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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/8/00
updated: 8/2/01

Jurassic Park

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Jurassic Park: Collector's Edition

Jurassic Park
Collector's Edition - 1993 (2000) - Amblin (Universal)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A

Specs and Features

127 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 38:06, at the start of chapter 8), Amaray keep case packaging, The Making of Jurassic Park documentary, video of early pre-production meetings, Spielberg's location scouting video, Phil Tippett animatic for "Raptors in the Kitchen" scene, gallery of storyboards for 5 scenes (including an omitted scene and the film's original ending), foley artists video, stills gallery (with production photos, design sketches and conceptual paintings), 3 theatrical trailers (for Jurassic Park I, II & III), dino encyclopedia, production notes, cast & filmmaker bios, DVD newsletter offer, DVD-ROM materials (including film-themed screen saver and web browser with links to official site and live JP III events), animated film-themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 3.0), subtitles: English & Spanish

Jurassic Park: Collector's Edition (DTS)

Encoded with DTS 5.1 Digital Surround
Jurassic Park (DTS)
Collector's Edition - 1993 (2000) - Amblin (Universal)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+ (see updates)/C-

Specs and Features

127 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 38:06, at the start of chapter 8), Amaray keep case packaging, The Making of Jurassic Park documentary, 3 theatrical trailers (for Jurassic Park I, II & III), dino encyclopedia, production notes, cast & filmmaker bios, DVD newsletter offer, DVD-ROM materials (including film-themed screen saver and web browser with links to official site and live JP III events), animated film-themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DTS 5.1 & DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French & Spanish

Note: We have updated this review to include some comments on the DTS audio version of Jurassic Park - look for that at the end of this text.

Remember back in early 1997, when DVD was still only available in a few test markets? It was all we could do then to dream of the day when films like Jurassic Park would be released on our favorite format. Well, that day has finally arrived and the only really sad thing about it is that so many good movies are being released on DVD now that for many, affording them all means taking a second job! These are very good times indeed for DVD fans.

I remember vividly the first time I saw Jurassic Park. I caught it at the Edwards "Big" Newport theater in Newport Beach, CA., which I believe still boasts the largest movie screen west of the Mississippi. It was a weekday and I had skipped out early on work. So, apparently, had lots of other people - the line for the 11 AM show went way around the block. The theater had even rented a massive, inflatable Godzilla and had erected it on top of the building. The place was a zoo, the atmosphere was edge-of-your-seat... and the crowd wasn't disappointed. There have only been two times when a movie has just rocked my world. The first time was Star Wars. The second was Jurassic Park. It wasn't so much that Jurassic Park is a great film, because it isn't (I'll explain that more in a minute). But when I was a kid, nothing was as cool to me as dinosaurs. I had books, plastic toy dinos, I could even name all the different kinds. And as far as I was concerned, this was as close as I was ever gonna get to seeing real, living breathing dinosaurs. That just blew me away.

The film's story is based on a novel by tech-savvy author Michael Crichton. It seems that an ambitious business magnate and showman named Hammond (played by director Richard Attenborough) has built the ultimate theme park on a Pacific island off the coast of Costa Rica - one in which the featured attraction is nothing less than real live dinosaurs. He's found their DNA in the stomachs of prehistoric insects trapped in amber, and his scientists have used it to clone new living creatures. But there's been an accident at his new park, which is close to opening, so his financial backers have demanded that he get a handful of experts to sign off on the park's safety. Hammond treks to Montana to enlist the aid of paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). Hammond offers to fund their research if they'll visit his island for a weekend and they agree... having no idea what they're getting into. Also along for the ride are an expect on Chaos theory (Jeff Goldblum), a lawyer representing the money interests (Martin Ferrero) and Hammond's two young grandchildren. Naturally, they're all astounded at the dinosaurs they see when they arrive, but it doesn't take long for things to start going wrong when they embark on a guided tour of the park. And when an approaching tropical storm and a little old-fashioned, greed-motivated sabotage get thrown into the mix, the visitors soon find themselves in a fight for survival on an island where everything seems determined to eat them.

There's just no way you can understate this - Jurassic Park marks a landmark achievement in the history of film. For the first time, special effects technicians, filmmakers and real world scientists collaborated to use Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) to create fully-digital (and fully-believable) characters on film on a vast scale. And like George Lucas before him, Spielberg's creation changed everything - no longer were filmmakers constrained by the practical constraints of filmmaking. In this new digital age, if you can imagine it, you can bring it to life.

