It's a universal truth that Jurassic Park is a near-perfect movie, which is why its 20th anniversary re-release in 3D has elicited both elation and groans from fans. Yay, hurray, Jurassic Park in theaters! Uh oh, I hope the 3D conversion doesn't ruin the film!
So I headed up to Union Square this afternoon, strapped on some black plastic specs, and sat back to see if the 3D illusion made the film better or worse. You know what? It's so much better.
You can't help but wonder what possessed the executives who decided to put Jurassic Park out in 3D. The film is so good and so well-loved that surely flocks upon flocks would've gladly paid to see it in 2D on the big screen again. Do you really need to add new technical flashiness to make people excited about the dinosaurs eating people on toilets? The new release reeks of a cynical cash grab—you can charge more for 3D after all—and more importantly, why would you mess with a classic? Perfection is an infinity, and so at best, you're just going to get perfection again. Why risk screwing up the movie for a similar end result?
Because this time, it works. It really, really, really works. Jurassic Park 3D is excellent, and felt just as riveting the first time. I hadn't seen it on a screen bigger than 30-odd inches since I first saw it with my dad on a muggy summer day in 1993 at the Uptown in Washington DC. I know every scene in Jurassic Park inside and out, and I still found myself jumping at the film's tense and surprising moments. Jurassic Park was made for theaters just like velociraptors were made for hunting, and it's still just as impressive as it was twenty years ago. The visual effects by Industrial Light and Magic are still spectacularly realistic, and the John Williams score belted out over cinema speakers is epic as ever.
But Jurassic Park 3D wasn't just awesome because Jurassic Park is awesome. The 3D conversion really does make you feel like you're watching a whole new movie. From a technical perspective, the conversion is remarkable. It's by far the best fake 3D I've ever seen, and I would hazard that it's better than the 3D on some films that were actually shot that way.
The effect definitely worked best for wide shots with very long depth of field. Take, for example, this shot of Dr. Alan Grant is marching up a hill with John Hammond's grandchildren:
In 3D, it feels like you're standing on the hill staring out into the distance. When the character's heads appear from below, you can really feel a multi-layered sense of depth.
Similarly, framed shots with little movement really popped. It's a good reminder that sometimes a subtle 3D effect can be just as powerful as something that explodes out of the screen.
Which is not to say the 3D wasn't also entertaining for crazy action sequences. The famous T. rex scene is full of some terrifying moments. You can really feel the fear of Hammond's grandchildren who are trapped in the car as the tiny-limbed terror destroys it. And when the T. rex wrecks a building and chomps the blood-sucking lawyer off the toilet, well, it feels like you're the next course.
The conversion isn't perfect, though. There are plenty of little moments where you catch artifacts. The distortions are particularly prevalent when you've got a tight shot with fast movement in it. Occasionally, you'd get an odd jarring ripple in the image when there are cuts to close-ups of the actor's faces, or moments when their characters move towards the camera and out of the frame.
But the times the effect broke were far outnumbered by the moments when you didn't notice it at all, not because the 3D wasn't noticeable, but because it was very well done. It permeates nearly every frame, and makes nearly every frame better.
In other words, you should absolutely go see Jurassic Park 3D, no matter how worn out your Blu-ray of the original is. It's outstanding, and you'll never once wish you were only watching it in two dimensions. This film is a model for how good fake 3D can be. Yes, the source material is excellent from both a technical and storytelling perspective, and on other films it just might not work so well. But in a world where it feels like technical wizardly is more often applied as a gimmick than as a tool, it's nice to see whiz bang done right.