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This Should Satisfy Your Inner 11 Year-Old

Jurassic World : ***

Set 22 years after the events of the first film, Jurassic World opens as a fully functioning theme park. This time though, the corporate honchos suggest that the public are no longer wowed by regular, run of the mill dinosaurs. So Dr. Henry Wu, who helped Hammond create the dinosaurs from the first film, Frankensteins (Frankensaurs?) a new breed of dinosaur that is both thrilling, terrifying, and capitalizing on that all important ‘wow’ factor. As one can imagine, it turns to standard monster movie fare as the Indominus Rex breaks loose and starts hunting the tourists. In short, this is another Jurassic Park movie, offering little more or less, but damn if it isn’t fun.

Sure the film is rife with problems, and suffers from the ‘I’ve seen this all before’ factor that often sets in on any fourth installment of a franchise, but this is also a movie that is critic proof. It knows who its audience is, and caters very specifically to that audience. What impressed me is when the movie reaches beyond itself and shot for elevated quality.

The whole film can be viewed as a tongue in cheek examination of summer blockbuster filmmaking. You have the park runners and scientists who are doing all they can to deliver real impressive work, and on the flippity flip you have the unseen moneymen and corporate investors who are looking for ways to improve the customer satisfaction numbers and push the envelope for something more. But, as the film suggests, bigger isn’t always better. Whether intentional or not, the comparison to corporate filmmaking is potent throughout the film, and never realized better than in the scene when a Great White Shark, is hung above a large water tank where a Mosasaur, leaps from the water and devours the O.G. Jaws, godfather of all summer blockbusters, while splashing the viewing audience. That single moment provides interesting commentary saying; “Look how far we’ve come.” Movies now are certainly grander and inspire awe, but do they captivate as they once did?

Likely not, as the film relies heavily on nostalgia and the viewer’s sentimentality of the first film. There are many scenes that pay direct homage to the original picture, and I found myself getting roped up in those moments. One of my favorite scenes has the two children roaming around the visitor’s center from the first movie, and I found myself incredibly emotionally invested in that building. It was a weird feeling. And, Michael Giacchino’s score wonderfully evokes the spirit of John William’s classic themes from the first two films. When the main theme played, a great big smile swept my face.

I also liked that the film addressed the reality of the dinosaurs. They are discussed and treated as living beings throughout the first half of the movie, and the film goes to great lengths to emphasize this point. The new Hammond character, Simon Masrani, asks Bryce Dallas Howard’s Clair to see these animals not as statistics or in dollar figures, but as they are: living beings. That was a delight. The film’s best scene, which was lifted directly from the original book, has Masrani and Wu discussing the dinos and the reality presented in the amusement park.

But the film isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It has some very damning flaws. Chris Pratt is superb in the film as Owen. He is in top form, and his character is incredibly well rounded and believable. Sadly, his character is the only one that it really handled carefully. The leading lady, Clair, is relegated to the role of screamer, which was a disappointing step backwards from the wonderful characterization of Ellie Sattler in the first film.

In fact, when one looks at the franchise as a whole, Clair is the first real time you see a female character so mishandled. Ellie’s character was a fighter, tenacious, and argued the sexist politics of the female’s role in life and death situations. Julianne Moore’s character in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, was also characterized in a favorable fashion, being highly intelligent in dealing with the dinos, but also a smart and inventive survivor. Here, Howard is constantly outshined by her manly, heroic co-star. And, at one point the film comes to a stop, where the two children characters (played very well by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) point out how awesome Pratt is, and how lame Howard is.

The characters in general are written rather weak, which isn’t made too apparent because everybody plays their part so well. The writers try to develop the characters, by giving them little moments, but they are mere moments. When the mayhem is at its full height and the characters start dying, there is no weight to their deaths. The audience simply doesn’t care, because they are so blah.

The film also goes in a weird direction when you find out that members of InGen want to militarize the dinosaurs, specifically the raptors. This subplot is both illogical, and seems like a pointless set up for a sequel. It’s also ripped from the Alien franchise. Is that not what Weyland-Yutoni wants to do with the alien in those films?

By this point in the film, the movie has devolved into monster movie silliness, where the Frankensaur can do anything (so long as the screenwriter can come up with it). It can camouflage into its surroundings? Why not? Right? That’s how these movies go. It hunts for sport? Sure. Instead of painting a compelling creature, the screenwriters create a monster of convenience, and I was underwhelmed.

Also underwhelming were the effects. Sure, the CG looks great! But it is nearly all CG. I miss the animatronic/CG blend that made the original films so famous. That missing level of realism became all the more apparent during a scene where Pratt and Howard stumble upon a dying dinosaur that is a beautiful work of animatronics. I’d have liked to have seen more of that, but the evolution of cinema tells us that that is too expensive and CG is the way to go. Apparently the filmmaker’s don’t live by Hammond’s motto, “Spare no expense.”

Even with these complaints, the movie really steps up its game in the last 30 minutes. What happens in the end is the thing of childhood dreams! Complete movie nonsense, but my inner 11 year old was shouting with joy. I especially loved the subtle dig at Jurassic Park 3 that happens during the final showdown. Is this the definitive JP movie? No, the original reigns supreme, but this one is on par with the other sequels and establishes itself as a worthy sequel.

June 2015

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