REX N THE HOOD  

It’s what’s so right about Spielberg’s Jurassic Park that makes everything else that’s insipid and disappointing about it worth putting up with. Unquestionably the best technological performances of 1993 belong to the tyrannosaurus rex and the two velcoiraptors who run amuck in paradise. The eye-popping wonders they instill are equal to the awe and laughs they provide; practically 3-D, they’re the most satisfying nightmare FX we’ve seen up to that time. Yet, in spite of Spielberg’s signature blend of comedy and adventure, Jurassic Park isn’t the movie it might have been; when the dinosaurs aren’t around, everything looks on-the-cheap, sloppy, the required exposition wearying, and the acting tired and often ridiculous. As the movie progresses to climax, a queer transference occurs: we’re put on the monsters’ side, we’re eager to see the humans get it one by one. This ain’t the first time Spielberg sacrificed his humans to the Gods of technology: the cocaine-saturated Close Encounters didn’t bliss us out until that spectacular mother ship descends. We can feel a manic drudgery in the buildup to its arrival—Spielberg’s losing interest in the juvenile antics. An argument persists he’s not the right director for dinosaur material: he doesn’t have the blood lust to give us the brazen flesh gobbling that, say, James Cameron would. (Cameron wouldn’t be afraid to let that little screamer Ariana What’sHerFace be a star victim; his gift is being able to work within the “missions impossible” of cardboard characters, energizing the emptiness with guiltless splatterings.) What separates Spielberg’s talents from the others is that as magician he’s got sensibilities, a respect for our intelligence. But in Jurassic Park, he’s not only included scenes that don’t make much sense—how, for instance, a dino can find its way or fit into the darkened basement of the power station—he’s also fails to use characters as a bridge to us. There isn’t a single character we care about; when we do get details, like Sam Neill’s doctor not wanting kids (“they smell,” he says), they’re traps to showcase “family values” lessons without any feelings that appear natural. The lack of humanity, though, doesn’t interfere with the overall drive of the movie, because when the devourings, chases and escapes begin, all eyes are on the real stars. T.rex is quite annoyed by the jeeps that cart his potential dinners around in, and when he’s pounding on a Plexiglas roof under which the kids are fighting for their lives, or stampeding after another vehicle and ramming it, the audience is rapidly shifting from one cheek of its collective ass to the other. Okay, the kids finally come in handy: they get to endure the movie’s most unnerving sequence—when the velcoiraptors hunt for them in the chromed kitchen. How Spielberg’s computer wizards got the CGI monsters to look and act so right has to be one of the wonders of the movie world. (And remains impressive, as the menagerie grows in sequels; and in their refuse as slimy goo, the human-sucking tripods in W|ar of the Worlds are effectively nasty too.) Are the dinos really scary, though? Intense is closer, and much of that coming from the sound effects, amplifying the harrowing King Kongish roars, stomps, bites and crunchings. The sounds are so terrifically menacing that we’re less frightened than eager to see what’s creating them. Disappointing about Jurassic Park is that the only task for the characters is escape; few thoughts are expressed about what’s been left behind. Or even if the world will find out: there aren’t any CNN “Breaking News” flashes. (We’d get those in subsequent chapters.) As the actors fly away from the island, we’re feeling let down by the soggy anticlimax: If we’ve waited 65 million years for the terrorizing experience of T. rex and his cronies, might not Spielberg have thought to give us a panoramic shot of paradise going berserk by the faulty genetics? Couldn’t a velcoiraptor or two have been fried on the electric fences?

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