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Featured Blu-ray Review: Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy

November 5th, 2011

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy - Buy from Amazon: DVD Box Set, Blu-ray Box Set or Blu-ray Gift Set

When Jurassic Park came out, the advance buzz was so great that there was almost no chance it would live up to the hype. For the most part, it did. It was the biggest hit of the year domestically, set the record worldwide and was a huge hit with critics as well. A few years later, The Lost World: Jurassic Park opened in theaters and, while it wasn't as well received by critics, it set records at the box office during its opening weekend and in the end was a massive financial success. Finally in 2001, Jurassic Park 3 opened and, while it couldn't live up to its predecessors, it was a hit. Ten years later, the complete franchise is being released on Blu-ray in a Box Set and Gift Set. But how well have the films aged over the years? And does the Blu-ray shine?

Before I begin, the plot summaries and reviews will be a little short, as the films are so well known that I think most people reading this already have their own opinion and are more interested in the special features and technical presentations the three films have to offer.

Jurassic Park

The film begins on in Isla Nublar, a small island off the coast of Coasta Rica, which was chosen by John Hammond for the location of his new theme park, Jurassic Park. A group of men are unloading a clearly aggressive and dangerous animal into its new enclosure when tragedy strikes and one of the men is attacked and killed by the unseen creature. As a result, the investors get nervous and send their lawyer, Donald Gennaro, to Mr. Hammond and explain to him that unless he can prove the park will be safe, they will pull out all of their money. They agree to send in Dr. Ian Malcolm and Dr. Alan Grant as experts to check out the park's safety. Also going along are Dr. Ellie Sattler, a graduate student of Dr. Alan Grant. Also on the island are Robert Muldoon, the game warden; Ray Arnold, the head engineer; Newman, the head computer engineer and Hammond's own grandkids, Lex and Tim Murphy, because that's how confident Hammond is that his park is safe.

Unfortunately, he wasn't counting on Newman. Newman has sold out to Lewis Dodgson the head of Biosyn and John Hammond's rival. After a rather uneventful start to their tour, they come across a triceratops that seems to be quite ill. Turns out she ate something she shouldn't have. Also, there's a storm coming in and they have to bunk down for the night. Finally, Newman shut off the security, so he can steal some dinosaur embryos and try and collect $1.5 million and all hell is about to break loose. Okay, maybe not hell, but a lot of dinosaurs are about to break loose.

Sometimes films that were huge hits many years ago don't age well. They tapped into a particular cultural zeitgeist and without the context, they feel silly. (Top Gun immediately springs to mind.) However, Jurassic Park doesn't have that problem. While the concept of dinosaurs being cloned for an amusement park doesn't have the same novelty now as it did when the movie first came out, the execution was so strong that it is as effective now as it was then. The level of suspense the film generates is impressive and the action is still exhilarating as ever. The characters are believable, the acting is strong and it just feels epic.

There are a couple things that really show the age of the film. Firstly, some of the special effects haven't aged as well. They still look great, but they no longer look groundbreaking. Also, our understanding of dinosaurs have changed in the past 18 years and if the film were made today, some of the dinosaurs would look very different. The Velociraptors should have feathers.

The Extras

The extras on the first disc start with a three-part Return to Jurassic Park featurette starting with Dawn of a New Era, a 25-minute look at the making of the movie. Making Prehistory is a 20-minute look at the special effects and The Next Step in Evolution looks at the groundbreaking special effects for another 15 minutes. There is also over an hour of archival featurettes and nearly 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes that are ported over from the previous DVD release.

There are some exclusives on the Blu-ray, but it is stuff like the pocketBLU app, D-Box track and the standard list of BD-Live features. The film does look fantastic in high definition, but like the special effects, the film is starting to show its age. Some shots are a little soft and there are a few shots that have a little too much grain. It most other aspects, the transfer is good, but not great, but certainly a step up from the DVD. The audio is better than the video and the Oscar-winning sound design will put your home entertainment system to the test. There are plenty of directional effects, the bass is put to good use and you can feel the power. While the video is showing its age, the audio is reference quality work.

The Lost World

This film begins on Isla Sorna, where a rich couple and their daughter are having lunch on the beach. Cathy, the young daughter, goes exploring and runs into some Compsognathus. It turns out this island was the home to Site-B. The dinosaurs that were hatched on Isla Nublar were brought to Isla Sorna to be raised till they were juveniles before being brought to Jurassic Park. (We did see them hatching on Isla Nublar, despite what John Hammond tells Dr. Ian Malcolm when he explains Site-B to him.) After the incident at Jurassic Park, a hurricane shut down Site-B and the dinosaurs got out. John Hammond tried to keep the island as an animal sanctuary without any interference from humans. However, now that his nephew, Peter Ludlow, has taken over his company, he needs to send a team to check out the island. This team includes Nick Van Owen, a video documentarian; Eddie Carr, field equipment specialist; Dr. Sarah Harding, the paleontologist and Dr. Ian Malcolm, whose career was ruined when he published his accounts of what happened at Jurassic Park and the public at large disbelieved him. At first Ian Malcolm doesn't want to go, but when he finds out his girlfriend, the aforementioned Sarah Harding, is already there, he rushed there to rescue her.

