Event Report: Jurassic Park Live in Toronto
Back in October, we reported on a fascinating event staged by The Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Toronto and hosted by the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, a special salute to the composer John Williams in the form of the orchestra mounting a live performance of the score to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, staged in front of a screening of the film itself. Outside of being a wonderful reminder of just how good a picture the underrated second “Potter” movie is, the event hammered home the fact that Williams is one of the greatest composers in film history. And judged solely on his impact on pop culture – Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, Jaws et al – maybe the best.
Nowhere was this cold, hard truth more potently presented than last night in Toronto, when the Sony Centre presented the alarmingly on-point Motion Picture Symphony Orchestra’s performance and screening of Steven Spielberg’s majestic and now-iconic dinosaur sci-fi adventure epic Jurassic Park, a still thundering movie that features one of Williams’ most skin-prickling scores. Despite the cultural and franchise import of the 1993 original film, Jurassic Park is an important piece of the Spielberg/Williams puzzle (Spielberg having had used Williams for almost every single one of his key pictures since 1975’s Jaws) in that at the dawn of the ’90s, it seemed as if Spielberg was down and out. His glory days of endless blockbuster ground-breaking seemed cooked after the tired Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the flop of the misguided Hook. But taking Michael Crichton’s prehistoric Westworld novel and adding his unique warmth and sense of humor and skill at mounting set-pieces (not to mention those cutting-edge special effects), Spielberg had a huge smash on his hands, a feat made even more stunning with the release of his Oscar-winning Schindler’s List that same year.
And with Jurassic Park, Williams would create what might be his most romantic and mythical theme since 1978’s Superman: The Movie. The rest of the score is equally deft and incredibly complicated in its orchestration. Seeing the full orchestra dramatically perform every part of it in front of that giant screen once more exemplified just how intricate that music is.
The show – which ran last night and repeats again tonight at 7:30pm – was a sold-out affair, but unlike the “Potter” performance, the audience cosplay element didn’t factor into the experience, save for a few scattered Jurassic Park T-shirts and one dude dressed in an inflatable T-Rex outfit. No, the crowd gathered last night to watch – and listen – to the film, were mostly cineastes, a generation of lovers of the film, many of whom brought their own children out to see the picture that had such an impact on them 25 years ago. And from the first moments of the movie, with the Motion Picture Symphony Orchestra dragging their bows across strings, plucking harps and pushing air through reeds, the dread and wonder of Jurassic Park was palpable. And scary. Jurassic Park isn’t often talked about as a horror film and I suppose its not, but those harrowing moments of dino attacks are still spine-shaking, most nightmarishly that brutal T-Rex attack (that moves in waves) and the raptor/kitchen climax. During these stretches, the audience becomes fully immersed, their senses moving from screen to stage endlessly, isolating sounds and instruments they failed to hear in the cinema and at home and actually seeing the musician sculpting those notes in front of them. Just as effective were the moments of wonder, the first appearance of the dinos at the park, the flying cranes at the end and every other instance where Williams’ lush, melancholy and heart-pounding theme is played. Truly one of the most beautiful scores ever committed to a piece of fantastic cinema and conductor Evan Mitchell held it all together, his hands swaying and adding that extra layer of grandeur to an already majestic event.
These performances mark the first time the full film has been screened with a full orchestra. If you’re in Toronto and are an ardent Williams fan, you cannot afford to miss the second show tonight. Even if you have a casual interest in film, this is still an experience that will notably deepen your appreciation of the relationship between sound and image in cinema.
Go to SonyCentre.ca for more information and to purchase tickets for the final show.