Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 6: Building a Better Dinosaur

Introduction: Science and Society

In discussing the films in this series I’ve always discussed science in a section, and rightly so. However, when outlining this project this most recent installment this was the only one wherein I could not rightly just label it science but had to add society. Clearly this is by design because the public at large is present and the public that frequents the park, pays the bills, and demand more teeth to be further satisfied.

The most important question that needs addressing here is: when does bad science breed bad cinema? As Matt Zoeller Seitz recently stated on Twitter, I agree that more critics “should show their work,” and that’s what I intend to do here because as I was looking over some of the finer points of this film I got to wondering, if this science is shoddy then why do I like this and not Interstellar.

Bad Science = Bad Cinema?

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

The issues I had with Interstellar I think were more pervasive for one. The so-called revolutionary sound mix didn’t work for me, the film seemed to be trying too hard in story, and performance, to coax an emotional response from the audience such that it felt artificial.

Parallel those aspects to Jurassic World and it had a sound mix that was appropriate and followed some of its pre-established rules. Further, the characters have their emotional moments (Judy Greer) and Gray, but that pain is their characters’ pain and it’s not brandished. If you identify with it you react, it’s not trying to force that reaction. This can partially be attributed to Giacchino’s more restrained musical philosophy as opposed to Zimmer’s heightening approach.

Conversely, when Nolan in Inception was more intent on building a world rather than using science as a crux of his film that worked. Regardless of whether the science of sleep and dreaming in that film were accurately interpreted for dramatic effect.

Jurassic World also has the benefit of not being the first in a series. The rules of this specific narrative universe have in many ways been pre-established, therefore, whether the science is accurate or well-applied has less bearing.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Since the beginning the issues of missing sections of genetic code has been addressed. The usage of the DNA of amphibians opened the door for the dinosaurs to change sex and to breed. The odds of newly found genetic material being more complete are slim to none, so gaps still need to be filled. The change of sex being an acknowledged issue other safeguards can be attempted.

The park is now open, it needs revenue, the patrons have demands, so do the bosses; to create the new assets tried methods will be used. To create something never before created, to try to make a hybrid, new methods will be used. Methods that would create more issues. Issues that may or may not be foreseen but will happen nonetheless if ideas are fast-tracked with less regard for the consequences than is normally shown.

Variations on the Theme

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

The film opens quite gracefully with the hatching of an Indominus Rex juxtaposed against a tight shot of a crow’s foot, which in close looks like a dinosaur. It’s visual evidence of the evolution of species and also an allusion to how the first film started out (Dr. Grant talking to a smart-mouthed kid about the evolution of raptors into birds).

When pitching his concept of Raptors as military weapons Hoskins says as a retort to concern over if they’d follow orders “Only loyal bloodlines will be promoted.” Hearing this having seen Blackfish and heard the tale of the generations spawned in captivity from a tainted genepool is chilling.

That’s not the only time I thought of Sea World, obviously the Mosasaurus’ watershow is another one. And it prompted me to tweet the following:

Hubris has always been a theme in these films. Hubris usually begets shortsightedness and poor decision-making. As does greed. All this leads to the genetic engineering to create all-too-powerful hybrid. It’s a great idea in a video game (yes, Jurassic World has one of those you can play), but not as much in a supposedly real world. So we know from experience in the first film that it’s an inherently flawed concept. The question is how are the stakes raised and how is the enemy bigger, stronger, and faster.

Building a Better Dinosaur

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

One of the stumbles the film faces is the partially askew introduction of the new star, the Indominus Rex in two parts; each encounter, one with Masrani and one with Grady has some oddity. With Masrani there’s the “Isn’t it white?” question which kind of foreshadows the ability to camouflage, but we never see it looking as if it’s an albino. With Owen he discovers the scratches on the outer wall and starts to surmise its intelligence, but its off-frame when mentioned, and not cut to, the scratches are only seen later. Those are odd occurrences and slips of mise-en-scène and script.

As we’ve already examined we know as a given that some of the DNA of other animals is used in completing gene sequences. This seems to be information that requires a certain amount of clearance at the park. Grady doesn’t know that, even Claire does. Her concerns are the day-to-day operations and bringing money into the park through investors and new attractions to draw crowds, if asset development is within her purview she never seems to pay it any mind. She’s only really interested in more teeth if it means more money and marketable names. It’s one of the clashes she and Grady have.

This assumption is what I believe is behind the awkwardly placed, blocked and specimen scene – this segment with forced framing is thankfully cut short by some monologue-ing by Hoskins, and that is thankfully and humorously cut-off by a raptor invasion (dinosaurs always save the day in the parks). It furthers the notion if knowing not what we’re messing with. Grady makes the leap first stating “That’s no dinosaur.” Aside from the given frog DNA it is learned that cuttlefish DNA must’ve leant the ability to camouflage, though it was incorporated due to the need to support an accelerated growth rate, which asset development would’ve wanted to get their new hybrid ready for primetime sooner.

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

In all the examination of the genetic makeup of the new dino in the film what is perhaps most keenly gleaned is that it’s not more unnatural a creation necessarily just much harder to predict, and a beast we’re even less inclined to handle.

To What End?

