On Watching Jurassic Park in 3D

Last night, Yufang and I went to see the new 3D version of Steven Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park at the Regal Hollywood 24 in Atlanta.

When Jurassic Park was originally released in 1993, I saw it three times on the Saturday of its opening weekend. I was in high school, and I followed science and cinema with a singular devotion. The images of the dinosaurs as living creatures amazed me. The possibilities of science to make something like Jurassic Park a reality captivated my imagination as much as the reality of the computer and special effects technologies that breathed life into these lifeless images on the screen.

I do not believe that I have seen Jurassic Park since that important opening weekend back in 1993. Of course, I have thought about the images and techniques that made those images possible, but I didn’t return to Jurassic Park as a film experience until last night.

Yufang had never seen Jurassic Park in the movie theater, but she had seen the film several times on VHS or DVD. Certainly a smaller screen experience than what I had had, but nevertheless, it was a science fiction film that she enjoyed and wanted to experience again on the big screen. Thus, we decided to find out how the film had been transformed by 3D post-production.

As soon as the sounds and the opening titles began, I knew that we were in for an exceedingly fun experience. However, I quickly found the 3D effects more distracting than immersive. Perhaps my respect for and expectation of Spielberg’s framing choices and other filmmaking techniques created a gap between my expectation and the unequivocal thereness of 3D. While I thought that the 3D effects were interesting and occasionally exciting, I do not believe that they add anything of substance to an already important and engaging film like Jurassic Park.

Yufang and I enjoyed seeing the film together, but I was haunted by the artificiality of the 3D effects. I think that the 3D re-processing of the film created with artificial dinosaurs makes the unreality of the dinosaurs that much more present. However, I do not mean that the 3D effects make the dinosaurs seem fake. In fact, there are several scenes–particularly involving T-Rex after Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) shuts down the security fences–that make the dinosaurs seem more real. What I mean is that the 3D’s cardboard-cutout-ness of layered scenes (foreground, midground (action usually), and background) makes the film feel more artificial than the original 2D film. The trick that our brains play on us as we see a 2D film is far more immersive to me than most 3D films–especially the ones that have 3D added as an afterthought and money making venture. Of course, Avatar is a different story altogether that I spoke about at the 2010 Science Fiction Research Association Conference [some details available here].

Films like Jurassic Park should, I believe, remain in the precious state of 2D where our brains can give us the trick of immersion that 3D post-processing cannot provide. Nevertheless, Jurassic Park in 3D is a fun movie and I am glad for having gone on its updated tour with Yufang.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.