Blu-ray Review: Jurassic Park Trilogy

Jurassic Park Trilogy
DVD | Blu-Ray | Blu-ray Gift Set
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Joe Johnston
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: October 25, 2011

When attempting to look critically at a piece of cinema like the Jurassic Park franchise, particularly the feature that started it off, a person from this writer’s generation must not only judge the features on singular scales of quality, but must also get past one huge roadblock: nostalgia.

I don’t know how many people who will read this are in a similar boat, but the Jurassic Park franchise is one of the first true-blue cinematic experience of this generation. Coming out in 1993, Jurassic Park played as the first real memorable cinematic experience for this generation, imprinting an eye of grandeur and spectacle on a group of people, so much so that the repercussions are still being felt today. Hell, it’s also a genuinely fantastic feature film.

So, with a new Blu-ray box set release, marking the first time all three of the films have been in HD, not only is a new generation introduced to these masterpieces, but one is able to take a look back at not only the films, but their impact upon contemporary cinema.

First, we have the premiere entry into the Jurassic Park franchise, well, Jurassic Park. Released in 1993, JP (as I’ll refer to it from here on out in the review), instantly became one of, if not the then greatest example of computer-generated effects work, and even better blending of that with live effects.

Telling the story of a group of scientists collected to critique a new theme park where genetically engineered dinosaurs are the main attraction, JP is both an intriguing narrative in the guise of an action/adventure film, as well as a breathtaking piece of cinema exploring one man’s attempt to play God, for lack of a better phrase. Using the highest level of current technology, the modern day Frankenstein at the core of this film creates an island of misfit beasts, and it’s the duty of these men and women to confront these beasts. Featuring a top level cast, including the likes of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum (the three protagonists), the film is not only one of the best pieces that these three thespians have to offer, but it’s also at least in the top five greatest films crafted by director Steven Spielberg, which itself is something to truly be proud of.

But then they continued the franchise. The Lost World: Jurassic Park brought back not only Jeff Goldblum, but with him director Steven Spielberg, and tossed in names like Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn (in one of the actor’s most underrated turns), making this a rather odd, but oddly appealing follow up.

Obviously the weaker of the debut two features, the second film definitely holds up. Almost a carbon copy narrative wise of the classic King Kong, the film finds Goldblum’s character thrust back into the world of newly created dinos, this time, in a rescue mission for his girlfriend, played by Moore. When the proverbial crap hits the fan, the dinosaurs hit the states, specifically San Diego, and makes for one of the more entertaining set pieces that this franchise has to offer.

That’s the thing. Revisiting these films, as well as many of Spielberg’s older work over the past few years (particularly the Indiana Jones series, since the fourth film released a few years back), one thing is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. No one crafts a true action set piece, be it frames it or choreographs it, quite like Spielberg. There is a classic fluidity to his camera, an unflinching eye that never truly feels like it wants to cut, but instead does so simply for dramatic and stylistic effect. This makes his features, and particularly his action heavy pieces, to be immensely rewatchable, insanely entertaining, and most importantly, impeccably crafted.
But then the bastard child. The Joe Johnston-directed red-headed stepchild of a film, Jurassic Park III.

When penning this review, one thing became immensely clear. Discussing the films through a critical lens is, at this point, almost a fool’s errand. The first feature has almost hit its 20th anniversary, and with that comes a distinctly lengthy time to steep within the social consciousness. The first is rightly considered an all-time great spectacle film, the second a solid follow-up, and the third, a breezy yet wholly uninteresting pile of drek.

Johnston tries to ape anything he can from Spielberg, but does so with the class and assuredness of a student film, and a returning Sam Neill and Laura Dern are almost unwatchable. Chopping off roughly 30 minutes in length as compared to the first two films does the third no favors, particularly in the setting up of the situation, which narratively is nothing more than a rescue mission rehash of the second film, this time without any of the skill, thrills or charm. A film that is ultimately a superfluous piece of cinema with relation to the other two, much more narratively pertinent pieces, JPIII has no reason to be rewatched outside of sheer intrigue for those who pick up this set, and decide to dive right back into the franchise.

And what a set to dive into.

Universal went all out with this sucker. With regards to the set as a whole, one thing truly connects each disc, that being an impeccable, must watch and nearly 2-hour long documentary, Return To Jurassic Park. It’s expanded over the three discs, so it is a bit of a pain (I’d have much preferred a fourth disc with the entire supplement available, but beggars can’t really be choosers here), but it’s such an entertaining and in depth look at the making of the film, what it meant to those involved, and what the franchise as a whole has meant to the cinematic landscape. The overall release also comes with digital copies of each film, a download code for the first part of the new Jurassic Park video game, and each disc includes a series of making of featurettes, archival pieces (ranging from the making of a film to the making of specific sequences), and of course, trailers. The third film also has a commentary with the effects team, but if you can imagine, it’s actually a worse experience than watching the film itself. It’s so dry, uninteresting, and overly self important that it just comes off as dreadfully dull.

Finally, the transfer. The films look better than they ever have on home video, and if its possible, the sound is even better as well. The scores pop here, and each roar or gunshot blast their way directly into your eardrums. Simply put, this is a must own Blu-ray, if there ever was one. Affordable, reference worthy, and classic, this release features one of the greatest modern spectacle features, a solid sequel, and a third film that has its merits, all wrapped up in an extensive, boisterous box set unlike any around. Just buy the damn thing.

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