The film's historical impact aside, the other thing that makes Jurassic Park so interesting is the sheer creative talent involved. You've got direction by Steven Spielberg, you've got special effects by the best wizards in the biz - Dennis Muren, Stan Winston and Phil Tippett (all working for this project under the roof of Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic). You've got a Michael Crichton story, you've got music by John Williams. How could this not be a huge hit? Interestingly, however, it's the sheer commercial perfectness that hamstrings the film. Did anyone else groan at the obvious product placements for Continental Airlines, Jolt Cola, Barbasol shaving cream (and the list goes on and on)? Worst of all is the blatant plug for Jurassic Park merchandise itself - lunch boxes, T-shirts, stuffed dinos... they're all there. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that we all knew those products were real - we had seen carts full of the stuff for sale in the lobby on the way into the theater! I don't think I've ever had the experience before of seeing a movie on the first showing on opening day where people in the audience were ALREADY wearing T-shirts with the movie's logo on them. Surreal. Commercialism aside, I must also confess that the whole Reddy Kilowatt-style DNA animation/exposition sequence grates heavy on my nerves. Still, watching Jurassic Park makes for an undeniably fun 2 hours in the dark. This is the ultimate B-movie - the motion picture turned roller coaster ride. Throw in the fact that this was the world's first DTS sound-encoded movie, and a bag of popcorn, and you've got some serious fun. Hell... I saw this film 4 times in the theater. And you know what? I've watched this new DVD twice already. So who cares if it isn't Lawrence of Arabia? Those are dinosaurs, man!

So how's it look on DVD? Bottom line - the anamorphic widescreen video is excellent overall. It absolutely doesn't disappoint. There is some very light edge-enhancement visible occasionally, along with a little bit of digital artifacting in some of the scenes that take place at night and particularly in the rain. And you might notice the print looking a little soft at times. But those are tiny nits to pick. The colors are always rich and accurate, black levels are very nicely rendered and there's very good detail throughout the presentation. This is very close to reference quality - not quite there, but definitely in the ballpark. I must say I'm looking forward to scanning the newsgroups when this title streets, and reading the inevitable, "OH MY GOD - THIS IS THE BEST VIDEO EVER!!" comments. Like I said - expectations are running a tad on the high side. In any case, it's extremely easy to be thrilled with this DVD picture. And I am.

The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is even better. What really surprised me was the tremendous dynamic range this mix represents. Everything sounds wonderful here, from the quietest jungle whispers and the patter of rainfall to the screeching raptors and the ear-shattering roar of the T-Rex. This is no gimmicky-sounding 5.1 mix - the use of panning and rear channel audio is very appropriate to the visuals and is very natural sounding. Whether it's the chirping of a tiny dino as it runs past behind you, or the sound of the Rex's screams up front echoing from the rear channels as if it's reflecting back from the forest behind you, this mix is completely believable. Dialogue is wonderfully clear and clean, ambiences are nicely rendered (the inside of the tour cars in the rain, for example) and the Rex's footsteps will test your system's capacity to deliver low frequency. The only thing that could be better than this would be the DTS version, and you can be sure we'll review that as soon as we can get our hands on it.

I also have to say that I'm very impressed with the quality and efficiency of the extras on this disc. Jurassic Park could easily have been designed as a 2-disc set on DVD, and no doubt many are wondering why a film like Titus would get the 2-disc treatment while this film must make do with a single disc. But I think those concerns are largely moot. I was very satisfied with the supplements this DVD delivers. First of all, the 50-minute documentary that's included on this disc, The Making of Jurassic Park, answered almost every question I had about the film. It's hosted by James Earl Jones, and features interviews with everyone important to the production. Spielberg is so prevalent here, and gives so much interesting information and insight, that I didn't even balk at the fact that there's no audio commentary on the disc. We learn here that Spielberg first became interested in directing the project before Crichton had even finished the book... and that he actually storyboarded scenes from the finished novel before a script was written. We learn of the moment that stop/go-motion animation pioneer Phil Tippett feared his talents were passe (incorrectly but understandably) when he saw that CGI could replace what he'd been hired to do. We see the CGI animators taking mime classes to learn how dinosaurs would have acted. We see Stan Winston's full-size, mechanical Rex getting waterlogged after a long day's filming in the rain. It's all here in the documentary - everything I wanted and more.

