Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary Collection 4K Review and Franchise Retrospective

20180613_230853.jpgReviewed by Brandon Bishop

The newest feature film in the Jurassic franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, has released overseas and comes to American Cinemas on June 22, 2018.  It is the fifth film in the series, and a direct sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World. To celebrate the long-running franchise and my general love of all things dinosaur related, I picked up the Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary Collection Box Set in 4K, and would love to share my thoughts.  This post will be ongoing, with a single review and video for each film in the set, Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park 3, and Jurassic World, with commentary on each film’s 4K presentation and associated special features.  Please note that each of the reviews and their associated videos will discuss the movies in detail and assume that you have seen them.

Spoiler Warning

Jurassic Park Feature Commentary

To begin the festivities, myself and an old friend from high school did a feature-length commentary on the first Jurassic Park film, which is immediately below.  We discuss parts of the movie we like, where we think it had some speed bumps, (spoiler alert, there aren’t many), crack some jokes and generally talk about Jurassic Park and dinosaur related things.  If you’re a super fan, there probably isn’t any new information for you, but if you like to talk to friends about movies, pop in your Blu-ray or DVD or boot up your digital copy, and let’s watch Jurassic Park!

 

 

 

 

 

Jurassic Park Review

 

 

 

“Welcome to Jurassic Park.”

The Movie

Jurassic Park released in 1993 and took the world by storm.  Dinosaurs had of course been on the screen before, many, many times.  Never before had they been so convincing.  The creatures felt more alive than any special effect animal ever had before.  And that’s how the movie presents its dinosaurs: they are animals, not monsters, and animals do nothing more than to behave the way they must to survive.  A towering Brachiosaurus grazes the treeline as we gaze upon it in wonder but ignores the trifling humans at its toes, while later another one timidly greets our characters while they hide in a tree, resulting in a playful scene for the kids.  Herding species can be seen in the distance, enjoying a dip in a lake among an idyllic landscape.  A 40-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex is as majestic as it is powerful.  A pack of Velociraptors hunts you from unseen vistas. And each of them feels truly alive.  They’re living things that are heavy and move like real animals, and it feels like you could touch them. Like Star Wars before it, Jurassic Park proved to us that the technology now existed to put anything imaginable on screen.

The movie is at its core, of course, a retelling of an age-old story of the folly of man and man’s failed attempts to control nature.  It’s a story that’s been told so many times in so many different ways.  Before Jurassic Park, however, it had never been told with such style.  Previous films existed like Gojira, which allegorically highlighted man’s mistakes using special effects and incredibly dramatic emotion.  Godzilla, however, has always moved like a man in a suit.  The dinosaurs move with a physical realism that had not been truly reached using previously available special effects methods, such as suited actors, stop-motion animation, and traditional puppetry.  Jurassic Park’s blend of highly specialized animatronics, computer generated imagery, scientific accuracy (mostly, based on 1993 science), and painstaking attention to detail, astounded audiences when the movie released.

The story is a simple one: scientists have discovered a way to recover DNA from extinct species and create live clones, which they intend to put on display in a theme park.  An accident leads to an investigation of the park, and a group of scientists come to inspect and provide endorsements.  However, the cloning technology is extremely valuable, and an employee of the park (Wayne Knight) makes a deal to steal unborn dinosaurs.  In doing so, he sets off a chain of events that lead to the animals escaping their enclosures and leaving our heroes stranded.

The strength of the movie, other than its dinosaurs, is the portrayal of its characters.  We honestly learn very little about any of them, which could make some feel like the movie lacks strong characters to stand up to its strong creatures.  We know what we need to know: Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his girlfriend Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are paleontologists who study extinct fauna and flora, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is a chaotician, who studies the relationship between cause and effect and is the perennial nay-sayer among the group, and John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is the eccentric billionaire who created this wondrous place.  Each of these characters is a hallmark of science fiction, but many of them have traits that break expectation.  Dr. Grant is comically incompatible with children and technology.  Dr. Sattler is anything but a damsel in distress, though she does get in a good scream or two.  Dr. Malcolm is charismatic and admittedly a little ridiculous.  Hammond’s granddaughter Lex (Ariana Richards) is a skilled, teenage computer hacker.  There may not be many layers to most of the characters in Jurassic Park, but the movie respects them as much as it respects its real stars, the dinosaurs, a statement that cannot be made about some of the later entries in the franchise.

