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Due to the fact that this three movie collection didn’t arrive at my house until the afternoon before its general release, I’m going to keep the movie sections of this review as short as I can make myself keep them. I assume most readers have developed opinions on these films already anyway.

Jurassic Park


1993 belonged to Steven Spielberg between the box office monster called Jurassic Park, and the praise monster called Schindler’s List. The impact of these films together weigh so heavily it’s almost impossible to look back on them with critical eyes. Jurassic Park was a no-brainer (out-side of the concept, of course, which is brilliant, even if author Michael Crichton was recycling the basic narrative of Westworld), and the kind of film that would’ve had an impact even if it was absolutely terrible simply because they got the special effects right. I was 13 at the time, and find myself wondering if perhaps my memories are candy-coated since the film touched me on a simple level, at a simpler time in my life ( Jurassic Park was the first time I recall having read a popular, non-required book before seeing the movie). When I complain about the empty special effects of popular modern movies like Transformers 3, I can’t help but assume 13-year-old Gabe would’ve been blinded by these same empty effects. Jurassic Park has some massive structural and narrative problems I can’t overlook as a 31 year old, but I think I’ve been able to look past these honestly, not out of nostalgia, but because Spielberg’s intuitive visual talents successfully stave off the shortcomings. Few film’s feature one image as enduring as the ‘objects in the mirror are closer than they appear’ T-rex shot, but Jurassic Park features at least five such shots, maybe more, depending on who you’re talking to. These pop-culture impacts make it pretty easy to forgive dumb plot holes, and unnatural narrative conveniences. The performances are all pretty great too, and David Koepp’s script features plenty of equally enduring one-liners that weren’t a part of Crichton’s more horror-heavy, dark novel. These overwhelm the occasionally goofy expositional dialogue.

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy

The Lost World: Jurassic Park


The Lost World should, in no uncertain terms, ever be considered a good movie. It’s a disappointing follow-up on almost every level, and falls to all of Steven Spielberg’s worst instincts. The story is predicated on an idiotic premise, and awkwardly threads the characters through a series of increasingly goofy and elongated set pieces. It’s almost amusing to see the filmmakers desperately trying to one-up themselves throughout the film. Remember how scary the T-rex was in Jurassic Park? Well now we have two[I] of ‘em! Remember that bit where the jeep fell off the concrete ledge? Well now we have a two piece trailer that falls off a [I]cliff! Remember those witty one-liners Jeff Goldblum kept spittin’? Well this time he speaks in nothing but witty one-liners! Still, I have to admit I’ve always kind of enjoyed the film despite myself, and I vaguely admire its more vicious tone. From a purely filmic perspective The Lost World has its impressive moments (the literal cliff-hanger is pretty freaking intense), but only because Spielberg set himself ridiculous tasks to keep himself entertained by the weak story line. Despite adding something like 30 minutes onto the end of the story to amuse himself (and based on opinions of the film, nobody else), the director still apparently came in under time and under budget, which is pretty impressive in these days of budgets so excessive studios refuse to admit their price tags. I also have to admit some of Goldblum’s excessive one-liners really hit, and that the late Pete Postlethwaite is wonderful as Roland Tembo, the Great White Hunter.

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy

Jurassic Park III


For whatever reason the general consensus seems to be that Jurassic Park III is the better of the two Jurassic Park sequels. It’s true that like The Lost World, JPIII is a weakly plotted, but well acted series of set-pieces, but the key difference between the films is that Spielberg’s empty set-pieces are well executed, whereas JPIII’s director Joe Johnston’s are interchangeable bouts of noise and movement. I’ve seen the film probably five times now (at least in pieces, thanks to heavy TV rotation), and still can’t recall any specific images from any of effects-heavy action scenes. Somehow the effects look less convincing too, despite Johnston’s ILM pedigree, and several years’ worth of technological improvements between films (I do slightly prefer the updated look of the raptors, though). The script was co-written by three very capable screenwriters – Peter Buchman ( Che Part 1 and 2), Alexander Payne, and Payne’s long-time writing partner Jim Taylor ( Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants). Somehow this talent pool couldn’t find anywhere fun or unique to take the franchise, and their story is very much more of the same – but bigger (often literally). Say what you will about The Lost World’s anemic (often dumb) storyline, at least Spielberg, Koepp and Crichton moved the concept to some new locations, and developed the corporate side of the franchise. This script hints at InGen having continued research, and perhaps making new dinosaurs (like the Spinosaurus), but this is dumped in favour of more action. More disappointing are the thin characterizations throughout the film. Johnston’s films are often better when dealing in personal interactions, and Payne and Taylor are almost exclusively known for their character work, but they depend almost exclusively on the top-notch cast to fill out personalities. We do learn early on that the new characters are not who they seem, but everything after that is predictable and trite. The cast is quite good, though, and some of Payne and Taylor’s wit extends to the dialogue, which can be quite funny.

