History will look back on 2011 as the year Blu-ray finally broke into the mainstream, owing in large part to a few of Hollywood's Holy Grails debuting on the high-definition format. The extended edition of "The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy" was the one Blu-ray set to rule them all in June, and we all felt a tremor in the Force when George Lucas finally unleashed all six "Star Wars" films on Blu-ray for the first time in September.
Now Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" as well as Joe Johnston's "Jurassic Park III" roar onto Blu-ray bundled together in the "Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy" edition being released on October 25.
It might have seemed like it took 65 million years for all three "Jurassic Park" movies to make the digital evolution to Blu-ray, but it was worth the wait, as the trilogy about genetically engineered dinosaurs running amok has been flawlessly restored and remastered in high definition. In addition, the immersive sound effects and classic score by composer John Williams can now be heard in pristine 7.1 surround sound for the first time.
Many of the archival featurettes from the previous DVD releases have been ported over to this set, but the Brontosaurus-sized attraction is the inclusion of two hours of all-new bonus features, including a comprehensive six-part documentary featuring interviews with Spielberg and Johnston, plus cast and crew.
One actress eager to come back and reminisce about her time in Spielberg's dinosaur park is Ariana Richards, who played InGen CEO John Hammond's granddaughter Lex Murphy. The wide-eyed vegetarian girl escaped from both a Tyrannosaurus rex and hungry raptors in "Jurassic Park" and returned for a cameo in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park."
Now 32 years old, Richards will never forget her key role in reenacting Spielberg's childhood fantasy. "What will always stay with me about working with Steven is that he said that he really wanted to make a world where he could create dinosaurs," Richards said at a recent "Jurassic Park" press event. "As a boy, he always longed to experience this without being eaten alive. As an adult, he created that world by making 'Jurassic Park,' and then he let Joey [Joseph Mazzello, who played her brother] and I have that experience that he always wanted. To walk into that world and play this character as a young person was absolutely remarkable."
Richards has since put acting aside and has become an accomplished portrait artist, but she'll never say never about a return to Jurassic Park. "I painted a piece for Steven after 'Jurassic Park' that I called 'Raptor Vision' and it was of the Jell-O scene," says Richards. "As a portrait artist, I'm my own director, so to speak, and I've learned from the best. If Steven asked me to return for another 'Jurassic Park,' I don't think I'd refuse."
One has to wonder if the giant animatronic dinosaurs on set in the "Jurassic Park" trilogy might be replaced by total CGI creations today, but Richards shudders at the thought of a totally green-screen "Jurassic Park." "It was such a rich experience for an actor to have a set that was that elaborate and full of actual creatures to respond to," said Richards. "I was fascinated by these creatures and the amount of work that the team put into them. It would be a totally different experience if there were a lot of green screen."
John Rosengrant, a puppeteer on the first "Jurassic Park" and an effects supervisor on both of its sequels, agrees with Richards that, even with advances in computer technology, a combination of practical effects and computer-graphics enhancements is the way to go. "I think it would be a bad idea to go full CG because animatronics still has a lot to offer," Rosengrant said. "I just finished 'Real Steel' and it helped to ground the performance of the actors because they have something to react to."
"The big breakthrough with ILM [Industrial Light & Magic] was giving Spielberg an extra storytelling tool in 'Jurassic Park,'" Rosengrant continued. "With animatronics and puppets, you have to cut away to what they are capable of doing. Now there was a way of looking at a T. rex running down the road in full frame from head to toe, functioning in a way we really had never seen before. It opened up the filmmaker's language or a way to interpret the movie."
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Each of the dinosaurs featured in the "Jurassic Park" trilogy has a distinct personality: Some were big, lumbering beasts kind of like giant cows that just chewed on leaves all day, while others, like the velociraptors, were highly intelligent and communicated with each other. Although each had their unique challenges, the sheer size of the animatronic T. rexes created problems previously unheard of on a movie set. "We had a 9,000-pound T. rex that had been tuned hydraulically to work at a certain weight and was supposed to be dry," said Rosegrant. "When we were in a situation where there was water on the set, the skin sort of absorbed the water and the weight changed. The T. rex started shaking, moving and not cooperating the way it was supposed to. That was a real hard day for us."
There have been myriad advances in technology since 1993's "Jurassic Park" -- heck, there's a new iPhone model every few months and a new version of Windows every other year -- and 2001's "Jurassic Park III" did feature more hybrid CG/model work than the previous two. Still, each of the "Jurassic Park" films holds up in the unforgiving high definition of Blu-ray because so much care was taken to blend seamlessly the real and unreal. Here's hoping the same attention to detail is maintained in "Jurassic Park IV," which is currently in development and is expected to be released before the next Ice Age.