Monday, June 15, 2015

Jurassic World

Jurassic Park is a classic. Sure it came out way back in 1993, but it holds up surprisingly well. Even in 3D. 

The Lost World: Jurassic Park does not. Not one bit. Awkward, sloppily written and aimlessly directed, it’s a massive mound of triceratops turds (and the gymnastikill scene is one of the worst abominations in film history). 

Jurassic Park III, while being the shortest film in the series, is a big step up from part 2. But it’s still a clumsy and somewhat goofy affair.
It’s been 14 years since the last film in the series was released. Is a film about resurrected dinosaurs even relevant these days? Ladies and gentlemen – I give you Jurassic World.

An experiment in splicing dinosaur genes breaks loose of its confines and attacks the visitors of Jurassic World, a fully functioning theme park featuring the formerly extinct creatures.

While this flick broke all kinds of box office records during its opening weekend I cannot say that it’s completely deserving of all the accolades and excitement. Why?  Because this is one lazily pieced together film that is more focused on product placement and recreating classic scenes from the original than telling a fresh and original tale of its own. 
Jurassic World functions as not only a sequel to Jurassic Park (no mention is given to the events from the other films in the franchise), but also as a reboot. It does take place 22 years after the events of the original film, but covers a lot of the same ground. So much so that it felt as if I was watching a remake. There are a number of recreated shots, action scenes and character beats. It became a little annoying after the third time it happened and by the end I lost count.

That doesn’t mean that what happens wasn’t entertaining. Some of it was. I especially enjoyed the huge battle scene in the finale and a couple of the Indominus Rex attacks. The rest I could have done without. A lot of the Dimorphodon and Pteranodon stuff echoed Jurassic Park III a little too closely, as does the way Owen communicates with his pack of Velociraptors (with 100% less Ocarina of Time action). The film did fly by at a fast clip and was never really boring.
My problems with this film are in many different departments. Firstly, the characters aren’t all that appealing. Hot off his star making role in Guardians of the Galaxy, the usually charismatic Chris Pratt seems asleep at the wheel here. He does get a few good one liners here and there, but he seems to have taken a page from the Howie Long book of acting (ever see Firestorm?) where he has the same expression for every emotion his character goes through. I’m glad that he didn’t play his part of Raptor trainer Owen as a goofball, but I just never connected with him like I did in Guardians.

Bryce Dallas Howard fares a little better since her character of Claire actually has an arc. Where Owen basically stays the same throughout the film, Claire begins as a bit of an ice queen, focused solely on her career and little else. This includes caring for her visiting nephews. As the film goes on we see her come to realize that her ambition and focus has actually done her more harm than good and that she still has a chance to rectify that. That is, if she can survive the dinosaur onslaught that’s about to punch her in the face. I actually cared more about the fate of her character than anyone else.
I did like Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), the two children visiting the park to see their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) due to the surprising amount of development they were given. They’re not the usual annoying brats that do nothing but get in trouble; they are smart, crafty and going through some deeply personal turmoil regarding the state of their parent’s relationship. They are also given a handful of the better moments in the film.

The rest is pretty awful. Vincent D’onofrio (Daredevil) is wasted as the villain, the usually hilarious Jake Johnson (New Girl) is given nothing to do but stare at a screen and act awkward, Omar Sy (X-Men: Days of Future Past) plays a lame sidekick to Owen, Lauren Lapkus (Orange is the New Black) does nothing but cry and Judy Greer, who I absolutely adore, is flat out annoying and hammy.
But what about the dinosaurs? Of course they are kind of awesome! The special effects and animatronic beasts are all in fine form as to be expected. I really liked the design of the Indominus Rex and found it to be somewhat terrifying in action. Seeing Jurassic World as a fully functioning theme park was rad too, complete with Sea World styled aquatic shows, a baby dinosaur petting zoo and high-tech tours of all the herbivore paddocks. A lot of thought went into the intricacies of how this concept would actually work as a theme park and I was thankful for that. The aspect I liked the most was the trained Velociraptors. These four CGI killing machines were given a lot of personality, especially the Beta, Blue.

But when it comes to the plot it is all rehashed from the original film. Every beat, every scare, every attack… it’s frustrating. Where does homage end and plagiarism begin? Even the finale, while rad as hell, is just an amped up version of the first film’s climax. Director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) and the stable of writers didn’t seem to have a plan when the time came to make the next film in this franchise. They tweaked a few ideas from an abandoned sequel script that was written in the early/mid-2000s (the training of human-dinosaur hybrids to be soldiers for the government) and filled in the gaps with greatest hits from the other films. While they do a great job of setting up where future sequels could go, this jumping off point is as aimless and joyless as they come. But when one of the selling points I’m hearing on all the talk shows is that Bryce Dallas Howard runs around for the entire film in high heels... yeah, your priorities are a little whacked.
Why couldn’t the writers come up with all new scenarios that involved the other unique dinosaurs inhabiting the park? We’ve seen Pteranodons before. We’ve seen the T-Rex plenty of times. We’ve also had our fill of Velociraptors. There’s plenty of other species they could have pooled from to carve out their own filmic identity. A great opportunity was wasted with the Mosasaurus. Why couldn’t there be a scene where the characters had to make their way across the gigantic water tank and fend off that aquatic terror? We haven’t seen anything like that before in these films! So much potential just squandered! 

But the one thing that really, really bugged me was all the blatant product placement. Samsung, Pandora Jewelers (the worst offender), Verizon Wireless, Beats by Dre, Mercedes-Benz, Starbucks, Coca-Cola… the list goes on. It’s always in your face and distracting as all hell. And I’m sorry, dear writers, that having a couple of your characters cracking jokes stating how lame corporate sponsorship is doesn’t mean you’re being meta. You’re being hypocritical. Points lost.
While I did enjoy this film when I first walked out of the theater opening night, the more I thought about it them more I disliked it. I finally came to a conclusion the following day that while there is definitely some entertainment value to be found within, Jurassic World isn’t the huge epic everyone is making it out to be. It’s an well below average film that is getting a pass from the mainstream audiences based on the name recognition alone. Give it some time. In a few years I’m sure it will be remembered about as fondly as Jurassic Park III.

1.5 out of 5

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