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy

Video


After years of over-modulated, DNR-smoothed big ticket 1080p Blu-ray releases I’m both surprised and happy that Universal has allowed Jurassic Park to look this filmy. I probably shouldn’t be given Spielberg’s love of the format, but here I am anyway. This is a grainy image, but the grain is fine, and relatively consistent, without any major digital influence. There is occasional strobe and shutter in the edges of the frame, but no heavy chunks of film related artefacts, or noticeable damage. Details are sizably sharper than the already impressive-for-format DVD release. Spielberg and John Carpenter’s favourite director of photography Dean Cundey utilize a lot of wide-angle lenses, and aim to capture every inch of image from the front of the screen to the back, and tend to fill their 1.85:1 frame with a lot of medium and wide shots, saving close-ups for emotionally appropriate moments. If it were an option at the time, Jurassic Park would’ve made a fine IMAX experience. This increase in detail verifies how incredibly the digital effects have aged in the last 18 years, though occasionally, especially in harsher daylight, the digi-dinos look a little flat. Colours are natural, and purer than those of the less vibrant DVD release. The transfer does have issues with over-sharpening, which creates some blow-out artefacts on texture highlights, and some pretty heavy edge haloes. The daylight shots also tend to sway a little too brightly, making some of the formerly blue skies appear white, and some of the lush greens a little flat and yellow.

The Lost World is a much darker film both in tone and palette. Almost every shot seems to take place either at night, or in the middle of overcast and haze. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski tends to embrace contrast and shadows more than Dean Cundey as well, all of which set this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer a bit ahead of the Jurassic Park transfer. Kaminski’s style permeates no matter what the content, including a painterly use of colours, a more evocative use of contrast, and some swollen soft light sources. The Lost World looks less like Jurassic Park, and more like Munich, A.I. and Minority Report (minus the excessive blue tints). This transfer embraces film grain as readily as the other transfer, but is also generally cleaner than the Jurassic Park transfer. Still, no obvious DNR effects have been utilized in favour of a clearer HD image. Blacks and basic colours (especially reds and greens) are generally quite rich, solid, and sharply separated. Kaminski uses fewer wide-angle lenses, and pinpoints his focus more regularly than Cundey does, which leads to less in the way of deep-set details. But foregrounds and close-ups are even more realistic, and the more advanced dinosaur effects feature more in the way of texture. Most happily this transfer doesn’t feature the same sharpening artefacts and edge-haloes that hurt the Jurassic Park transfer (for the most part), though this could just be another symptom of Kaminski’s approach.

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy
Jurassic Park III is the most colourful of the three films, and at times the best looking of the three transfers. Director Joe Johnston, working with long time collaborator and cinematographer Shelly Johnson bring their own styles to the franchise, including bulky, busy frames, and a relatively flat compositions (their 1.85:1 framing has always looked uncomfortably pan-and-scanish to me). The 1080p enhancement allows for a lot more detail in both close-up and wide-angle details. Johnston and Johnson switch up focal lengths quite a bit, and there’s a general haze to the bulk of the jungle backgrounds, but the clarity of this transfer allows for both sharp textures, and clean softer focus details. The digital dinosaurs actually looked better on DVD, because they’re so over-detailed they don’t really match the more naturally textured in-camera elements. The sharpness does a lot to strengthen the edges on the more elaborate dino colour schemes, however, and the overall vibrancy of the hues is quite effective. On the not so good side of the coin, this transfer also features some solid edge-haloes throughout, and some of the widest wide shots are a bit muddied. These problems come and go, and aren’t a lot to complain about.

Audio


Jurassic Park was a watershed moment for movie sound design. It was the first major motion picture released in DTS sound, a company Spielberg was an initial investor in (he used also used it for Schindler’s List and We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story, which he produced), and along with Terminator 2 it put designer Gary Rydstrom on the Hollywood map. This mix is arguably the biggest advancement in cinema sound since the original Star Wars, and helped change the way filmmakers approached sound design. This 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is exactly what I expected now that Jurassic Park has finally reached Blu-ray. Right off the bat the swell and bass of John Williams’ music, and the surround influence of an angry velociraptor kicks the mix into overdrive, and there’s really no let-up for the rest of the film. Every moment is filled with either Rydstrom or Williams’ magic, from subtle natural and technical ambience, to bombastic growls and screams. The LFE features both heavy punch in the creature noises, and radiating throb in the monstrous footsteps.  I’ve always loved Williams’ score, which features some of his last hummable themes, but also find it occasionally wrong for given scenes. It just stands out in the wrong way sometimes, I suppose. There’s no mistaking how perfectly pitched and warm the music is on this mix, however. The music is never lost in the action, and blasts without high end distortion when Spielberg requires an emotional swell. The closest I can come to complaining about this mix is that sometimes the dialogue track is spread over the stereo channels to create distance between characters, and I found this kind of awkward.

