Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Jurassic World

Jurassic World was written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. It was directed by Trevorrow.

Jaffa and Silver previously wrote Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (so they know their "Animals Run Amok" films) while Connolly wrote Safety Not Guranteed. Jurassic World marks Colin Trevorrow's first time directing a big budget film. He previously directed the very low budget Safety Not Guaranteed.

Trevorrow does a satisfactory job of directing, but he's definitely no Spielberg. Jurassic World is top notch when we're watching the dino action, but it falters whenever the focus shifts to the humans and they open their mouths.

Jurassic World wisely ignores the subpar second and third films, which I think is a good idea. If you liked those films (personally I hated the second, but didn't mind the third as much), think of them as happening in a parallel dimension.

It appears the screenwriters have finally realized what the audience wants in these films, and has given us a virtual remake of the first. Jurassic World follows the template of Jurassic Park very, very closely. There's even a scene of a giant dinosaur trying to eat a couple of kids hiding inside a vehicle!

Unfortunately Jurassic World doesn't quite measure up to its predecessor. The characters all commit numerous acts of boneheadedness, for no other reason than to place them in peril. To be fair, the original film had its share of stupidity as well, but most viewers forgave its many flaws due to the awesome majesty of its lovingly-rendered dinosaurs. This film doesn't have that luxury. We're no longer as dazzled by CGI dinos, so the plot shortcomings are all the more obvious.

There are also far too many plot points stuffed into the script, especially the ones involving Hoskins, the InGen head of security. His ridiculous plan to use barely-trained raptors as soldiers is half-baked at best, and only muddies an already unfocused plot.

But Bob, I hear you shout, it's just a popcorn movie! It doesn't need to make sense. You're just supposed to shut your brain off and watch the action. Nonsense! Why can't a movie be fun and smart at the same time?

The best thing about this new film— after twenty two years, we finally get a look at Jurassic Park, er, I mean World, as it's up and running in full swing. And what a park it is! In fact I would have been content to just watch a couple hours of the characters wandering around the park, looking at the various attractions. It feels like a real, live place. I really loved these scenes and wish there'd been more of them.

The film has broken numerous box office records, including biggest opening weekend in North America, and the fastest to gross over a billion dollars. To that I say a hearty "Big Deal!"

Once more with feeling— these types of records are meaningless. Sure it's good news for Universal's bean counters, but it means absolutely nothing to the rest of us. Every year movie tickets cost more, and every year some film makes a record amount of money. It's simple logic. If you want to accurately gauge the popularity and success of a film, count the number of tickets sold, not how much they cost. Butts in seats! That's what matters!

DINO-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
It's twenty two years after the first film, and the Jurassic World park has been up and running successfully for a decade or so. Scott and Karen Mitchell send their sons Zach and Gray to Jurassic World to get them out of the way while they go through divorce proceedings. The park is run by the boys' aunt, Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard).

Claire is a busy career-driven woman who doesn't have time for her own nephews, and pawns them off on her assistant, Zara. Say, I smell a character arc coming on! Claire's busy courting corporate sponsors to the park, explaining that the public's bored with "everyday" dinosaurs, so they've cooked up a brand new, genetically modified super specimen called Indominus Rex.

Also employed by the park is Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt), an ex-Navy man who's inexplicably a dinosaur whisperer. Because sailors encounter tons of dinosaurs at sea, right? Owen's been busy training a quartet of Velociraptors for... reasons that aren't quite clear. Vic Hoskins (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) is InGen's head of security, and for some insane reason thinks Owen's Raptors could be weaponized (!). Yep, you read right— he wants to turn dinosaurs into soldiers. Annnnd that sets up our hero and villain.

Meanwhile, Simon Masrani, billionaire owner of Jurassic World (John Hammond's presumably deceased) wants Owen to check out the I. Rex paddock for safety before he opens it to the public. Owen does so, but discovers the I. Rex has seemingly escaped. He and two guards stupidly enter the paddock to look for the genetically engineered monster, when it suddenly appears! Apparently it can camouflage itself from human eyes, as well as infrared sensors (!). Owen barely escapes with his life, as the I. Rex crashes out of its paddock and escapes into the island's interior. 

Zach and Gray manage to ditch Zara and wander through the park unattended. They board a gyrosphere and use it to explore the park's jungles. Yep, that's right! Jurassic World's safety measures are so stringent that two children can easily steer a vehicle out of its designated safe area and into a restricted zone.

