Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 8: Conclusion

The final element that needs discussing is the park itself, a realization of Hammond’s dream that we had not yet been privy to see. The camera move into the hotel room, chasing Gray (Ty Simpkins) all along, out to the balcony and looking out across the aquatic center and the Hammond building has a very similar effect to the first view that Ellie and Dr. Grant have upon first seeing the Brachiosaurs, and this is not just because of the use of Williams’ iconic theme. Sure, it’s the kind of wonder a kid has at Disney World, but the Disney parallel has always existed; and the exuberance on display is no less pure in this scene than there in the real world.

Though, yes, this is the movie part of the illusion it’s trying to create is that these dinosaurs exist not just in modern times but in the world today. What would a multi-million (billion?) dollar a year theme park full of dinosaurs look like if not something corporate? The selective nature that goes into deciphering what product placement is distasteful or gaudy absolutely confounds me. The park’s vehicles are now Mercedes-Benz, in the first film they were Jeeps, so that makes it an advertisement. Yet it seems when certain vehicles are used because they represent an era like Mercedes being used by the Germans in WWII or the tracking shot keeping the Packard hood ornament in focus during Empire of the Sun mum’s the word because that’s an artful choice. When many complaints about modern CG decry the crushing of verisimilitude it’s odd that an artifice such as Greeking, or obscuring logos and brand names, would be so prized that its mere presence is an instant distraction and detriment.

Empire of the Sun (1987, Warner Bros.)

There’s a Starbucks on Mainstreet USA in The Magic Kingdom. Surely, since that was not always the case some were right to be a little peeved by it, but it’s a bit disingenuous. Disneyland and Disneyworld have always been interested in revenue, so that’s a natural progression. Jurassic World has to have a modern corporate mindset to a fault. So, yes, scoff a Brookstone being there if you like but don’t mock that and miss that a restaurant was named Winston’s, in honor of the late, great Stan Winston, and don’t be so busy being annoyed the presence of corporate logos that you miss that there, too, are commentaries like with Pandora, a jeweler I highly doubt was chosen by accident.

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Especially since one of the things the film is commenting on is corporate influence and it’s open about the fact. Lowery (Jake Johnson) jokes about the dinosaurs being named after companies being the next step after Verizon Wireless presents The Indominus Rex is announced.

Furthermore, there is InGen who is always plotting separate deals in the background whether its good for the park or not. They do what’s best for their brand, or more to the point their bottom-line.

If the film was called Jurassic Game Preserve, I’d understand the complaints, but since it’s a theme park it makes perfect sense. You can’t get away with charging $7 for no-name soda. No, Pepsi is not OK. Coke, please. And make it a big one so I can nurse it through yet another viewing of Jurassic World.

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Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 7: What Works and Really?

“Really?”

I’m not going to over-elaborate in this section. In prior posts I have discussed some of the inconsistencies in the film. Here I will mention a few that I haven’t yet gotten around to, which leaves about two topics.

The CG is at times an issue, but at times I was surprised it worked so well. Sadly, the reason CG usually doesn’t work as well as it could have less to do with actual computer technology and other film trends. Even more surprising was the occasional actual practical effect like the dying Apatosaurus.

The implementation of the Phase One: Real World order rolls out slower than the execution of Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith, as quite a bit of screentime passes before the last employee (the gyrosphere operator) hears about it.

What Works

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

In parsing through many smaller moments in the larger sections there are similarly not many elements I enjoyed that didn’t get mentioned. The first thing that bears saying is that Trevorrow successfully transitions from a small film with a fantastical element, Safety Not Guaranteed, to a fantastical story with smaller elements here.

As mentioned above the use of some practicals is greatly appreciated, and of course, I love that this was a film that brought the series back to its roots of a being a park of dinosaurs (which is coincidentally the Brazilian title), which two and three kind of skipped.

The pulse-pounding elements are also there aside from youthful wonder. Many of the at-the-screen 3D-aimed scares worked on me more than once, and the ACU (Asset Containment Unit) members’ deaths being accompanied by the sound of flatlining as they monitored their vitals was especially effective.

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Character’s deaths can be among the trickiest things to handle in films. The handling of a death scene, like the genres of horror and comedy, can be highly subjective. The death of Zara (Katie McGrath) in the clutches of a Pterodactyl seems to hover in the gray area between comedy and horror, and it’s not a wonder its received a disparate range of reactions.

The reasons this scene works for me are myriad, among them being the morbid sense of humor, it’s the schadenfreude of taking out an annoying character, but the main reason is that it takes what is not inherently a threatening family of the dinosaur kingdom and really renders them terrifying by the torturous ordeal it puts her through, which ups the stakes for the other chases and battles, namely the one Claire ends, saving Grady, with cool confidence and a flurry of well-placed shots.

This series concludes tomorrow with Part 8: Conclusion.

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?

Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 5: Of Footwear and Fan Service

Introduction

This is part five of a series on the Jurassic Park franchise and the second post on Jurassic World

Looks Like a Pump, Feels Like a Sneaker

Yes, this is an incredibly dated reference being used to introduce one of the largest talking points in the film namely Bryce Dallas Howard’s footwear. However, I feel that in chiming in so late I had to try to separate myself from the pack, so why not try a now very old reference?

Anyway, I must confess that when Claire is doing her preparation routine, that initially confounded me as much as it did Owen, I did think removal of her heels would be part of that ritual. When that never happened I interpreted it as a calculated effort. Now that’s one that may not have been balanced well with how Owen was perceived, and the drawing of Claire, and Howard’s intepretation, but it’s one I kind of let go.

That interpretation seems echoed here. However, it’s not something I can say I feel passionately about. I see the points being made in various places, especially when the woman who I’d declare the biggest fan of Jurassic World referenced it as being ‘stupid.’

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

I do wish there was this kind of impassioned debate and analysis of every film, but apparently even in the age of over-saturated Internet and social media coverage only films that cross the obscene one-billion-dollar threshold get this kind of magnifying glass such that even though the Pachycephalosaurus was introduced to the series in The Lost World and referred to as “Pachies” then, it only garners attention now. And, honestly, with Jurassic World, the park, being such a large corporate entity concerned with bringing on sponsorships, referring to their animals as assets, you’d think easily misconstrued or potentially offensive nicknames would be verboten.

So that’s not bending to the overly-PC slant most blockbusters have to adhere to but rather just acknowledging a reality in a large company.