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy
The Lost World is generally more of the same, and also DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, though its more recent vintage allows for a little more clarity, and a more natural overall aural tone. This mix is arguably a little less punchy, but has a generally warmer sound, and features more realistic ambience. The quieter sequences of characters wandering through the forest surrounded by chirping bugs and birds are almost as perfectly mixed as the aggressive dinosaur attacks, and the spread of the effects is quite immersive. But the dinosaurs are still here, and they’re just as loud and frightening as they are on the other track, and there are more of them to boot. Likely in an effort to find something new to do with this mix Rydstrom makes has a nice habit of juxtaposing the sounds of nature and technology, especially during the dinosaur hunt that kicks off the second act. Williams’ score is far less memorable this time around, which seems to be his M.O. when it comes to sequels that don’t have Star Wars somewhere in the title, but his music is effectively moody, and tends to fit the onscreen film better than his Jurassic Park score. The music is just as well mix and rich, and in some cases even features a stronger organic stereo spread.

Christopher Boyles took over sound design duties from Rydstrom for the Jurassic Park III (likely because Rydstrom became a Pixar mainstay), and did a fine job building upon Rydstrom’s aural themes. He introduced new, more complex dinosaur noises that fit well in franchise canon. This DTS-HD Master Audio mix is at its best when the raptors are ‘speaking’ in groups and looking for their eggs. These scenes feature unique sound design, and a great deal of directional spread throughout the channels. Boyles doesn’t layer the softer scenes quite as effectively, but his action is clear, and this mix is plenty clean. For whatever reason I found this to be the quietest of the three mixes, specifically in the vocal volumes. The big, loud action scenes, and brassiest pieces of score are plenty bombastic, but low-energy dialogue sequences are occasionally so quiet I was forced to turn up the system, only to turn it back down about when monsters start roaring. Composer Don Davis took over musical duties from John Williams, and strangely enough I find his score has more in common with Williams’ E.T. and Star Wars scores than his dinosaur related scores. Musical qualities aside, the score sounds rich and clear on this mix.

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy

Extras


The Jurassic Park extras begin with a new three part documentary entitled Return to Jurassic Park. This starts with ‘Dawn of a New Era’ (25:30, HD), which features interviews with Steven Spielberg, author Michael Crichton, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Stan Winston, designers John Rosengrant and Mark McCreery, effects supervisors Phil Tippett, Randal M. Dutra and Dennis Muren, actors Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello, director of photography Dean Cundy, production designer Rick Carter, and art director John Bell, and a sizable amount of raw behind the scenes footage (some of which can be found on the older featurettes). Subject matter includes Spielberg’s child-like approach to the material, Crichton’s approach in general, Stan Winston and his crew’s work and design, working with Jack Horner and other scientists, moving from stop motion to CG, casting, filming in Hawaii (including hurricane issues), and production and art design. ‘Making Prehistory’ (20:20, HD) features many of the same interview subjects, plus dinosaur effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, sound designer Gary Rydstrom, and puppeteer John Rosengrant, and more behind the scenes footage. It covers the bulk of the stage-based filming process, including stop motion animatics and storyboards, practical effects, sound design, dinosaur puppeteering, some minor improvisation, raptor suits (I didn’t know that one!), and the troublesome/rousing T-rex climax. ‘The Next Step in Evolution’ (15:00, HD) finishes things up with a look at the film’s post production, including digital effects, sound design, the score, and its lasting legacy, featuring more interviews with the usual suspects, plus John Williams, and more behind the scenes footage.

Under the ‘Archival Footage’ menu is the original DVD’s ‘The Making of Jurassic Park’ (49:40, SD), which covers most of the same ground as the new documentary, but features a handful of different interviews with the same subjects, a vintage EPK featurette (4:50, SD), another EPK entitled ‘Steven Spielberg Directs Jurassic Park’ (9:10, SD), and a featurette on the hurricane the production weathered in Kauai (2:10, SD). Under the ‘Behind the Scenes’ banner are ‘Early Pre-Production Meetings’ (6:20, SD), ‘Location Scouting’ (2:00, SD), ‘Phil Tippett Animatics: Raptors in the Kitchen’ (3:00, SD), ‘Animatics: T-Red Attack’ (7:20, SD), ‘ILM and Jurassic Park: Before and After the Visual Effects’ (6:30, SD), ‘Foley Artists’ (1:30, SD), five storyboards, three production image archives, a trailer, and ‘ Jurassic Park: Making the Game’ (4:40, HD).

