Friday, April 26, 2013

How's the 3D in 'Jurassic Park 3D'?


You know the story of Jurassic Park's 1993 release. It was "An Adventure 65 Million Years In The Making." It busted all blocks there were to be busted; it claimed the title of #1 Highest Grossing Film of All Time (until Titanic came along); it seared words like "CGI" and "Digital Sound" into the public consciousness; it inspired two sequels and then... never really got old. Two decades on, the effects in Jurassic Park are still held as a benchmark by many. Either the experience of watching it was so seminal for a generation of blown-away moviegoers, or - shockingly - the film has aged like a fine wine and improved with time. Universal is celebrating the film's 20th birthday (we feel old just typing that) with a 3D re-release. Audiences are slowly warying of these 3D retrospectives, but Jurassic Park 3D's launch looks to have reversed a downward trend in re-release box-office grosses. Perhaps that's because Jurassic Park is best seen with friends, or maybe, people of all generations just really wanted to see big-ass dinosaurs romping and stomping over Isla Nublar on the big screen one more time. Let's have a look at how its 3D turned out.

Post-Converted 3D:

Steven Spielberg, and his cinematographer Dean Cundey, originally shot Jurassic Park on 35mm film, on location in Hawaii. While most audiences remember Jurassic Park as the true dawn of CGI effects, in truth there are only a few shots in the movie that feature computer animated dinosaurs. The majority of the action was completed using massive animatronic puppets created by Stan Winston Studio. Take a look at this video created by the team who made the Velociraptors if you need convincing! So, while most of the CGI was rendered at a much lower resolution than is standard today, the rest of the in-camera filmed dino-footage still looks as good as it did in 1993. When rain bounces off the T-Rex's nose... that's because that snout was really on set. The size of the dinosaurs no doubt completely terrified the actors who were there with them.

Anyway, long story short, this on-screen realism makes Jurassic Park a reasonable candidate for the post-conversion process. Apparently Spielberg was blown away by the team who converted Titanic's 3D re-release (saying the Cameron film "looked like it had been shot originally in 3D") that he hired the same team to look after Jurassic Park's conversion. Word on the street is that Spielberg's supervision of the process lasted more than a year, and the conversion cost somewhere around $10 million to pull off. Apparently the conversion was 'manipulated' slightly, to include elements that were added especially for this version of the film (those who've seen ET's 20th Anniversary Edition might not be surprised by this...) stuff like more digital rain in the T-Rex attack scene, to add a more 'native 3D' feeling to certain shots.

Does the 3D 'pop'?

Yes, but not as often as you'd expect, and rarely very far beyond the confines of the screen. Mostly these moments are jump-scares - the famous one where a 'raptor leaps upwards at our heroes stands out - but the best shots are ones where dinosaur features like a tail or a jaw are extended just enough to make you appreciate the enormity of these creatures.

How's the depth of the 3D?

Things start to go off-the-rails with Jurassic Park's conversion when we start looking at its emulation of depth. Imagine a shot filled with ferns, where a few are digitally brought further forwards than their peers. This is an eminently reasonable thing to do if you need to create the illusion of 'depth' from a 2D image. Unfortunately for Jurassic Park, this sort of trick seems to back-fire quite a bit: the fern that's been brought forward is grainy and filled with noisy artefacts that betray the illusion. The deep background and the majority of the midground look fine, because they're either at 100% of their size, or they've been shrunk and blurred, but the foreground frequently appears detached from the rest of the image. If you can get over the harshness of the film grain though, you'll definitely enjoy the range of depths offered, particularly in scenes featuring the (apparently free-roaming) Brachiosaurs.

Did it make sense to add 3D to Jurassic Park?
The answer to that question is a bit mixed. You have to look at three factors here: audience perception, commercial necessity, and then - more boringly - the perspective of keen stereographic fanboys like ourselves at 3Defence. Let's start with the audience pereception. Anecdotally, most people consider these dinosaurs the best looking ones ever put to film, and everyone wants to see gigantic dinosaurs eating people... right? Seeing them in 3D is a bonus, if it further helps sell the illusion these creatures are real.

