[box cover]

Jurassic Park: Collector's Edition

Universal Home Video

Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
and Richard Attenborough

Written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp
Based on the novel by Michael Crichton

Directed by Steven Spielberg


[box cover]

The Lost World: Collector's Edition

Universal Home Video

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite
and Vince Vaughn

Written by David Koepp
Based on the novel by Michael Crichton

Directed by Steven Spielberg


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Review by Alexandra DuPont                    


Trying to critically parse the Jurassic Park movies is a bit like trying to delve into the hidden subtext of Disneyland's "Country Bear Jamboree." Both entertainments provide fun, technically masterful rides, but both also tend to fall apart under scrutiny — and that scrutiny really only succeeds in ruining everybody's fun, like sniffing at a Ray Harryhausen "Sinbad" movie for having less-than-stellar acting and a formless plot. What's the damned point?

But still. That scene between Laura Dern and Sir Richard Attenborough in Jurassic where they're eating ice cream and talking about his flea circus? Atrocious! I, for one, never want to navigate that scenarist's miscarriage again as I'm scanning through the film looking for the next raptor attack. I mean, really: Dern's character nonsensically tells Attenborough's character to feel his way out of a problem involving dinosaurs run amok — and then she somehow reaches like five feet across a table and grabs a spoonful of Rocky Road? Stupid and in defiance of the very laws of spatial physics!...

Ahem.

Thankfully, the DVD medium finally provides a way through the thicket.

After a long wait, Jurassic Park and The Lost World are finally on DVD, and in many respects they're the sort of Spielberg platters we've been waiting for since April 1997, when DVD officially launched. The discs supplement the strengths of the two films (which are, alas, mostly technical) with tons of frequently ginchy, ILM-hagiographic extras, while allowing you to skip, with the touch of a button, all the poopy parts. Zap — Laura Dern's performance now consists solely of screaming reaction shots as she's menaced by the fruits of effects-house genius! Zap — Vanessa Lee Chester's kid-stowaway character no longer ruins a tense chase sequence by doing parallel-bars gymnastics (!) near its climax!

Like many of you, in 1993 I exited a theater showing Jurassic Park and sang that film's praises; also like many of you, in 1997 I exited a theater showing The Lost World and railed against the heavens that Spielberg could direct such a gormless sequel. In previewing these discs, however, I was shocked to discover that the more charitable expectations of home video, combined with the now-ubiquitous existence of Jurassic-caliber special effects, have worn surprisingly well on The Lost World and surprisingly thin on Jurassic Park — to the degree that I'm fairly confident that Lost World will be getting quite a bit more play in my collection.

But I'll get to that later. I'm assuming that most if not all of you have seen these movies, and I'm guessing that what you really want to know about are the DVD extras. So then:

I. The Stories, Quickly.

Jurassic Park: A semi-delusional Walt Disney type (Attenborough) clones dinosaurs from fossil DNA, then builds an amusement-park island to showcase them. Three scientists (Sam Neill, Dern, Jeff Goldblum), a lawyer (Donald Gennaro), and two cute kids (Arianna Richards, Joseph Mazello) come to visit; the park is sabotaged by a disgruntled employee (Seinfeld's Newman, Wayne Knight); and much dino-stomping and chaos ensues.

The Lost World: Hey, there's a second island of dinosaurs — and it's converged upon by a pack of hunters (led by Pete Postlethwaite and corporate weasel Arliss Howard) plus a pack of scientists and tree-huggers (Goldblum, Chester, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, The West Wing's Richard Schiff). The tree-huggers get in the way, and more (and arguably better) dino-stomping and chaos ensues — culminating in a tyrannosaurus' visit to sleepy San Diego.

II. The Extras, plus a Note on Packaging.

First off, I'd like to take a moment to declare the overly shiny new icons adorning Universal's "Collector's Edition" DVD packaging to be completely, utterly unnecessary, like foil-embossing on comic books. The original poster designs were spare and marvelous, and would have been infinitely preferable to what's substituted here — namely, reflective pictures of dinosaurs that look like they've been dipped in Tarn-X. But maybe that's just me.

Now then. These being Spielberg discs, there are no director commentaries, and sadly there are no isolated scores. But what is here is a damned sight more substantial that what's found on any other Spielberg DVD, with the possible exception of the recent Jaws 25th-anniversary release.

