Jurassic Punk Rocks

Jurassic Punk is sort of like a sequel to the recent Phil Tippet documentary, Mad Dreams and Monsters.  Or, more than that, it's like a response film, almost a counter-argument.  Where Mad Dreams was about a great stop motion animator who was once the top of the industry but saw himself pushed out by digital effects, Jurassic Punk comes at it from the perspective of the digital maverick the industry tried to hold back.  His name was Steve "Spaz" Williams.
What makes Jurassic Punk stand out from its peers is that it isn't purely celebratory.  We've all seen heaps of Hollywood spotlights on individual artists and creators where everybody is getting together to tell us how wonderful they and there work are.  There's an endless procession of ninety-minute love fests, and honestly, when it's a talented film artist, I'm interested in those.  But what if one of them actually took a cynical stance?  Even though Mad Dreams and Monsters is sort of sad, because after spending the first two thirds explaining how marvelous Tippet (who is also interviewed in Punk) and his work is, it then delves into how he and stop motion animators like him are being pushed out of the industry.  ...Not for long, though, because the pendulum wings back to show how he's making his own new movie on his own terms and that he still has an undying legion of fans who appreciate his older art forms.
Jurassic Punk starts the same way: showing us Williams' rise and demonstrating what's innovative and exciting about the work he does.  And we also see the decline of his professional career.  But things are considerably more complicated here.  He's not pushed out by the younger generation with new ways of doing things, but by the older heads of the industry.  More than that, not only was he denied credit and later jobs, but they actively stood in his way, trying to prevent him from creating the effects that wound up earning his films their place in history.  Was it simply because the industry is corrupt and unfair, though, or did he bring it on himself?  Probably some of both.  Williams is a proud rebel, and his inability to "be political," as he calls it, is clearly a major stumbling block for him in working with others.  A major figure in Mad Dreams is Tippet's wife, Jules, who co-runs his studio with him.  Punk instead introduces us to two ex-wives who had to leave him because of his drinking.
Honestly, this film is just a deeper, more personal dive, as we see him confront his inner demons, whether it's stories of him being tossed out of George Lucas's ranch by the Skywalker Police (yeah, they have their own police force) or struggling to get sober.  There's a compelling documentary here even if you could care less about special effects, which is not something you could say for many other filmmaker portraits.  I'm not making this comparison to dunk on Mad Dreams, which I think is also pretty great; but there's no way anybody in that film was going to allow the camera crew to follow them into the shower and film them have a nude breakdown.  That's a unique feature of Jurassic Punk.
And this film also addresses another issue films like Mad Dreams don't have to: the downside of Williams' innovations.  Say what you want about Tippet's work: maybe it's old fashioned and you the frame-by-frame animation is creaky to you.  But you can't deny the charming creativity of it, even if you might prefer something different in your favorite blockbusters.  But Williams brought forth the modern era of CGI, and as this documentary openly addresses, a lot of it was bad.  There's a segment in this that shows us a lowlights reel of clips from films like The Scorpion King and American Werewolf In Paris, where the CGI is just tacky and embarrassing.  Now, to be clear, those films were not his work: he developed the CGI in The Abyss, Terminator 2 and (obviously) Jurassic Park, which are older and yet still hold up considerably better.  But he and others in the film acknowledge that he's also fairly responsible for ushering in the new era, and possibly making movies today worse in general.  Plus, the creature they show from his own film Spawn is as cringe-worthy as anything in the films they hold up for contempt.  Not that I, or Jurassic Punk, am trying to write-off CGI as a negative; there's a lot of room for debate on how good and bad CGI has been for the film industry.  But that's the point; this film has a debate with conflicting points of view.  You're not going to see an Edith Head retrospective that's compelled to also show us a bunch of harmful consequences that has reverberated from her art throughout Hollywood.  This is a more complicated picture, and that's a good thing.
When this Jurassic Punk was first announced on disc, I thought it was DVD-only, and I remember thinking, maybe I should wait and see if it gets included as an HD extra on some future Jurassic Park release.  But then, thinking about how bad this film makes Dennis Muren look, I figured that was pretty unlikely.  I consigned myself to just getting the DVD, and then the BD listing popped up on Amazon - hurray!
2022 Gravitas DVDR top; 2022 Gravitas BDR bottom.
Not to get too excited.  These are still completely barebones single layer discs MOD DVDR and BDR discs.  They're being sold by Gravitas Ventures exclusively through Amazon, and yes, they're 81 minutes long (the proper running time of the film), despite saying 93 on the back of the cases.   Both discs present the film in its presumably correct AR of 1.78:1, except for some vintage footage in varying ratios (i.e. that 2.40:1 T2 shot up the page).  There is a very, very slight difference in the framing between the DVD and BD, literally just 4-5 pixels worth, that shifts and pinches the DVD; but you'd never spot it outside of a direct screenshot comparison.  But for the record, the distinction is there.  The more important point, naturally, is the increased definition, which is a genuine bump in clarity and sharpness.  Toggle between those screenshots and it's an obviously more attractive image.

Also, both discs offer a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, but I'm happy to report it's in lossless DTS-HD on the blu (often, BDRs tend to come with lossy audio tracks, but as we see here, they don't have to), and optional English subtitles.
So, sure.  I would've preferred pressed discs.  Some extended interviews or other little extras would've been nice (at least the trailer).  But it's a terrific film, and I'm very happy to have a perfectly respectable physical release of it.  Highly recommended, and it's absolutely worth the extra $2 for the HD.

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