The Rippling Glass of Water Returns

Ahead of the fourth film in the series, the original 'Jurassic Park' returns in 3D

That tousled-hair trio from Hanson is hitting the road this year. Ordinarily, a Hanson tour means close to nothing. But this is special: Coordinated around a new album, the boys behind "MMMBop" are using the tour to commemorate their 21st year as a band. Wow. Sit with that.

While you may not harbor any particular nostalgia for Hanson, 2013 marks another pop culture anniversary sure to make you feel old: Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park has returned to theaters, where it became one of the largest successes in motion picture history 20 years ago. At the time, it held the record for the largest worldwide box office, one of Spielberg's four films among the top 20 all-time when you adjust for inflation. How big was it? Only three films released in the next 10 years made more money around the world—Titanic, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and The Lion King.

But lest we get distracted by the raw numbers, Jurassic Park is back in 3-D, and goddamn it, it's an exceptional film. It has aged very well, all things considered, like many of Spielberg's other finely crafted multiplex classics. But it's important for a biographical reason, too: This is Steven Spielberg's last theme park ride (literally and figuratively). The movies got more serious; he'd win the elusive Best Director and Best Picture awards for Schindler's List less than a year later. Spielberg would try to recapture the popcorn movie magic from time to time and never could. Most of his can't-miss blockbusters that followed Jurassic Park missed.

There is more you may have forgotten about this than you may have remembered. The T-rex scene, one of the great reveals of the movies, is still indelible. The velociraptors, too, are incredibly familiar. We've learned since that the raptors should be covered in feathers—they're one of the species that provide us with a road map from dinos to birds—but that wasn't known in 1993 and Spielberg makes no attempt to revise history here, as he did with his E.T. rerelease a decade ago.

But if you haven't seen the film in a while, it may surprise you that Samuel L. Jackson is in this thing, or how much legit scientific exposition we get from the chaos specialist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), among others. Evolution is not treated as being in any way controversial, which is refreshing for those of us who believe there is no "controversy" to teach in the first place.

In the years that followed, summer blockbusters became really stupid. As a producer of the Transformers trilogy, Spielberg bears some of that criticism, but revisiting this film makes you wonder why Hollywood decided dumber movies would make more money. We've been on an upswing lately, thankfully enough, but when people decry the lowest common denominator stuff from the studios, it's not Jurassic Park they're indicting; this is actually a really smart movie.

It's also hailed as a landmark in CGI, and it's true that a lot of the dinosaur effects were computer-generated. But for close-up stuff, that's the realm of the late, great Stan Winston. His animatronic T-rex was 20 feet tall and weighed several tons. Now, of course, they wouldn't spend the money on animatronic, although it's worth pointing out that nobody has improved on these dinosaurs over the past two decades. And Spielberg directs the hell out of the key action scenes—that's why the emergence of the T. rex, signaled by a ripple in a glass of water, is still etched in our minds today. There are a handful of scenes just like that in Jurassic Park, and it's worth seeing them again in all their glory.

The problems here are tiny and a byproduct simply of how much time has passed. At one point, the granddaughter of the billionaire tycoon who created the park marvels at the technology in the auto-piloted SUVs that lead the tours. "An interactive CD-ROM," she exclaims wildly. Computer jargon and the entire IT universe running the park that were so ahead of the times to a 1993 audience are laughable today.

While those examples may indicate how far we've come, Spielberg's absolute control of this film shows us how far we still haven't come in many ways. The structure of the story—criticized at the time for stripping away too much of Michael Crichton's novel—is solid and effective. There aren't too many characters to go around, the pacing of the tension is still terrific and the payoffs are as good as they were 20 years ago. In short, Jurassic Park holds up better than you'd expect, and it's still a fantastic ride.

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Jurassic Park 3D is not showing in any theaters in the area.

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