Allusions and Fan Service

Introduction: The Myth of Binary Reality

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

So through the first two sections I acknowledged some issues, and mixed results in the film. So, how can I defend liking this film? Easily. Firstly, because defense of a film is defending an overall intention and design, and not saying its flawless or perfect. One of drawbacks of the knee-jerk, vitriolic, online debate machine is that it forces us into a binary interpretation of reality, specifically art. A film is either awesome or it sucks; perfect or worthless; you’re either a hopeless tool who gobbles up Comic Con news or a worthless hipster who only attends arthouse films you half-understand. This kind of zero-sum approach to things is so disadvantageous to all involved. I like to pride myself on balance. I think my BAM Awards and Best of Lists are testaments to that, I constantly try to buck trends: tentpoles and obscure artpieces can be on my best of lists; so can horror films and horror performances; a performance can be great even if a film isn’t; and so on. Especially in this age where audiences, both casual viewers and film buffs, have so many avenues to see so many kinds of films there’s less reason than ever to be self-limiting. No longer are we as viewers confined by the entertainment fishbowl created by the partnership of major studios and theater owners.

The last paragraph is a roundabout way of saying no film is perfect, perfection is a myth. One story I embrace from film school was when a professor of mine asked Robert Wise about cutting Citizen Kane, which he stated at the time was perfect. Wise instantly replied that he should’ve cut a little more coming out of the butler’s flashback. The pause is too long. And it is.

Disavowing perfection, and showing what a sham a binary reality is I can begin to talk about what it is in this film that I enjoy.

Allusions

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Being the first film in the series in fourteen years, nostalgia will play a part for those who have “been there from the beginning,” so references are inevitable. There is a valid debate to be had about the excessiveness of fan service in film in general, but in Jurassic World I feel it’s one of the home run elements in a universal regard, and to me personally.

The T-Rex is introduced in this film with a familiar motif and new window dressing. We see a flare and a braying goat. The enclosure allows curious park-goers a very close, supposedly safe glimpse of the beast feeding.

Granted the predator or scavenger debate is one that rages, and is even addressed in a Jurassic World branded children’s book on dinosaurs, but cinematically he has to be a hunter. The Tyrannosaurus Rex has incontrovertible star power and in the popular imagination captures so much about what has fascinated so many about dinosaurs since their discovery in the 1800s.

Jurassic World (2015, Unviersal)

The most obvious one is the discovery of the old park and its paraphernalia, starting with the Jeeps. Is it likely that the island was abandoned for years and left to overgrow, it could’ve happened. Is it likely those edifices would be left standing after it started getting redeveloped? No. It’s certainly an expense spared. Am I glad it was there anyway, and did I think it was awesome? You be your butt (the one you’re to be holding on to).

Yes, “Spare no expense” is cited. If you take that overly-literally then Masrani should’ve just shot a warhead at the Indominus and gone back to the drawing board $26 million dollars or not, but then there’d be no movie. Genetic engineering in cinematic terms is something that has happened and not something we want to see. Much in the way Masrani was not interested in how the Indominus was made until it was killing people. “You just asked for more teeth.”

Speaking of more teeth, I still absolutely love the fact that the Mosasaur feeds on a great white shark. It’s an obvious Jaws allusion, but it also is great to illustrate the size of the Mosasaur and what fearsome predators they must’ve been when they can dwarf, and swallow whole, the present day version of nature’s most perfect eating machine.

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Jurassic World also uses these allusions as a tool to introduce some subtext. On his desk, aside from the dinosaur figures, Lowery also has a copy of Dr. Malcolm’s book God Creates Dinosaurs. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder of the lack of humility being shown but it’s still appreciated.

Personal

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Some of this fan service I will admit I can only rightly construe as being of service to me. Which means that I enjoyed certain aspects and outcomes due to the tendentious proclivities.

Among these things is the climactic battle. The reason I mention this is not only the team-up aspect, which I will admit can be seen as a tiresome trope, but not only does it hearken back to the high climax of the first film, and bring “more” into the equation than previous films, it also has a battle between dinosaurs who are “more natural” against the Indominus “more synthetic.”

The battle is staged in such a way that it got very close to doing what I hoped it wouldn’t, killing the T-Rex. In the interest of full disclosure I have several issues with the original King Kong. One of them being that this is a world where apropos of nothing dinosaurs not only still exist but this massive primate can kill them fairly easily. That’s just inanely dumb in my estimation, combine that with incessant atonal screaming that somehow passes not only as acting but the “best acting” and you get the bulk of my gripe.

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Jurassic World not only doesn’t play that game but it gives us the T-Rex moments we’ve been waiting for, but still introduces a new heroic figure. The T-Rex’s entrance is great and helped by the fact that I didn’t quite grasp the “more teeth” line at first, but when I heard “Paddock 9” I knew, and it was a big part of the making-me-feel-like-a-kid-again effect. I was so psyched for the ending it was insane.

The new heroic figure is the Mosasaur, which is a great touch. I have often wondered why it is that the that the oceanic species of the same age get so little press and love. If you truly want some of the most terrifying leviathans of all time you go below the water in the Mesozoic era. If there is a wholly sub-marine tale I’d willing see or write it’d be that one.

Conclusion

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Clearly, allusions and fan service, whether fulfilling the desires of a majority or just one individual, are not enough to give a film legs it can stand one. In many ways it is like icing on the cake though and can make everything that much better.

This series will continue tomorrow with Part 6: Building a Better Dinosaur.

Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 4: A New Cast of Characters

Introduction

So now we finally come to the newest film. Clearly this was the one that made me want to take a new, multi-faceted look at all the films. Ultimately, in this series I believe I will have only skimmed the surface on the region and maybe gone deeper into this one than many have. It’s part of why I wanted to take my time in composing this, and I only really considered it after I had already put in multiple viewings.

One benefit of Jurassic World not bridging the gap is that it skips and origin story, which at times can be as trite as a prequel. In the end, when I got around to this film I finally figured that the headings had to be a bit unique to each film.

So to begin with on this film I will begin to the characters because, there are quite a few, and it’s here that most of the difficulties in the film lie.

Characters

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt)

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

One reason I think this film works is, in part because of the others, as I first saw it when I decided almost immediately that I viewed Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) as a cross between Muldoon (Bob Peck), game expert at the original Jurassic Park, and Dr. Grant. Which means he’s knowledgable through personal experience and interaction though not necessarily studied. The part where Dr. Grant comes in is with regards to the animals, he’s a voice of reason, one that respects them and is understanding at all times. His interpersonal skills may not even be that great due to that, with members of either gender.

