Friday, June 12, 2015

"Jurassic World" (2015)

Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Vincent D'Onofrio
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Rated PG-13 — Violence, frightening images, language
Running Time: 123 Minutes

Two decades later, John Hammond's dream of a theme park whose attractions are genetically engineered dinosaurs is true. Jurassic World attracts tens of thousands of visitors a day who are wowed by living, breathing dinosaurs before their very eyes. In charge of this wonder is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who also happens to be hosting her two young nephews at the park while their parents get a divorce, and while the park prepares to unveil its latest attraction: a new hybrid dinosaur they've called the Indominus Rex.

The park's owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), wants to make sure that the Indominus' paddock is truly secure, so he orders Claire to bring the park's raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to inspect it. But when Owen arrives, he discovers that Indominus is not just any dinosaur. Not only is it vicious to a T, but it is extremely intelligent and has been engineered with a number of characteristics that give it the ability to camouflage itself along with other abilities. It tricks the humans into thinking it's escaped, which allows it to escape, and suddenly the chase is on.

But soon it becomes obvious that the thousands of park visitors are Indominus' target, and that the park's security systems are woefully inadequate against such an advanced adversary... with Claire's nephews lost somewhere out in the wilderness amongst the animals. Worse, Claire finds herself under pressure from InGen security, run by war-hungry Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) who may have other motives beyond simply recapturing the beast.

Well. When the first trailer for "Jurassic World" was released, my first reaction was "meh." Upon seeing the film... it hasn't changed much. Here's the problem: Much like the "Terminator" series, we've now got four "Jurassic" movies that are all essentially the same. "Jurassic World" has a number of little bits in it that hint at potential for something different and cool but it always ends up falling back hard on the familiar and the easy.

Take for example one of the most absurd visual concepts from the film, the one that's been pushed heavily in the movie's advertising campaign: Chris Pratt on a motorcycle, hunting Indominus with a pack of trained raptors. Sure, this is inherently ridiculous, but it's also the sort of concept that if you roll with it will absolutely become the crowd-rousing centerpiece of your movie.

But director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow can't commit. Instead, Chris Pratt on a motorcycle with his pack of trained raptors is cool for exactly how long it is cool in the film's trailers. After that one short scene of cool, with Michael Giaccino's fine score rousing the crowd for the excitement that is about to happen... Trevorrow pulls his punches and the scene fizzles.

There's also the park's team of badass, ex-military SWAT-style dinosaur hunters. A big deal is made about them arming up and going out into the park to hunt Indominus... and then they're all dispatched in one brief action sequence that unfolds through the familiar "the main characters watch helplessly from the control room" scene.

And this is the problem that runs through the entirety of "Jurassic World" — at very nearly every turn, it eschews its cooler aspects in order to do all the same things you've seen before. On the plus side, there are a couple of times when it doesn't — the film's climactic fight, for example, ends up being pretty fun.

On the special effects side, more is not really better. It's obvious a lot of care went into the action shots, when dinosaurs are running amok. One of the film's more entertaining sequences involves a huge flock Pteranodons dive-bombing thousands of trapped, screaming park patrons and it all looks great. On the flip-side, shots of dinosaur herds milling about in the grass on the island look pretty terrible. Whether it's lighting or what, the dinosaurs simply look like they're not part of the frame but merely overlaid on top (which, they are, that's how compositing works... but a good composite hides that fact).

There are very rarely any dinosaurs in the film that are not computer generated. A handful of shots of harnessed raptors and one scene involving a dying brontosaur, and that's really about it. But these shots are the ones that most often make it feel like the dinosaurs are really there, and that's one of the things that Steven Spielberg understood. He even understood this in his second "Jurassic" outing, which despite its many scripting deficiencies, is still full of sequences that are impeccably made.

I know a lot of people are down on Spielberg these days. It's apparently a trendy thing to knock him for being overly sentimental, but the truth is that he is one of film's master storytellers on many levels. On a technical level, he understands the language of film and how a sequence should not just look but how it should move, how it should be paced, how to incorporate music and sound and image. Trevorrow is a capable filmmaker, like Joe Johnston before him, but "Jurassic World" feels like him trying to ape the language of "Jurassic Park" but never really understanding how and why it worked on more than just a surface level. Here, he uses a lot of the visual tropes of earlier "Jurassic" films but they never feel right. He never makes the film his own, just the same way that the script never owns itself and remains content to repeat all the old "Jurassic" ideas.

All this and I didn't even talked about the humans in the movie.

I've been hard on it so far, but honestly, I did have fun watching "Jurassic World." I laughed at the funny parts, enjoyed the dinosaur mayhem, but I was never wowed by it. My entertainment, just like the movie itself, was purely surface level.

See Also
Jurassic Park (1993)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Jurassic Park III (2001)

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