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Thursday, June 10, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Monster Movie -- `Jurassic Park' Is A Thrill A Minute, But The Story Gets Lost Among The Special Effects

Movie review XX 1/2 "Jurassic Park," with Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough. Directed by Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by Michael Crichton and David Koepp. Based on Crichton's novel. Tonight at Southcenter, Cinerama, Alderwood, Kent 6, Northgate, Crossroads, John Danz, Totem Lake, Gateway. (Call theaters for times.) Friday at Valley 6, Puget Park. "PG-13" - Parental guidance suggested because of violence, frightening sequences.

"Jurassic Park" is an astonishing success in one sense and one sense only: It is the monster of all monster movies, guaranteed to challenge weak bladders, flutter heartbeats and win automatic Oscars for the wizards of sight and sound who have collaborated with director Steven Spielberg to create some of the most terrifying sequences ever put on film.

Their work is nothing if not awesome - and it better be, because the rest of the movie, while frequently suspenseful, is disappointingly routine.

With its convincing premise of genetically engineered dinosaurs rampaging in a present-day amusement park, Michael Crichton's bestselling novel had the advantage of being intellectually provocative while tapping directly into our collective primal fears.

On film, "Jurassic Park" surrenders most of the novel's substance to concentrate on nonstop thrills. With a $60 million budget, Spielberg has given us the cinematic equivalent of Crichton's park: a frightful joyride that will have a lot of its customers getting back in line for another shot of adrenaline.

Whether it qualifies as a fully satisfying movie is questionable, but because "Jurassic Park" delivers the jolt that everyone expects from it, it is certainly the must-see movie of the summer.

And yet, for every mind-boggling minute of wonder and terror - from the gentle gracefulness of a gigantic Brachiosaurus to the horrifying attack of a Tyrannosaurus rex - much more time is consumed by every established trick in Spielberg's cinematic repertoire, until the film deteriorates into the rote exercise of an unchallenged master.

In true Spielberg fashion, "Jurassic Park" opens as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" did, leaping across several exotic locales to whisk its simple plot together.

In the Dominican Republic, prehistoric amber samples are retrieved, containing the embedded mosquitoes from which dinosaur blood - and partial dinosaur DNA strands - can be extracted and (as described in an animated sequence recalling Disney's "Hemo the Magnificent") engineered to create 15 breeds of authentic dinosaurs (six of which are shown).

The focus of this leading-edge science is a wondrous island theme park off the coast of Costa Rica, masterminded by billionaire visionary John Hammond (played by "Chaplin" director Richard Attenborough) as a kind of dinosaur zoo, ready for business as soon as a handful of experts can declare it legally and naturally safe for paying customers.

Among them are dinosaur expert Alan Grant (Sam Neill), his paleobotanist colleague Ellie Satler (Laura Dern), and mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a chaos theorist who recognizes that nature resists artificial control, and that knowledge without discipline (the thrust of Crichton's novel) equals disaster.

Of course he's right, and the park's maiden tour turns into a nightmare for the visitors, who include Hammond's two precocious grandchildren. Compounding this mayhem is the park's systems-control expert, who plots to sell dinosaur DNA to a rival corporation, and must sabotage park security to carry out his scheme.

The result is special-effects nirvana. After our first encounter with a benevolent Brachiosaurus, the film's first T-rex sequence is nothing short of outstanding, made even more technically amazing by the fact that it takes place during a rainstorm.

The film's other dino highlights are, not surprisingly, equally astonishing, and when the dreaded Velociraptors appear - so terrifyingly memorable to those who read the book - Spielberg pulls out the stops. Given the triumphantly frightening combination of full-size live-action mechanics, full-motion animation and computer-generated imagery, parents should think twice about bringing young children.

If only the humans were as impressive. Giving the film's best performance, Attenborough shines in a brief scene expressing Hammond's dismay at his failure and his dreams for another chance. Attenborough concisely captures the man's foolishness and disarming sense of wonder, effectively softened from the arrogant and ultimately doomed Hammond of the novel.

The others are merely passengers on Spielberg's technological express, their lack of dimension to be blamed on screenwriters Crichton and David Koepp, who - in addition to sparing the central characters - have eliminated or simplified the novel's most unsettling implications.

It is a forgivable problem if all you want is a state-of-the-art scare.

But we'll have to wait for Spielberg's next film, "Schindler's List," due in December, for something more than a merchandisable thrill.

Caution to parents

Director Steven Spielberg has adhered to the cautionary and realistically violent tone of Michael Crichton's best-selling novel. "Jurassic Park" is exciting and terrifying; more "Jaws" than "E.T."

Unfortunately, that means the many younger fans of dinosaur lore - most kids under 10 or 11 - will be too young for this intense motion picture.

"Jurassic Park" is one of the most intensely violent PG-13 films I've seen - probably more violent than "Jaws" or even "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the Spielberg film that prompted the creation of the PG-13 rating.

The most sensible solution for parents? Check out "Jurassic" for yourself and then make up your own mind about returning with your younger children. (It's one of the few movies worth your time and money in a repeat screening.) But, please, don't casually drop your under-10s at the multiplex and assume they're seeing a big-budget Barney. As Dr. Alan Grant says in "Jurassic Park," these dinosaurs "do what they do."

And what they do is terrifying.

Gannett News Service

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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