Miscasting is a barb I don’t use often because it presumes far too much about our understanding of what a given character is supposed to be. If the film doesn’t accurately or fully portray the character that’s the bigger concern. Chris Pratt has had a specific persona since I first saw him on Everwood. He’s cultivated it, it’s become his type. When he joins this film there’s a projection of who Chris Pratt is supposed to be and not Owen Grady. Pratt fit Guardians of the Galaxy perfectly doing what he’d done already. I knew that going in based on what I presumed Star Lord would be like based on the recent arcs of the comics series. James Gunn translated that character across different media brilliantly.

Here too many of us came in with a notion of who this Chris Pratt by another name was supposed to be. Humor is subjective. I thought he was funny, but he wasn’t supposed to be as much of a cut-up. How he treats or doesn’t treat Claire could well have more to do with their shared past rather than feelings about women in general.

One of the mistakes the characters make in this film is that there is a communication lag. Grady is working with the raptors and doesn’t know a thing about what’s going on with the Indominus, or that it exists. He’s only brought into the loop because Masrani needs more insight after his briefing and inspection. So he starts meeting someone he shares a personal history of an ill-fated date, and he’s being called in on a new task for the most out-there genetic project the park has developed so far; one that frankly shouldn’t be a project (we all know it); his previous moment as a character and an actor is a ludicrous talk (in his estimation) with Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) about weaponized raptors, and now this while he’s trying to unwind and work on his bike. So, yeah, he may be a little more hostile with Claire than he otherwise would be, his sense of humor is crass, and inappropriate, but it’s step one on a long crazy trek to earning one another’s respect and admiration.

Ultimately, it comes down to watchability. A character doesn’t have to be likable just watchable. In an age of overly-sanitized, packaged protagonists, where gray areas are unacceptable to some especially in blockbusters; I found him rather refreshing, a slightly different tonality, what would be referred to in Portuguese as a babaca charmoso; roughly translated: a charming prick.

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard)

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

As for Claire, establishing her through the pneumonic device for remembering names is a bit awkward as a first image both in its mise-en-scène and in terms of character building. When the catastrophe is unfolding and everyone is in the control room, and Grady is holding court trying to get people to listen to reason, his version of it, she snaps and says “You’re not in control here!” It may be Claire’s finest moment, if not Howard’s, because here’s where the essence of the character lies: she seeks to be in control, to be seen as a serious professional, yet seems to fear she is not in control and can’t be viewed as such. When faced with a situation where control is shown to be illusory (“You never had control, John! That’s the illusion!”) it will surely start to grate on her.

It’s also clear that there was not an attempt to make Claire’s career-mindedness seem like a negative. What she truly lacks is balance, insight to her true self and at times a sense of priority. When she’s running for her life Owen holds out his hand to assist her up a grade. She runs right through it. She doesn’t need his help, she eventually shows, despite her inexperience, she can fend for herself and for others, Grady included. The most common Claire talking-point will be addressed in its own section.

Masrani (Irrfan Khan)

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

As has been discussed leading up to this post, one of the points in the canon left most unfortunately nebulous is how Hammond came to make a seeming 180 from the end of Lost World where he was leaning towards conservation rather than Park-building. Of course, it can be surmised that it was just damage control and PR in light of the latest disaster but that is never confirmed or denied.

Regardless, the world of this story is one wherein Jurassic World is a park that exists on site A and has not only thrived but had done so for so long that a very 21st century ennui about the awe-factor dinosaurs can even provide is the norm.

The interesting thing about Masrani is that he has even deeper pockets than Hammond, yet seemingly is spread more thin from competing interests. So while he seems to have a genuine concern for the animals’ well-being he is equally blind to some of the dangers posed by the way the park operates, and has operated. In the end, this makes him not much different from Hammond.

If anything his demeanor makes it more likely that something like this was bound to happen eventually as his comic relief inept helicopter piloting proves he has delusions of invulnerability that extends to all he touches.

Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio)

Jurassic World (2015, Jurassic World)

There is one point in their initial debate when Grady asks Hoskins “Do you listen to yourself when you talk?” It’s the perfect encapsulation of Hoskins really. After one successful drill/demonstration with the Raptors Hoskins is ready to go whole hog into his crazy InGen brainchild of using the raptors as a tactical military advantage. Within this series this is the follow-through on what’s now a given in the series InGen having an agenda of its own which allows for the propagation of genetically engineered dinosaurs contrary to common sense and contrary to the wishes of the public at large. This is a staple of series since The Lost World.

In the larger landscape of film it is another militarized plot point, which can be a bit tiresome amidst the landscape of superhero cinema wherein some martial element (like a technology that would be dangerous in the hands of military foes or terrorists) is commonplace. Granted Hoskins is useful to introduce the “At what price progress?” morale of the story, adds a human antagonist, and the occasional comic relief as well. He’s more rounded than he has any right to be as at one point there is an inkling that his crazy plan really is the only option to deal with the Indominus Rex. And it is a delicious moment of schadenfreude to see his best laid plans go up in flames for he too knows not what he’s dealing with, and even if he knew the creature’s genetic make-up he would’ve been convinced to do it anyway.

Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson)

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

One of the greatest difficulties this film faces is that some of its most awkward character moments occur within the first ten minutes, at times instantly, or just after first meeting a character. There is an early attempt to show not only Gray’s excitement but also the fact that he’s a little odd and at times says weird things. Here the exchange is:

“How big do you think the island is?”
“I don’t know. Big.”
“Yeah, but how many pounds?”
“That doesn’t make sense.”

No, it doesn’t. It’s a weird question especially in hindsight. Gray show’s himself to be smart enough to know to express the question with a scientific term like mass. After all he runs to displays and instantly points out ubiquitous elements in all living organisms, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of most dinosaurs, including knowing how many teeth they have. This allows him an assist in the heroism. Gray’s later concerns about prison, and how he expresses it is a lot more well done.

Gray is a character who is a necessity to the film, a kid who knows dinosaurs (something else The Lost World lacked). Simpkins brings out genuine enthusiasm, authoritative knowledge, in a less prodding, in-your-face way than Joseph Mazzello did.

Following Simpkins’ last blockbuster go-around (Iron Man 3) this is a natural progression for him as an actor as he aids in bringing the wonder, joy, and fear to the audience.

Nick Robinson’s big break was in The Kings of Summer, and he too gets a different kind of character to play here. His teenage angst here is a bit more a general malaise than anything specific, perhaps the given of his parents issues just colored his own world in a way he never realized. He has a girlfriend who’s hopelessly attached to him that he can take or leave, and he’s too cool to be at the park. Much like an older kid at Disney World it eventually wins him over before everything goes hopelessly wrong.

