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Monday, November 12, 2012

Trailer Talk: Jurassic Park 3D

While I don't want to go in to whether or not it's a "good idea" to re-release Jurassic Park in 3D, I think there's something to be learned from seeing that trailer in a movie theater.


Last night, at an IMAX screening of "Skyfall", I got to see some very familiar images from a movie I must have seen nearly a hundred times. The trailer for the 3D re-release of "Jurassic Park" included some of the film's iconic images, including that of the T-Rex roaring between the two stalled tour cars (at around 1:23). Of course, the experience was very sentimental for me -- those images came from a film that inspired me to pursue a career in cinema. Before I studied any other movie, I studied Jurassic Park. But the T-Rex image gave me pause. 

There it was, a beautiful, clean projection on an enormous IMAX screen. And it looked different -- not that it was different than what I remembered, but it was unlike any of the other previews. In fact, it was unlike most of the big, effects-heavy adventure films I've seen over the last few years. There was something huge and magnificent about the image, about the way it was shot, the way it was framed, and the way it was finished. On that screen, the shot was life-sized, and almost had a tangible depth to it. This was not a 3D screening, but "Jurassic Park" wasn't made for 3D, and doesn't need it.

 I've been thinking a lot about why that shot (and, in fact, most of the trailer) struck such a chord with me, and I think I've narrowed it down to two things:

1) Increasingly, the small-screen aesthetic informs big-screen movies. Lately, Hollywood has been churning out big special-effects films to try to lure movie lovers back to theaters. Unfortunately, the very filmmaking process is no longer a big-screen process. Movies are shot digitally, reviewed on small screens, edited on small screens, and make much of their money on small screens (TV and digital). The effects can be grand, but there is a grand theatricality that is missing from most newer films. "Jurassic Park" has that grand theatricality, the kind of showmanship that DEMANDS the big screen, and that fills that screen from edge to edge. There were elements of that showmanship in "Skyfall", but only in two or three scenes (fight/action scenes, shot beautifully and with surprising artfulness by Roger Deakins)

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what this showmanship is, or how it emerges. In the case of the T-Rex shot, it's a combination of camera angle, blocking, lighting, and probably a half-dozen other elements that make for not just a moving image, but a portrait of the event. It's magnificent.

2) Digital special effects have yet to master the tangibility of practical effects. Although the T-Rex in the shot is digital, there's much more reality in that shot (and in the film) than virtual-reality. Most of what we see was there to imprint on celluloid. I think digital effects can achieve this, but only if that's a priority for the filmmaker. For the most part, it seems to me that the filmmakers of current special effects films are more interested in the freedom to achieve the impossible than in the effort of making the impossible seem real and present in the film.

There's a part of me that's a little disappointed that this 20th anniversary release of Jurassic Park is a 3D release, and not simply a 2D re-release of the original film. It could teach us so much about what we should be doing with the special effects miracles at our disposal.


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