Who’s Scarier—Spielberg’s Dinos or George Lucas’s Disgruntled Fans?

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MCA / Everett

Joseph Mazzello stars in a scene from Jurassic Park.

Every Tuesday, we shine a light on a few big, worthy or just plain weird DVD releases.

The Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy

“One of my first long words was ‘triceratops’,” says Steven Spielberg, whose instant and profound access to his own childhood helped make him the wealthiest movie director of all time. Eighteen years after he translated a kid’s fears of deep water and angry fish into Jaws, he adapted Michael Crichton’s best-seller Jurassic Park into the definitive dinosaur movie. The 1993 sci-fi/horror film and its two sequels (Spielberg directed The Lost World in 1997, Joe Johnston Jurassic Park III in 2001) didn’t attain the iconic status of Spielberg’s shark picture; the humans in even the first Jurassic Park were gaseous nonentities. But the series was a special-effects pioneer, merging Stan Winston’s dinosaur puppets with ILM’s computer-generated wizardry to create gorgeous, virtually seamless images of prehistoric creatures rampaging across an island off the coast of Costa Rica 65 million years after they went extinct.

(MORE: The art of monster magician Stan Winston.)

Now, eighteen years after Jurassic Park tromped like the king of the overgrown-monster movies into theaters—in real dollars, it is the 18th top-grossing film of all time—the trilogy is on Blu-ray, in Universal’s so-called Ultimate Edition for $79.98 ($48.99 from Amazon.com). If the personal dramas play no more compellingly than they did on the big screen, just fast-forward; that’s what your remote is for. But the images look great on Blu-ray: the jungle is wetter, the subsidiary nasty characters are oilier, the dinosaurs’ skin, scales and thundering movements more realistic. And remember, the first film was made nearly at the dawn of CGI effects; in fact, Spielberg and the ILM team headed by Dennis Muren accelerated the process, with work that retains its immediacy. No need to update the FX for a new generation of fans.

The director, always the most articulate salesman of his own work, is the star of the two hours of new making-of extras, supervised by frequent Spielberg videographer Laurent Bouzerau. Spielberg explains how he oversaw the post-production of Jurassic Park even as he was shooting Schindler’s List in Krakow: he would look at FX dailies during telcom sessions, listen to snatches of John Williams’ score on his car cassette player and on weekends confer in Paris with the editor. (All in all, his juggling of the dinosaur movie with the Holocaust drama amounts to an amazing achievement in bipolar artistry.) Spielberg also says that, when planning the Jurassic Park roller-coaster adventure at Universal Studios Hollywood, he would get off before the final plunge into the water. He was afraid to take his own thrill ride.

Yet this scaredy-kid became a remorseless entertainer of frightened children. Though giant creatures like the Tyrannosaurus Rex could be majestically menacing—especially when snacking on a jeep’s innards in the first movie, or prying open a crashed plane like a sardine tin and tearing passengers from it in the third—Spielberg smartly realized that the most effective dino-villains were the kid-sized (four-foot-high) velociraptors; they could sneak up, attack quickly and scoot off in search of the next victim. The ingenious sound engineers used walrus and dolphin noises for the raptors, the slowed-down scraping of dental floss for the screeching pteranodon. Throughout much of the series, these spooky sounds weave at least as many aural shivers as the thumping or soaring John Williams score.

Spielberg finally got the monsters on land, to terrorize San Diego, at the climax of The Lost World. “Suddenly it’s a Godzilla movie,” he said on location, “and I just have only dreamed about making one of these as a child. And as a grownup I’m ashamed of myself.” But in his fantasy films the director is rarely a grownup. Putting children in peril, as he does throughout the Jurassic Park series, is less an adult’s sadism than a recovered memory from his own earliest moviegoing days. Steven the boy made these films for hundreds of millions of impressionable kids like him. At the end of one extra he says, “As much as it’s for the child still in me who loved playing with dinosaurs when I was a little kid, it’s much more for them”—the audience. “And I like having them as my partner.”

The People vs. George Lucas

OK, this guy made these three movies, and people loved them. Then he changed things in the movies, and the people who loved them hated that. Finally he made three other movies on the same theme as the first three, and the people who now loved hating him hated him some more.

The guy is George Lucas; the films are the two Star Wars trilogies; and the people are The People vs. George Lucas, Alexandre O. Philippe’s zizzy documentary about the ardor, obsessions, outrage and possessiveness—the very fanaticism—of fandom.

In 1977, when Lucas released the first Star Wars episode (or the fourth—it’s all very complicated), he created an immediate and enduring sensation that must have taken even him by surprise. Most of the profits from the film went to 20th Century-Fox, but Lucas got to keep the merchandising money, and that eventually amounted to billions. The kids who donned the Star Wars pajamas, jousted with light sabers and befriended the Luke Skywalker and Han Solo action figures got hooked on the whole grand, if shallow, multimedia blitz. And the addiction accompanied them through adolescence and into at least chronological adulthood. These untiring acolytes produced live-action, cartoon and stop-motion Star Wars tribute films. They bought endless repackagings of the first trilogy’s videocassettes (and laser discs); indeed, they bought into the Star Wars mythos. Maybe they created it. And eventually they thought that, because they loved it, they owned it.

(MORE: The 10 Ways Star Wars Changed Movies)

So they were furious when, in 1997, Lucas reissued Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in theaters and on DVD in “improved” form. He ornamented some scenes with SPFX technology not available in the ’70s, and altered others with touches that could change a character’s psychological profile—like the cantina confrontation between Han Solo and Greedo. Lucas now had the Rodian bounty hunter pull a gun on Solo, which retroactively stripped the Millennium Falcon pilot of his ruthlessness. One woman recalls that, when she first saw the scene, “I stood up right in the middle of that theater and I shouted, ‘Greedo never shot first!'” The fans saw any changes as a triple betrayal: of the canon, Lucas’ genius and their youth. Says professional Starwarsian Chris Waffle: “If Da Vinci were able to jump in a DeLorean and go through time and appear today, and then tell everyone, ‘Ya know, well, the Mona Lisa, I didn’t have the mouth quite right, let me go in and repaint some of this’, they’re not gonna let him.”

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