Thursday, June 18, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic World
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow.
Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly based on characters created by Michael Crichton.
Starring: Chris Pratt (Owen), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire), Vincent D'Onofrio  (Hoskins), Ty Simpkins (Gray), Irrfan Khan (Simon Masrani), Nick Robinson (Zach), Jake Johnson (Lowery), Omar Sy (Barry), BD Wong (Dr. Henry Wu), Judy Greer (Karen), Lauren Lapkus (Vivian), Brian Tee (Hamada), Katie McGrath (Zara).

The day before I watched Jurassic World, I went back and re-watched Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Jurassic Park for the first time in about 15 years – and then I went and re-read Roger Ebert’s review of Spielberg’s film. Watching Jurassic Park again, I remain convinced that my opinion on the film all these years is right – it’s nowhere near great Spielberg, but is an all-around solid film, expertly crafted with great special effects. What struck me about after watching the film, and reading Roger Ebert’s review, and then watching Jurassic World, and reading a few pieces about it (including one in Flavorwire about the difference between World and Park), is how similar the comments of contemporary critics of both Park and World saw the films (even if, overall, the reviews for Park were better). Ebert complained about Jurassic Park, that in the 18 years between when Spielberg made Jaws and when he made Jurassic Park, attention spans had gotten shorter – so instead of waiting an hour to reveal the shark, as in Jaws, we are staring at dinosaurs 20 minutes in Jurassic Park – and the difference between Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Jurassic Park was the sense of awe that the former inspired was mostly absent from the later. Reading the Flavorwire piece by Jason Bailey, he’s pretty much arguing the same thing – except saying that Jurassic Park was an example of patience in filmmaking, and Jurassic World was the one rushing. The odd thing is this – I think both Ebert and Bailey are right. If Spielberg “invented” the blockbuster in Jaws 40 years ago, they have continue to evolve (in some good, and many bad) ways in the decades since. Jaws would practically be a slow paced art house film today – if it was made at all. The speed in which blockbusters move changed a lot in the 18 years between Jaws and Jurassic Park – and have changed a lot more in the 22 years since.

Spielberg didn’t directed Jurassic World of course – and to give Colin Trevorrow credit, he knows all of this as well. Jurassic’s World’s narrative – which ignores both the Lost World and Jurassic Park III – is pretty much a commentary on the difficulty of making sequels these days. From characters complaining that showing people dinosaurs is no longer enough – everyone wants things that are bigger, faster louder and more violent – and making jokes about product placement in the park – and how the “original” park was more pure – Trevorrow is playing with the expectations of the genre, mocking the conventions, while, of course, completely giving in to them at the same time. It’s more than a little bit of a cheat – trying to avoid criticisms by making them all themselves first – and isn’t totally successful, but hey, perhaps it’s better than not addressing them at all.

The plot of Jurassic World is about the theme – now more than a decade old, built on the same island that served as the original Park back in 1993 – which is still popular, but needs to be constantly be coming up with something new. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is now in charge of the park, and is getting ready to unveil the park’s most recent attraction – a hybrid dinosaur they have named Indominus Rex – which is part T-Rex, and part a lot of other things as well (exactly what is something the movie milks for all it’s worth, revealing only one at a time, when it’s convenient to the plot). Of course, the Indominus Rex escapes, going on a killing spree – mostly of dinosaurs, but really of anything it comes across. And of course, it concentrates on a couple of kids in danger – in this case, Claire’s two nephews (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), who are both incredibly smart, and incredibly stupid. And, of course, there is a roguish hero – raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), who struts around and saves the day, as well as a complete idiot (Vincent D’Onofrio) who thinks he can take those same raptors, and turn them into weapons. There isn’t an original bone in Jurassic World’s body – as it is made up of bits and pieces of other, mostly better blockbusters, amped up for 2015 audiences.

I could complain about a few other things. The movie is fairly sexist in its depiction of Claire – who the movie wants to be a classic female archetype – the uptight woman who needs to let her guard down and little bit and loosen up – preferably with the help of a roguish leading man. Think Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen for an example – except, of course, that movie was made in 1951, and perhaps Trevorrow and company could have come up with something more original, and less retrograde, for their female lead. I’m also not quite sure what another female character did to deserve the most over-the-top, and surprisingly brutal and extended death in the movie, but it seemed unnecessarily harsh to me.

Still, I have to admit that in many regards, Jurassic World does deliver what it sets out to do. To quote Ebert’s review of Jurassic Park “Because the movie delivers on the bottom line, I'm giving it three stars. You want great dinosaurs, you got great dinosaurs.” That’s true of Jurassic World – which is at its best when it leaves behind the human characters, and concentrates on the dinosaurs themselves – especially when they are fighting each other, which is often (hell, the movie almost goes full kaiju fight at the climax). Pratt tries to be more serious here than in other films - but it's telling that the few moments that humor creep into his character are the most memorable.

Jurassic World is hardly a great movie – but then again, none of the Jurassic Park movies are truly great movies. The original is still the best, and the rest all have flaws, but have moments that are fun. Jurassic World delivers what summer blockbuster audiences in 2015 want – which is both why the film works, and why it seems so utterly familiar.

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