His arc is perhaps the strongest as he also has to step up and act like a proper big brother rather than thinking his little brother is just a nuisance he has to put up with. One step is helping Gray sneak away from their Executive Assistant cum Au Pair; as things get serious he has to be willing to console his brother about their parents’ impending divorce, try to get his brother to enjoy the experience, and then in crisis-mode protect his brother, put on a brave face when he’s scared and embolden and empower him.

Seeing how these are the characters who start the film they really do act as the backbone of the film and they help to hold it up.

Lowery (Jake Johnson)

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

If Gray and Zach act as catalysts to bring kids or the uninitiated in (the Claire/Owen dynamic can do that too) Lowery is there at times speaking our mind, in a certain regard acting like a one-man Greek chorus. This, like most things, is only a negative if you don’t like the movie anyway. If the film’s other issues are too overwhelming for you this will be salt in your wound, if you’re enjoying the ride it’s welcome surprise.

Lowery is not just comic relief but the eternal optimist. He wants to hold on to some of his youthful wonder (hence the dinosaur toys) he still has an appreciation for the intent of the original Park even if the result was bad (hence the Jurassic Park shirt).

Since the crisis mode is entered to quickly one can suspend disbelief that his open defiance and vocal questioning of decisions would go unpunished. In a way it’s a needed catharsis as the oversights and at times insensitivity of the characters in charge needs to be addressed.

Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong)

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Now this post is entitled A New Cast of Characters but another thing that’s been consistent in this series is that the sequels have always featured links to the original, not just in narrative conventions, but in cast members. Even series that rattle off sequels in short succession that’s kind of rare. When it’s been twenty-plus years it’s actually pretty impressive.

So Dr. Henry Wu is that link back to the first film, and through the years he’s climbed the ranks. However, he’s not just there to fulfill that purpose but he’s involved in the best scene in the film: when Masrani confronts him about the Indominus’ traits and genetic makeup.

I love a good turning-of-the-tables. Decisions were made hastily, for impure and profit-driven motivations without considering the inherent dangers before things went wrong. Wu simply points out things that are all correct about the relativity of it all, how unconcerned and lacking in foresight they were and these kind of genetic amalgamations are par for the course. It doesn’t make it right, it has a very “I was just following orders” ring to it, but it’s not untrue.

There’s a certain compromising of ethics either consciously or unconsciously that must occur to carry through this kind of scientific work. Both actors in the scene hit on that notion brilliantly. It’s the tightest, most logically sound, and the most reminiscent of the intellectual stimulation the first film provided. Add that to the fact that an actor who was quite young in the first film, now middle-aged is given a scene he can really sink his teeth into, and it’s a great thing.

Furthermore, Wu and his handshake agreement with Hoskins leave the door wide open for follow-ups and his further involvement. It’d be nice to examine his character, choices, and changes over time more in the future, but having not expected such an exceptional scene for a returning character I cannot complain.

Tokens?

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

When dealing with Hollywood blockbusters and ethnic minorities the question of screentime and whether or not the characters are tokens invariably come to the fore. I think the fact that I siphoned off discussion of two characters (Masrani and Wu) proves the film is trying. The only tertiary characters that really bear mentioning here is Barry (Omar Sy).

It becomes difficult to to develop all characters well, perhaps even impossible when we’re talking about as many as are in this film. Barry, seems as in tune and knowledgeable as Grady, they see eye-to-eye, and through a muttered curse under his breath in French its established he’s not American. Sy himself is French, which gets a European into the cast.

Considering that the park is located in Costa Rica the main ethnicity underrepresented are Hispanics, who were last significantly represented by Juanito (Miguel Sandoval) in the original.

Conclusion

The discussion on Jurassic World will continue tomorrow in Part 5: Of Footwear and Fan Service.

Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 3: Park Regained

Introduction: Jurassic Park III

So it didn’t take long for a third Jurassic Park film to come along even though certain key players changed. First there was the director Joe Johnston. His resumé was up and down prior. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was his debut and a big hit. The Rocketeer a bomb. Then his next gig was the live-action sequences in The PagemasterJumanji, which forced me to walk-out, followed by the generally forgotten October Sky. Since then his most notable success was helming the first Captain America. I, for one, count this film among his successes.

One of the writing credits on this film belongs to Alexander Payne having just recently done Election and going on to many big things since. So there’s some pedigree there and, of course, Amblin’s name is still on it so it’s not like Spielberg abandoned the franchise entirely.

As per usual with the sequels, much of the cast is new but they are certainly talented. This was an shortly after stardom role for William H. Macy, and isn’t exactly an ideal fit for him but he does well enough with it. The there’s Téa Leoni who since David O. Russell’s Flirting with Disaster has been a favorite of mine. However, it seems that the roles she’s been able to land on television have been better and ones she can sink her teeth into more easily.

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)
Playing the role of the stranded kid needing to be saved is Trevor Morgan, who was not only an unjustly underrated actor in his youth but continues to be as an adult. It’s a genuine illustration of the double-edged sword that a big movie role can be. Should the film have been more well-received maybe more opportunities would’ve been created immediately thereafter. Though as the BAM awards, and review indicate, he’s always been appreciated here.

While it was funny to have Malcolm back and learn about him on his own in the last film, Drs. Grant and Sattler are the heart of the scientific trio, and although Laura Dern isn’t around much her character does play a vital role and it’s good to see them still getting along, and refreshing that they’re not together. We assume because of his unwillingness to have kids, this assumption made likely as we meet Ellie’s husband and baby. It’s a very realistic set-up wherein while the dynamics of the relationship have changed the people have not.

Parasailing Over Sorna

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

With the second and third films taking place on Site B, the whole concept of a park was really only a brand. You weren’t seeing a film about a park that never got off the ground because of the disasters in the final testing but rather you need some narrative excuse to get people on the second island.

Enter the parasailing tandem that pays for an illegal swoop over Sorna. Is it ill-advised? Sure. Will it likely strand them? Absolutely, but at least the formality gets it out of the way.

The bigger struggle in the set-up is the cover story concocted to get him to agree to go. Despite Grant’s protestations that “No force on earth or heaven can get me on that island,” he does go. Ultimately, he himself is being seen as a fossil, digs are harder to fund and seem pointless now and his speaking engagements are marred by questions about his time on the park, or the incident in San Diego that he was uninvolved in. They claim to be something they’re not (adventurers) when really they’re parents looking to rescue their son. The lie is needed in part because they really don’t have the money I just wish the cover was more compelling because it made it hard to believe he wouldn’t see through it.

