They do move in herds," Sam Neill marvels, purportedly gazing at his director's miracle dinosaurs but in reality directing his wonderment right into the camera — and right out at us, the viewers whose herdability made such smash successes of Jurassic Parks one and two. (Our failure to turn out for director Joe Johnston's part three suggests that we at least prefer to be corralled by a master.) All money-making films are exercises in mass manipulation, of course, but only the most alarmist of critics still have it in them to be shaken by that. If you want to feel better about how Steven Spielberg can cue stirrings of fear or awe in your brain, it helps to think of him not as an artist, but as an emcee: Dude moves the crowd.
Now converted to more-impressive-than-usual 3-D, the original Jurassic Park is again set to herd in an audience, this time of parents already appreciative of its uneasy mix of Spielbergian wonder and Spielbergian terror, and of kids ready to discover the perverse pleasure of watching actors in their own demo scream and weep at the gnashing of T. rexes.
Jurassic Park has aged surprisingly well, save the risible computer-hacking at the climax, or the little girl (Ariana Richards) gushing over the film's least miraculous of miracles, an "interactive CD-ROM!" Despite this being the movie blamed for inaugurating the age of CGI, its dino park feels like a physical place crafted in that old-fashioned movie way of location shoots and studio sets. The actors are even allowed to make an impression before becoming dino chum, though none quite gets to play a credible person. If we're meant to take Sam Neill seriously as a paleontologist, why, upon unearthing an ancient velociraptor, does he blow so many minutes of daylight with a lengthy speech designed only to terrify one of the random children he allows to wander onto his dig? And why does he never ask John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) just what's in this amusement park of his?
The long, expositional opening act plays better than you might recall, especially if you savor its almost critical self-awareness: the gift shop, the wall-to-wall logos, the Universal Studio Tour actually worked into the narrative, the lawyer whose response to the first CGI sequence is "We're gonna make a fortune."
And Spielberg's good stuff remains the best of its type. That first T. rex attack stilled the crowd at the packed preview screening I caught; one bit of business involving bloody goat parts inspired a woman to shout "Oh, shit!" at a movie that's been playing in living rooms for twenty years. For all the still-dazzling CGI and creature puppetry, what sells this is that storm's-coming wonder Spielberg hadn't summoned so smartly since Close Encounters, this time spliced with the candied dread of Jaws.
That T. rex is worth the wait, but the wait itself is even more memorable. Its water-shaking rumble made that scene the go-to demo reel for peddlers of surround-sound home theater systems for most of the '90s.
For all these high-end junk thrills, the movie still has its longueurs, usually during those passage when Spielberg the showman frets that maybe he should turn things over to Spielberg the middlebrow moralist. So we get Attenborough eating ice cream and gassing on about a flea circus, and Neill chuckling — seriously, chuckling — at fifth-grade dino riddles as his hard-boiled paleontologist, who not long before was almost eaten by T. rex, discovers that maybe he wants kids after all. The novelty of this reissue isn't the 3-D; it's that, in a theater, you no longer have the option to skim past this stuff.