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3-D 'Jurassic Park' still has some bite, decades later

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Forget blowing the images up to IMAX size and converting the lunging velociraptors and T. Rexes into 3-D. The best reason to revive “Jurassic Park” for its 20th anniversary is Jeff Goldblum.

Yes, children, there was a time when Goldblum was sci-fi's “ultimate explainer,” as producer Dean Devlin labeled him in “Independence Day.” Goldblum's bug-eyes said “scientist-smart,” and his mannered, considered and hesitating line-readings reinforce that. His very presence in movies from “The Fly” onward screamed “complicated science, made understandable and plausible.”

As “chaos theory” expert Dr. Ian Malcolm, Goldblum is the “Jurassic Park” skeptic in a cluster of greedy entrepreneurs and spellbound paleontologists (played by Laura Dern and Sam Neill).

Goldblum, as Malcolm, has all the “What if things go wrong?” questions. And when they do, he utters this line, in that distinct, silky Goldblum purr:

“Boy, do I hate being right all the time!”

“Jurassic Park,” adapted from Michael Critchton's conceptually brilliant novel, is a horror movie wrapped in the trappings of early '90s speculative science. Back then, kids were dino-mad, the magical letters “DNA” were on every research grant, and the wonders of genetic code were just beginning to unravel.

What a great time for a scary movie about a tycoon (Richard Attenborough) whose efforts have led to the breakthroughs that enable him and his backers to open an island theme park where dinosaurs have been back-engineered back to life.

Not that they should have been.

Things, as Dr. Malcolm predicts, will go wrong. Storms happen, cages fail, “sterile” dinosaurs turn out not to be. And people, who never walked the Earth at the same time as these beasties, are now the main item on the menu. Chaos theory incarnate.

Steven Spielberg's film captures the terror in thunderous approaching footsteps that could only belong to something bigger than King Kong, in breathy sniffs from a nose as powerful as an air compressor. The dinosaurs, impressive in their animated actions and leathery digital texture in '93, haven't lost much of their moist, tactile menace over the decades. When they start messing with the theme park's SUVs, we still shudder in the knowledge that those on-screen “are going to need a bigger truck.”

The script (by Crichton and David Koepp) is still burdened with vintage Spielberg kids in peril and melodramatic flourishes. Having Wayne Knight of TV's “Seinfeld” as the greedy programmer who sets the chaos in motion is comically too “on the nose.”

But casting Bob Peck as the gamekeeper and “Great White Hunter” because of his shared silhouette with the velociraptors he so admires was inspired. The frights still work, super-sized and turned into 3-D for your viewing and recoiling-from-the-screen pleasure. It's not nearly as scary on TV as it is in theaters.

If anything, science has closed the gap from the impossible to the merely improbable in the 20 years since this movie reminded us of “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.” Australians are close to bringing back a recently extinct species of frog, and others are working to bring back the day when dodos ruled the Earth.

Good idea? Maybe to some. But that's where Jeff Goldblum comes in handy. Nobody explained the improbable, and the risks involved in it, like Goldblum's Dr. Malcolm.

“Oh, yeah. ‘Oooh, ahhh,' that's how it always starts. Then, later, there's running and screaming.”

Roger Moore is a movie critic for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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