It’s a Jurassic World (After All)

While the movers behind the Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek franchises aren’t at risk of losing sleep over dinosaurs just yet, the Jurassic worlds and parks do threaten to chomp on more than a few toes over the coming years.

When Jurassic Park debuted in 1993 it could have been a boom or a bust. Computer generated effects (CGI) were just coming into their own, but with a few exceptions (notably Terminator 2) they still hadn’t eaten the film business alive. Though keenly aware of his problems with the anamatronic shark in 1975’s Jaws, director Steven Spielberg was also aware that CGI, while still in its infancy, had significantly advanced the possibilities for special effects since the (on-set) practical effects of 1975.

So Spielberg went ahead. Using a brilliant combination of anamatronics and CGI he crafted a classic movie with effects that still hold up today. Four other Jurassic films have followed, three of them directed by others. Spielberg did executive-produce the last three, and given his history with the films he likely was more involved than simply signing the checks. But it’s the first one that belongs in the film hall of fame. It’s the perfect action movie, and unlike many recent efforts knows when to pause and when to put its foot on the gas. I still can’t name an action scene more skillfully paced and crafted than the first T-Rex attack. If I need to be more specific about that reference you obviously haven’t seen the film and need to do so ASAP—on the biggest screen and best sound system possible.

Reactions to these movies, particularly the sequels, has been mixed. But some of the criticisms come from viewers who might have seen them only on television, perhaps broken up by commercials—or even on a laptop! I recently revisited the some of them on their recent Ultra HD Blu-ray boxed set release, including the first four of the five films. While the contribution of high dynamic range and the upgrade to (upscaled) 4K are modest, UHD/HDR is, today, the best way to experience any of these films. The boxed set is widely available at around $50, a bargain for four UHD Blu-ray movies if you’re a fan of the franchise. The discs in the set are UHD only. Unlike single-film UHD releases there are no standard HD discs of any of the films included in the package.

I’m not a fan of the second film, also directed by Spielberg, particularly the (mini-spoiler ahead) silly sequence of a T-Rex running loose in San Diego—though that might have livened up last month’s CEDIA EXPO quite a bit. The third film was OK, and at least a bit more original than the second.

When the franchise shifted from Jurassic Park to Jurassic World it took a major turn in casting. None of the original characters were present to any significant extent (Jeff Goldblum has a pair of bookending cameos as the ever-pontificating Ian Malcolm), though their replacements, particularly Chris Pratt who in the fourth film was on the cusp of major stardom, were fine (apart from one annoying teenager).

The latest entry from this summer, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, was too recent to be included in the boxed set; it came out recently as a separate release. I didn’t see it theatrically, but have seen the UHD disc and it’s a technical triumph. The color palette and HDR (Dolby Vision) are among the best I’ve yet seen. The dark scenes (and there are plenty of them, including a stunning opening sequence), come across beautifully when viewed on a good Dolby Vision-capable set (I used Sony’s new XBR-65Z9F, review in progress). Oscar Faura’s cinematography is consistently spot-on, and more than a few shots are jaw-dropping. This was also the first Jurassic film shot with a 2.4:1 aspect ratio. The original Jurassic World was an oddity at 2.00:1, and the three Jurassic Park films were 1.85:1. You might think that this wide aspect ratio would do an injustice to the tallest dinosaurs, but because of intelligent framing it doesn’t.

The sound is equally outstanding. I haven’t as yet embraced Dolby Atmos/DTS-X object-based audio, but even without that the DTS-X soundtrack leaves nothing on the table. All the big moments are there, including the requisite dino-roars, bass-rich foot stomps, and even an exploding volcano. Michael Giacchino’s score has some drop-dead gorgeous moments. Some of them, involving big orchestral crescendos accompanied by a wordless chorus, are just a bit over-the-top and reminiscent of John Williams’ scoring for the final, face-melting scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But they do sound spectacular!

So where does this film stand with regard to its plot and characters? I admit to being prejudiced in favor of dinosaur movies, but it’s obvious from on-line user reviews (and professional ones as well) that opinions about this film are polarizing to say the least. Some like it, others hate it. I like to think that the haters just aren’t into this sort of thing, which makes you wonder why they bothered to watch it in the first place. Were they dragged to it by friends or family? As to where it falls with respect to the JP or JW sequels, I’d rate it equal to or above most of them and definitely superior to the first Jurassic World, though the latter is best seen first as a setup to this one.

Is this latest entry just dumb fun? Of course it is; are you expecting Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia?. And the way it ends certainly hints that we haven’t seen the last of the Jurassic movies; this one took in almost 1.3 billion dollars worldwide. That’s the roar that Hollywood likes best.

davidbe's picture

You wrote: "UHD/HDR is, today, the best way to experience any of these films." For the first movie and the two Jurassic World movies, I disagree. By far the best way to experience those are in 3D on an OLED.