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Jurassic World introduces the Military-Industrial complex to this world, in this setting where the park is literally creating dinosaurs that never existed, where one man’s ability to bond with the creatures is being exploited so the dinosaurs can do something they weren’t made for, seeing Malcom’s book God Creates Dinosaurs is more poignant than ever.

Stocking Masrani’s “petting zoo” and justifying be able to charge $7 a soda is of the ultimate importance, therefore it’s unsurprising in this environment that a dinosaur would be created that can hide from thermal radiation or camouflage because there has not yet been less care taken in creating one, and rushing it to public display.

Intelligence

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

In each of the films the question of intelligence has been brought up. This, of course, something that could only be speculated upon by paleontologists. Seeing the size of a creature’s brainpan in its fossilized remains is one thing but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

In the world of these films the ante has been raised when further observation has shown the raptors have an intelligence which rivals primates. Here with a hybrid we assume that it has taken the best traits of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor and not been muddled in any way. That’s how it plots to hide itself from thermal radiation sensors, has the recall to know where its implant is, the intelligence to take it out, and plot to get humans into the enclosure.

The omnipresent theme of control is an aspect too lost. Grady is there to examine the enclosure for possible faults. Grady says to Hoskins that maybe “Progress should lose for once” about his raptor plan. Surely, the same must go double for a hybrid.

Conclusion: “We’re just used to being the cat”

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Touching back on this scene because it’s just that good, in the debate between Masrani and Dr. Henry Wu (played brilliantly by B.D. Wong),  quickly refutes Masrani’s complaints as in any way being something he is solely responsible for. He was just doing what needed doing to get the “more teeth” on a scarier, exaggerated predator ready when it needed to be.

The death and unruliness is unfortunate but he made the creatures ordered to make. He wasn’t asked to make a third after the sibling was eaten. Genetic engineers are not behaviorists and Grady didn’t come in until it was too late and the Indominus had missed out by being in isolation and lacked in socialization.

The capper on the conversation is perfectly astute, and may distill the series to its essential core element:  we, being the current dominant species on the planet, have brought back one of the former dominant species. Being the species in its own place and time we assume we can control, maintain, and present them for our amusement and edification, but the truth of the matter is they will not be held down, and with all things being equal we don’t really stand a chance.

This series will continue tomorrow with Part 7: What Works and Really?

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Review: A Wolf at the Door

A Wolf at the Door may appear on the surface to be a standard, formulaic Fatal Attraction-style plot transported in location and time. However, where this film differentiates itself is rightly in its reflection of its setting and its lack of concern over traditional conflicts caused by extra-marital affairs but rather it seeks to examine the characters on their own terms, how they interact and how they affect one another.

A Wolf at the Door starts with the inciting incident, a crime, a mother (Fabíula Nascimento) reports an unknown woman has picked up her six-year-old girl at school. While being questioned the school teacher starts remembering certain details that give the investigators a slight lead. As they summon the girl’s father (Milhem Cortaz) he confesses to an affair that leads suspicions to center on his lover, Rosa (Leandra Leal).

In a tale where at times witnesses are unreliable, and they slowly give more details about what they did or didn’t do, revealing layers of truth; a fractured chronology with frames and some narrative ellipses will be not only preferable but almost a necessity.

Much of what makes this film work is the pairing of cinematography and editing in long takes. In these hypnotic shots with slow pushes like a Brazilian version of Fred Kelemen’s work with Bela Tarr the viewer is drawn into the madness unfolding, and it also allows the actors the freedom, and the challenge to work uninterrupted without alternate takes. This continuous imagery with precise movement and mise-en-scène may seem less cinematic to those who have gotten too used to the ever shortening shot-lengths in Hollywood films; however, it’s quite the opposite. It’s astounding to watch on a technical level alone, and much more impressive when you see what it does for this story.

A Wolf At The Door (2014, Strand Releasing)

Whenever writing on a film produced outside the US, and not in the English language, there is a temptation to do a standard mandatory bit on cultural relativism; especially when its a culture I’m as familiar with as the Brazilian one being a dual citizen. Yet that familiarity with the culture doesn’t guarantee the success of the product in question, just as much as “based on true events,” which this film boasts; doesn’t guarantee 100% accuracy. The cultural relativism bit bears saying here because there are certain plot points that may challenge suspension of disbelief that are quite culturally accurate and ring true.

This is another film that is fearless in tackling a taboos, not only in general, but using it as its climactic moment, and that’s as much as bears saying without giving too much away.

Because they sometimes get overlooked I will first give kudos to a standout supporting turn in this film: Thalita Carauta, playing a character who only gets thrown into the mix by chance on a few occasions steals every scene she’s in. A bulk of the film is carried by Leandra Leal and Milhem Cortaz, more by Leal for her scenes with Nascimento. They are both magnetic, and precise in charting their persona’s unraveling, and make it quite easy for those shots to hold as long as they do. They turn in two of the most impressive performances to date this year.

A Wolf at the Door is definitely not a story to be entered into lightly, and will most definitely not find universal favor. However, those believe that great art can and should be created from human immorality and depravity should give it a look.

9/10

A Wolf at the Door will be available on DVD and digital video on August 25th.