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25 Years Later: ‘Jurassic Park’ Still Towers Over its Sequels in Imagination, Contemplation, and Blockbuster Fun

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Looking back at the fantastical adventure film that spurred a franchise

As far as directorial triumphs go, the fact that Steven Spielberg released both Schindler’s List (1993) and Jurassic Park (1993) in the same calendar year is quite the feat. Remarkably, it speaks to his testament as a filmmaker that he had the ability to weave a heart-wrenching, sprawling Holocaust drama, then simultaneously switch gears to direct digital dinosaurs.

Jurassic Park (1993) , Steven Spielberg and Joseph Mazzello

Photo by Murray Close/Getty Images – © 2011 Murray Close

Dreaming beyond your means is arguably what Spielberg does best.

In fact, Spielberg’s career has had constant shifts in genre and mood. His latest effort, Ready Player One (2018), rendered mixed critical success, but the subject of the film alone shows Spielberg’s strengths as a storyteller: one of a boy escaping his circumstances through imagination. This theme is a line that runs through the majority of his filmography, in everything from Saving Private Ryan (1998) to ET: The Extra Terrestrial (1982). War heroes and suburban children of divorce both rise to challenges that seem impossible. Whether the main character is rescuing a soldier in danger or returning an alien to his home planet, they reach their goal through sheer will and strength of heart.

Admittedly, this sentiment might seem heavy handed, but dreaming beyond your means is arguably what Spielberg does best. It’s what led to a Best Picture winner about remembrance bringing audiences to tears six months after a thrilling dinosaur romp terrified the same crowds — an innocuous romp that captured the imaginations of adults and children around the world, sweeping in a blockbusting $1 billion worth of ticket sales.

The majority of Jurassic Park spends time establishing the characters and their differing moral philosophies.

In a flurry of violence, Jurassic Park opens with a velociraptor tearing a (probably underpaid) park employee to shreds. Comparatively, the majority of the rest of the film spends time away from the dinosaurs, establishing characters and their differing moral philosophies.

Paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) is recruited as an expert to sign off on the safety of the prehistoric island, as is his partner Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), a passionate paleobotanist. Neill brings a likable charm to the bemused everyman of Alan Grant, but Dern undoubtedly steals the spotlight in a slew of scenes — namely in response to Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum at his best), as he waxes poetic on the nature of evolution:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Dr. Sattler: Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.

Jurassic Park (1993) Laura Dern and Sam Neill tend to an injured triceratops

Photo by Universal Pictures/Getty Images – © 2012 Getty Images

Jurassic Park is about more than just a raptor’s wrath; it’s a cautionary tale about the greed of men.

Park proprietor John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) plays a key role in bringing the cast together. While his charismatic presence and love for his grandchildren, Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards), prevent him from becoming a nefarious caricature, an undeniable hunger for legacy and prestige shines through in him. Indeed, Jurassic Park is about more than just a raptor’s wrath; it’s a cautionary tale about the greed of men.

Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) is Hammond’s foil, a slapstick-y slob with baseless integrity. The prattling technician is intent on exchanging dinosaur embryos for cash-filled briefcases. Though opposed in personality, greed makes Nedry and Hammond reluctant bedfellows as cautionary figures in Spielberg’s tale. There are repeated warnings against the scope of the park’s operations, and contempt for the careless way Hammond plays with nature, prompting Malcolm to posit: “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Sam Neill in Jurassic Park

© 2012 – Universal Pictures

The artistic merit of the Jurassic Park sequels will always pale in comparison to their predecessor.

Consequently, Malcolm could direct the same statement towards Hollywood’s current penchant for rebooting blockbusters of years past, including the series Jurassic Park itself would spur. This franchise would go on to span multiple decades with continued relevance. In fairness, though the sequels have garnered middling critical reviews, the reboot/sequel, Jurassic World (2015), was a financial success. It also renewed long dormant audience interest in the Jurassic Park universe.

Ironically, the latest addition, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdomroped Goldblum himself back into the franchise, so perhaps Dr. Ian Malcolm is no longer as concerned about the quandary of creating things for creation’s sake. The sequels have their moments, but the artistic merit of the later films will always pale in comparison to their predecessor.

There are countless reasons filmgoers remember Jurassic Park as an exceptional summer blockbuster.

Truthfully, though nostalgia may add an ounce of personal affection for the original film, there are countless reasons filmgoers remember Jurassic Park as an exceptional summer blockbuster. It has a lot of elements that make it more complex than a run-of-the-mill monster movie. It is a meditation on the arrogance of humanity, as well as a survival thriller with a touch of bathroom humour. It invites reflection, such as when Sattler reprimands Hammond for his failings, and elicits a jolt of fear as a T-Rex fills the view of a car mirror that warns “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

Audiences care about whether the cast will make it off the island because Spielberg invests the time to create relatable characters. The chase sequences and raptor attacks are earned after a slow build up of suspense that is entirely worth the wait. Sequences of wonder are underscored by a grand symphony fine-tuned by Spielberg’s dependable composer, John Williams. Additionally, it is a testament to the craftsmanship of the practical and digital effects team that the graphics still hold up twenty-five years later.