Naturally since this is a Jurassic Park movie, the I. Rex attacks the kids' gyrosphere, and they barely escape. They find the original Jurassic Park site from the first film, somehow manage to hotwire a twenty two year old jeep, and head back to the park. Claire finally realizes her nephews are missing and that she's responsible for their wellbeing. She enlists Owen, who she dated once in the past, to help find them. They track the kids to the old park center, where they're almost killed by the I. Rex. 

The super dino then heads for the Pterosaur aviary, crashing through a wall and freeing them. Masrani flies a helicopter full of soldiers to the aviary to try and stop them, because apparently the only pilot in the entire park is the billionaire owner. Unfortunately he crashes into the aviary, killing everyone on board. The Pterosaurs then make a beeline for the main park, where they attack the thousands of visitors.

Claire and Owen head for the park, where they're reunited with Zach and Gray. In the ensuing chaos, Hoskins assumes command of the park. He forces Owen into using his trained Raptors to bring down the I. Rex. Owen reluctantly agrees, and he rides through the jungle on his motorcycle with his dinosaur posse, recreating the poster image.

Unfortunately the genetically altered I. Rex secretly has Raptor DNA in it. She communicates with Owen's Raptors, turning them against him. Ruh-roh! How a dinosaur that's been raised in isolation and has never seen a Raptor before could possibly "speak" their language is apparently none of our concern.

In the hubbub, Hoskins tells Dr. Wu to gather up all his dino embryos and research, and has him flown to safety, setting up his appearance in the inevitable sequel. A Raptor then breaks into the lab and kills Hoskins. The irony! Hoisted on his own petard! 

Meanwhile, Owen, Claire and the boys are surrounded by Raptors. Owen flashes his smile at them and becomes their alpha male once more. He commands them to attack the rampaging Indominus Rex. They do so, but two are killed. Claire realizes they're outmatched, so she fetches the park's T. Rex—  the very same one from the first film— and lures it into the fight. The T. Rex and Blue, the remaining Raptor then tag-team the I. Rex. They force it toward the park's lagoon, where an enormous Mosasaurus leaps out of the water and drags the I. Rex into the drink.

The next day the boys are reunited with their parents, who just might stay together after all. Claire and Owen decide to rekindle their romance. And the park is shut down for a second time, until the next billion dollar grossing sequel premieres.

Thoughts:
• Claire tells her potential sponsors that the public is bored with dinosaurs, so every few years they have to come up with bigger, badder and cooler versions to boost attendance.

OK, the kid in me says that would never happen. Dinosaurs, man! How could anyone ever get bored with them? Giant extinct animals, brought back through the magic of science!

On the other hand, the general public is a fickle beast that constantly demands ever more bright and shiny new things, so who knows? Maybe it would actually happen.

Either way, this alleged dino-ennui is never on display here. The park has over 25,000 daily guests, and they all look like they're having a good time. So which is it, movie? Is the public bored or excited by dinosaurs?

• I wonder how much Jurassic World's admission price is? In the first film, when corporate lawyer Donald Gennaro first sees the cloned dinosaurs, he's so impressed that he says they can charge any price they want (he even mentions $3,000 a ticket!) and people will pay it. Hammond disagrees with that, and wants the park to be available to anyone.

In this film, the guests don't look like millionaires. They all look like the type of visitors you'd see at DisneyWorld (although with their current prices...). Apparently Hammond got his way and the park charges significantly less than Gennaro suggested.

• Michael Giacchino wrote the film's music, and wisely uses many elements of John Williams' iconic original score. Good idea. It wouldn't be a Jurassic Park film without that rousing theme.

• In the original film, Dr. Ian Malcolm warns John Hammond that his park is a bad idea and people will die, because dinosaurs are just too dangerous to ever be contained (Life... uh... finds a way). This new movie seems to subscribe to that theory as well.

I ain't buying it. We've had zoos in the real world for hundreds of years now, and there's never been any incidents like the ones presented in these films. I grant you that an elephant isn't as big as a T. Rex, but they can still be quite dangerous.

Besides that, we see in this film that Jurassic World has been safely operating for at least ten years without any deaths. That pretty much proves Malcolm's theory is a bunch of hooey.

• In the original film, the dinosaurs were all engineered to be female so there'd be no unauthorized reproduction. The dinosaurs got around this by changing their sex (due to the frog DNA contained in their genome) and started reproducing.

Apparently Dr. Wu must have solved this problem, because there's no mention of unauthorized reproduction here.