The Jurassic disc has the most novel goodies. First up is a 50-minute documentary, "The Making of Jurassic Park," that rightly positions the film as a crucial special-effects landmark — a quantum leap in CGI following the pioneering efforts of Young Sherlock Holmes, The Abyss and Terminator 2, which all stopped short at using computers to depict smooth, reflective objects. (In many ways, the struggle to pioneer these effects runs parallel to, and is more subtly dramatic than, the movie itself.) As with nearly every extra on these two discs, the documentary almost completely bypasses issues of character and story to showcase the efforts of mechanical-creature expert Stan Winston and ILM effects wizards Phil Tippett, Denis Muren and Michael Lantieri. Spielberg's also on hand, gushing over ILM's geek-tech demigods like he knows he needed them.

One discovers while watching "The Making of Jurassic Park" that the least convincing CGI dino effects in the film were completed first, with each sequence completed looking better than the last; ILM was truly making up this technology as it went along, and learning fast. I'm also happy to report that the documentary dwells for at least a few minutes on Tippett's terror that, thanks to CGI, his livelihood as a hands-on "Go-Motion" animator was about to become obsolete.

Also on the Jurassic disc:


There are actually more extras on the Lost World disc, though they're not necessarily as "sexy" as Jurassic's. First up is "Making the Lost World," another 50-minute documentary (produced for a never-released Laserdisc) that details the Jurassic effects team's efforts to top themselves for the sequel. The reduced thrill of discovery is almost palpable here — the effects guys even seem to be smiling less in their interviews — but it's worth watching the cool professionals craft more complicated challenges for themselves. Of note in the doc are discussions of the original ending, which involved flying pteranodons and a helicopter and will almost certainly turn up somewhere in JP3; snippets from deleted and never-shot scenes; and Spielberg actually assigning a theme to what I'd previously considered his most themeless film. Apparently — and you heard it here first — Spielberg meant The Lost World to be about "hunters vs. gatherers." Is that "sexy"?

Also on the Lost World disc are two deleted scenes, spliced together as a single scratchy chapter: (1) a bar-fight introduction of Pete Postlethwaite's white-hunter character Roland Tembo and his Indian sidekick Ajay (Harvey Jason, who's utterly indistinguishable in the film without this intro, sadly), plus (2) a boardroom scene that rather neatly introduces Arliss Howard's character, the villain of the piece. There are storyboards for major action sequences, including an unfilmed bit involving backpack hang-gliders and pteranodons — which I'll wager JP3 director Joe Johnston is filming as we speak. Finally, there are five (five!) sections of literally hundreds of still photos and drawings, titled as follows: "Models"; "Illustrations and Conceptual Drawings" (which are largely of buildings, sorry to say); "The World of Jurassic Park" (featuring a visit to Stan Winston's studios); "The Magic of ILM," which features several shots of pear-shaped individuals pointing intently at computer screens and storyboards; and "Posters and Toys," which features dozens, seemingly hundreds, of permutations of the Lost World poster logo (and which could be of no possible interest to anyone but the most obsessive-compulsive of graphic-design majors).

Extras-wise, this is a stunning wealth of riches (and I didn't even list them all; there are still more enumerated at the end of this article). Dine heartily upon them, fans of the Bearded One, as we can only expect these sorts of goodies on the Spielberg Lite entertainments; I rather doubt we'll be seeing "Liquidation of the Ghetto" animatics or "Amon Snipes a Little Boy" storyboards on the eventual Schindler's List disc.

III. Eleven Reasons Why The Lost World Has Risen in My Esteem — Possibly above Jurassic Park, but at Least to a Position of Parity — on Home Video:

Author's note: The below is offered as a point of discussion, with full acknowledgment of The Lost World's overabundance of balding and bespectacled and indistinguishable white male characters; with full acknowledgment of its frequently rambling monologues given to poor Julianne Moore, all delivered poorly; with full acknowledgment of its surprising (given the director) problems of logistics and plot structure and follow-through; with full acknowledgment of its one gymnastics-addled chase sequence that is otherwise marvelous; and with full acknowledgment of its tacked-on San Diego ending that seems a separate film entirely.

