Monday, July 20, 2015

Jurassic World

Directed by Colin Trevorrow.
2015. Rated PG-13, 124 minutes.
Chris Pratt
Bryce Dallas Howard
Vincent D'Onofrio
Ty Simpkins
Nick Robinson
Omar Sy
B.D. Wong
Irrfan Khan
Jake Johnson
Lauren Lapkus
Brian Tee
Katie McGrath
Jimmy Fallon

The original Jurassic Park hit theaters in June of 1993. I might be the only person who did not make his way to the theater to see it. Everyone I knew told me two things about it. It was really good and the dinosaurs looked amazing. Even Roger Ebert's review praised how realistic they were. He wrote "The movie delivers all too well on its promise to show us dinosaurs. We see them early and often, and they are indeed a triumph of special effects artistry." Eventually, the buzz faded. The movie was out of sight, out of mind for quite a few months. It reappeared on my radar late in the summer of 1994 when it was about to be released on VHS. My, how times have changed. I'm now a movie blogger who only goes to a theater a few times a year and by now, nineteen months since the start of 2014, I've seen better than 100 of the movie released that year. Back then, the biggest movie in the world that year wasn't even available to watch at home until over a year after its theatrical release. In this case, that's twenty months after the start of the year it came out. Since watching movies online was not yet a thing, the only other way to see it between the time it left theaters and hit VHS was on a grainy, bootleg VHS shot by some dude who sat in the theater with a cam-corder poking out of his jacket or something and purchased from some shady dude on the street.

I digress.

The point is, I didn't get to see Jurassic Park until October or November of 1994. When I did, I had an advantage over most of the people I knew. I got to watch it on a 60 inch rear-projection TV while most people were seeing it on a screen either 27 or 32 inches. When I got to my first glimpse of what this movie was passing off as dinosaurs, a majestic brachiosaurus, I was sufficiently in awe. It was one of those indelible, jaw-dropping moments that movies occasionally give us. Eventually, the movie would fully embrace being a big-budget creature-feature/horror flick that I loved. It would get two sequels, The Lost World: Jurassic Park which put dinos in an urban setting, and Jurassic Park III which saw them back on an island and completely free to roam. Neither was as good as the first, but I did like the third one pretty good. Most of you didn't agree, plus the novelty of seeing dinosaurs onscreen had worn off. The franchise was dead.

Things in Hollywood never die. This is most certainly true of successful franchises. There is always someone willing to try and cash in on a well known commodity regardless of how long ago its successes were. In this case, fourteen years have passed since the last JP movie and twenty-two since the only time the titular park was open which only occurred during that first movie. Of these facts, the makers of Jurassic World are fully aware. They are also aware that those last two movies didn't capture the same magic as the first. None of us are nostalgic for Jurassic Park III. The moments we remember with fondness are all from that first film: the glass of water being disturbed by the steps of the oncoming T-Rex, the T-Rex's foot slamming into the mud to announce its arrival into cinematic lore, two velociraptors stalking the children in the lab, and so on. Armed with this knowledge, the people behind Jurassic World employ a Superman Returns approach to things. It goes out of its way to show reverence for that original movie while also making a point of ignoring the lesser sequels.

One part of our story follows a pair of young brothers, either elementary or middle-school aged Gray (Simpkins) and high-school aged Zach (Robinson). They've been sent to visit their aunt Claire (Howard) who is one of the big wigs at the thriving Jurassic World theme park. I'll just say now that I'm willing to listen to Oscar consideration for Bryce Dallas Howard for this role. It's not because she delivered some amazing heart-wrenching performance. It's simply for the massive amount of running she does while wearing high heels. Anyhoo, Claire has pawned the kids off on an assistant because she's one of those all work and no play characters we're sure is going to have a change of heart, provided she doesn't get eaten, of course. By the way, poor assistant. What happens to her is just insane. She must have really pissed off a dinosaur somewhere along the line. The other half of the story focuses on Owen (Pratt), the park's resident dinosaur whisperer. He works closely with the raptors and gets approached by the infinitely sleazy head of security Mr. Hoskins (D'Onofrio) who wants to use the raptors as weapons with hopes of actually replacing American troops with them. It's rather ridiculous to even fathom, but whatever. It's the last part of the story that drives everything, though. Those crazy scientists, including Dr. Wu (Wong) from the original film, have been hard at work cooking up dinosaurs in the lab because that worked so good the first time around. Their latest creation isn't even a real dinosaur. It's something they literally designed to be the biggest, most badass killing machine the world has ever known. They call it the Indominous rex and it has never been out of its cage. As it must happen in a creature-feature starting with animals that are relatively under control, the Indominous rex escapes in rather spectacular fashion and starts making its way across the island toward the actual park. Meanwhile, Gray and Zach are stuck between the two. Various attempts to stop the Indominous rex and save the boys ensue.

