One of the great thrills of my childhood happened in 1994, when I met film critic Roger Ebert at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. He was at the Waldenbooks (RIP), signing copies of his Roger Ebert’s Movie Glossary. I had been a fan of his my entire life and was thrilled to have a few moments to speak with him. I thanked him for coining the term “The Bruised Forearm Movie,” in which he deemed any film so suspenseful that your date squeezes your arm blue. I knew about this the year before, when my mother took me to see Jurassic Park. We caught it opening weekend at the Kukui Mall but arrived a little late and had to sit in the front row. Sure enough, the film frightened my mother so much that I walked away with my right arm looking like it survived a velociraptor attack.
Twenty years later, Steven Spielberg’s monster movie holds up even better than I remembered. For the uninitiated, it stars Richard Attenborough as John Hammond, a wealthy eccentric who has funded a theme park with real dinosaurs. He invites a couple of paleontologists (Sam Neill and Laura Dern), a chaos expert (Jeff Goldblum), a “blood sucking lawyer” (Martin Ferrero) and his grandchildren (Joseph Mozello and Ariana Richards) to be the first to see the park and experience the inaugural test run. An unforeseen tropical storm, a saboteur and the ravenous appetites of the dinosaurs wreck havoc at every turn, transforming Hammond’s whimsical intentions into a bloody struggle for survival.
For a film so deservedly lauded for its still-incredible special effects, it’s to the credit of the cast that the humans aren’t blown off the screen. Neill makes a fine action hero and Dern has an earthy, natural quality that makes her character believable, even when she’s being chased by blood thirsty lizards. Goldblum is terrific, making his every line sound like an idiosyncratic ad lib and it’s touching to watch Attenborough while his dream of becoming the next Walt Disney shatters around him. Everyone’s in fine form, except for a hyper-hammy Wayne Knight, over-acting his comic relief schtick.
The thrill that Hammond and the movie itself promises is the privilege of seeing real dinosaurs. The early CGI effects and animatronics creations are so stupendous that the film still evokes a sense of shock. This is one of Spielberg’s scariest, and the best sequences have become iconic nightmare- generators for kids worldwide.
The introduction to the Tyrannosaurus Rex is Spielberg’s masterstroke, a brilliantly paced set-piece that turns the audience into knots. You may remember the famous shots of the water vibrating, as well the chilling reveal of the disappearing goat. What makes the scene so intense and terrifying is the lack of music: John Williams’ muscular score ceases entirely, and all we hear are the screams of some terrified children, as a giant set of jaws tears after them. Seriously, do not ignore the movie’s PG-13 rating.
The only misstep is the ending. After a grueling series of breathtaking, back-to-back action sequences, the film shies away from a grim conclusion and instead forces an undeserved, unnecessary feel-good moment. It’s one of the many touches that soften the darkness of Michael Crichton’s far more disturbing novel.
Still, it’s a thrill to see one of Spielberg’s most exciting achievements on the big screen again… and in 3D. The dinosaurs, and bruised forearms, are back in the theater where they belong.
Jurassic Park 3D
★ ★ ★ ★
Rated PG-13 / 97 Min.