The trickery continues as they are about to just fly-by which is what Grant thought he agreed to but knowing the real reason they have to land it’s clear that these people will get the plane down even if they have to crash it, which they do.

Science

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

One of the most successful things about this film is the ramping of the hypothetical scientific situations that may present themselves if dinosaurs came back to life and we were able to observe them in the wild. Here in this film we learn that Velociraptors can vocalize and communicate and are though to be smarter than primates. They may well have become the dominant species on the planet of not for the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. The film interestingly speculates on how the incident in San Diego may have gone quite differently if it was a Raptor on the loose and not a T-Rex. The advancement of the star of the Raptor is evident by Grant dedicating more study to the species and replicating its resonating chamber with printer. The Raptor as depicted was always a bit more fictitious, but at least it’s consistent.

More new dinosaurs were in the mix, many not on InGen manifests which opens the door for you to always wonder what other sneaky activities they’re up to. There is the Spinosaurus, which was believed then, and is virtually confirmed to be now, larger than the Tyrannosaurus Rex; Ceratosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Pterodactyls, and more.

Aside from adding humor, the mention of the use of T-Rex urine is an important scientific supposition that these animals well could’ve used excretions to mark territory.

On this island, and on Nublar, there was evidence of breeding, so here life found a way.

Situations

Jurassic Park III (Universal, 2001)

Whereas Lost World featured too many similar skirmishes Jurassic Park III excels in mixing things up a bit more. Yes, there is the mandatory being caught in a vehicle setpiece but there’s a greater sense of isolation and danger in this installment as it’s a far more rogue mission. Prior there were factions representing Hammond and InGen.

One miscalculation the distraught parents make is that they assume that this is terrain that Grant knows, when it’s not this is his first time on Isla Sorna.

At the risk of sounding like Roger Ebert’s review of A.I. I will float the notion that perhaps seeing Ben’s eight-week struggle to survive while awaiting someone else to rescue him ultimately may make a more compelling story, but the one that is told is a good one. It only bears mentioning in regards to the franchise as a whole, especially with the current landscape of Hollywood cinema now featuring things like the Star Wars anthology films it’s a period of time that may be worth examining at a later date.

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

The situations that are diegetic work out well like Ben making his presence known and helping Grant out during a chase; the fog in the birdcage as the walk along the tension bridge is particularly effective; the raptor chase; the need to make an off-island call have them dig through a pile of feces (a return of the “one big pile of shit”).

The pseudoscience sets up a tremendous situation wherein the Raptors set a trap. The dinosaurs being bigger, faster and stronger is bad enough but showing this kind of intelligence makes them a far more formidable foe.

Motifs and Themes

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)
Some of the more noteworthy themes and motifs in the film draw allusions to other works, including Spielberg films: touching upon the latter first the discovery of a skeleton is not unlike Raiders. The Barney reference may have been past due at this point but it’s funny and well-played. Connecting to another story the sequences where the Spinosaurus can be tracked by hearing a cell phone ringing in its stomach are reminiscent of the crocodile with the clock in Peter Pan.

The referencing of the other films in the series has to happen here. One of the common ways to do this is having books by Dr. Malcolm around. In this one entitled Everything’s Chaos is seen.

Thankfully there isn’t much screentime allotted to the beats surrounding the graduate assistant who absconds with a dinosaur egg. It’s the kind of subplot that’s over-teased and you know where it’ll end up. He is caught and Dr. Grant gets to chastise him as “being no better than the people who built this place,” which is true but stating it is.

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

Perhaps the most insightful piece of dialogue the film offers is when Dr. Grant offers the great analogy delineating the different personality types it takes to be either an astronaut or an astronomer. The meaning being that an astronomer would more likely be a bit more introverted, studious, and fond of controlled settings; whereas, the astronauts would be more extroverted, instinctive, and adventurous. It’s particularly useful because in this world there had not previously been an analogous field of study to paleontology that dealt with the living organism, for obvious reasons. Being in a world where there now could be one and he and his role are less desirable is not an easy thing to take.

Grant offers the above analogy as a way of responding to Eric’s assessment of one of his earlier books “You liked dinosaurs back then.” Albeit an adequately debunked viewpoint there is still an astuteness to it in noting how these kinds of experiences can change a man’s view on his life’s work and the subject of his study. Grant may be a bit jaded at this point but still recognizes that it’s the how and why they were brough back along with our absolute inability to coexist with them, for a number of reasons, that really bothers him.

Conclusion with a Tinge of Nostalgia

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

In the end, Jurassic Park III may be somewhat lighter on ideas than the original, and while it debatably zooms in on the science more selectively, opting to float ideas rather than deconstruct them; it is more fun and more focused narrative than Lost World is.

All’s well that ends well here, with Ben being found, his family being reunited, and Ellie saving the day for Dr. Grant. Yes, there was inherently some nostalgic moments, but it does stand on its own. In certain ways it may be about as close to a slice-of-life as this narrative world can offer or that we would want, which can either disconnect or involve an audience depending on their proclivities.

I clearly find myself more drawn to this one than the first follow-up.

The Intervening Years (2002-2014)

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

It would be tiresome and unconstructive to chronicle all the things that changed in the film industry in the twelve-year off period in the series. In fact, if you look at almost any twelve-year period you’ll see similar changes. The easy shorthands are: Jurassic Park III opened on July 18th, 2001, less than two months before 9/11; and half-dozen years or so before the Great Recession. Both these things clearly impacted Hollywood project selection along with any number of other sociological changes such as social media.

Perhaps what most directly lead to the return of the franchise was that in these years things like the phrase tentpole came into being along with less wisdom being ascribed to the commonly held belief that there was a shelf-life for sequels and even remakes in some cases.

However, the cannibalization of film product to further create new material is really not a far cry from the debates about adapting the novel or stage play to the screen that Bazin studied and commented on with such tremendous insight. Therefore, in an era where the pre-sold commodity is not necessarily more prevalent but more discussed, and paradoxically more embraced and more reviled than ever, the notion that the current generation needs its own version of now-canonized, burgeoning classics holds a lot of caché.

Jurassic Park III (2001, Universal)

And, yes, we do feed that beast when it’s something we think we may love or be interested in. We talk about it on the Internet ad nauseum, get it trending, and go see it; or if we won’t we still discuss it with regards to what we think they’re doing wrong with the darling film we love so. I am not blameless in this area, this is merely a statement of fact.

