems shut down, some of them controlling the electrified fences that contain the most dangerous dinosaurs. Nedry is killed by a Dilophosaurus on his way to the dock, where a ship is leaving for the mainland. An escaped T-Rex kills Gennaro, injures Malcolm, and sends Alan Grant into the jungle with the two kids.
Given that the film is over a quarter-century old, you’ve more than likely seen it. The non-stop action that drives the remainder of Jurassic Park made it the classic that it is today (91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), with a box office gross of over a billion dollars. In 1993. Amazing.
I’ve said it many times in recent decades, and I’ll say it again here: Thank you, Steven Spielberg. Keep those dinosaurs coming!