  1. It has a more interesting, albeit flawed, plot. No. Really. I'm sorry, but author Michael Crichton was ripping off his own Westworld theme-park-gone-bad storyline when he crafted Jurassic Park (and he's since ripped off Jurassic's plot frame for his last novel, Timeline). Jurassic's science-run-amok narrative saw is certainly focused, tried and true, but it loses its punch — particularly in its first hour — with repeated viewings. Spielberg wisely ditched 75 percent of Crichton's horrid Lost World novel for the movie, modeling it instead on a nearly forgotten genre: the safari picture. For this, I salute him.
  2. Jeff Goldblum takes center stage. The heavily mannered Mr. Goldblum is a perfect match for the Jurassic films: His broadly comic vocal stylings masquerading as Method are every bit as overblown as the films themselves, and much funnier. For this, I salute him.
  3. Pete Postlethwaite is Roland Tembo. Particularly given the Lost World disc's inclusion of his introductory bar-fight, Postlethwaite's character emerges as a dry, lacerating individual that I haven't seen in a movie for years — the Hemingway Man. For this, I salute him.
  4. It gets down to business, and fast. Admittedly, Lost World's 10-minute intro — wherein Goldblum is "summoned" and told by a much-creakier Attenborough that he must return to dino country — is perfunctory and quite possibly the least inspired thing Spielberg's ever done; but I also believe Jurassic's intro fails to hold up — and it, alas, is three times as long. Watching Jurassic today, when wondrous effects are commonplace, makes it all too obvious that those dolly shots of Sam Neill and Laura Dern taking off their sunglasses and gaping and what have you while the music swells are brazenly manipulative, designed to make us "feel" wonder at the sight of the dinos — which are, like an aging spouse, not as wondrous as they used to be. Lost World wisely avoids such traps of bathos.
  5. The music's better. A lot better, actually. John Williams (who's only interviewed or even acknowledged, really, in the Lost World documentary) ditches such cloying, maudlin Jurassic cues as "My Friend the Brachiosaur" and replaces them with driving percussion, dissonant cues and a safari-tinged main theme. And should you prefer the Jurassic main theme, that's here, too.
  6. The effects are much better. Self-evident. Problems of light-reflection, or specularity, are better addressed, and Winston's creature puppets, particularly a baby tyrannosaur, are nonpareil.
  7. Taken singly, Lost World has my favorite pure-cinema sequences of the series. Giving Jurassic's T-rex and raptor sequences their full and deserved due, there's a special place in my heart for Lost World's trailer-over-the-cliff bit, in which two tyrannosaurs menace a man trying to keep a giant rig from sliding into the drink, even as the rig's occupants dangle and fuss. It's a stunning, Hitchcock-level piece of editing suspense, recalling nothing so much as the compounding problems of Raiders of the Lost Ark's flying-wing fistfight by way of Temple of Doom's rope-bridge battle — only with dinosaurs!
  8. Lost World rewards multiple viewings. Well, you start to tell the balding and bespectacled and indistinguishable white male characters apart, anyway. Oh, never mind. Maybe my point is that Jurassic Park, save its suspense-driven middle section, does not reward multiple viewings as highly; its "wondrous" parts lose their wonder like rapidly decaying barium.
  9. It has a better, albeit tacked-on, climax. And one that successfully pulls off in 20 minutes what Devlin and Emmerich's "Godzilla" failed to deliver for two hours and change. The magic of DVD allows easy viewing of this sequence as a self-contained entity — which even begins and ends, after a bloody, explosive jaunt through San Diego, at the same spectacularly wrecked ship, creating a tidy narrative circle.
  10. Lost World's children and dogs are menaced with greater impunity. Self-evident.
  11. Its "good" characters aren't all that good, necessarily. If Lost World is, as Spielberg says, about "hunters vs. gatherers," then the gatherers don't come off terribly well, which is surprising given Spielberg's politics. To wit: A major narrative screw turns on the hunters and gatherers being forced to align forces after their respective camps are destroyed — but each camp destruction is the result of a direct action by the gatherers, led by Greenpeace alum Vince Vaughn, who says he was only into Greenpeace for the women, anyway. Is this not morally juicier than Richard Attenborough twinkling and saying, "Welcome ... to Jurassic Park"? Indeed it is.


Also on both the Jurassic and Lost World discs: "Theatrical Trailers," including one that's really quite brief and underwhelming for Jurassic Park III (Lightning! An island! Who cares!); a "Dinosaur Encyclopedia" that's the same on both discs (and fails to incorporate many "Lost World" animals); "Production Notes"; "Cast and Filmmakers" notes (with no bios of key ILM staff!); DVD-ROM features, which are accompanied by the following note: :The DVD-ROM features may include additional information...." ("may"?); plus a chance to sign up for some "DVD Newsletter" spam e-mail from Universal.

— Alexandra DuPont
dupont@dvdjournal.com

Jurassic Park: Collector's Edition


The Lost World: Collector's Edition



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