However, Jurassic Park films are in many ways my field of dreams. If they build it, I will come. As a child who made his first friend in kindergarten because I saw he was drawing a dinosaur, as the same child who at two separate stages of my youth seriously considered working in the paleontological field, I’ll gladly come.

So, the nostalgia-fueled roulette that Hollywood spins to find its next hot proper finally seemed ready to roll back around to Jurassic Park, and better yet, it was going back to the first island and going to fulfill Hammond’s crazy dreams, at least in part. How could I not go along for the ride?

Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 2: Park Lost

Introduction: A Grain of Salt

It’s fun, when feeling particularly nihilistic, to think that things have never been this horribly commercial or trite in the world of cinema. In certain ways, it’s just more overt and honest than it ever was. The point of saying this is that, though the landscape is different and more cluttered with product-films, many of the same issues persist.
Steven Spielberg is no stranger to blockbuster hits. As a director who makes many a big film he has not been immune from certain struggles and realities. Sure, he’s long been one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, but only when Spielberg launched DreamWorks did he really reach a new level of clout.

For years Spielberg had been pestered for a sequel from Universal. It could have been E.T., which they were asking for. When Jurassic Park set the world on fire, and it too was a Universal project he agreed that there would be the sequel. In that light, it’s a good compromise for that reason if for no other.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

Even factoring some things about the film that’s the best thing that came out of it could be no sequel to E.T.

However, even with that, and the fact that when this film came out it had the unique distinction at the BAMs of being chosen as the worst film of the year, while still being the best in regards of scoring and effects; in terms of the science fiction and its place in a larger franchise there are interesting things that bear noting besides the fact that it was a memorably painful theater-going experience.

Science

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Universal, 1997)

When planning to continue a science fiction series you have to look for new mysteries to unravel and new theories to float; in short, new tricks. A few of the old favorites are back. We have the introduction of a second island, Site B (Isla Sorna). At this location dinosaurs were developed before being brought over to Isla Nublar, then Isla Sorna was hit with a hurricane that wiped out the facilities, the dinosaurs were then free and left to live & do their own thing. As per the Lysine Contingency, there should’ve been no way for the dinosaurs to live.

But “Life finds a way,” the mantra Dr. Malcolm uttered reverberates throughout the films no matter how far or close he is to the action. What happens here is that the herbivores survive on the lysine-rich foods and then the carnivores eat them, this theoretically provides them the lysine necessary to sustain life.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

It’s unspoken but the amphibian DNA factors in here as well as there is breeding afoot. So these are the things necessary to create an environment wherein it truly is a Lost World, hearkening back to the Arthur Conan Doyle story. Here in the modern age, with the help of genetic engineers, are newly created dinosaurs on an island that was devoid of human life.

What’s also interesting is that this series never shies away from introducing new nuanced paleontological debates and talking-points. Of note and relevance in this film, are debates being settled on the parenting of dinosaurs (the two camps always arguing between a more nurturing, mammalian sensibility of a more laissez-faire or cruel, by human standards, fend-for-yourself approach), and also the territorialism that dinosaurs display here that factors in.

Introduced in this film are a few dinosaurs including the Pachycephalosaurus, called Pachies here as well, though not causing any hubbub back then – a bit more on that later where it’s more pertinent.

Themes and Motifs

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

In discussing things that pop-up in each of the films, it seems to make sense to address the kid topic first. Vanessa Lee Chester, was a young actress who I didn’t see in many parts, but I did like her a great deal in her prior film Harriet the Spy. One thing about her character that does work is that her existence though it seems fairly random is that it does follow suit with Malcom’s assessment that he’s married “Occasionally.”

Much of the issue here is not Chester’s actual performance. In the first film, Tim (Joseph Mazzello, who only makes a token appearance in this film) was supposed to grate on Grant with incessant questions, maybe the fact that he seemed and sounded quite a bit younger than his older sister made him come off to some as more bothersome. In my estimation, Richards (who also makes a token appearance) was the biggest casting concern in the original. Here it is sadly Chester but upon review it had less to do with her and more to do with the character the stowaway plot plants the seed in the audience’s mind that “You’re not wanted here.” It’s far too easy keep that momentum up especially for an audience that’s reeling with changes: Hammond isn’t running his own company as much as his son is, InGen ousted him from the Park in an official capacity, Malcolm’s flying solo, Grant and Sattler aren’t there, there’s a new island (a fact which never seemed to be as harshly scrutinized as the second SETI location in Contact), and now a random kid along for the ride that shouldn’t be there, and more. It just sets itself up for her to be a scapegoat in certain regards though there are far greater issues here.

Some of the debates brought up are interesting but they do not support a compelling, visceral drama you have the battle of hunters on safari versus the scientists, which is an extension of the preservation of wildlife versus the notion that indiscriminate mass killing is an extension of survival of the fittest. Those on the hunting side of the fight state that “An extinct animal that has been brought back to life has no rights,” these exact sentiments will be echoed in Jurassic World to great effect. Similarly the barb “Predators don’t hunt when they’re not hungry” is damning both a game hunter and a hybrid that acts more like a human would given those irrepressible predatory capacities.
“Really?”

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

It’s quite nearly redundant to have a “Really?” section in a film where I’ll touch upon this sentiment probably under every heading but a few are noteworthy. The hubris and bad decision-making on the part of humans running this dinosaur enterprise is a given, however, even that has its limits. The notion of transporting the dinosaurs is just one in a laundry list of bad ideas in this film. Hammond acknowledges mistakes were made in the past but Malcolm correctly cites “You’re making brand new ones.” His agreeing to go to this new island is really just a rescue operation to save his girlfriend (Julianne Moore) from being in harm’s way. She’s there as Hammond’s liaison to study the animals an interfere with InGen’s designs ultimately.

One thing that is brought up but never really comes back into play, not in the films anyway, and I don’t know if Crichton expounds on this in his novel: This film introduces the notion that Sorna and Nublar are part of an accursed island chain of the coast of Costa Rica referred to colloquially as Las Cinco Muertes, the Five Deaths in English. Does Hammond or InGen have a claim on all of them? If all goes well could there eventually be five parks like at Disney World?

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

Another serious concern in hindsight is that fact that Hammond, after the latest deaths and catastrophes states on national television that he has had a change of heart. ”Preservation and isolation” is the new goal of the islands. Furthermore, “If we trust in nature life will find a way.” How is that philosophical gap bridged between Hammond the sudden naturalist to the dying man who asked a good friend to do right by the original intention of the park?