Looked at purely commercially though... next year, for better or worse, we get to see Jurassic Park 4. This re-release was likely motivated by a need to conjure up 'brand awareness' and 'relevancy' again. For all we know, the $10 million conversion costs were attributed to the marketing budget of JP4, particularly because it helps put that sequel on surer footing. There's no word yet on whether JP4 will be in 3D (shooting starts in July, so details in general are hazy) but it's safe to assume it'll have a stereoscopic version of some kind released. In the meantime, these are the best dinosaurs on offer at a multiplex.

Looked at from a more practical (and geeky) perspective though, 3Defence always had some reservations about this conversion. The main set-pieces don't lend themselves to "the 3D experience" at all. For example, the T-Rex and Dilophaurus attacks occur in dimly lit night-time scenes; the 'raptor attack is largely contained to a dimly lit kitchens, hallways and offices; while the sick triceratops scene has dull looking colours in it throughout. Even the film's producer, Kathleen Kennedy, says "so many of the big, iconic, moments are in relatively small spaces." Thinking about it, we'd actually argue The Lost World's brightly lit, almost harsh, vibrantly coloured palette might have been better suited to 3D projection. We went to this film cautiously optimistic, but we came out convinced our gut instinct was right all along: Jurassic Park was a tough film to get right in 3D, and never really lent itself to the conversion process.

If we had to archive one version, should we save the 2D or the 3D?

The appeal of Jurassic Park has always been that it felt like someone somehow made a 'B-Movie' into an 'A-Movie'. Despite its blockbusting reputation, it's actually quite a small film, cobbled together with focused set-pieces in small spaces, wonderful character actors and a mere $63 million budget. In 2012, 3Defence had the pleasure of watching a 2D digital remaster of Jurassic Park and the film felt more honest, visually. The 2013 version's 3D effects change your perception of the film from being an 'over-performing B-Movie' to one where you come away thinking "that's a pretty strange A-Movie." The 3D layering is done reasonably well, but they sometimes add grain where there shouldn't be, and they darken the image in the few moments of levity and light. Ultimately, this 3D conversion was one we couldn't get behind.

The film itself

It is that rarity in modern cinema: a blockbuster that has barely aged a day, maybe even improving since its release. That's probably because Spielberg surrounded himself with amazing collaborators: John Williams still at the peak of his powers, Stan Winston's studio literally firing on all cylinders, ILM completely re-writing the rulebook for digital effects, and - of course - Jeff Goldblum in all his glory. Jurassic Park remains a fantastically fun film, whether you view it with glasses on or not. In this case though, we recommend the 2D version, to experience JP in all its uninhibited glory.


  1. I thought the 3D was really impressive. It really did add that sense of illusion where you're actually staring at that brachiosaurus from a distance. That was no doubt an iconic moment in cinema history, and the 3D further enhances that escapism in that scene and throughout the movie.

    I should also note that this movie was remastered differently than the sub-par 2011 2D Blu-Ray, which was edge-enhanced + artificially sharpened with the dated "DVD" transfer". The 3D version was scanned at 4K and color corrected, matching closer to the original 35mm print. It now looks like the same old but new classic. As a 3D movie, the quality is great. As a 2D movie however, it has ways to go.

    Until we get less DNR, that would be the 2D presentation to have. This was expected of since the 2011 blu-ray but looks like we have to wait (hopefully not 'til its 25th, 30th or 40th anniversary) for that. I wish they'd join the "Mastered in 4K" Blu-Ray line up if it means getting that new transfer ASAP.

  2. Hey Josh,

    Great comment, thanks. Fascinating details on the 2D versions that must exist. I remember there being a lot of grain in the theatre last year when I watched the film as part of a Spielberg Retrospective, so I was probably watching the 2011 version.

    Where'd you find out the info on the different masters? The reason I ask is that I thought JP3D had the same amount of grain as the 2011 version, and it was sometimes made worse by elements being artificially brought forwards. Having said that, I've recently moved to the US (New York specifically), and I'm struggling to find a 'perfect' theatre to view 3D presentations in. I saw JP3D at the AMC Loews Lincoln IMAX, and was unimpressed by the overall presentation there. I've been since trying to figure out what projection method they use. It's possible their system made the grain feel worse, or maybe the IMAX mastering process made it that way? It'd be interesting to hear your thoughts.

    Still, even through the imperfections, the experience of JP on the big-screen again was great. I wish more studios did this sort of thing (and if they have the high-quality 4K masters... release them as made-to-order Blu Rays! I'd pay good money to have them!)

    Thanks again for your comment Josh, great contribution.