Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Welcome to Jurassic Park

I never got to see Jurassic Park on the big screen in the summer of 1993. We never went to the movies very often. Maybe once a year when my aunt would take us at Christmas. But, I remember thinking that summer that I was missing out on something special. Everyone was talking about how amazing it was! Dinosaurs! Those new fangled computer animated special effects! The Blum! And it was the highest grossing movie of all time...for a little while anyway. It was the first time I can remember being aware of an "event" movie and I had to wait months –months!–to finally see it on VHS. But, I still remember that first viewing in our living room with all the lights out. The sheer joy of being as equally terrified as I was entertained.

And watching it again (20 years after it was released and probably about a decade since I last saw it) for this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot at The Film Experience, I was amazed at how well it's held up. I forgot how much of an actual plot (with ideas!) there is before the non-stop action. As inventive as the computer stuff was at the time, what I love best is the use of the animatronics. I miss the days of actual concrete objects interacting on a real set, casting real shadows, getting genuine reactions from the actor. No computer could replicate the intimacy of that shot of Sam Neill lying against the Triceratops while it was breathing:

And that's the thing. How do you pick just one shot from the film with so many great ones to choose from? Do you go big with one of the iconic T-Rex shots:

Or what about that awesome venom-spitting dinosaur with the colorful frill. He's like the evil cousin of Frank in The Rescuers Down Under. After all, he was able to do something that Seinfeld was never able to do: destroy Newman.

How about one of the many overreaction shots of the ever expressive Laura Dern:

After a series of over-the-top faces, I love the blank stare of the last one. It's as if her inner monologue is saying, You know what, Spielberg? I've been giving it 110% for the past two hours. I have a fuckin' Oscar nomination, for Christ sake. I've had it with these motherfuckin' over-grown lizards...

But, ultimately I decided on this shot as the best:

I love how the juxtaposition of the painting on the wall, with the shadow of the lurking raptor, and Tim's turned head, builds the suspense. The composition is carefully planned out. Three profiles: one fake, one cast, and one of a very real little boy. The fact that we don't see the actual raptor and just feel the impending danger, is greatly influenced by the choice of the shadow. After all, our fears are compounded when we began to imagine what's behind us. Spielberg is an expert at getting into the mind of a child and using Tim as a stand-in for the audience. We are able to gasp along with him.  

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