How Jurassic Park Changed Movie Technology

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It’s now 25 years since Jurassic Park hit movie theatres, yet it still might not be fully appreciated just to what extent Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece has impacted modern cinema. With huge, technically innovative, movies like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T under his belt, Spielberg was of course no stranger to the idea of pushing the boundaries of cinematic creativity. But with Jurassic Park he hit new heights by creating a film that still looks modern, still has the wow factor, even a quarter of a century after its release.

In a way, Jurassic Park is a generation-spanning movie, placing one foot in the old world of stop-motion animation and another in the thoroughly modern arena of CGI technology. For the former, Spielberg brought in Stan Winston, a maestro of special make-up effects, working on everything from the Terminator and The Thing to Aliens and Edward Scissorhands. His work on the animatronic models for Jurassic Park would win him the 1994 Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

Stop motion technology is nothing new of course, a technology spanning all the way back to the early era of Hollywood and arguably hitting its peak under the assured hand of Ray Harryhausen’s ‘Dynamation’ animations used in classic films like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. However, Jurassic Park employed Phil Tippett to use the innovative ‘go motion’, which incorporates motion blur into each frame. A variety of techniques can be used to create the effect, including the not-so-technological process of smearing Vaseline on the camera screen.

Lucas integral to film’s success

However, Spielberg, ever the perfectionist, decided that go motion needed more. Computer generated imagery was required to make the dinosaurs more realistic, and Spielberg knew just the people – Industrial Light & Magic. ILM played a huge role in creating the effects for Star Wars – the company was in fact founded by Spielberg’s friend and regular collaborator George Lucas – but they raised their game even further for Jurassic Park. Incidentally, a little-known fact about the movie is that George Lucas took over the post-production for Jurassic Park, as Spielberg became occupied with the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List. It is, of course, Spielberg’s movie, but you can see the Star Wars creator’s fingertips all over it.

In fact, such was the success of the CGI, which had previously been a tricky art to master, it led Spielberg to declare to Tippett “You’re out of a job.” In short, Spielberg was suggesting that the era of puppetry and animation had come to an end to be replaced by special effects wizardry found in computers. The era of the King Kong and Godzilla puppets was over, to be supplanted by CGI in films like Avatar and Lord of the Rings. Spielberg was slightly wrong, of course, as stop motion is techniques are still used in animated films – Fantastic Mr Fox, Early Man – but they are used for the very fact they are charming and unrealistic. In terms of capturing realistic fantasy, the computer is king.

Sound crucial to movie experience

When it comes to big budget blockbusters we often focus on the stunning visuals and overlook the role that sound plays in delivering the spectacular. Again, Spielberg went down the route of innovation, investing in DTS (Digital Theatre Systems), a pioneer in the use of surround sound. With Spielberg’s backing and the predicted success of Jurassic Park, over 1,000 cinemas adopted DTS in time for the film’s release.

Again, you may not think about it while watching it, but the sound effects – and the sound editing – in Jurassic Park were integral to making the movie into what it was. Above all, Jurassic Park will be remembered for its off-screen sounds: the booming thud of the T-Rex’s footsteps, the vibrations of the water in the cup; All designed to make the audience in awe of the dinosaurs before you see them. Indeed, while the dinosaurs are the star of the show, they only get around 15 mins of screen time, a fact aided by the smart use of sound.

In the end, it’s not as if Spielberg completely reinvented the idea of the blockbuster with Jurassic Park. He said himself at the time that: “I was really just trying to make a good sequel to Jaws, on land.” To say the movie was a success is something of an understatement. Jurassic Park broke box-office records to become the highest-grossing movie in history (at the time), grabbing Oscars for technical achievements, including all the sound and visual categories.

Merchandise still sells today

The film also has a Star Wars-like effect on merchandising, with dinosaurs becoming a must-have toy again across the world. Even today the Jurassic Park iconic branding still holds firm. For example, Jurassic Park slot remains one of the most popular casino games at Betway and  ‘Jurassic Park: The Ride’ is one of Universal Studio’s biggest attractions. The logo, featuring the silhouette of the T-Rex, has become so famous it does not require any wording alongside it. In fact, you will notice that Jurassic Park is one of the first films to forgo the use of actors’ names prominently on the movie posters. The message was clear – the dinosaurs were the main attraction.

Today, of course, there have been several sequels to the movie, some bad and some excellent. The success of recent reboot, Jurassic World, proved that there was still interest in the phenomenon. Although, the follow up seemed to be a bit stale. Regardless of how many reboots and sequels that come out, they will not be able to match or tarnish the legacy and impact of the original. A vehicle for Spielberg to bring movie-making into the 21st century.

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