Thursday, October 29, 2009
There are certain movies that have the unique ability to both terrify and entertain us at the same time. Especially as impressionable young children, special effects can have a marvelously resonant impact on our easily rattled imaginations. The images that frighten us as children have the power to stay with us for life. I mean, I'm still afraid of being eaten by dinosaurs while innocently settling a velociraptor in its isolated caged environment during a promising career stint as a genetic engineer on a Costa Rican Island. Still.
While we may be unfazed by dazzling computer generated visual effects today, we were incredibly impressed when it was still a fledgling enterprise. Before computer animation, visual effects in movies were less than convincing to say the least. Yes, the movie industry had had years to come up with all sorts of perspective and angle-based trickery, but it just wasn't as thrilling to see a spacecraft careening through the galaxy with little strings attached to its sides.
Jurassic Park was incredibly pioneering in the field of visual effects, unleashing upon audience such a series of incredibly realistic-looking prehistoric creatures that they had never seen before. In previous films with dinosaurs in the plot, the beasts themselves had been laughably unconvincing. In Jurassic Park, however, the close interaction of the computer animated dinosaurs and the human actors was enough to have all of us trembling in our movie seats. While it may not be up to snuff by today's standards, in the early 90s it was terrifyingly realistic and unlike anything any of us had ever seen.
Based on the late Michael Crichton's science fiction novel of the same name, Jurassic Park explores the dangerous outcomes of tampering with prehistorical science. Crichton actually began work on the project as a screenplay, but it later grew into a book which would later grow back into a movie under the guidance of Steven Spielberg. Despite its twisted path to production, it was an interesting and chilling story that ultimately drew millions of moviegoers to the theater.
While the plot is certainly farfetched, it's also an interesting and well-conceived premise. The short version of the way-too-complicated-for-me-to-understand-as-a-child set up is that a genetic engineering firm is in the midst of creating a theme park featuring real dinosaurs. Why anyone ever, ever thought this might be a good idea is completely beyond me, but I'm just going to go with it. I mean, me: five foot five. T-Rex: 20 feet. I'm no mathlete, but I'm pretty sure the odds are stacked against me.
The scientists working on the project used prehistoric mosquitoes preserved in amber and extracted from them the years-old dinosaur blood that constituted their last supper. They craftily combined the genetic material with some leftover frog DNA they had laying around and presto change-o, we've got ourselves some dinosaurs. Again, this seems like a totally marvelous and harmless idea that will in no way erupt in the faces of all invested in the project.
Following some complications in getting things off the ground, a team of inspectors arrives to give the park the go-ahead. The CEO of the whole operation invites some prominent and relevant scientists with titles I'm not going to even attempt to spell out for you here. Oh, and he's got his grandkids with him, you know, just in case the dinosaurs have a hankering for a light snack.
A tropical storm and some mild inconveniences later, computer geek Dennis Nedry (You know, Newman from Seinfeld) is left to tend to the park. Unluckily for the park, Nedry has accepted a substantial bribe from the firm's competitors to provide them with embryos. In order to do so and get away with it, he needs to shut down the park's security system. Yes, the one that controls all the electric fences that keep the dinosaurs in. I think we can all see where this is headed.
It's about at this point in the movie that everyone either starts dying vicious and gory deaths or running for their lives. Obviously Nedry's got to bite it, after all he started it, so it's really only fair that he gets eaten alive by dinosaurs. Our lawyer pal doesn't fare too well, either. To be fair, I guess that's probably what you get for voluntarily isolating yourselves with ferocious prehistoric beasts.
As if things weren't bad enough, the survivors come across a nest of freshly hatched eggs, which was totally not in the plan. All of the dinosaurs were supposed to be females, but conveniently for the twisting plot these frogs they used have some sort of gender mutation. That can't be good. Thanks a lot B.D. Wong, you played the scientist who was supposed to have taken care of that. To think I trusted you as Franc's assistant in Father of the Bride.
A park engineer (Samuel L Jackson, because it just wouldn't be a movie without him) attempts to break into the now-deceased Nedry's computer, but to no avail. Of course the only way to get into the files is to shut everything down, which seems like a pretty ominous sign when we've already got man-eating dinosaurs abounding. There's a fair amount of bloodshed during this part, and by fair I mean more than enough fodder to give a kid nightmares for months. Believe me, I know.
Finally they get connected with their crappy modem and manage to call for help, requesting a helicopter to retrieve them from the mounting wreckage they've unleashed on the island. I don't want to give too many spoilers (i.e. the memories are still to traumatic to recount) but suffice it to say the survivors make a narrow escape and leave us with a vague enough ending to warrant not just a sequel but a legitimate franchise.
In case that synopsis just didn't do it for you memory-wise, here's a handy condensed version:
When the movie was released, it soon became the highest-grossing film of all-time. Sure, it got knocked off its top spot by Titanic, but it's still definitely up there. Even watching the movie today after all I know about advances in animatronic modeling and computer imaging, it's still pretty terrifying. I suppose that's testament to its staying power. If you'll excuse me now, I'm going to go hide under the bed.