Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy Blu-ray Review
This US set of Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy is region-free. It has received lots of negative comments as well as lots of praise. Aye … it's one of those transfers, folks.
All three films are presented 1.85:1. Spielberg maintained that dinosaurs are tall and that going 2.35:1 would not afford him the appropriate frame to allow for them and humans in the same shot. Hmmm … that didn't bother Peter Jackson did it? A little joke there, folks! Pay attention now.
Right, from the outset, I am going to say that I am disappointed with the way that these films look on their much-anticipated Blu-ray debut. I certainly expected more. But, this said, they look pleasantly film-like, unmolested by DNR or compression artefacts, and better defined than previously seen. JP1 is, in some ways, the worst looking of the trio. And, when you consider that the likes of Zombie Flesheaters and The House By The Cemetery – both low-budget Italian gut-slingers from 1979 and 1981 respectively – have had painstakingly achieved frame-by-frame restorations from the original negatives, the end-result here, for such a tent-pole release, is somewhat short-changed.
It is clearly apparent that all three films have had their old masters brought forth for the 1080p makeover, and that Universal has not stumped-up for a new scan properly supervised and authorised by the makers, although I have heard that Spielberg apparently signed-off on these transfers anyway. Quite how much better they would look given a fresh scan is debatable … but I think they should have had one, all the same. We all know, by now, what we like from a hi-def transfer … and we should all, by now, understand the variables that can affect how one ultimately appears on the screen. As acceptable as these VC-1 encodes are, they smack of a cost-cutting, any-old-master-will-do-because-people-will- buy-them-anyway attitude.
Concerning the first entry, some people have moaned vociferously on the net already about it, whilst others have claimed to be more than happy with the results. In many ways this is apt for a transfer that is, in itself, wildly inconsistent. There is grain here, and lots of it … at times. Yet there can also a definite lack of fine resolution and, to my eyes, the image can still look processed and filtered. Facial texture, which can be seen in some shots, is not present in others. Depth of field is fine in one scene, lousy in the next. We can't blame the transfer for the appearance of some occasionally iffy CG – the first encounter, for example – but these brighter, deeper landscape vistas are let down by boosted contrast and artificial sharpening.
The best sequence in the first film is, thankfully, it’s greatest and most famous. The initial T-Rex attack is aided by the strong blacks, the acute attention to contrast – what with the rain highlighted by the menacing and evocative lighting and the torchlight – and the detail and depth that the darker, more atmospheric set-piece endorses. Here, we get plenty of detail, even in the shadows.
I didn't have a problem with the colour reproduction. Primaries look great to me. The tour-cars are fabulously well-etched with their day-glow paintwork. The sight of the buffoonish Nedry attempting to get through the storm and messing about in the little waterfall is full of vivid fidelity. The splash of gore looks bright and bold. Yellow waterproof macks sing out from the screen. Headlights are picked-out well. The lush green foliage looks, well, lush and green all right. Clothing is more than suitably well-rendered. The shades of dino-hide and dino-poop are met with subtlety and precision. Moreover, I didn't encounter any smearing, over-saturation or banding. But, alongside this, skin-tones don't look right to me. Too ruddy, too warm … sometimes too bland and invariable.
Interiors look flat and uninvolved, I'm afraid. And it is here when the transfer becomes its most underwhelming, definition and clarity falling off. The edge-enhancement isn't as overt as some like to claim, but it is still there and still noticeable, just the same.
Imagery doesn't get any better resolved with the next film.
I would say that The Lost World has been denied some texture and is less-well defined than its immediate predecessor, and the overall photography from Janusz Kaminski as opposed to Dean Cundey on the first film, is softer this time out, so the image is not as immediately crisp. But this is still a “decently” detailed image that backs-up its dino-footage with leathery close-ups of massive hides, more lush foliage to peruse – rocks and bark look fine to me - and tightly contained fast-action that still allows us to inspect the hunters' equipment and the physicality of the monsters during those wild set-pieces. And it remains far more consistent throughout.