Many present-day blockbusters have become overly reliant on computer-generated imagery to the point of excess; in modern Michael Bay films full of robot fights and massive explosions, it’s hard to suspend your disbelief and prevent your eyes from glazing over. A marriage of practical and special effects — exemplified perfectly in Jurassic Park — presents a mixture of movie magic that feels real and spectacular all at once.

Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Martin Ferrero, and Richard Attenborough

Photo by Universal Pictures/Getty Images – © 2012 Getty Images

Themes of caution work in tension with a childlike pursuit of realising the impossible.

Impressively, Jurassic Park is not just forward thinking in terms of future blockbusters, but a film entrenched in meta foreshadowing. The blockbuster would produce its own merchandise and amusement park rides full of flaming torches and thrilling flume drops. Its continued influence today is due to its qualities as a truly iconic science-fiction film. It is contemplative. It is terrifying. And most of all, it’s fun. 

All things considered, Jurassic Park succeeds due to its themes of caution working in tension with a childlike pursuit of realizing the impossible. Future sequels and remakes would do well to return to the film’s key ingredients of originality, curiosity, and sense of adventure. After all, filmmaking at its heart is meant to create a wondrous escape from reality. 

Meghan Cook is a comedy writer currently residing in North Carolina with one cat and fifty shows in her Netflix queue (that she will get to eventually).

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Marty

    July 2, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    I love Chris Pratt, but we did not need Fallen Kingdom.

  2. Maxwell N

    July 3, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    Wait, there are other Jurassic Park movies?

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‘The Kingmaker’ is a Probing Look at the Wife of a Despot

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Imelda Marcos in The Kingmaker

The Queen of Versailles, released back in 2012, was one of the best documentaries of the decade. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, it followed Jackie Siegel, the trophy wife of David Siegel, founder of the timeshare company Westgate Resorts. The film depicted the family’s construction of what was to be the largest residential home in the United States, which quickly went awry once the 2008 financial crisis hit their business hard. The documentary showed that Greenfield has a unique gift for understanding the lives and pathologies of the super-wealthy. Seven years later, Greenfield is back with The Kingmaker, another documentary portrait of a rich lady — one who, like Jackie Siegel, also had a cartoonishly evil husband and a weakness for both opulent residences and rare exotic animals.

The Kingmaker is a portrait of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines from the 1960s to the ’80s. Imelda is known in the popular imagination as the supportive wife of that country’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for frequently meeting with world leaders, and for her extensive collection of thousands of pairs of shoes. This one is set on the other side of the world, but is just as instructive, not to mention entertaining.

The Kingmaker Imelda

Greenfield’s film catches up with the now 90-year-old Imelda, and depicts her life today as she luxuriates around her various estates, reminisces about late husband, tells stories about meeting with leaders from Reagan to Mao to Saddam, and pushes the political career of her son, known as Bongbong, who ran for vice president of the Philippines in 2016. 

For the first half hour or so, The Kingmaker looks like an attempt to humanize and even rehabilitate Imelda’s image. She opens up about her mother’s death and her husband’s serial infidelities; he claimed he was constantly sending her around the world because he feared a coup, but really it was so he could conduct extramarital affairs.

We start to think this is, if not a puff piece, the equivalent of one of Errol Morris’ docs, where he gives a controversial political figure a chance to have their say while also challenging them. 

But eventually things turn, and The Kingmaker lays out that the Marcos family had in fact engaged in massive human rights improprieties, from torturing political dissidents to rigging elections, to a scheme that entailed razing an entire residential area in order to build a zoo of exotic animals which were imported from Africa via bribes. Perhaps it was a clue early on when Imelda revealed how well she got along with the likes of Richard Nixon, Moammar Khadafy, Mao Tse-Tung, and Saddam Hussein. 

The Marcos family also plundered billions from their own people, which paid for real estate all over the world, priceless art, as well as that famous shoe collection (The Kingmaker shows, among other things, that the Philippines could really use an Emoluments Clause.) What Imelda has to say now (she only ever refers to her husband as “Marcos”) makes it clear that she was not only complicit in the dictator’s crimes, but continues to defend and profit from them to this day. 

And from what we see of the Marcos’ son, Bongbong, he’s a uniquely untalented and uninspiring politician who has inherited all of his father’s corruption, but none of his charisma. The Kingmaker also ties in with the modern-day politics of the country, as its current president, Rodrigo Dutarte, is shown as the true heir to the Marcos tradition, depicted as a Trump to Bongbong’s Jeb Bush.

The Kingmaker also recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s great 2013 documentary The Act of Killing in the way it demonstrates how national myths are established and carried through the generations. We see schoolchildren reciting why the imposition of martial law was actually a moment of national glory. 

Greenfield’s last film, last year’s Generation Wealth, was a big step down, lacking any focus and for some reason concentrating a great deal on people from the porn industry. But The Kingmaker is a return to form for the filmmaker, as it shows she’s honest enough to speak ill of her own subject. 

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‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past

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Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.

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‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.

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Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

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