FUN FRIDAY: Jurassic Park redux

Do you plan to see the latest (and possibly last) Jurassic movie? The franchise has certainly had its ups and downs, with the very first movie probably still being the best. I’ll reserve judgement until I see this latest iteration, but I’m one of those who really thinks they should have just stopped with one movie and called it a day.

1993’s Jurassic Park was an absolute sensation. The movie looked like nothing else of its time. You can pick on aspects of it today, but it was more than just a summer popcorn flick. It was meticulous in the way it approached the subject. It made you think in ways that other movies didn’t, which is why it ended up being so quotable. It also took the marketing concepts first applied to 1989’s Batman and expanded on them. There was JP merch everywhere, and even today when you see those fonts you think of the movie. Those fonts were just in common use back then but today they evoke one thing and one thing only: dinosaurs.

Here’s why the movie works

First of all it’s a great story by a great storyteller. Steven Spielberg was hitting his absolute prime in the 1990s. Sure, you can claim he peaked with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or ET. But in the 1990s he made Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. These are three films which could not possibly be more different, but they have one thing in common. They put you in an unfamiliar situation in a completely believable way.

So yes, the plot, the writing (by then-hot Michael Crichton), and the direction all make this a good movie. But what’s really astounding is the visual effects. Keep in mind this was two years before Toy Story, the first fully CGI film. There is no reason that this film should hold up as well as it does. Today’s game consoles can render better quality in real time than this film uses. Seriously. This was 29 years ago when a lot of people didn’t even have color monitors on their work PCs. If they even had work PCs, that is.

Know your limitations

The key is that they knew the limitations of the technology. There’s a lot less CGI than you think in this film. There’s a lot of practical effects including a real, life-sized dinosaur. The small amount of CGI that’s used convinces you very effectively that you’re looking at dinosaurs from a distance, or in the dark, or in a quick shot. Most of the long passes are just practical effects. The raptors in the kitchen scene are mostly just puppets. Seriously.

Another difference between CGI then and CGI now is that today’s CGI-heavy movies are farmed out to lowest bidders all across the globe. All that work needs to look the same so it matches in the film. So it all gets to be this very generic-looking stuff that doesn’t hold up to a bit of scrutiny. That’s the big reason that Jurassic World still doesn’t look as good as the original, despite being made 20 years later.

But what if you could…

There’s a YouTube channel called Corridor Crew where they look at classic visual effects and try to replicate them with today’s technology and zero additional budget. In some cases they really do a great job. In this case…

What’s really amazing is that despite actually spending money on stuff and getting professional motion capture, the original still looks better. And they totally admit to it. They got into detail on why the original still holds up, and the genius things that the filmmakers did to maximize what little computing power they had back then.

I don’t know if Jurassic World: Dominion will be a worthy addition to the canon or another turkey like Jurassic Park III, but like you I’ll be watching intently.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.