Contrast during the first few scenes – the beach attack, Ian Malcolm meeting John Hammond – is horrible, with intensely hot whites that dazzle out edge delineation. Another scene atop the cliff when Malcolm and party realise that his daughter has towed-along with them is stricken by the same thing. But this is not a major issue throughout the rest of the film. Detail during the night-time action is agreeable, though hardly wowing. As with the first movie, the sight of intense rain combined with the lighting is what seems to make the image look better defined and more vividly rendered. There are more highlights and shadows to play around with, and contrast seems to work that much more efficiently. Blacks are terrific, though. And I would say that depth is much better this time around, despite the softer appearance of the film. Plenty of shots of encampments and valleys – the impromptu camp that the T-Rex destroys, the little green buggers that pester, chase and get some payback on Dieter on the river-course – provide a keen sense of distance, scale and dimensionality. Grain is present and, I find, much more evenly maintained and less coarse than in JP1. Edge enhancement is still to be seen.
With the third film, I found the blending of detail, colours and contrast to be a lot more even again, and the overall palette and contrast smoother. A shorter film, this one seemed to have a higher percentage of its running time set in the daytime, and the clarity seemed greater, with better defined edges and a richer, more interesting palette. Again, primaries are bold and striking. There is a sunnier disposition to this entry, which makes the image brighter, warmer and crisper. Skin-tones, this time out, seemed better to me and more natural. The sequence in the bird-cage, which is full of eerie grey mist, could have been quite problematic. I wouldn't have been surprised to find banding fuzzing things up during this scene but, happily, this was not the case at all. As the pterodactyl lumbers out of the grey fog, the purposely mired contrast aids the atmospherics no end, and detail and edge definition is still fairly well maintained. Depth is also a touch more refined than in the previous two transfers. Some of the jungle-trekking shots offer some fine three-dimensionality. As with the T-Rex attack in the first film, and the cliff-edge sequence in the second, the river-assault is played-out in a ferocious downpour … and, once again, the lighting, photography and contrast are marvellously handled. Grain is there and, as with Lost World, more even and consistent than JP1. Edge enhancement remains.
None of these transfers exhibited any aliasing or unsightly noise. They just look old and unnecessarily sharpened.
Even with transfers that aren't quite as nice as hoped for by many people, I cannot help but recommend this set for its video performance. Sure, there are things here that shouldn't be, but these films still look visually exciting and far more detailed than you've ever seen them on home video before – though this is the least you should expect from Blu-ray. The artificiality of some of this marks it down of course, and the lack of tangible resolution is also a shame. Older transfers titivated and sharpened into hi-def presentations isn't the way to go for any film, let alone something as big as Jurassic Park. But these discs trounce what we've had in the past, and no mistake. So they are an undeniably worthy upgrade.
Am I going to diss the audio mix, too?
Erm … nope! Not a bit of it.
Across the board, these DTS-HD MA 7.1 mixes rock the house and worry the foundations and do their utmost to convince your neighbours that you've opened-up a theme-park in your living room. Are they the best examples of all-round dynamic lossless surround mixes? No they probably aren't. Sound designs have improved a lot since these amazing presentations were first created and you will almost certainly have heard better examples of fully bombastic, wraparound audio on other releases. But it is extremely hard to find anything to complain in this department.