• Easter Eggs Ahoy! Here are the ones I spotted:

There's a steakhouse called "Winston's." This is no doubt a nod to the late Stan Winston, the special effects artist who created the animatronic dinosaurs in the first film.

A full-sized Spinosaurus skeleton is briefly glimpsed in the film. The Spinosaurus was the big bad in Jurassic Park III. At the end of this movie the skeleton is smashed by the T. Rex, which I have to imagine was a big middle finger to the third film.

A statue of John Hammond is seen in the learning center.

Mr. DNA appears briefly in one of the learning center displays.

The original park building appears, complete with muddy "When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth" banner, vintage JP merch and a set of Timmy's night vision goggles.

As the kids are fleeing one of the Raptors, Gray activates a Dilophasaurus hologram to distract it. In the first film, Dennis Nedry met his demise at the hands (claws?) of a Dilophasaurus.

Ian Malcom's book God Creates Dinosaurs is seen twice. You know, for a film that's supposedly ignoring the second and third movies, it's doing its level best to reference them.  

Before the I. Rex escapes, park guests ride a jeep through a Gallimimus herd. The shot is almost identical to the one in the original film, in which Alan Grant and the kids run among a similar herd.

• A few Paleontologists (and some fans as well) have criticized the dinosaurs in the film because they're not covered in feathers like Vegas showgirls. To that I say, "Good!"

It may be accurate, but I absolutely hate the idea of feathered dinosaurs. I grew up reading about scaly dinosaurs. Feathered ones just look so... stupid to me. A scaly T. Rex looks cool and awesome, like nothing we have in our modern world. A feathered T. Rex just looks like a giant chicken. Chickens we've already got. 

• When Claire's nephews Zach and Gray arrive at the park, she's too busy to spend any time with them and pawns them off onto her assistant.

No wonder she's too busy to spend quality time with them. The poor woman's apparently running the entire park all by herself. Realistically (!) the head of a massive business like this would have a huge administrative staff under her to handle everyday problems.

• Speaking of Claire... she's pretty much the only character in the film with a story arc. She's too driven and career-oriented to even think about settling down. Once the crisis starts up though, she realizes that children and family are much more important than a cold, sterile career.

So apparently the theme of this movie is "Women are incomplete unless they pop out a few kids and start a family." Got it. Jesus, I am by no means a feminist, but even I thought that was a bit heavy-handed.

• Speaking of kids, apparently it's Federal Law that every Jurassic Park film must contain at least one child to be menaced by dinosaurs. Every film in the series (including the ones that are being ignored) has adhered to this law. Is it because kids love dinosaurs, and they act as wide-eyed audience surrogates? Or is it because kids in danger is a cheap and easy way to generate terror?

• Even before the dinosaurs get loose, Jurassic World seems like a pretty dangerous place. There's a dino petting zoo, for corn's sake! We see kids riding on the backs of baby Triceratops as if they're ponies. One kid is even seen hugging a newborn Apatosaurus!

Sure these dinosaurs are plant eaters, but they could still bite or crush a kid. I'm betting there's a lengthy release form all guests have to sign before they can enter the park.

• OK, I laughed when I saw that the park was staffed by bored teenagers. But would that really happen? Would a park really entrust the safety of a guest to a minimum wage slave in a park full of dangerous dinosaurs? 

Maybe! It happens now, sort of. Think about how many times you've ridden a potentially dangerous roller coaster run by a teen who'd rather be anywhere else.

• In the original film, the park's jeeps have an instructional video narrated by distinguished actor and voice-over artist Richard Kiley ("We spared no expense!).

Here the park's gyrosphere video is narrated by Jimmy Fallon (!). Because lord knows, when you're trying to instruct the public how to pilot a vehicle through a herd of gigantic dinosaurs that could sit on it like an egg, naturally you want to use a cackling, snickering comedian.

• Let's take a look at the park's gyrospheres, shall we? At first glance they seem like a pretty cool idea, as they allow guests to get up close and personal with various "safe" plant-eating dinosaurs.

Unfortunately the spheres appear to be completely autonomous. The park apparently has absolutely no control over them, and they're piloted entirely by the guests with a simple joystick interface. Does that seem like a good idea?

When the Pterosaurs get loose, the control center closes down all the rides and they make an announcement for all guests in the gyrospheres to return to the gate. Zach and Gray are in one of the spheres at this time, and of course ignore the warnings and head off into the jungle. The control room staff sees them going off the grid, but can do nothing to stop them as they stand around wringing their hands with worry.


