Jurassic Park ★★½

Cinema as theme-park ride, Spielberg on auto-pilot: one of the most annoying things about Spielberg is that even when he has absolutely nothing to say, he's still one of the most competent filmmakers ever. The first hour is front loaded with exposition - but it's never about any grander schematic which this film will run with in it's second half, but a set of (in my opinion) mostly uninteresting character quirks - as well as the character's wholly being uninteresting themselves. If this serves much purpose, its to set up Sam Neill's character trajectory as the adventurer-turned-family man, but it seems clear that the only reasoning for this is to have some form of narrative arc, as this is mainly a showcase for ILM's dinosaurs.

Another critic, maybe facetiously, noted to me that this film was no better than "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace." But that film's expository sections (really not sections - practically the entire movie) set up and then elaborate on thematic trajectories, while this seems the laziest kind of cinema - purposeless character arcs as a placeholder for VFX showcase, hoping that at the end of the day it manages to pull **some** degree of emotional response. I thought of the criticism of Lucas, and how his first Star Wars film essentially helped usher a still running era of mindless sci-fi - something Spielberg is just as guilty of - and something that Lucas in 2015 appeared to agree with. But watching Jurassic Park - and I say this with affection for the director - I realize that Spielberg is just as much the problem, if not moreso.

The film doesn't really kick into a more propelling mode until about an hour in - it takes literally an hour of nothingness to get to the first set-piece, which is quite astonishing but also sets up a key problem of the film: Spielberg indulges in his worst instincts, looking to the cheapest form of shock factor - the endangerment of children. If anything - while the second half has it's impressive share of momentum (and yeah, competent filmmaking these days has to account for something) - all I really got out of this is what it says about Spielberg himself. The first half is the outward Spielberg - white picket fence, family man, dad. The second half is his unconscious: people being brutally mutilated by dinosaurs, the electrocution of a child...but ultimately the restoration of the family unit!

I don't much like Spielberg in the 90s - in the 80s and the 00s he's quite capable of making a balancing act of propulsive action and challenging questions, with the former taking precedence in the 80s and the latter in the 00s. But in the 90s, Spielberg seems to have a drop in self confidence: he separates the two, so we get the "serious" films and the "fun" films - even though this does have its share of intensity. But that merely leads to more confusion: the sequence of the children climbing the the fence crosscut as a suspense sequence with Laura Dern turning the electricity back on is almost in as much bad taste as the shower sequence from Schindler's List. To this confusion, Spielberg misplaces his own id: sequence of intense horror seem completely misguided here, while in his other film from 1993, his adherence to Hollywood codes of narratology results in a deformation of historical truth. I don't think he really got back on track until AI.

Neil liked this review