Stepping into the theatre to see Jurassic Park 3D, though, that passage of time instantly vanished. There was a palpable excitement in the audience typical of an opening night crowd, only this wasn't a typical opening night; this wasn't the first time that people were seeing this film. Indeed many, if not all of the attendees, had probably seen this movie many times over. So how does a movie manage to maintain this level of enthusiasm after so many years? The answer goes beyond the mere application of 3D and speaks to something far deeper. Simply said, Jurassic Park is one of the finest movies crafted specifically to be experienced on the big screen.
This is certainly not the first time that a movie has gotten the anniversary treatment. Star Wars and E.T. both went back to theatres to mark their respective 20th anniversaries, but there is a distinct difference in this case. For those others, the filmmakers decided to create "Special Editions" and changed elements of the stories, to many fans' chagrin (Han shot first and gun control debates aside, walkie-talkies are usually not a government agent's weapon of choice). For JP3D, there are no such changes; it stands as-is, a testimony to the filmmakers' faith in the quality of the original material. Well, with that whole 3D treatment thrown in too.
So what is it that makes Jurassic Park stand the test of time so well? There are a few factors at play here, but let's start with the subject that sits at the core of the movie: dinosaurs. Dinosaurs hold a hallowed place within us. They are prominently featured as a main attraction in many museums. Children know their complicated names before they know how to tie their shoes, and though this knowledge fades with time for most of us, the fascination and dread of these terrific creatures remains with us.
It's these primal feelings that fuel the tense and thrilling moments in the movie, and Spielberg manipulates them to perfection. His deft hand at creating tangibly atmospheric moments gives the film its tone and beauty. No stranger to the action and thriller genres, he intrinsically knows how to pull the audience in, to feel the story and not just observe it.
John Williams adds to his repertoire yet another theme that sticks in your head (quick, hum the theme to Avengers -- I dare you. Now Indiana Jones. My point exactly). His operatic score weaves itself in and out of the film, sometimes standing out proudly, but more often subtly infusing scenes with emotion. And who better to pen the script than the author of the book, the late Michael Crichton, a filmmaker in his own right, whose novels practically screamed for adaptation.
Of course, none of this could work without bringing the dinosaurs to life in a believable way. This is where the film faced its biggest challenge and careful decisions were made by Spielberg when approaching the special effects. In 1993, digital effects were still in their infancy, but the team at Industrial Light and Magic put together such convincingly life-like creatures that they stand up even today. Blending in the use of animatronics for many of the pivotal scenes and creature close-ups was very smart, acknowledging the limitations of digital at the time and providing the most realistic vision that could be created. In this respect, Jurassic Park stands at a cinematic tipping point, giving digital effects a huge evolutionary push while helping to bury the tried-and-true FX methods.
On the whole, the 3D effects are well-integrated. I find that a 3D application post-production typically falls flat, but it was obvious the studio spared no expense in ensuring this wouldn't happen. Some shots were not as cleanly translated, creating a few scenes that had a distinctly layered look, but these were few and far between. Other scenes really came alive in unexpected ways, sparkling with little details that made you notice elements you might not have before.
All of these factors come together in Jurassic Park 3D to create a colossal, full-on cinematic experience. This is a movie built to be seen larger than life. Home viewing doesn't allow you to appreciate the vision, the atmosphere, or the Oscar-winning sounds and effects. It's designed to be immersive, to transport you to another place and time, to believe that what is going on on-screen is happening to you. There is such a visceral feeling you get from being in that darkened room staring at that huge screen that simply can't be replicated.
Walking out of the theatre, I was surprised to find my experience wasn't quite over. Somewhere in the crowd, someone was whistling the theme from the movie and it resonated with me. Hearing that unearthed a validation of how important these experiences are to us, of how we incorporate these moments and carry them with us. It reminded me that big screen experiences may be rare, but they aren't extinct.
Jurassic Park 3D opens in theatres on April 5.