What a monumentally stupid design. Why the hell would you allow these spheres to be independent? Shouldn't they follow some kind of track? At the very least they should have some sort of override function, so the control center can force them to come back.

Of course the real reason the spheres are independent is to the kids could enter the jungle and be attacked by the I. Rex. It's nothing more than sloppy writing.

• There was a huge amount of product placement in this film. The park contained numerous stores, such as Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and even a Brookstone! And there was a Verizon Learning Center. There were probably a lot more that I missed.

On the other hand... these are exactly the kinds of businesses you'd expect to see in a theme park. Is it considered product placement if it's supposed to be there?

• Inside the park's control center, Claire scolds technician Lowery Cruthers for wearing a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt. She says the shirt is in bad taste, considering all the people who were killed in the original park disaster.

First of all, by my count a grand total of four people died when the park's security measures went down in the first film (Donald Gennaro, Dennis Nedry, John Arnold and Robert Muldoon). Unfortunate, but hardly the epic tragedy she makes it out to be.

Second, the new Jurassic World logo uses the exact same circular layout, the exact same inline font, the exact same palm trees at the bottom and best of all, the exact same goddamned T. Rex skeleton, in the exact same goddamned position. The only difference in the new logo is the color and the word "World" instead of "Park."

I get why the original might be considered offensive, but I'm struggling to understand why the virtually identical new one is not.

I first mentioned this a few months ago, but it bears repeating: how the hell did a mosquito ever bite a Mosasaurus?

By the way, I'm betting the Mosasaurus' shark snack was a nod to Steven Spielberg. How could it not be?

• OK, I guess I can buy the fact that the I. Rex can camouflage its skin, but how the holy hell can it mask its heat signature from the infrared sensors in its paddock? Dr. Wu tries to smooth this over by mentioning something about tree frogs, but I didn't buy it.

• Speaking of the Indominus Rex, she sure was awfully smart. Maybe a little too smart. Human level smart, in fact. Let's look at her accomplishments, shall we?

As mentioned above, the I. Rex masks her heat signature to fool the infrared sensors in its paddock. That means that not only does she somehow know the sensors are there, she also understands that they detect infrared heat. Pretty impressive for an animal!

She also knows that disappearing from the sensors will lure her human captors into the paddock, where she can attack them. Again, impressive!

Later she claws the tracking implant out of her body and plops it on the ground. Wow. So not only did she remember where the implant was injected, but understands what it does, and that she'll be invisible to the instruments of her pursuers if she removes it. Jesus Christ, screenwriters! We're talking about a goddamned animal here!

The I. Rex can also somehow speak "Raptor," even though she's never encountered one before. I guess since she has Raptor DNA, she instinctively speaks the language?

• After the I. Rex escapes and kills its handlers, Masrani goes to Dr. Wu and demands to know what kinds of DNA it contains. Wu says that information is "classified."

What the hell? Why would that info be kept secret from the owner of the goddamned park? If anyone has the right to know, it should be him. And who classified them? Dr. Wu? He's not with the government, he's just an employee of the park.

The ONLY reason for this secrecy is so the audience would gasp during the big reveal that the I. Rex has Raptor genes.

• By the way, do Dr. Wu's motivations and storyline seem half-baked and incomplete? Well, that's because he's being set up for potential sequels, and they need a hook on which to hang the next movie.

• Everyone and their dog has already mentioned the fact that Claire spends the last half of the movie running from dinosaurs while clad in indestructible high heels, so I won't beat that dead horse any further. Whoops, I just did!

• Supposedly the film's generated some controversy in Great Britain. Audiences are upset at the line, "The Pachys are out of containment!"

The line of course is referring to a herd of Pachycephalosaurus, whose name is quite a mouthful. You can see why they abbreviated it. However, "Paki" is an ethnic slur in England, even though the line has nothing to do with Pakistanis. Sigh... I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

• The end of the film, in which the T. Rex, Blue the Raptor and even Moby the Mosasaurus (I named her that myself) team up against the I. Rex, was a little too cartoonish for me. I have a feeling predatory animals of wildly different species wouldn't really cooperate against a common foe like that. 

Jurassic World is a typical summer action movie that's big on dinosaur action, but low on smarts. With just a little bit of script polishing, it could have been epic. But hey, at least we finally get to see the park in action! I give it a B.

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