Obviously one the major selling points of this series of films was the dramatic bass levels that they had to offer. Well, you won't be disappointed with the gut-thumping .LFE that bellows out of the sub with any of the trio. The T-Rex attacks, the grinding of metal, the deep crashing impacts of prehistoric feet, the vast bodies smashing through trees and walls, the hurling and crunching of vehicles and structures, the metallic groaning of cargo-doors, a plane crash etc – it's all here, and it's in spades too. Warn the street that you're having dinosaurs round for the evening because the depth that accompanies them is not only suddenly resounding in knee-jerk shock-stingers, but awesomely sustained throughout some of the most emphatic set-pieces this side of LOTR. A favourite is always going to be the sound of the T-Rex thudding its way closer to the tour-cars. This was the element that I truly couldn't wait to hear and, to be honest, the first time I span the disc for JP, I was a touch disappointed. I'm not sure what I thought I was going to hear, folks, because when I've played it again – it's just terrific. We hear and feel the weight of each footstep as the water in the glass trembles, yet we can fully appreciate the distance they are travelling across. That, in itself, is a great piece of engineering. The bass tremor ripples out from the front to encompass us and then wobble away. This is perfectly endemic to a series of mixes that have the ability to convey bass with movement, depth, detail, pressure and absolute realism every time. The immense nudging of the trailer-van in Lost World and the intense crane and cage-pummelling of the Spinosaur in JPIII are further examples of absolutely peerless bass impact and manoeuvrability. It is pointless to go on any further about the sub-action. It is flawless and tremendously exciting – and it possesses that amazing rib-crushing effect that you only seem to get from the full theatrical experience.
Dialogue, however, could be taking a slight knock in favour of all this aural carnage. Although nobody else has mentioned it, I noticed, in the first two movies, that were some brief occasions when speech seemed to dip a tad lower than I think it should have been. Admittedly, when in the throes of a full-bore dino onslaught this should probably be expected … but still, I suspect the mix does, perhaps, favour the bombast more than anything else during a couple such moments. On the whole, however, dialogue is keen and clear and warmly presented. “We have a T-Rex.” Oh, shut up, Dickie! Nobody asked you.
There are lots of subtle elements that catch you off-guard. The cracking of the glass beneath Julianne Moore in Lost World, say, or the sound of Macey's mobile phone carried through the jungle in JPIII. Movement, even when intended to be much stealthier, emanates with accuracy and with natural-sounding panning from all the channels. The tensile-sproinging of the electrified fence, the sudden snorts of various beasts – be they veggie, meatie or just snotty – have great force and detail. The rasping or Raptor claws on metal surfaces, and the wacky squeal-yelp that they make punctuate the design with skin-crawling effect. The sound of rain pattering on waterproof macs and upon the roof of the car is clean and precise. Surround use is very impressive. The first two movies seem to carry more of this material than the third, but the delivery is always highly believable and enjoyable. The soundscape is also given instances of terrific front-to-back, and vice-versa, panning. Sound genuinely surges towards, and then around you. If you were standing-up at the time … you would run the risk of being knocked off your feet.
The score in each film is exceptionally well delivered. I know I don't like that main JP theme, but you cannot argue with the warmth, range and sweeping instrumentation that the mix affords it. Personally speaking, as I've already mentioned, the best music is to be found in Lost World, and the seriously aggressive themes that Williams brought to bear – a lot of the Max Steiner material is heartily referenced here with a raw tribal emphasis – are beautifully sent forth with vigour, depth and supreme clarity. The deeply percussive elements, which are the best and most elaborate in the trilogy, thunder away with primal intensity.
Considering that the audacious original audio mixes have been remixed for the 7.1 configuration and that the panning is seamless and utterly transparent, the bass is so devastating and the wraparound is so immersive, it is inconceivable that this set does not get the full 10 out of 10. Well, really speaking, I think I have heard better, such as War Of The Worlds which I think provides the more impressively realistic and detailed overall experience. But, even with this in mind, the Jurassics get a fabulous full score from me. These mixes were designed with incredible viewer-immersion in mind, and they are a thrill-ride even without the visuals. You won't be disappointed, that's for certain.
A three-disc platter, accompanied by digital copies of the movies comes equipped with a host of featurettes, a couple of deleted scenes, a commentary and lots of tech background. I am not going to go through the extras in any detail. Most of this stuff has been seen before, but we do get a new six-part documentary that covers the three films, with its appropriate section on the relevant discs. Called Return To Jurassic Park, this lasts for over two hours, and it offers a fair amount of all-new interviews with the cast and crew and the Beard, himself. Personally, I would have preferred this to have been just one long feature, but I can see why they've gone down this road.
