When director Steven Spielberg's dinos-on-the-rampage blockbuster Jurassic Park first hit the screen twenty years ago (I'll let you process that number for a second, along with the resultant reality of how much older you are since you first saw it) it was a legitimate phenomenon. A true game changer. To everyone but me, that is.
My clearest memory of sitting in that theater two decades ago as a know-nothing thirteen year-old is of watching for the first time and being...unimpressed. No, seriously. Now, part of that is because I waited until the movie was playing in second-run theaters before I finally saw it, so the hype machine had long since built it up into something it could never hope to measure up to, but part of that was just from being an adolescent know-it-all trying to be cooler than the cool kids.
And so I sat in the theater as the closing credits rolled, nonplussed. "It was alrriiiiiight," I said, with a level of assuredness wholly and embarrassingly disproportionate to my level of actual, accrued knowledge and/or experience. "But pretty soon every movie will have effects like this, so will it even matter in five years?" Seriously, if I could go back in time, I'd either smack myself on the head, or make like Bruce Willis with his Joseph Gordon-Levitt-looking younger self in Looper.
I've seen it countless times since, mind you, and I'd long since recused myself of that notion, but the ultimate refutation to teenage Zaki can be seen in theaters now, with the film's loving upgrade to IMAX and 3D. It's now twenty years later, and yes, Jurassic Park still matters. Yes, for its effects. Of course for its effects. But for more than just that. In today's age of omnipresent CGI, what sets it apart is everything else. Its sustained ability to enrapture, to enliven, to enervate. To take the spirit and premise of the late Michael Crichton's best-selling novel and weave it into something uniquely cinematic.
Also, with twenty years of added context, one can't help but find a lot of entirely unintentional meta commentary as well. As Jeff Goldblum's deliciously off-kilter Ian Malcolm (who was at the time and remains today one of my favorite parts of the flick) intones at one point, "You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox."
Although that statement refers to hubristic scientists reviving dinosaurs with cloned DNA, it could just as easily refer to hubristic filmmakers abusing the advances pioneered here to create 1998's Godzilla. But removed from the ooh-ing and aah-ing over the digital dinos (whose intro is as powerful today ever), we can focus on the show itself. Everything from the characters (the aforementioned Golblum, Sam Neill as child-hating paleontologist Alan Grant, Richard Attenborough as theme park impresario John Hammond) to the majestic John Williams score reveals a master class in movie magic.
Jurassic Park matters because Steven Spielberg matters. And while I tend to be wary of post-produced 3D, but seeing how skilfully it's deployed here, you'd think Spielberg composed his shots lo those many years ago with this add-on already in mind. I guess that makes sense because ultimately, it's a big, fun, theme park ride. Two decades on, it continues to typify everything the cinematic experience can and should be. Yes, it's available on home vid in just about every format imaginable, but it deserves to be watched (or re-watched, as it were) in the theater, with as full an audience as possible. A