The other curious thing is that the explanation of Site B seemed odd. There were dinosaurs being hatched on Nublar, so why Sorna is an incubation site is only partially explained. Yes, isolating at first may be a benefit if things go wrong it never affects the main park, but transport is fraught with concerns as this film proves.

What Works

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, Universal)

Before I continue to beat the dead horse that this film is I may as well take a respite and discuss the things that work, even if briefly: John Williams’ score is the best part by far, there are some Spielbergian touches that worked that I forgot about: visually the blood in the waterfall is very cool and the shipwreck is a well-staged action set-piece. Perhaps, the best combination of comedy and horror in the film is the T-Rex being visible from the little boy’s (Colton James) window.

While I always appreciate to tongue-in-cheek joke of a dinosaur running amok around a gas station it does slow things and it only otherwise noticeable because it’s a pretty big instance of product placement (76) that no one ever talks about, but more on that later.
At least Spielberg avoided excessive CG and cited an example from Lost World where he talked about more not always being more.

Monster Movies More Heavily Influenced This One

King Kong (1933, RKO)

There was sufficient King Kong reference in the first film without rampaging T-Rex thru a major metropolitan area. Then you add the shot where at the start only running, screaming, Asian businessmen recalling a Godzilla film and it just becomes too much. Aside from the fact that this illegal capture to take an animal to a zoo is like something right out of Tarzan in the first place.

When you add this over-reverence to the aforementioned issues it’s doomed to fail, but wait there’s more!

Why it Fails

Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997, Universal)

There seems to me a more overt, forced attempt at comedy in this film that falls so flat. At the very least it didn’t present the ill-fated combination of not being terribly funny and being impossibly, incessantly loud like 1941.

The film also lacks equilibrium. It’s all chase or hide all the time in much closer confines and with nothing else really buoying the action, no further plotting or intellectual intrigue upping the interest beyond simple life or death for a handful of characters we just met and barely know, barring Malcolm.

Even if you were cool with Kelly’s handy use of gymnastics it was foreshadowed clumsily and rather tepidly followed up with an obligatory one-liner. The InGen teams arrival slows the progression of the film to a halt when it had barely gotten going. Getting going is made harder when you don’t really know these new people and those you do know aren’t there as much.

Ultimately, this film fails almost everywhere sadly.

The Intervening Years (1998-2000)

Michael Crichton (1998, LA Times)

Between Lost World and Jurassic Park III two noticeable things happened. First, there was the death of Michael Crichton at too young an age. The film sequel happened because, in large part, he wrote a sequel to the book. Any further installments would all be breaking new ground and would not be part of Crichton’s canon.

Spielberg in this time would become more heavily involved in pushing DreamWorks forward; and following The Lost World he was taking on some of his most ambitious projects: first, Saving Private Ryan and then Artificial Intelligence: A.I. Clearly, he was past a point of feeling the need to direct a sequel. So much so that he’s even planning series with him stepping out after the first film. Spielberg broke ground personally directing animation and with the most convincing motion capture to date on the first Tintin film but the plan was always that Peter Jackson would do the second film. Now, if there are more does Spielberg return? Possibly but for now there’s no guarantee of that.

So with a few years off, the loss of an author, and a new director at the helm the slate was essentially wiped clean for the Jurassic Park franchise. There were givens in place but they could go almost anywhere.

Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 1: My Personal History with Jurassic Park (1993)

Statement of Intent

It bears stating that in this sprawling series that it is not my goal here to change anyone’s mind with regards to Jurassic World (or any other film in the franchise), and how it fits in the larger Jurassic empire. It is merely my intent to discuss them, especially the most recent, why I enjoy it quite a bit, and how it fits into the series to date. This is something I’ve been mulling over for a while. The reason is not that the movie is incredibly deep or dense, but it has a lot to do with how it plays against the series to date, which required re-viewing to underscore certain salient points.

So while I am on the pro side of the argument it is not my intent to do the flip-side of what’s discussed here.

I will discuss some of the flaws in the most recent one, as well as in the series as a whole; as well as why I really like it and why certain critiques don’t jibe that well with me.

Personal History

Bernardo Villela (1988, All Rights Reserved)

Yeah, I had the wrong nomenclature for “crest,” I was seven. Wanna fight about it?

First, since I haven’t had an opportunity to discuss Jurassic Park much here in the past a bit of history may be appropriate. Even in my Spielberg retrospective, after his lifetime achievement award, I didn’t cover it specifically.

Many children run the gamut of a select few jobs they dream of doing when they grow up. I did most of them as well, the only one that was probably a bit out of the ordinary when I was young, and that I came back to, was my desire to be a paleontologist. Yes, all kids seem to inherently love dinosaurs but not all of them take an interest in the applied study of learning about them and hypothesizing about them based on fossil record.

My reborn interest was sparked in my partial-reading of Chrichton’s novel, I  then acquiring more mature scientific texts than I had before. In grade school, my first book in a writer’s workshop class was on dinosaurs (pictured above).

As a child I’d seen Baby, the random Dennis the Menace film with dinosaur involvement, Denver the Last Dinosaur, and whatever else I could with dinosaurs in them. Clearly, Jurassic Park was going to be different, which is what had me anticipating it greatly.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

This film was huge for me and many others. When I first saw Jurassic Park it was clearly my favorite film of all-time to date. At a time when I was very into retroactive creation of BAM Awards from the year of my birth to 1995 (before the extemporaneous ones started) Jurassic Park owned a bit of hardware in 1993 as well.

The set-up for the film is a classic such that it was used as the go-to example of a “What if?” inspired scenario in my introductory screenwriting course in college. “What if dinosaurs were brought back to life and walked the earth with modern man?” really cuts to the heart of the awe of the first film.

Truly, it’s a sensation that will not be duplicated. The story hadn’t been tackled yet, effects had reached a new threshold, you add something that sparks a childish curiosity and excitement in adults; in a film told through the lens of a director who defined adventures for millions of kids and brought that youthful outlook and wonder the to oldest of soul; and you had a virtually can’t miss formula. And it didn’t.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Furthermore, for me in my doe-eyed innocence it not only played into that wish-fulfillment but also brought before me a nightmare I had never truly contemplated: how wrong it could possibly go, and how two species who’d been the dominate forces on earth during different eras really couldn’t co-exist.

What will also invariably set the first film apart from all those that follow, this is true of any series but particularly this one, is that it’s so new that the audience and characters are eased into it. There are questions that need to be answered, rules that need to be established. One thing that is tremendously well done is that Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler really don’t know what they’re signing up to go look at.

