Movies watched: Jurassic Park (home – 127 minutes), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (home – 129 minutes), The Killing (home – 85 minutes), Killer’s Kiss
(home – 67 minutes).
Total cumulative time: 3 days, 23 hours, 24 minutes.
The Steven Spielberg blu-ray box set from Universal finishes out with his two entries in the Jurassic Park series. The original was another game changer. Based on the bestseller by Michael Crichton, the movie features a theme park of sorts, populated by dinosaurs, brought back from DNA found in mosquitoes trapped in amber. Of course, things don’t go as planned in Jurassic Park, because “Nature finds a way.” One of the reasons the premise is so appealing is because the science seems plausible, and perhaps prescient as well; scientists are doing genome sequencing on woolly mammoth DNA right now, and may be able to clone one in only a couple of years.
When Jurassic Park was first released I was working at a Jack-in-the-Box in Whittier, California. Almost every Friday night, a group of co-workers would go see a movie. We would just pick from the current week’s new releases. So this particular Friday night, the debate was between Jurassic Park and Last Action Hero, which both opened on the same day. (It’s funny to think of now, but the box office prognosticators were split over which movie would take first place. Nobody knew what a juggernaut Spielberg’s film would become). It was timing that made the decision for us. There was a JP showing in about 45 minutes. I have seen hundreds of movies in the theater, and that night was one of the most thrilling, exciting, purely visceral experiences I have ever had in a theater. The T-Rex attack sequence was amazing; everybody gasping, screaming, jumping in their seats, at precisely the same moment. What a great shared experience, and what a demonstration of how masterful Spielberg’s direction was.
And how about the cast? Every character (and actor) is distinct and believable. Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill had quietly been doing great work for decades; this film brought them the bigger audience they deserved. The screenplay is near perfect, the score (John Williams again, who else?) is memorable, the effects hold up well. Jurassic Park did for movies in the 90’s what Jaws did in the 70’s. This is Spielberg upping the ante. And it still holds up today.
Because this movie was such a runaway success, a sequel was basically a foregone conclusion. So Michael Crichton, who had not intended to write a sequel, wrote a second book. Crichton killed off the Ian Malcolm character in the first book (which the movie thankfully did not), and I love the way Crichton just casually brought Malcolm back in his sequel.
The concept of The Lost World: Jurassic Park is pretty straightforward. The idea is that the character of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, appearing in a cameo) had a second island, called Site B, where dinosaurs were still flourishing. Is it plausible that Hammond would have had a second island, and never mentioned it to anyone in the first movie, or book? It stretches plausibility, but it works. So Hammond sends Ian Malcolm (played once again by Jeff Goldblum) to Site B to document the dinosaur activity. Also along for the ride are Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore, as well as Richard Schiff and Vanessa Lee Chester as Goldblum’s young daughter, who stows away on the voyage. There is a competing team on the island, who are there to hunt and capture dinosaurs, to transport them to the mainland for use in a new commercial enterprise. The dinosaur hunters are led by the always brilliant Pete Postlethwaite, who wants to kill a T-Rex, the ultimate big-game trophy.
The first time I saw this movie, in the theater, I had a basically positive response. Seeing it now, it does not hold up terribly well. It is just a pale imitation of the first movie. The acting is good, there are a couple of good set pieces, but it is missing the sense of wonder that made the original more than just a run-of-the-mill thriller. The original movie had Spielberg’s imprint on it in virtually every scene. His touch is mostly absent from the sequel. The finale of this movie, which features a T-Rex on a rampage through the streets of San Diego, is my least fovorite part of the film. It borrows heavily from King Kong. I’m not sure why it bothers me so much, but the original Jurassic Park had seemed like a special film, and somehow moving this the mainland at the end just turns it into a very run-of-the-mill monster movie. This may be one of the most uninspired movies in Steven Spielberg’s entire catalog. It is definitely worth watching, at least once, but is a weak follow-up to the original.
Stanley Kubrick is one of those directors whose name carries a certain cachet. I am not a member of the cult of Kubrick; I do not fawn over his movies as many other cinephiles do. But I do appreciate his unique visual style. Kubrick started out as a photographer, and he always had an eye for framing. But his movies often have a languorous pace that I find frustrating. The Killing was Kubrick’s first feature-length movie that he made for a major studio. It is small budget, compared to his later films, but it has a fantastic visual flare.
The Killing tells the story of a group of guys who are planning to rob a race track, and walk away with the day’s take. The group (led by the great Sterling Hayden) have planned everything down to the last detail. Unfortunately, one of the gang (the unforgettable character actor Elisha Cook, Jr.) spills the beans to his unfaithful wife, and soon their best-laid plans have gone awry.
This movie is one of the best film-noir of the 1950’s, and has been vastly influential. It is one of the first movies to feature a fractured narrative structure, in which the same time period is viewed multiple times, from the viewpoint of different characters. Quentin Tarantino has cited the influence of this movie on his early films, especially Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. The word genius is thrown about so frequently in Hollywood that is has lost all significance; but I think Kubrick was truly a cinematic genius. Few people in the history of movie-making have made a movie this visually sure-handed, at such a young age;
Anyone who likes heist movies, caper movies, or film noir will certainly enjoy this film. And lovers of film will probably recall several movies made in the last 60 years that owe a debt of gratitude to this movie. It is well-paced and features solid performances throughout. The Criterion Collection did a fantastic job with their blu-ray version of this movie, it has never looked so good.
If you purchase this Criterion blu-ray, you will be able to view the Kubrick movie Killer’s Kiss, which is included as a bonus feature. Killer’s Kiss is the movie that Kubrick made right before The Killing. Essentially, he made this movie to try and get a deal with a major studio. Killer’s Kiss was directed, shot and edited by Kubrick on a ridiculously small budget. But his talent for framing, and his attention to detail, is already apparent at this point.
This very short movie (which breezes along at only 67 minutes) features a boxer who falls for a young woman that he sees in an adjacent apartment building. They plan to move away together. The only problem is, the girl has a night-club owner cum gangster who is in love with her, and does not want to give her up. In order for our boxer hero to get the girl, he is going to have to fight for her. The cast are all a bunch of unknowns. One of the most interesting things about this movie is the casting of Frank Silvera (a black actor, born in Jamaica) as the lead antagonist. It was not customary for a black man to get a prominent role in a movie in the 1950’s, (unless it was a role that specifically called for a “person of color”) and Kubrick cast Silvera because of his acting ability, not his race. You will probably recognize Frank Silvera; he was a good character actor who appeared in dozens of TV shows.
Kubrick’s camera work is so sure-handed. There is a great shot on a rooftop, in which we watch our protagonist (played by Jamie Smith) run around the entire rooftop, searching for a means of escape. The camera tracks him as he runs towards the camera, then away, then back again. There is also a brilliantly chaotic fight sequence which involves axes and a mannequin warehouse! Once again, Kubrick’s visual flare is astonishing.
Nothing that is seen on screen in a Kubrick film is ever accidental; he meticulously planned and framed every single shot. Look at this shot above, which is just one throwaway in a long sequence. It is pitch-perfect. If you are a fan of Kubrick, then it is well worth watching this movie, to see his early genius on display.