The Lost World’s new extras begin with two ‘Return to Jurassic Park’ featurettes. ‘Finding The Lost World’ (27:40, HD) features interviews with Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, actors Jeff Goldblum, Peter Stormare, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello, designers John Rosengrant and Rick Carter, effects supervisors Mark McCreery, John Rosengrant, Michaele Lantieri, and Dennis Muren, set against raw behind the scenes footage. Subject matter includes early story ideas, characters and casting, Crichton’s book, the film’s look, designing new dinosaurs, constructing new animatronics, and developing digital effects technology. ‘Something Survived’ (16:30, HD) features the same interview subjects, plus Rydstrom and Williams, and more behind the scenes footage. It pertains more to the more extensive digital effects, sound design, music, and the T-Rex takes San Diego ending, including production art and storyboards from the original ending, and discussion on all the difficulties the final ending involved.

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy
Under the ‘Archival Featurettes’ banner you’ll find ‘The Making of The Lost World’ (53:10, SD), which again covers most of the same ground already covered in the new featurettes, a vintage EPK (13:20, SD), ‘The Jurassic Park Phenomenon: A Discussion with Author Michael Crichton’ (15:30, SD), and ‘The Compie Dance Number: Thank You Steven Spielberg from ILM’ (1:40, SD). Under the ‘Behind the Scenes’ banner is ‘ILM and The Lost World: Before and After the Visual Effects’ (20:40, SD), six production archive galleries, and 12 storyboard groups. The disc also features a collection of deleted scenes (7:10, SD), and a trailer.

Jurassic Park III starts with a feature commentary with the special effects team, including Stan Winston, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Michael Lanteri. This was part of the original DVD release as well. The only new extra is ‘Return to Jurassic Park:The Third Adventure’ (25:20, HD), which features Spielberg, Kennedy, director Joe Johnston, actors Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Trevor Morgan and Laura Dern, effects people Michaele Lantieri, Ed Verreaux, John Rosengrant and Mark McCreery,
along with behind the scenes footage (including comparison shots from the final film on occasion). Discussion includes the Jurassic Park ride in Universal Studios, hiring Johnston, the original script (which was thrown out 5 weeks into shooting), reworking the story on the fly (this explains so much), the cast and characters, the giant sets, practical effects, choosing new dinosaurs and designing/redesigning them, and final thoughts on the franchise, including memoriums for Stan Winston and Michael Crichton. Nothing is said about the film’s original army vs. dinosaur ending.

The ‘Archival Featurettes’ heading starts with ‘The Making of Jurassic Park III’ (22:43, SD), which yet again covers basically the same ground as the new featurette, ‘The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park III’ (7:50, SD), ‘The Special Effects of Jurassic Park III’ (10:30, SD), ‘Industrial Light and Magic Press Reel’ (10:10, SD), ‘The Sounds of Jurassic Park’ (13:40, SD), ‘The Art of Jurassic Park III’ (8:00, SD), and ‘Montana: Finding New Dinosaurs’ (4:20, SD). Under the ‘Behind the Scenes’ banner are a tour of Stan Winston Studio circa 2001 (3:10, SD), ‘Spinosaurus Attacks the Plane’ (1:50, SD), ‘Raptors Attack Udesky’ (1:00, SD), ‘The Lake’ (1:40, SD), ‘Visit to ILM: Concepts’ (5:40, SD), ‘Visit to ILM: The Process’ (4:20, SD/HD), ‘Visit to ILM: Muscle Simulation’ (2:30, SD), ‘Visit to ILM: Compositing’ (2:00, SD), 12 ‘Dinosaur Turntables’ (6:20, SD), three storyboard comparisons (6:10, SD), and a production photos gallery (2:50, SD). The disc is collection is finished off with a trailer.

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy

Overall


I’m sure most readers want a copy of Jurassic Park on Blu-ray, but I do find it hard to believe that The Lost World or Jurassic Park III are too high on anyone’s want list. Universal is clever to stick all three of these films in one collection, because though I’m sure they will eventually be released one-by-one, most folks with the cash are going to put it up for this release. The video quality is hit and miss overall (though the grain should not be counted as an issue against it), but an upgrade over the DVD releases, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtracks are top of the line, and the extras cover most of the behind the scenes stories you’d ever care about.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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