Dr. Ian Malcolm knows the dangers he will face, even if the rest of the team doesn't. However, there are complications Ian didn't prepare for. Firstly, his daughter, Kelly, decided to tag along and managed to go undetected by the team till they were on the island. Secondly, Peter Ludlow has sent a team of his own (scientist, hunter, etc.) and has inexplicably gone with them. They are there to capture specimens to use in a new park. This screams bad idea and you just know most will not survive the island.

So this time around, the film has lost a lot of its appeal. The novelty is no longer there; while there are some new species in this movie and a lot more dinosaurs overall, that's nowhere near as impressive as seeing the dinosaurs for the first time. Also, the suspense is gone and has been replaced by a more standard chase movie. Sure, it's a bigger movie than before, but it doesn't have the same emotional impact. It's a fun ride and a good summer popcorn flick, but not a classic like the first film.

The Extras

Like the first disc, there are some extras that are new to this release. The next two parts of the Return to Jurassic Park featurettes are Finding The Lost World and Something Survived. The first runs 28 minutes long and talks about the story and the second runs 17 minutes and talks about the special effects. There are also more than 100 minutes of archival featurettes / behind-the-scenes footage.

Blu-ray exclusives are limited to the BD-Live Lookup, pocketBLU, D-Box, etc. As for the film's audio / video quality, you can just read what I said above. Despite coming out a few years later, I don't think there's an appreciable difference in the video quality and, while the sound is not quite as good this time around, it is still amazing.

Jurassic Park III

Starting again by Isla Sorna, we watch as a soon-to-be father, Ben, and son, Erik, doing a little father / son parasailing before the former married the latter's mother. However, after the boat travels through a fog bank, they notice something is wrong with the two men piloting the boat. They appear to have been eaten. They then parasail right into the jungle on Isla Sorna. Shortly after that, Dr. Alan Grant is approached by Paul Kirby, a rich businessman, and his wife, Amanda. They want to do a flyover tour of Isla Sorna and are willing to pay for his research, if he leads the way. After the work InGen did to cloning dinosaurs, grants for actual digs have been much, much harder to come by.

So Dr. Alan Grant, Billy his assistant, Paul and Amanda Kirby, and three soon to be victims fly to Isla Sorna. However, despite being told they are just going to fly over the island, they land. This isn't a research mission, it's a rescue mission. Paul and Amanda are Erik's parents. They are almost immediately stranded thanks to a Spinosaurus attack. How will they ever get back to safety?

Maybe watching all three movies in a row was a mistake, because by the time I got the first dinosaur attack in Jurassic Park III, I no longer cared. On the other hand, the third film in the trilogy is widely regarded as the worst film of the three, so I don't think it's just me and I don't think taking a break in-between movies would have helped. At this point, all the film has going for it is the impressive special effects and the action scenes. I cared not one bit about any of the characters or about the plot. Granted, I've seen worse sequels and for a mindless action flick, it does deliver, but it is such a let down from where the franchise started.

The Extras

I believe the only new extra is Return to Jurassic Park: The Third Adventure, a 25-minute long making of featurette. There is also an audio commentary track with some of the special effects crew. There is also more than 100 minutes of extras from the previous DVD.

The Blu-ray looks a lot better this time around, which is both a blessing and a curse. Granted, the detail level is better, there's less grain, the colors are richer, etc. However, at times the special effects look worse as a result. (Better details makes the decade old CG stand out from the live action footage.) The audio is again excellent. Perhaps not reference level material like the first film was, but still top notch.

The Verdict

The Jurassic Park Trilogy started out awesome, became merely good and ended not with a bang or even a whimper, but a, "Meh." Overall, the box set is worth picking up and, for most, the Blu-ray Box Set is the clear winner of the three versions. I can't imagine many people who are interested in these films don't already have them on DVD, while most people in the target audience have likely made the leap to high definition, so I'm not even sure why they are releasing a DVD Box Set. The Blu-ray Gift Set, on the other hand, costs $30 more than the Blu-ray box set and does come with a cool sculpture. If you are a collector, it's worth paying a bit extra.

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Filed under: Video Review, Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III