April 4, 2013

Movies: Dino-mite! Back to Jurassic Park, in 3-D

A box-office juggernaut 20 years ago, 'Jurassic Park' stomps back into cineplexes this weekend, this time in 3-D.

By RAFER GUZMAN McClatchy Newspapers

Imagine yourself in the Cretaceous Period," says paleontologist Alan Grant in the opening minutes of Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park." Played by a sun-tanned Sam Neill, Grant is explaining to a mouthy kid what it would feel like to be hunted down by velociraptors, the wily dinosaurs who have since terrorized millions of moviegoers worldwide.

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Sam Neill and Joseph Mazzello hide in plain sight from a Tyrannosaurus in “Jurassic Park 3D.”

Universal Pictures

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"Jurassic Park" enjoyed record-breaking success in 1993.

Universal Pictures

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"JURASSIC PARK 3D," starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Attenborough. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Rated PG-13 for intense science-fiction terror. Running time: 2:07

The point is, you are alive when they start to eat you," says Grant. "So, y'know -- try to show a little respect.

Twenty years after its release in the summer of 1993, "Jurassic Park" returns to theaters Friday in 3-D and IMAX. It's surely the opening salvo in Universal's publicity campaign for next year's planned sequel, "Jurassic Park 4," but it's also a chance to see whether Spielberg's big, brainy, science-savvy blockbuster will command respect from modern audiences. Will the movie's pioneering computer-generated effects still dazzle in 2013? Will its notions of cutting-edge technology pass the smell test? And beyond its massive popularity -- $914 million in ticket sales, a box-office record not broken until James Cameron's 1997 epic "Titanic" -- what is the larger legacy of "Jurassic Park"?

"It's a real watershed for popular culture," says Matthew Carrano, curator of dinosauria at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. "Dinosaurs were always popular with children, but post-'Jurassic Park,' dinosaurs are much more acceptable across the board. Now there are adults who find dinosaurs interesting, and aren't embarrassed about it."

"Jurassic Park" captured imaginations of all ages with a simple premise: A wealthy entrepreneur, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), is bringing dinosaurs to life after 65 million years of extinction. Using tattered dino DNA taken from ancient mosquitoes preserved in amber, and plugging the gaps with fresh frog DNA, scientists can clone everything from a galloping Gallimimus to the towering Tyrannosaurus. Hammond's dream is a dinosaur theme park, though several humans -- including Laura Dern and a pre-fame Samuel L. Jackson -- find themselves living in a splattery nightmare.

It's based on the book by Michael Crichton, the late Harvard-educated doctor turned author and filmmaker, whose stories often mixed science-fiction with real facts. "The Andromeda Strain," his bestselling book of 1969, imagined an extraterrestrial microorganism that clots human blood; his 1981 thriller "Looker," which he wrote and directed, wondered what would happen if 3-D digital modeling were applied to humans.

"Jurassic Park" was even more believable. By 1993, scientists already had been extracting DNA fragments from amber-encased creatures, including a 30-million-year-old termite. "Jurassic Park" met with some mockery -- "Frogs are amphibians, dinosaurs are reptiles," fumed paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, dissecting the movie in The New York Review of Books -- but lay audiences were convinced. Even Gould admitted, "The dinosaur scenes are spectacular."

"Plausibility was paramount," says David Koepp, who co-wrote the screenplay with Crichton. "The DNA idea about mosquitoes and blood, you get it. You take one look at it and you just understand. That removed the movie from the Godzilla type of movie, where you say, 'Well, there's some kind of radiation, and he starts stomping bridges.' This took things into the realm of science-fact."

Underscoring the film's authenticity was John "Jack" Horner, the paleontologist widely credited as the inspiration for the character of Dr. Grant. The fictional Grant, who insists that dinosaurs were close cousins to birds, certainly sounds like Horner, who in the mid-1970s helped excavate a new dinosaur genus, the nesting Maiasaura. Horner served as a consultant on the film (and all its sequels, including No. 4) and claims credit for Grant's trademark accessories, the straw hat and red neckerchief.

"My job was to make sure the dinosaurs looked as accurate as they could for the science we had at the time," says Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont. "Steven had them behave the way he wanted them to behave, but my job was to make sure they looked good and to make sure the actors pronounced their scientific names right."

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Additional Photos

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The scientist played by Sam Neill finds himself in a tight spot in “Jurassic Park 3D.” Neill has signed on for “Jurassic Park 4,” due out in 2014.

Universal Pictures

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Richard Attenborough and Samuel L. Jackson in the Jurassic Park control room.

Universal Pictures


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