Where and when did you first see Jurassic Park? It isn't exactly an experience one soon forgets. I was old enough to see it in the theater when it first released in 1993, and it blew my 12-year-old mind. Twenty years later, experiencing Steven Spielberg's epic adventure once more from a theater seat feels like old times, but it elicits one overwhelming reaction: They really, really don't make movies like this any more.
Specifically, fun, smart, engaging visual spectacles with heart, grandeur and adventure -- movies featuring fantastic performances from every character, even the children. (Who am I kidding? This is Spielberg -- especially the children). For the most part, as film technology has blossomed, the substance within the frames has been overshadowed by style, and the 3D post-conversion of a 20-year-old film serves as the brightest possible light bulb moment when it comes to that. Despite all the advances in CGI, those dinosaurs still look amazing. Even with the now-prevalent use of 3D cameras, Spielberg's framing and keen visual eye leaves the products of all that fancy, modern technology in his Paleolithic dust.
I generally don't endorse the 3D post-conversion re-release of classics; it feels like a gimmick, leads me to babble elderly sentiments that begin with phrases like, "Kids these days!" But if it’s what needs to be done to allow younger generations to experience classic cinema, I'm willing to call it a draw (to a point). In Jurassic Park's case, what the audience experience is an incandescent and necessary part of the fun, from the spine-tingling moment the title card appears on a black screen, John Williams' iconic score thrumming beneath, to Dr. Alan Grant's (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler's (Laura Dern) first glimpse of the Brachiosaurus (goosebumps, to this day still so many goosebumps), to the thrilling T-Rex attack (one of the most masterful and effective action sequences ever) to the Velociraptor kitchen scene, to the swell of music as our heroes depart in a helicopter. There is nothing about this film that isn't utterly thrilling, especially when you're privy to the reactions of those around you. There's something so old-school and pure about living vicariously with this film, both visually, thanks to the immersive power of the 3D, and physically, thanks to your theater-mates.
As far as the conversion goes, the film really does look phenomenal. Spielberg's mise-en-scène is gorgeous, and it's never more apparent than when seen in 3D. Every shot is layered with incredible depth, barring a few moments when certain out-of-focus foreground objects are a bit invasive (the Gallimimus stampede is a good example; grass in the lower portion of the screen distracts from the action at times), the technology actually enhances his vision. The dinosaurs still hold up nicely, too. The only antiquated technology-induced giggling happens when Lexi (Ariana Richards) hops into a driver-less Jurassic Park Jeep and marvels at its touchscreen. Yet, in an inadvertent, full-circle way, by the time she has to hack into the mainframe of the park's system, you're too harrowed and adrenaline-riddled to laugh about the outdated computer and operating system. Talk about effective filmmaking.
It's also fun to revisit so many talented actors: Jeff Goldbum is charismatic as ever, Dern remains splendid, Samuel L. Jackson is the early version of a personality we now intimately know and love, Wayne Knight is gleefully bumbling and seedy (his escape scene never ceases to make me tense up), and Joseph Mazzello, in true Spielbergian fashion, is a perfectly charming, funny, one-liner-spewing miniature protagonist. However, Neill is the one true revelation, if only because it's boggling that he isn't one of the biggest movie stars in the world thanks to this film. Sure, he's worked steadily since then, but the man is so, so good. Legendary levels of good.
I'm certain 12-year-old me would get a kick out of the fact that I'm saying this now, but -- just in case it bears repeating -- Jurassic Park 3D is absolutely worth the price of admission. Who am I kidding, you were already planning to see it. Hold on to your butts, folks, your expectations of big-screen entertainment are about to evolve.
Jurassic Park 3D opens Friday.