Jurassic World (dir. Colin Trevorrow)

Posted: June 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Jurassic World” delivers the goods. If you simply want to see dinosaurs wreak havoc and eat people and destroy shit, there’s plenty of that in the film. While I was disappointed that this new film didn’t have many scenes of suspense, or many moments of building up tension, the film provides a more than adequate amount of action to make the common person happy with having paid the price of admission.  The special effects are occasionally not as good as one hopes (particular broad-daylight shots of dinosaur movement) but the 3D, as usual, often makes lackluster CGI look better, and there are a few moments in this film where it looks like they did, indeed, have some practical dinosaur effects. While some of the audience may not long for animatronics the way I do, I at least have to admit that the film’s finale, featuring a number of CGI dinosaurs fighting each other, did have more heft and excitement to it than one normal sees in film where a bunch of digital shit fights a bunch of other digital shit.  Readers of my reviews know that that is a bug pet peeve of mine, so when I say that I was NOT bored by the finale, but rather enjoyed it quite a bit, and was even surprised during a crucial moment of it, it’s a higher complement than it sounds like.

I was about 9 or 10 when the first “Jurassic Park” came out, and like many a young boy, it was an almost breathtaking experience to see the cutting edge special effects bring life to convincing-looking dinosaurs.   Prior to that film, we forget that most large lizards look like bad claymation, a guy in a suit, or clunky and static models. “Jurassic Park” was a milestone, and because of that we shouldn’t ever really expect any sequel to come close to it. 1997’s “The Lost World” (based very loosely on the novel by famous anti-science hack-writer Michael Crichton, who also wrote the novel the first film was based on) was also directed by Spielberg , and darker, and as a result not as fun, even with seeing the T-Rex clomp through a major city. Then came the embarrassment of “Jurassic Park 3”. Spielberg was gone, there was no novel to draw from, and the story they came up with barely exceeded 90 minutes of screen time.  The director of that film, Joe Johnston, had previously directed 5 films of which only 2 were good, and subsequently done 4 more films, of which none were good (no, not even “Captain America”, which was boring as hell and greatly surpassed in quality by “Winter Soldier”). Needless to say, that third film was a disaster, and killed the franchise for 14 years.

Aside from groundbreaking special effects, we remember the first film for introducing to the mainstream the idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds, which is now the generally recognized consensus, but back then was a fairly controversial assertion.  Nowadays, we also know that dinosaurs probably had feathers and looked more like birds than the lizard-monsters we are picturing.  Despite this, the dinosaurs featured in “Jurassic World” still look the same way they were shown in the original film, but at least the film gives us an in-universe reason for this. See, Jurassic World (the amusement park…and I guess the film too) is designed to meet visitor expectations.  Since the dinosaurs of this world are genetically engineered anyway, they are designed to look the way we EXPECT them, and in a way perhaps also WANT them, to look. Plus, in-universe, gaps in their DNA are filled in using other animals like lizards and amphibians, so that tends to also explain it, and a scientist in the film (B.D. Wong) literally tells us this in the film.

This is just part of the way that the new film winks and nudges its frustrations with the modern movie-going audience. The film wants to have its cake and eat it too.  See, most moviegoers don’t have particularly refined palates when it comes to the films they enjoy. After all, “Furious 7” made a fuck-load of money this year and has defenders everywhere, whereas I and some professional critics seem to be the only ones who recognized the brilliance of “It Follows” and champion it against the hordes of ignorant masses who want horror movies to be a collect of jump scares.  The original “Jurassic Park” if released today, might be decried as “boring” because it takes so long to get to the actual park, spends time developing its human characters, and has far more moments of suspense where it looks like dinosaurs MIGHT eat someone than scenes of running T-Rexes. “Jurassic World” spends a lot of its first act basically telling the audience that they are too impatient, jaded, and stupid to like the original film if it came out anymore, so they are going to make a faster, louder, leaner film for you plebeians. “Are you not entertained?”  The new “bigger than the T-Rex” dinosaur that is created by the scientists in the film based on demands from corporate overseers, the Indominous Rex, is the symbol of the film within the film itself.

The plot of this new film involves a now fully-functioning dinosaur amusement park that somehow was able to gain multiple corporate sponsorships and have massive attendance even though it is well known in this universe that the original batch of genetically resurrected dinosaurs broke out of the original test-phase park ON THIS VERY SAME ISLAND and killed some people. (The new film doesn’t mention the other island, which is where films 2 and 3 took place on).  There is some cake-and-eat-it-too product placement. The new dinosaur is going to be sponsored by Verizon Wireless. So Verizon still gets its name featured prominently in the film while, in-universe, the thing they sponsor murders a bunch of people and fellow dinosaurs. This type of hipster-esque irony-that-is-also-not-irony pervades the film, which both despises and embraces the thing that it is. We also see flying dinosaurs attack, kill, and eat people near Starbucks, Brookstone, Margaritaville, and Pandora.  I can’t decide if the faux-irony is funny or sickening.

