Monday, July 27, 2015

Cine-buds: Jurassic World Review (with Mike and Brian)

It's a man's Jurassic world


Let's get this out of the way first: I honestly didn't care whether I saw this movie or not. The premise, from the previews at least, looked incredibly (almost magically) dumb. Not only do the scientists finally get Jurassic Park up and running, they decide to create a hybrid of almost every single deadly dinosaur from the previous films, and then allow it to break loose. This setup coupled with the fact that the game-changing and still eminently watchable first film was followed by two sequels that weren't just bad -- they were so incredibly stupid and poorly put together as to be actively insulting to the audiences that watched them -- and my interest was at an all-time low.

So when my friend Brian said "We could go see the new Jurassic Park movie for something to do," I was fairly ambivalent. Still, it was something to do, so after a delicious meal at La Mexicana we headed over to the Dipson Warren Mall Cinemas to check it out.

Here's the plot in a nutshell: Jurassic Park is finally up and running, and it's a success! The new amusement park/zoo (think of Sea World without all the depression) is located on Isla Nublar, which longtime fans will recognize as the original island, and not the second site from the sequels. To keep the money coming in, the park management keeps on breeding the biggest and most dangerous prehistoric life they can, using the element of danger to draw crowds (even though they seem to have a handle on the control issues of the first film). Eventually, they create a hybrid dinosaur that is bigger than a Tyrannosaurus Rex and smarter than a Velociraptor, which escapes the first chance that it gets and begins to destroy the island. The highly militarized InGen corporation arrives to take care of the rogue monster, but is that their real goal? Of course not. Don't be stupid!

Starring are Bryce Dallas Howard as the park's chief administration officer and Chris Pratt as an ex Navy SEAL who has been hired to work with the raptors. Although they have a trite chemistry that I suspect is as by-the-numbers as it can be simply to move the story along, I found both of them very watchable. Chris Pratt resumes his "dashing rogue" performance from last year's Guardians of the Galaxy, and seems to be developing that character well -- I definitely got a "Han and Leia" vibe from him and Howard throughout the film, although neither character was as well developed. Brian?


This is likely one of those rare occurrences that I may be more critical of a movie than Mike. I’ll  start off by stating the positives of the movie. The special effects were exceptional. In most movies there is at least a scene that takes me out of a movie because it is blatantly CG. Jurassic World by and large did an excellent job of fooling my brain into believing that I was watching real dinosaurs. The lighting, sound, and cinematography were equally as well done. There were some great homages to the original film and there were some comedic-ally timed moments that worked. 

Now on to what didn’t work for me.  I’ll state right off the bat that had I never seen the original, or I was a 13-18 year old teenager, or stupid I may have enjoyed the movie.  I found every bit of the movie predictable to a fault. Everything I suspected would happen… Did. 

There was very little character development during the course of the film so I had very little empathy for the characters. Almost everyone was there only for dinosaur fodder.  The characters were all one dimensional.  The kids in the movie were only there to provide a motivation for career-driven auntie Clair to venture out of the control room. They were also there to provide the 'tweens with someone to relate to (and more characters for the action figure play sets). They could have just have easily sent aunt Clair out with “Owie Rambo” to get the keys to the boat that happens to be on the opposite side of the island with Joe the maintenance man. They could have developed the love/hate relationship  between those two...  But no; they have this whole subplot with the generic kids and their parents getting a divorce.  I would have rather one of the kids got devoured.  It would have been a surprise that a kid had gotten eaten and a nice setup for a sequel. The other brother would have motivation to eradicate the dinosaurs/ made sure the park could not re-open.  

The first movie had characters that you cared about. It had kids that were annoying… Intentionally. A character in the form of Denis Nedry that you hoped would get eaten, the lovable old grandpa in the form of John Hammond, and the assuring father figure in Sam Neill’s Dr. Grant character. 

Hell, you could have even built empathy toward the dinosaurs, similarly to what they did in King Kong with the ape.  This movie had one brief scene like this but is was more to show that Auntie isn’t quite such a bitch.

The original also had tension that built and was palpable. From the opening scene with them getting the raptor out of the crate into the enclosure, to the falling jeep, the T-Rex chase etc.  In the new movie the tension was more jump scare, over and done before you know it, immediately out of the bag. There was no mystery. 

Now onto the technical problems. (Yes the original likely had it’s fair share.)  Is the main antagonist in this movie Indominous Rex? Am I  to believe that a dinosaur which they have spliced with DNA from all sorts of other dinosaurs and reptiles of today is some sort of hyper-genius? Even the biggest dinosaur brains were only believed to be slightly larger than a walnut or two. Lizards of today not really any more complex, but somehow this dinosaur is capable of complex problem solving and remembering that it was implanted with a fist sized beacon. A dog with a more complex brain (I am fairly certain) doesn’t remember chip implants yet somehow this dino does. (Mike's technical nitpick: Dinosaurs weren't lizards, and weren't even closely related to them. They were more closely related to modern birds. Their bones were most likely hollow and probably had skeletal alveoli which allowed them to process oxygen better, which was likely responsible for their very large size. Birds have relatively small brains too, but some are extremely clever, so don't count them out!) Which leads to my next point:

To install the chip they would have had to have some means of subduing or tranquilizing this dino. Yet when they go to re-capture it nothing works. Also they show the embedded beacon attached into a meaty bit of flesh and a small layer of hide.  Yet they are shooting it with armor piercing tank guns, elephant guns and rocket launchers , to no avail.  I could marginally accept it in King Kong because bullets of the day were less powerful, although I supposed they did try large shells if I am not mistaken.  In any case flesh is flesh it’s not 5 inches of solid steel. 

