I found a copy of Jurassic Park for ten bucks today, so I picked it up, thinking what a great deal I’d gotten. What I’d forgotten, though, was: 1) the movie’s 12 years old at this point (it was released in 1993!), so it’s been relegated to “classics” pricing, and 2) it’s really not very good.
Maybe that’s not fair. I mean, there’s the fact that it was written by the evil Michael Crichton, and then there’s the blatant anti-dinosaur bias. And based on how much he delights in watching them suffer, it’s clear that Spielberg hates children almost much as he hates Dennis Weaver. But overall, it’s fine for what it is: a Steven Spielberg movie.
That’s not supposed to be as condescending as it sounds (as if Mr. Spielberg were all that upset about my opinion anyway) — dude made Raiders of the Lost Ark, after all. It just means that it has all the stuff he’s great at: pacing, tension, clear and understandable plots, incorporating effects without making them seem soulless, and memorable action sequences that are excellently choreographed.
It also means that it has all the stuff that he thinks he’s good at, but really just comes across as cloying and smarmy: interminably long and overdone reaction shots, obnoxiously swelling soundtracks, and plenty of scenes clearly intended to be clever, such as the T. Rex and the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the World” banner.
I’d forgotten about Spielberg ever since he tried to reinvent himself as a Serious Director with Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan (I have to admt I haven’t seen either), but there’s still something about the guy that bugs me. The scene with the T. Rex attacking the jeeps at night is just unqualified brilliance. Even if the whole rest of the movie consisted of nothing more than grandparents and kids giving warm, knowing glances at each other while using the magic of love and a child’s imagination to bring a dying dinosaur back to life to a heartwarming John Williams soundtrack, the T. Rex scene would be awesome. As I remember, even The Lost World, a much, much worse movie, had a pretty bad-ass scene with a Winnebago falling off a cliff or some such. So the man’s capable of stuff which is just flat-out great.
So how does one explain the rest of it? Or in other words: from whence Short Round? Does the man really and truly believe that wacky and heartwarming ethnic sidekicks, or racially diverse little girls doing gymnastics to fight off velociraptors, are what’s required to give an action movie “heart?” When he’s got the little girl contorting her face in ways that just aren’t natural, and he keeps directing her “More! Really really big dinosaur! It’s going to bite you in half! And your parents will abandon you because you’re ugly! You’re more scared!” does he sincerely believe that this is what’s necessary to convey genuine emotion on the screen? Or is he the most pandering and money-minded son of a bitch on the planet, hobbling his talent to make something that he knows will sell to Middle America and gross 200 million instead of just 50?
And that, my friends, is why the internets is a great thing — blogs make it possible to bring you the freshest of movie reviews to the comfort of your home. Y’all may be saying to yourself, “Steven Spielberg movies can be cloying and pandering; yeah, thanks for the newsflash, Chuck.” But don’t think that the threat is over. War of the Worlds is coming out soon, and it’s got not only Tom Cruise but Dakota Fanning. Dakota Fanning, an up-and-coming child star who by all accounts can actually act. (And she’s from my hometown, by the way). And Jurassic Park IV is in the works!
Well, I suppose I could talk about Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but there’s not a whole lot to say. Angelina Jolie is incredibly hot, smart, funny, and just plain appealing, and I usually don’t like her. Brad Pitt is competent but basically a cipher. The movie is a lot smarter than it looks like from the ads, and it was a lot of fun to watch.