Revisiting the ‘Jurassic Park’ movies before new TV series premieres

Animated series “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous,” inspired by the multi-billion dollar “Jurassic Park” film franchise, premieres Sept. 18 on Netflix.

A new animated series in the “Jurassic Park” universe is set to premiere Sept. 18 on Netflix. “Camp Cretaceous” will be the first official TV series in the franchise, and I’m excited to see another new story that takes place in this world where dinosaurs are brought back to life.

With the series set during the events of the fourth film, “Jurassic World,” I was curious about how that less-than-stellar installment held up after not seeing it since the initial theater experience in 2015, especially considering the most recent film in 2018, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” was arguably the worst so far.

As a staple re-watch from my youth, I realized I hadn’t watched the original “Jurassic Park” in half a dozen years, save for a couple of brief scenes I caught on TV, and it had been even longer since I had watched the second and third films.

Praised for their special effects and terrifying horror elements at the time, almost nothing in Hollywood ages quicker than computer-generated imagery. With that in mind, I went back and rewatched the first four “Jurassic Park” movies over the past month to see what about these summer blockbusters still work today and what don’t.

Unsurprisingly, the original 1993 movie remains a cinematic masterpiece 27 years later. Of course, the groundbreaking special effects were the biggest talking point at the time, but they still hold up today because of how smartly they were used. There are only 14 minutes of dinosaur visual effects in the whole film, and only about six were made with a computer.

So why is “Jurassic Park” so fondly remembered for its special effects? Well, those 14 minutes really stand out, but so do the minutes surrounding them where the presence of a dinosaur was only suggested through sound effects, a tree or bush rustling and shadows. It’s long been a rule in horror and thrillers that it’s what you don’t see that’s more terrifying, and this movie got that.

Thankfully, the human characters trying to survive the park with dinos on the loose are also memorable, have clear characteristics and aren’t unrealistic in their responses to what’s going on. Yes, they get panicky when a T-Rex attacks them, but they also get the job done.

So when “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” was released four years later, some of the lessons from the first film carried over, but several others did not. Watching the movie in its entirety again right after the first film, there is about twice as much dino action, but that means there are also more instances of the CGI effects not working as well.

What I appreciate most about “The Lost World” is not being a poorer rehash of the first film. Rather than revisit the same island, a team goes to a second island where they actually breed and raise the dinosaurs before transporting them to the park. While the cliché of a second island isn’t great, the possibility of having more and different dinos not seen in the first movie is a treat.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the same can be said for “Jurassic Park III,” which in more ways than one is a composite of the scraps left over from the previous two outtings — at least three sequences are scenes from the first two books that didn’t make it into their movies. While I am glad to see these scenes finally on screen, they don’t hold the same weight, especially considering how far the CGI effects had fallen.

In the third film, there’s almost no characterization and a fairly bare-boned story propped up with 1950s B-movie monster movie mayhem. And considering this film came out the same year as the incredible special effects work in “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” it just doesn’t hold up. Instead of believable dinosaurs, almost everything is uncanny CGI or badly crafted puppets.

So when returning to the fourth film in the franchise, I was rather surprised how well it held up. Granted, there are far too many sequences and winks at the camera about how this is just a revamped version of the original film — a guy wearing an original “Jurassic Park” tee-shirt from 1993 because “that park was legit” is pushing it. But thankfully, the CGI, action and characters still work for me. Let’s hope that trend continues in the TV series.

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