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Jurassic Park

The "Jurassic Park" Trilogy on DVD

Monstrously Good/Monstrously Bad/Monstrously "Must Own"!

Jurassic Park became one of the most popular movies in history (at least until "Titanic" came along!), and it isn't hard to see why.

It also explains how one terrific movie can morph into one terrific, one awful, and one pretty good, series of movies.

...and why Universal would release all three features in a deluxe, four disc boxed set that includes an entire disc of extra material.

Steven Spielberg directs the first two movies, the first of which is based on Michael Crichton's page-turning novel about a theme park based on cloned dinosaurs - and the second of which is based on its extremely weak sequel. The first book was fabulous, even though Crichton had actually covered the "technology run amok in a theme park" storyline many year before, in "Westworld."

It's appropriate that Spielberg made the film; it's "Jaws" all over again, but with even more fantastic monsters - and it was an excuse to advance the state-of-the-art in special effects as only Spielberg and his friend George Lucas (whose Industrial Light and Magic effects facility created the digital dinos) could do.

And, while there's maybe a total of 25% of the book in the first movie, they've definitely done it right. They've done it so right that you forgive small lapses in logic (like why does the T-Rex paddock at one moment appear relatively flat and then suddenly have a huge dropoff in it? Why, to let them have an exciting scene in which they drop a Ford Explorer over it, of course!).

By now everyone knows the story, so we won't belabor it here. Suffice it to say this is Spielberg at his best, opening your eyes wide with awe one moment, then twisting your guts around inside you the next. Spielberg can play his audience like a violin, and "Jurassic Park" is the maestro at his most polished.

All of which makes us doubly disappointed in "The Lost World," a sequel so bad it could only have been made for the money - as if Spielberg/Crichton/Universal needed it.

The Lost World is everything Jurassic Park isn't. It's ponderous, pompous, overbearing, and - a mortal sin - it's BORING! Sure we want to see more dinosaurs, but geeeez, there's more to a story than just nifty dinosaurs!

Part of the problem may be that it's also based on the novel - and, unfortunately, Mr. Crichton's "Lost World" is just as pale a shadow of the original work as is the movie. Too bad; his books are generally terrific (just as Mr. Spielberg's movies are generally must see events), but this time they both seem to be merely going through the motions. Perhaps "The Lost World" is the exception that proves the general rule that these creative individuals turn out first rate product on a regular basis.

Anyway, "The Lost World" is set mostly on an island near the site of "Jurassic Park." We learn it's actually the place where the technology and the dinosaurs were created - only later were they shipped over to Jurassic Park's island to be put on display.

Never mind the questions about how you get a Tyrannosaurus Rex to step into a shipping crate for the trip, or why they were birthing Raptors at the site of the original flick...

We've seen it all before and "The Lost World" doesn't really offer us anything new except for a "King Kong/Mighty Joe Young/Valley of Gwangi-inspired" section at the end in which a T Rex gets loose in San Diego - a section that actually ends up being the best part of the film precisely because it doesn't just rehash the first film but rather is a good monster movie/monster movie homage on its own.

Then there's Jurassic Park III which, as it turns out, is an exciting monster movie that feels like an old fashioned monster movie but with state of the art production values and effects.

After the debacle that was "The Lost World," our expectations were so low that we expected little from the third installment.

We were pleasantly, though mildly, surprised.

The writers did one thing right, right off the bat: they brought back Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant. He was always the best character from the first film, but the producers and author Michael Crichton chose to use the pompous Ian Malcolm in the second movie.

In the opening scene of JPIII, some people are boating near the now-infamous Isla Sorna. Two of them decide to do some parasailing but while things are pretty much up in the air with them, their boat is destroyed and the crew killed. By what? Well, we don't really get to see, but it isn't hard to guess, since this is, after all a Jurassic Park movie. Needless to say, the duo ends up stranded on the island.

JPIII then becomes a search-and-rescue movie, which isn't a bad idea.

Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) trick Dr. Grant and his associate Billy (Alessandro Nivola) into coming along with them to fly to the island and find their son. Fair enough.

Then, in the Bigger is Better Hollywood tradition, we discover that the T Rex and Raptor aren't the most deadly dinos on the island. Nope; there's a dino even bigger and meaner than the T-Rex; meanwhile it's discovered that the Raptors are smarter than dolphins and primates - and possibly many humans.

The first great action sequence comes when the New Dino on the Block, the Spinosaurus, gets into a fight with the T-Rex. If you're a fan of the original King Kong, you'll see right away where they got this scene - and the do a pretty good job of it (Kong's battle was longer, and still better, though, except for its comparatively primitive technology).

The other really interesting sequence involves a bunch of Pteranadons, and it's cool enough to make up for some other parts that aren't up to its excitement level.

But then the producers stuck on an ending that is just really, really, really lame. Too bad, but it sure was lucky those aircraft carriers just happened to be in the area!

The performances are fine, as is Joe Johnston's directing. The movie is lit a little darkly, though, which makes it hard to see some of the action (and isn't the action what it's all about?).

Jurassic Park III isn't nearly as good as the first film, though it's far better than The Lost World..

All three of these films have been given the "Collector's Edition" DVD treatment, and that's great! All are in presented in anamorphic widescreen, and the the picture quality is very good, though not as sharp as some "reference-quality" discs such as The Fifth Element.

The audio for all three movies is Dolby Digital 5.1 and it's rumblingly great. We were surprised to see this set isn't THX-certified (if any series cries out for such treatment it's this one), though the audio and video quality are definitely up to snuff over all - and your subwoofer will get such a nice workout it'll think it's been to a gym.

Each film also includes a generous amount of interesting extras, "Making of" featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboard presentations, preproduction meetings, animatics (early animation test storyboards) and an abundance of other goodies and notes.

Despite the fact that each of these DVD's is very complete, Universal has found enough stuff to warrant a fourth DVD "Beyond Jurassic Park," which it bills as a definitive behind the scenes look into Jurassic Park. And it is pretty good, though it's more a case of gilding the lily than actually giving us powerhouse features. Still, it beats not getting them....

The disc contains a pretty good "original featurette" on the making of the first film. There's also a look at Spielberg directing, though it's more promotional than enlightening, more animatics and an interesting but self-indulgent look at when the production was hit by a hurricane while filming on the Hawaiian island of Kawai.

Lost World extras on the fourth disc include the original featurette on the first sequel's gestation, an interesting interview with Michael Crichton himself (though he doesn't apologize!), a look at the special effects and a special "Thank you" to Mr. Spielberg from those pesky ragamuffins at ILM (it features a cute but lame dino dance number). Jurassic Park III is represented by a special effects feature, ILM's press reel, a feature on the film's sound design, "The Art of Jurassic Park III" and a promo for the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios.

The fourth disc probably wouldn't be missed if it weren't there, but if nothing else it turns this boxed set into an even more desirable collectors' edition.

Jurassic Park, from Universal Home Video
127 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen
Written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, Directed by Steven Spielberg

The Lost World, from Universal Home Video
129 minutes, widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlewaite, Arliss Howard
Produced by Gerald R. Molen and Colin Wilson
Written by David Koepp, Directed by Steven Spielberg

Jurassic Park III, from Universal Home Video
93 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Michael Jeter
Produced by Larry J. Franco, Kathleen Kennedy
Written by Peter Buchman and Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, directed by Joe Johnston.


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Updated May 13, 2006