There is one more element to creating a convincing animal in a film: sound.  The sound design of Jurassic Park is nothing short of iconic.  Just about anyone of any age can hear that roar and know that it’s the T-Rex.  And John Williams musical score, which 25 years later still remains my favorite soundtrack of any film.  The music is a near-flawless masterpiece of majesty and suspense.

This is the movie that made me want to make movies.  It’s the movie that made me want to talk about movies and write about movies.  I can’t really overstate that.  As such, I’ve been a little more personal with the language in this column than I normally would.  I love to watch dinosaurs, I love to watch Alan and Ellie and Ian survive them, and I love to hate Dennis Nedry.  I love everything about this movie.

The Presentation

For this boxed set, Jurassic Park has received a full 4K scan of the original film negative, with High Dynamic Range.  There’s no better way to say it than to put it as simply as possible: with small exception, Jurassic Park looks better than it’s ever looked before on Home Video.  The vistas of Isla Nublar and the practical animatronic dinosaurs boast a clarity that the movie has never seen before.

Large portions of the movie have always been a little low-contrast, with the exception of the opening scene and the Tyrannosaurus attack in the rain when she first breaks out of her fence, and the scene where the main cast enjoys (but does not eat) dinner surrounded by slide projectors.  Every scene looks more vibrant and rich than it has before, and the scene where we first see the Brachiosaurus is a big standout among daytime scenes.  The most impressive looking footage from an HDR point of view are definitely scenes that take place at night.  Of particular note, as I said above, are the first T-Rex attack and the opening scene of the movie.

Unfortunately, it’s not perfect, and the imperfections come in some grievous places.  While the film negative was scanned in 4K, the digital effects, which in 1993 would have been rendered in 1K or 2K, have not been re-rendered.  They are the same assets that went to screens in 1993.  That’s a blessing and a curse.  It could admittedly be quite jarring if some big moments in the movie, such as the introduction to the Brachiosaurus or the shot where the T-Rex takes her first steps outside her enclosure looked dramatically different, which is a serious risk if they were to re-address the old CGI.  As such, it is these times when Jurassic Park shows its age.  Jurassic Park, even more so than films like Star Wars, established how modern special effects are made.  These shots still have that nostalgic charm, and there is nothing like the memory of the first time experiencing those moments I mentioned at the top of this paragraph.  But re-experiencing those specific moments in a release of the movie that in general looks so pristine is admittedly a little distracting.  Everything looks so good until you find a moment that it doesn’t, and it takes you out of the experience for a moment.

That absolutely does NOT mean I don’t recommend this version of the film for home video.  Not to mention the audio, which has been brilliantly remastered for modern home theater. The last time this movie sounded so good was its 2013 theatrical re-release for its 20th Anniversary.  Despite its visual flaws, which are few, this is now the definitive way to watch Jurassic Park.

The Features

Unfortunately, for a movie that’s 25 years old, there simply isn’t much more footage they could have found for the special features on this disc.  It’s also disappointing that there isn’t a new audio commentary.  The extras for this set for Jurassic Park and its first two sequels have all been previously released, and if you have the Blu-Ray set from 2011 or the recent Blu-ray releases from this year (with the terrible cover art), you’ve seen all the bonus features, which include an hour-long TV special from 1993 and another hour-long special from the 2011 releases.  They’re all good content to watch, however, and newcomers should take the time.

The Packaging

The whole set is well-packaged, with vibrant box-art.  The discs come housed in a “book” inside the slipcase, with key art for each film.  The 4K discs have nice printed art, which has become a lost feature in the Blu-ray era. The Blu-ray discs are each, as expected, black with its respective film’s logo.  None of the imagery is stuff we’ve never seen in previous releases or promotions, but the whole set has been assembled with care.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

 

 

“Now, you’re John Hammond.”

The Movie

The financial success of Jurassic Park virtually guaranteed a sequel to the first film.  1995 saw the release of Michael Crichton’s novel, The Lost World, featuring a new island where dinosaurs now roam free without constraint and the return of Dr. Ian Malcolm.  In 1997, the film adaptation released, titled The Lost World: Jurassic Park and boasting a number of notable deviations from the source material.