As our scientist tells us, you can’t engineer a dinosaur that looks like a huge, awesome predator unless you give it predatory genes, and as a result this dinosaur is hyper-intelligent, fast, and a very effective killer. So, of course, it gets out and the 20,000+ patrons on the island are in danger of being massacred. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the director of operations of the park who is all business, stuck-up, and humorless. Her nephews (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are visiting the island while their parents go through divorce proceedings behind their back (okay), and she pawns them off on her assistant. When the Indominous Rex gets loose, she goes after them, along with a former Navy soldier-turned-Velociraptor-trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) , who is our hero.  While this is going on, a private military contractor who has a contract with the island, or something, Vic (Vincent D’Onofrio) has a dream to train raptors to be used in the field of military combat operations.  Okay.  The film would seem to be taking an overly broad stance against private defense contractors, but in-universe the organization Vic works for, InGen, seems to have a valid relationship with the park.  The park has an internal security force against dinosaurs, it’s Asset Containment Unit, but the park is also on an island off the coast of Costa Rica and, presumably, subject to their laws and government.  I’m not sure the Costa Rican military is adequately trained to hunt escaped dinosaurs, so a private military organization might actually have a use to the park, even if in real life they tend to cause more harm than good and are an example of Capitalist overreach into public affairs.   Also, any anti-military message is undermined when our hero is ex-Navy, and his training has made him very capable, as well as apparently highly empathetic to animals.

The film originally makes us think it might go easy on Capitalism and Corporations too, as the man who now owns the park (Irrfan Kham), or at least owns it under the control of a board of directors, is more concerned with guest enjoyment and animal comfort than costs and profit margins, but he is later revealed to have naively and unintelligently asked his scientists to create something “cooler” to boost park excitement, and thus is just an idiotic corporate goon on top.

Unfortunately, in keeping with Crichton’s anti-science leanings (this is the man who wrote the Climate-Change-is-a-hoax-perpetuated-by-ecoterrorists novel “State of fear”, after all), we later learn *SPOILER ALERT* that the main scientist was in bed with Vic to make Indominous Rex so vicious so that what happens in the film would happen, Vic would get his raptor army, and the scientist gets rich…well, once assume he would make a great living as head dinosaur creator of the park as the science around making new dinosaurs is proprietary and no one else can do it, so I guess he wants to jump a pay grade from rich corporate scientist to rich Military Industrial Complex scientist. Okay, I guess.

Much has been made in the press lately about the film being sexist, particularly in the portrayal of Howard’s character, who starts off as a business-minded, pants suit-wearing woman who doesn’t have time for her nephews, shrieks and hides behind a burly man, walks around a Central American jungle in impractical shoes, and is taught the error of her attitudes by getting a boyfriend and becoming more maternal.   Sure, she gets to save Owen’s life, once, by shooting a Pterodactyl with a rifle, but ultimately she is only really ever an Ice Queen or a Damsel in Distress whose job in the movie is to be a hot, sweaty redhead in a tanktop.  This sexism doesn’t ruin the film, and is certainly not as much of a deficit to enjoying the film as the annoying, unnecessary nephews (most of their scenes are a sign you can visit the restroom), but it’s surprisingly in a summer that has given us “Mad Max” (which was not a feminist as it was made out to be, but still progressive) and “Spy”.

I do want to give props to Jake Johnson, who plays comic relief as an employee in the park’s control room, and Lauren Lapkus. Their last scene together in the film delightfully defies convention and delivers the film’s biggest and most surprising laugh.

The film was directed by Colin Trevorrow, whose only other film before this was the quirky time traveling indie comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed”.  The film moves along at a nice pace, and the action is never so fast that you can’t make out what’s going on. He does a better than competent job, and certainly a better job than Johnston did on 3.

So “Jurassic World” can never come close to the original, is too pleased with its fake-satire of product placement, commits the very sins against cinema that it decries its audience for wanting, has a sexism problem in the portrayal of its main human female character, has two annoying young boy characters who should have been excised at the screenplay level, and ends up having the problem of being anti-science while also taking some easy shots at Capitalism, but giving the military kind-of-a-pass.

Despite all of that, the film is exceedingly fun, and I had a helluva good time watching it. The film works as a summer movie, more so than “Avengers: Age of Ultron” did, and for big, dumb fun, it delivers the goods. The film is both better than I expected, and not as good as I had hoped. A very high and affectionate B, is what I give it, but I actually came close to a B+ here.

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