But that's not all - the DVD delivers plenty more. We get to see 6 minutes of video of early pre-production meetings, where Spielberg, Tippett, Winston, Muren and others talk about how the dinos should look and move. We see a couple of minutes of Spielberg's own hand-held video footage taken while scouting locations in Hawaii. We get a gallery of literally dozens of production photos, design sketches and conceptual partings. There are dozens more storyboards, from 5 different scenes in the film, including an omitted scene and the film's original ending. There's one of Phil Tippett's complete go-motion "animatics", which was done to show CGI animators (and Spielberg) how the "raptors in the kitchen" scene would flow dramatically and how the timing should work for effects. You get theatrical trailers for this film and Jurassic Park II, as well as a teaser trailer for JP III. You get a mini-encyclopedia of the dinosaurs in the film, production notes and cast & crew bio information. And via DVD-ROM, you get a film-themed screen saver and web browser with links to a Jurassic Park website (and eventual "live event" access to the set of Jurassic Park III, which is currently in production). Could they have found more to include on a 2-disc set? Sure. I could easily have watched all of Phil Tippett's animatics. A printable screenplay would have been great. And sure... audio commentaries would have been welcomed. But here's the point - I didn't MISS any of those things. What you do get is so comprehensive in terms of answering all your questions and covering all the different aspects of the production, that more isn't necessary. And THAT is the mark of a good DVD special edition.

Universal has accomplished a very tall order - meeting our lofty expectations for Jurassic Park on DVD. Could they have made this a more elaborate set? Sure. But I don't think that anyone is going to be disappointed. I certainly wasn't. This special edition delivered pretty much everything I wanted to know about the amazing achievement of bringing dinosaurs to life on film. The documentary alone would have made me happy and the rest is just candy. This is definitely a disc to savor. And why not? We've certainly waited long enough for it. ;-)

10/20/00 - DTS Update

We've taken the time to compare the regular collector's edition (reviewed above) with the DTS audio version, and some of you are going to be a little surprised. Usually, we tend to prefer the DTS audio versions of our favorite DVDs, but not in this case. The DTS track does deliver the usual improvements in resolution. These include a bigger, wider soundstage, with greater clarity and more natural rendition of atmosphere. Panning is smoother and music and dialogue seem to come alive. But the big problem with this track is a decided lack of low frequency. I've heard a lot of others complaining about this on the newsgroups, and I can only agree. When I listened to this film in DTS sound in the theaters, I could actually feel the bass in my chest. No one expects quite that same sensation in the living room, but I was surprised that there was so little low frequency as to be actually distracting. The Dolby Digital version of this disc resonates with bass - not so the DTS. This was the first DTS film in theaters and I wanted to be blown away with the DTS sound on DVD. I wasn't. Add to that the fact that the addition of the DTS track meant the removal of virtually all substantial bonus material other than the making-of documentary and... well, our recommendation is to buy the Dolby Digital version.

8/2/01 - DTS Update

There is now conclusive proof that the first pressings of the DTS DVD version of Jurassic Park featured defective 5.1 audio - Universal has quietly corrected the DTS sound and re-pressed the disc. The new pressing of this disc is now starting to appear in stores. The difference in the low frequency sound between the fixed and original defective discs is startling. Whereas before, I had to manually adjust both my receiver and subwoofer to obtain any kind of worthwhile bass, this new disc simply rumbles with it. My subwoofer is now far more active - THIS is the audio experience I recall from the theater. The new DTS audio easily rates an A+ for quality.

Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to identify the new disc from its packaging alone. The original release of the disc had two stickers on the front, one which promoted the Jurassic Park III weblinks the disc provided, and one which promoted the discs PlayStation 2 compatibility. Some people are reporting that the new discs don't have the PS2 sticker. Mine didn't have either. One thing you should look for is the spine label at the top of the keepcase - on the new discs, it should read: Jurassic Park (WS) (DTS). That said, THE ONLY SURE WAY TO IDENTIFY THE FIXED VERSION IS BY THE NUMBERS ON THE INSIDE RING OF THE ACTUAL DISC. The FIXED disc will read: PEMC-D2R2. The earlier pressings - the defective ones - read either PEMC-D2R0 or PEMC-D2R1. Note that it's our belief that the DTS version of The Lost World does not share this defect.

We are working to get some answers, as well as a way consumers can exchange their defective discs. Keep checking back for updates.

Bill Hunt
[email protected]

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (DTS)

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