Warning: Spoilers ahead for Jurassic World)
I was five years old when Jurassic Park opened in 1993, and I didn’t get to see it in theaters. Although I grew up watching it on video, I couldn’t tell you about the first time I saw it or how much it wowed or affected me. However, from an almost historian-like perspective, I can appreciate the effect it had on that initial audience and the place it holds in film history.
This was in an era when “event” films were few and far between, and when audiences went to see films for the special effects. They would marvel at new and creative feats accomplished and then drive home wondering “how did they do that?” This one brought about incredible hype, of seeing actual dinosaurs come to life onscreen, with special effects unlike anything seen before, helmed by the master himself, Seven Spielberg. And it made for a truly tremendous cinematic experience for many. There is a definite parallel between film and reality here. Just as the characters were amazed by dinosaurs being brought to life in front of them, so too were audiences.
Flash forward to the present day. We now live in an age where anything one can imagine can be (and probably has been) put onscreen. Thanks to computer generated images, we’ve seen the armies of Gondor wage war against the forces of Mordor, met completely digital characters like Davey Jones and the Na’Vi, and watched the Avengers battle Ultron in a city being raised into the sky. Far gone are the days of "how did they do that?" We know exactly how they did it.
One could already see the dating of Jurassic Park in 2005, when King Kong featured a stamped of Apatosauruses and a T-Rex duking it out with the title character in scenes undreamt of only twelve years earlier.
Into this world comes the newest sequel to Jurassic Park, debuting fourteen years since the last one. Starring almost entirely digital creations, Jurassic World features more dinosaurs than ever before, a fleet of pteranodons terrorizing a crowd of thousands, a monstrous aquatic Mesosaur, and a Tyrannosaurus engaged in a battle-royale with his genetically engineered successor.
The film continues along the same parallel of film and reality. The spectators of the fictional park are no longer entertained simply by dinosaurs. Something that was once revolutionary and miraculous is now old news, and the stockholders feel there needs to be a new innovation to get people excited again (However, the reveal of the good ol’ fashioned T-Rex in the end is a welcome surprise is, I believe, a welcome kick-in-the-face to this mentality).
Although we may insist that the original film, our original film, is still the best, that there is nothing like the good ol' days, will future generations find it less thrilling? After all, in 1933, King Kong featured grand special effects. But today it is mostly watched out of historical interest. Is this to be the fate of Spielberg’s groundbreaking masterpiece, to be lost in the razzle dazzle of not only this film, but the dozen other "event" films that now come out each year?
I’d like to think that once to reach a certain degree of spectacle, it becomes satisfactory (“To quote the latest film, “They’re dinosaurs, wow enough!”), and things like suspense and timing and other forms of filmmaking artistry come into play. The fact of the matter is we still get an all-too-real dinosaurs wreaking havoc, and it is pretty hard to beat well-crafted scenes like that epic T-Rex reveal, the terrifying first scene of destruction, or the chase scene of the raptors.
Not only this, but although special effects are supposed to be “better” today, the truth is they often seem more fake and cartoonish, when things are made digital when they don’t have to be. That is certainly true of this film. There is something more tangible, less cold and distant, about the effects of the first film that feels more real, and often more terrifying, than the latest film could ever achieve. It remains something that is missing from modern day blockbusters.
I believe Jurassic Park will still go down in history as a great spectacle film, and the foremost in its own series. Even for future generations.