One thing did not change from Jurassic Park to The Lost World: the dinosaurs.  Aside from a handful of scientific inconsistencies, just like the first movie, the animals here feel real and like they could have existed as they appear onscreen.  The attention to detail and care with with they are animated, digitally or animatronically, gives them a vivid life that other films prior to it, other than its predecessor, had never matched.  The animals in The Lost World brim with majesty, menace, and no small bit of fun.

It’s unfortunate that the plot does not feel as grounded or real as the animals that fill it.  And that’s not to say I don’t love this movie; I do. I saw this the weekend it opened and have loved it ever since.  The plot is, however, quite simple and derivative, a fact that was true on its release, and it has not aged as well as its predecessor.

It’s again, quite simple: there is a second island where, due to the failure of the park and a hurricane, dinosaurs have been freed and allowed to live as nature intended.  Another accident has caused this island to draw public attention, however.  One team, led by Dr. Ian Malcolm from the first film, is sent to observe the creatures so as to build a case for allowing them to live without interference, and a second team is sent by the board of directors to capture and transport the animals to the mainland with the intention of creating a new attraction to recoup the losses from the park’s failure.  The teams arrive on the island, they clash, and mayhem ensues.

The first ninety-or-so minutes of The Lost World make up what would otherwise be a fun, if derivative, adventure film, highlights of which include the first encounter with the vengeful Tyrannosaurus and the visually striking encounters with Velociraptors in a field of long grass and a power plant facility.  In fact, the scenes with the Velociraptors, like the first film, are largely thrilling and visually striking, particularly the quick scene where the poacher crew gets attacked in the long grass, and only suspend disbelief for that unfortunate moment involving gymnastics.

This time in the film offers quite a few interesting character bits, as well, particularly Malcolm’s relationship with his daughter, played by Vanessa  Chester, and his girlfriend, Sarah, played by Julianne Moore.  Malcolm has been hardened by the experience of the first film, and his cynicism has progressed to a new high.  In the first film, he knew bad things were going to happen, but he was an eccentric and strange individual.  In this film, bad things have happened, and they have changed him.  He still thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, and still, no one listens to him.  He’s more focused here, but he’s become more reserved and collected.  In the time between the movies, he told the truth about the events in Jurassic Park, but no one believed him.  Malcolm has shown definite character change from his rock star persona in the first film.  It’s a shame that there aren’t really any other characters who stuck around, save for a brief scene with Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond.  Most of the other cast members are kind of flat, hinging on a single trait that defines them.  They’re not complicated, but they’re easy to understand.  That’s important in popcorn fare.

Locating the stories of Jurassic Park and The Lost World on isolated islands lends some reality to their events.  It gives the events of the movies a sort of grounded credibility, in that while the science is largely absurd, the events could happen in the real world and their remote location could mean that they get largely ignored.  The Lost World even hints at the idea that InGen, the genetics company who created the park, has gone to far reaching and expensive lengths to bury the events of the first movie.  Obviously, the whole thing is absurd, but it allows itself to suspend disbelief for the purpose of its own storytelling.  That grounded take unfortunately gets abandoned during the third act of The Lost World.  What could have been an easily digestible ending to another joyous adventure movie gets wrapped up in it’s own ridiculousness just a little too much, with an inexplicable seaborne disaster upon a ship transporting a Tyrannosaurus, and a ludicrous rampage of that T-Rex through the streets of San Diego.  On the surface, it snidely references the monster movies of old and includes a few clever in-jokes for fans with behind-the-scenes knowledge, but it’s a frustrating and over-reaching deviation from what would have otherwise been an enjoyable summer adventure movie.  The first film and most of this one had prided themselves on being smarter than your average summer movie, but then it gets a lot dumber really fast and includes some near racist sight gags that have not aged well in a 2018 climate.

Despite its flaws, The Lost World is still fun to revisit periodically, even if I don’t watch it nearly as often as the first movie.  The dinosaurs feel real, the humans feel simple but believable, and it’s got its share of fun.  It’s still a good looking movie, and while I wouldn’t say it stands on its own without the bolster of the first film, it’s still Spielberg during the height of his career.  Now, I can’t wait to talk about the next one…

The Presentation

The Lost World doesn’t appear to have received the same care in its upgrade to 4K HDR.  This is likely a 4K Remaster of the previous Blu-ray release.  That said, it’s a good looking movie, it’s just not as strikingly improved as Jurassic Park.  It looks good, and it sounds great.