They also make light of the fact in the movie Auntie Claire "won’t last two minutes" out there with the dinosaurs… less if she wears her high-heeled stilettos. Yet she wears them throughout the movie and outruns T-Rexes and raptors (all being able to run at 35 plus MPH). 

Plus all the military/InGen characters were inept. For once, please could the military be competent? With the funding they have they should be. It would have made for nice switch-up. 

So In short I could not play dumb enough to enjoy the movie enough to recommend it. I almost left angry, like I did at The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The characters, though not annoying, left me empty, the story was predictable , and the whole thing left me wanting.  Watch the directors other movie, Safety Not Guaranteed. It is by far a better watch.


Ouch! I came into this expecting to hate the movie like so many other blockbusters in recent years. Now, I loved the original Jurassic Park. It was that rare case of everything coming together to create a movie that wasn't deep, but hit all of the right notes. By that same token I hate Jurassic Park: The Lost World with the red hot hatred of a thousand exploding suns -- it's plot-hole-filled kid-pandering ass-awfulness single-handedly ruined the franchise for me, and its PATHETIC attempt to make Vince Vaughn an action hero (yeah, remember when he was hot shit?) just topped the poison cake. Jurassic Park 3 was only marginally better and did nothing to win me back. So to say that I was apprehensive about seeing this film in the first place is an understatement. My expectations were so low as to be non-existent. So when I tell you that I liked this movie you can rest assured that it is coming from someone who had written this property off completely. 

Now, I do have to agree with Brian that the movie doesn't have nearly enough character development. You don't know why one of the main characters, Owen (Pratt) does what he does (though there is one AWESOME fan theory that he's the fat kid that Dr. Alan Grant scares in the beginning of the first film, which would explain a lot). The two kids have an arc that starts out promising enough, but doesn't really go anywhere specific by the end of the film. Claire (Howard) is really the only one with any kind of development, but even then it doesn't really have the pull that you are expecting. The only character in the film to have any sort of a genuine heartfelt story development is one of the velociraptors, Blue, who learns to respect and love humans (sort of). I do feel, however, that this characterization is just cinematic shorthand for, "let's get to the action already!"

I do have to disagree with Brian on the technical aspects. Although this film is very complex and an excellent combination of real sets, puppetry, and computer graphics, all of it seems a little too fake. Some lighting on the 3D models doesn't really mesh with the backgrounds, so parts that shouldn't look out-of-place do. At least the animation on the dinosaurs really sell it -- they're not over-animated (as most CG tends to be) and they move really nicely given their form factors. Given the scope of this film it is tolerable.

I love that you get to see what a complete, operating version of Jurassic Park looks like in this film. A lot of time was spent making it look like a real resort/amusement park, and at the beginning it seems like the employees are extremely competent at their jobs, adding to the air that they are in control, and the hubris that they can, "slap it on a plastic lunch pail," (to quote Ian Malcolm) is evident, but not to unrealistic proportions. There are callbacks to the first film, and I would be lying if I said that they weren't some of my favorite parts. It took me a moment to realize that the old, rundown bones of Jurassic Park were the way they were because the slick tech and bright colors of the original film was now over 22 years old (which made me feel old). It was a nice bit of nostalgia.

That's my main problem with the film, actually: The original Jurassic Park gave life to dinosaurs. Of course they weren't accurate to what the animals probably looked like, but it helped to make it feel like they were really alive again, and it was a thing of beauty... But we've seen it. Though there are more (and better animated) dinosaurs in this film, it just didn't have that same majesty, and it never could.

The Indominous Rex dinosaur didn't bug me nearly as much as I thought it would. This is mainly due to the fact that it is explained later in the film as... Well, let's just say that it's still kind of stupid, just the kind of stupid you'd expect from people with reasonably developed brains.

As an art film, this just isn't. As a summer blockbuster goes however, it in and of itself is just as much of a ride as the attractions featured in it. The characters are generic enough that even if you don't feel anything for them you can still put yourself into their shoes when the dinosaurs are attacking. The action in this movie isn't as obviously choreographed as some other action films, and characters tend to react realistically when confronted with the horror that is engulfing the park (literally). When the cast is alone in the jungle, you can feel the tension. When the kids discover the overgrown remains of the original park, you feel an uneasy nostalgia (also a foreshadowing that despite man's meddling, that nature is still firmly in control) . Characters in this film die in horrible ways, but not excessively bloody ones. You can think of it as a kid-friendly action-horror hybrid, not a highbrow film for adults. And at that standard, it more than gets the job done. But if you're looking for the emotional connection, look elsewhere. You're not going to get a character-driven story about lost love and time travel, but you will get some very cool dinosaur fights!

Oh, and SPOILER ALERT: Vincent D'Onofrio was the bad guy all along (SPOILER SPOILER ALERT: He's always the bad guy, every time).