The six parts are -
Dawn of a New Era
The Next Step in Evolution … which all detail the first film
Finding The Lost World
Something Survived … which look back at the second
and The Third Adventure which recalls the production of Johnston's movie.
Each of the three discs then opens-out into Archival Featurettes and more tech-specific Behind the Scenes segments. It is a shame that Spielberg still does not provide commentaries ... but we are used to this now. Still, some retro-yaks from the stars of the first two would have been nice. Just not the kids, eh?
For the record, the disc rundowns are as follows …
New Return to Jurassic Park docs
Archival Featurettes -
The Making of Jurassic Park
Original featurette on the making of the film
Steven Spielberg directs Jurassic Park
Hurricane in Kauai featurette
Behind the Scenes -
Early Pre-Production Meetings
Phil Tippett Animatics: Raptors in the Kitchen
Animatics: T-Rex Attack
ILM and Jurassic Park: Before and After the Visual Effects
Production Archives: photographs, design sketches, conceptual paintings
Jurassic Park: Making the Game
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
New Return to Jurassic Park docs
Archival featurettes -
The Making Of The Lost World
Original featurette on the making of the film
The Jurassic Park Phenomenon: A discussion with Michael Crichton
The Complete Dance Number: Thank You, Steven Spielberg, from ILM
Behind the Scenes -
ILM and The Lost World
Before and After Visual Effects
Production Archives: photographs, illustrations & conceptual drawings, models, posters etc
Jurassic Park III
New Return to Jurassic Park documentary
The Making of Jurassic Park III
The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park III
The Special Effects of Jurassic Park III
The Industrial Light & Magic Press Reel
The Sounds of Jurassic Park III
Montana: Finding New Dinosaurs
Behind the Scenes -
Tour of Stan Winston Studio
Spinosaurus Attacks the Plane
Raptors Attack Udesky
A Visit to ILM
Storyboards to Final Feature Comparison
Commentary with Special Effects Team
Folks, there's pretty much all you could wish for here. But there is also a fair chunk of fawning, powder-puff back-slapping though, that really sticks in the throat.
This US boxset contains the the same transfers as those in the UK set. You can opt for a limited edition gift-set with the big gates and a T-Rex gatecrashing, if you want, but the end result is still the same. Three huge, monster-laden action movies that may adhere to the laws of diminishing returns, thrill-wise, but still represent the best overall depiction of dino-spills-and-chills that cinema has offered us, so far. Personally, I believe that all-three are merely okay as stories, but are terrific testament to the imagination and flair of their creators who have spared no expense in making such extreme delights believable. Sam Neill is the best element of the series, bookending the series with a true sense of character, but Jeff Goldblum, against the odds, holds his own in the middle instalment. The effects, naturally, rule.
Universal don't exactly drop the ball with the video transfers, but they do fumble with it. The images here don't look all that amazing I'm afraid, and reveal that the studio has skimped on the Blu-ray release of one of its most illustrious and bankable franchises. All the extras under the sun won't make up for images that are occasionally flat and uninspiring, inconsistent in terms of detail, grain and sharpness, and obviously dated. But, being realistic, they look like film, and they offer a wealth of detail that was previously available. The audio is something else entirely. No arguments here, folks. All three movies sound wonderfully rich and dynamic and boast the sort of wraparound immersion that you long for with this type of genre.
For me, The Lost World is the one entry that I watch the most. The first film I find surprisingly slow and bereft of action once we've got past the big T-Rex escape, and I can't abide the simpering qualities that hamper the first third. JP III, on the other hand, is a lighter affair that, like the San Diego sequence in the second film, can feel tacked-on just for the sake of it – but, in spite of this, I really enjoy it. At least there's no John Hammond in it!
With rumours of the fourth instalment doing the rounds, now is your time to bite off more than you chew with three large-scale, thunderously action-packed monster-romps that are guaranteed to make the neighbours think there really is a dinosaur in the back garden!
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