Comparing to the transfer of the first one, as time passes, its increasingly obvious how far digital effects had come between these two movies.  Like the CGI in Jurassic Park, they have not been re-rendered in 4K, but for the most part, Spielberg again smartly hides CGI dinosaurs in the dark, in the rain, and obscured behind the set.  The weakest CGI in the movie has always been the early Stegosaurus sequence, and that hasn’t changed.  The scenes with the raptors, conversely, looked great then and have definitely improved with the 4K upgrade.  The CGI was not nearly as distracting in this movie as it was with the 4K version of the first one.  All in all, it’s not an enormous improvement over the previous HD release, but since it also comes with the definitive version of Jurassic Park, it’s worth a trip back to Isla Sorna.

 

Jurassic Park III

 

“Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”

The Movie

Bigger is better, right?  So, obviously, we had to out T-Rex the T-Rex for the third movie.  Makes sense, doesn’t it? With Jurassic Park III, the franchise lost its way.  The franchise contracts Sequel Syndrome.  We get a sequel for no reason other than the first two movies made money, and the franchise machine churns out another entry.  And it shows.

I haven’t seen this movie since high school.  It’s always been the weakest movie, and I’ve always liked it the least.  That said, when it came out in 2001, I watched it constantly.  I made regular Jurassic Park binges through middle school and early high school in which I watched all three films.  As that time passed, it eventually became just Jurassic Park and The Lost World, and then just Jurassic Park.  In fact, the last time I watched JP3 was probably in high school.  Having been away from The Lost World for several years, returning to it was a delightful return to childhood.  Returning to this movie after what has likely been a decade or longer, the delights are mostly gone.

It’s not all bad, and we’ll discuss the good first.  There are a few shining moments that peek through the gray cloud that is the majority of Jurassic Park III. Most notably, Alessandro Nivola’s character, Billy.  He’s a charming and optimistic voice in what is otherwise an excessively grim movie.  Nivola plays him with an honest wonder and naivete that brings the only reminder of the wondrous scenes of the previous films.  He also brings out the only real moment of lightness from Sam Neill’s Alan Grant, returning from the first movie.  After Billy’s apparent death at the claws of flying Pteranodons, Dr. Grant expresses some regrets and the movie’s only really thoughtful moment.

However, with this viewing, something really stuck out to me about Dr. Grant: he’s become so cynical that he’s hardly the character that I love from the first movie.  Ian Malcolm made the transition in a believable, more natural way, and actually becomes more grounded in The Lost World.  Alan Grant has become a much less likable individual.  It makes sense that he’s not thrilled to be in a place where death is imminent, especially considering his experiences at Jurassic Park.  He’s even quite cold to Billy, who is setup early as a friend and pupil.  Billy receives a lot of undue anger that Alan holds for others, and it’s honestly a little off-putting as I revisited this movie.  Echoes of the recent distaste towards the characterization of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi jump to mind here, but I would say that was handled with much more care.

And that’s the big place where Jurassic Park 3 really falters.  It’s characters are either downright dumb, behave irrationally, or are angry cynics.  As I said above, Billy is the only beacon of joy in the movie, and while it could make his potential death more tragic, it’s difficult not to feel bad for the way he’s treated in the movie.

And the dinosaurs do not make it better.  This is a “chase movie,” which could have made for another exciting adventure film, but the dinosaurs now feel lifeless and mechanical.  The animatronic animals in the movie feel jerky and laborious.  The CGI dinosaurs lose the vivid animation of those in the previous films and perform very purposefully, not so naturally.  Even when focused, nature is unpredictable.  And of course, the fan-favorite Tyrannosaurus is dispatched early on by the new monster on Isla Sorna, the Spinosaurus.  The movie tries to show us that the raptors possess more intelligent than we imagined, but the way the movie shows them communicate is awkward and ham-fisted, like they’re just having a conversation in another language.  I’ve mentioned in both reviews thus far how much respect that the first two movies have for both their dinosaurs as well as their humans.  Jurassic Park III loses that respect on both accounts.

It’s difficult to create a plot simpler than The Lost World, but Jurassic Park III manages it.  Spielberg has moved on and taken his competent direction with him, leaving the director’s chair to Joe Johnston, a director with a history in special effects and who would eventually go on to direct Captain America: The First Avenger, a decent entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Johnston has a catalog of films that range from fun to serviceable.  He largely fails with Jurassic Park III.

 

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