Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jurassic World – Better than the Original, But Still Flawed

Jurassic World (2015) Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly. Based on characters created by Michael Crichton. Produced by Frank Marshall. U.S. Color. Run Time: 124. Science Fiction. 

The summer is barely underway and we already have our fourth major sequel release with more to follow. This time, we’re revisiting the dinosaur park first imagined in Jurassic Park (1993) by Steven Spielberg, who serves as an Executive Producer on this film.  Jurassic World tries to align itself with Jurassic Park, the events of Jurassic Park:  The Lost World (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001) are ignored in this film, so in some ways this is a sequel to Park and not the fourth in the series.

So much has happened in 22 years in the way of filmmaking and the improvements in CGI, which seem to dominate the summer sequel season. The special effects that wowed audiences in 1993, which helped make Jurassic Park the top-grossing film to that time, have only gotten better.

Too bad not everything has improved as much. This is not to say that Jurassic World is not a fun ride, fast-paced and all that. If that’s your check list for films, check, check, check. But the problem with this sequel is that we’ve seen it before, maybe not in 3-D, but there is nothing really new here. We have the Spielberg staple of kids in trouble and evil government agents, this time not carrying CGI-altered cell phones, but high powered futuristic weapons.

And of course, there are the dinosaurs, who are not really the stars of the film, but the reason audiences will see it. They are back and, in typical sequel fashion, bigger and badder than before. And yes, they are impressive as a computer can make them.

Chris Pratt plays Owen Grady, a Velociraptor-whisperer in Jurassic World.
There are still actors in this. Chris Pratt, who is on the verge of his third billion dollar starring-role in as many films, plays the muscular Owen Grady, a Velociraptor-whisperer, who apparently gained these skills in the U.S. Navy (?) since that is the only background he’s given. Bryce Dallas Howard is the pretty and resourceful Claire Dearing, the park’s head of Operation. We’re given no background on her and you have to wonder what sort of work-experience would prepare you for running such an amusement park.  Her two nephews Zack (Nick Robinson) and Gary (Ty Simpkins) provide the children in danger part that this kind of film needs.

Zack (Nick Robinson) and Gary (Ty Simpkins) are the children in danger.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays Vic Hoskins, the evil head of Security for InGen, the parent company of the Park. At the same time, he seems to be working with the U.S. Army, trying, of all things, to weaponize Owen’s Velociraptors. B.D. Wong reprises his role of the egotistical, evil and very stupid head of genetic research, Dr. Henry Wu. Dr. Wu is the only surviving character I remember from Crichton’s original story.

In the typical synergy that big corporations crave, Jimmy “Safety First” Fallon makes an appearance. Universal and NBC are both owned by the same parent company, ComCast.  I guess Al Roker had already shot his credibility, along with Matt Lauer, in Sharknado 2 (2014). Take away, Jimmy is not to be trusted.

The Park itself, is a cross between Universal Studios Florida (there’s no doubt a new ride in here somewhere) and the San Diego Zoo, only instead of African animals, there are pre-historic creatures. 

While the premise is interesting, it’s all in the execution. And while you’re no doubt saying to yourself, I’d go to see real live dinosaurs; you have to wonder why they would recreate the carnivores. That’s just asking for trouble. And I’m no geneticist, but why are they not filling in the DNA gaps with bird DNA, the species dinosaurs evolved into.

The movie, like Jurassic Park, boils down to a man against dinosaur fight for existence. Not surprisingly, we are no more prepared for it 22 years later than we were in the original.  This time though, we have the Velociraptors sort of one our side in the fight, but it takes the biggest deus ex machina to save the day.

Director Colin Trevorrow, who’s list of features, includes this film,  Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) and nothing else, makes the same leap Marc Webb made from independent, (500) Days of Summer (2009), to blockbuster, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). In his case, Trevorrow doesn’t embarrass himself the way Webb did. However, the expectations are different. No one goes into Jurassic World having grown up with Owen Grady or Dr. Wu, the way many did with Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The movie is well-paced, with one exception, the love story is about as clichéd as they come, but I didn’t leave not liking the main character the way I did after seeing the less than Amazing.

(Claire Dearing) Bryce Dallas Howard provides the love interest for Owen.
While Jurassic World ignores II and III, it sort of assumes you’ve seen Jurassic Park. There are definitely call backs to the original and not just throwaways. At the same time, it is not crucial that you’ve seen it. The film does its best to fill you in that the Park existed, without going into its backstory. If you have a chance, I would recommend watching/rewatching Jurassic Park before you go. It will add some depth to your experience.

Having taken my own advice, I would say I liked Jurassic World a little better than Jurassic Park.  Box-office does not mean great filmmaking, but this is an interesting spectacle with likable characters and I’m sure the summer will bring us far worse than this before it’s over.

A note about my own movie-going experience, just before the credits began to roll, the alarms in the theater started to go off and we were evacuated while the credits rolled. According to the internet, there is no post credit scene, and while we are normally credit watchers, I took a full refund rather than going back in for the scroll of names.

For free, Jurassic World is great. Even if you’re putting down real money, Jurassic World, warts and all, is still worth it and I would say better than the original. But how about we stop here with the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar?

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