Watching dinosaurs stomp across the screen, fight each other, and eat people is just plain fun. This fact is the foundation of Jurassic World. That fact informs every moment of this movie. It's why the script is atrocious at telling a story, going completely by the numbers. Instead of really absorbing the viewer in the fabric of its tale, it merely has characters do everything possible to ensure that people will be put in harm's way. Among our cast of characters, smart decisions are in extremely short supply. It starts with the Indominous rex. Just hearing the people in the movie talk about how it was made, we see that it was engineered to escape and evade detection in addition to being a world-class predator. Mr. Hoskins only exists to instigate violent interaction between humans and dinosaurs. Zach repeatedly makes his younger brother do dumb things. Doing this keeps us from becoming invested in any of the characters, but ensures that we will get as much mayhem as we can possibly stand. There is something to be said for it being self-aware. It fully knows what it's doing. Much of the dialogue is of the tongue-in-cheek variety, letting us know the movie realizes it's dumb. The dialogue also combines with the visuals to make sure we remember this is a Jurassic Park sequel, as if we could forget. There are countless spoken and visual references to the first movie it got to be annoying. Simon Masroni (Khan) is the park's CEO. His only real function is to spout many of these references. Often, he mentions John Hammond by name. That's the guy who ran the original Jurassic Park. We get it. The first movie was great. Let's move on. Unfortunately when we did move on, we moved on to product placement. Again, the movie is self-aware and tries to joke with us by having someone rail against corporate greed and intrusion only to spotlight another product every few seconds, it seems. The approach doesn't work the way the movie wants because we can't take it seriously even though it's the only thing the movie wants us to. When taken in total, the movie is a commentary on how gigantic corporations and their ever-growing efforts to make as money as possible has corrupted everything in our society. While not terribly original, it's an amiable position to take. However, it falls flat on its face when we can clearly see corporate fingerprints on nearly every frame of a two hour movie. Instead of a film that uses dinosaurs as a metaphor for the world we live in while entertaining us, we get a mess of a movie that can only engage us on the most basic levels, rampaging monsters making excellent use of all the teeth they possess.

The saving grace of Jurassic World is that seeing it's creatures wreak havoc is what we come for. We don't wander into the theater hoping for a deep, introspective look at society. We happily plunk down entirely too much money to watch dinosaurs fuck shit up, for lack of a better term. Excuse my french. That, they do. Better yet, they do it in a way that looks real to the naked eye. This isn't some dude in a rubber suit knocking over miniatures and stomping on toy cars. This is state-of-the-art technology fooling us into thinking we're seeing actual dinosaurs trying to eat and destroy everything in their paths. They do it quickly and viciously. There is some debate/disappointment that the creatures depicted aren't all in line with the scientific world's current knowledge of how they should look and behave, but that's not the point. Again showing that this is a movie fully aware of what kind of movie it is, Dr. Wu addresses this directly. He tells Mr. Masrani, "But you didn't ask for reality, you asked for more teeth." That's precisely what Jurassic World gives us. The monsters are bigger and meaner than ever before and we eat it up. Pun fully intended. After the setup, which goes a tad too long, the movie is purely a visceral experience because the camera doesn't often shy away from the action. It locks in on most of the nastiness, and we lock in on the screen. Once it gets cranking, even if you're like me and roll your eyes all the way through it, you simply can't disengage, completely. The promise of seeing another next battle between man and beast keeps us with our eyes peeled. It tries and fails several times to create the same type of tension the first movie did. Luckily, it makes up for it in pure action, giving us plenty of it. The finale does what blockbusters must do and sets up a sequel. When the closing credits roll, we've seen a movie that is a complete mess. At least, it's a fun mess.


  1. And, as you put it, those dinos "fucked shit up". I got to see this yesterday, finally. I thought there were too many issues to make it a "great" film, but it's definitely "good" enough to join the previous three films. I hated how stupid Bryce Dallas Howard's character was, and how bland Crisp Rat's character was, but the Indominus was cool and I liked (but not always) the callbacks to the original film. Great review, my friend.

  2. Stupid and bland were the only two types of characters in this movie. The callbacks were cool, at first, but it just got to be too much.

  3. Great review! Let me firmly place this one in my guilty pleasures list. Silly, stupid, but I really enjoyed it!
    - Allie

    1. I understand. As dumb as it is, I'm not opposed to watching it again.

  4. Yeah, what happened to the assistant seemed out of tone with the film. The references to the first did get tiring. The high heels thing was laughable. The brothers were annoying. And the divorce thing didn't fit. And it did have some gaping plot holes. But I still really enjoyed it. Your review nails why.

    1. I forgot to mention the divorce thing. That was a really lame attempt to inject some emotion. Thanks.