The world is isolated and small, the park has not opened and is seeking investors; it’s more focused in its narrative than any subsequent film. With everything being new, with great pains being taken to suspend disbelief, with brilliant scientific debate; the first film sets a rock-solid foundation upon which all other follow-ups can build with confidence regardless of how successful they are.

However, amidst the wonder and the blinding brilliance of the film as a thrilling adventure, with impeccably defined characters, contrasts, and spectacle; it seems at time we don’t take into account that there was hubris, miscalculation, and at times downright stupidity from some of the characters. And as great as it is there is even a pretty big “Oh, come on!” Now, most of what I have to say will be about what it sets up because those pave the way for decisions made further down the line.

Science

Jurassic Park (1993, Univesal)

With so much of this being new, and also with Jurassic Park being a story that was interested in actually living up the name of science-fiction properly, there was more time and more need for the characters  to question how such things were done.
Among the scientific points of discussion that come up are: The Lysine Contingency, lysine being a necessary enzyme to sustain life is something the engineered dinosaurs do not produce but the park geneticists administer. It is a theoretical fail-safe should people die or the animals need to be euthanized.

The scientists rightly ask how gaps in the genetic sequence are filled. They learn that amphibian (Tree frog) DNA to fill in, this is what opens the door for spontaneous change of sex (they were all engineered to be female). Due to the single-sex environment the scientists believe they have instilled another control, and will be able to ensure a stable population.

Being a film that postulates on the return of dinosaurs long-held debates in the scientific community could be settled (theoretically) here. The behavior of herding in the first film is confirmed; the debate as to whether the creatures are endothermic (warm-blooded) or poikilothermic (cold-blooded) is settled. At least theoretically, and like in almost any work of science-fiction most of the facts are built-up and supported to make them plausible, such that the instances of artistic license are more earned. In this film license is taken with the Dilophosaurus, a species wherein there exists no evidence to support either the claims of a neck frill or venomous expectoration. Even more license is taken with the Velociraptor, which is made a bit taller than that specific raptor.

Crichton modeled his raptor after Deinonychus, which per Gregory S. Paul’s classification would be of the raptor family. Incredibly, as fate would have it, the discovery of the Utahraptor shortly after Winston Robotics created the first vindicated this visual impression and use of a more dramatic name (as opposed to Deinonychus), of the raptor by looking very similar to what they built, though strictly speaking the actual Velociraptor is a much smaller predator.

Motifs and Themes

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Jurassic Park never would have been the hit it was around the world if all it was concerned with was dinosaurs. What it has to say about its characters and humanity in general is what takes it a place above and beyond many other films in its genre. Aside from a ground-breaking idea and technology there also is an exploration of important themes in a universal light against a preternatural backdrop.

“We can talk about sexism in survival situations when I get back,” quips Ellie Sattler as she’s about to head off to try to power the park back up manually when Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) was concerned about her leaving. If there is one thing that has been a constant throughout it’s that the series has made attempts (this film was the most successful) to put smart, intelligent, skilled women in key roles.

Ellie is a very rounded character. Aside from her obvious professional acumen she is also not averse to marriage and children. This is one of the things that make her and Dr. Grant great foils. He doesn’t like kids. Therefore, there is tremendous comedic payoff when Hammond’s grandchildren (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello) come and Grant gets saddled with them.

Furthermore, it introduces kids into the series as participants which is a constant. Much like I started writing about these films talking about my childhood fascination with dinosaurs, kids have to be brought into the action in a story like this so kids engage even closer. In 1950s sci-fi films there was almost always a kid involved so those kids going to the double-features had someone they could more closely relate to; the same goes here based on the tale as Hammond says they are “the target audience.” So if your tolerance for child actors happens to be low you better check that at the door because kids will be part of the proceedings in this series for better or worse.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

The kids are the target audience and the park clearly has to be made safe for them as Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) humorously observes “When the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” Which links up with perfectly to the conversation Ellie has with Hammond in light of his flea circus story: “It’s still the flea circus, John. You never had control. That’s the illusion!”

And the lack of control, and the self-deception is apparent when you think back on the rebuttals the scientists had for Hammond when they were talking over dinner.

“I tell you the problem with the scientific power you’re using here, it didn’t take any discipline to attain it.”
“You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could.”
“…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
“How can you know anything about an extinct ecosystem?”
“Dinosaurs and man, two species separate by 65 million years of evolution have just been suddenly thrown back into the mix together. How can we possibly have any idea of what to expect?”

I know many know those lines but bear them in mind for I feel they echo throughout the series to date.

Perhaps the most balanced character and the most centered in terms of accepting what the reality of the situation is, and having sufficient respect and admiration for these creatures is Muldoon (Bob Peck). He’s the game expert, and has been out on safari and seen most, if not all, the world’s large land predators, sure he is essentially a hunter but he has no delusions of control and knows better than to underestimate these creatures (consciously), and that is the cardinal sin of most characters in the series and how they meet their end.

“Really?”

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Speaking of their end. This brings me to the biggest “Really?” moment in Jurassic Park. Yes, I love it but even this movie has one,  the electrified fence. Now, this isn’t a bad horror film where I wanted a character to die, but based on the way it was staged I had trouble believing Tim would survive. It was tense, I was nervous, and relieved but from the beginning, since I first saw it was the biggest head-scratcher for me.

Even with that incident it’s still great, it’s just that one moment that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Conclusion: The Nostalgia Factor

Jurassic Park 3D (2013, Universal)

I re-watched Jurassic Park before writing this piece. I could probably watch it again right now, and then tomorrow. My contention here is not that I think that Jurassic Park a bit more unfairly looked upon through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia than most. My contention is merely that whether our view of the first film is nostalgia-tinged, realistic admiration or honest dislike each film deserves judgment on its own merits and to not be beholden to its source material, a previous installment, or prior version of the film. Sure, certain factors can make this difficult but it bears saying. “It’s not as good as the first” is not a valid complaint, and even though I despise the next installment, I won’t play that game rather discuss the issues there.

Sure, the next films are going to take some liberties and make some jumps but they’re building upon what occurred first and expanded from there. Some better than others.

Franchise Focus: The Fast and the Furious

Rather than have just a one off piece on an aspect of a franchise, I thought this would be a good way to kick off a new series. As you may have seen during 61 Days of Halloween, I tend to like to take on long series no matter what so here’s a post that can run anytime on any franchise and discuss any aspect of it.

Usually when you say the first film in a series you’ve seen is part 5 that’s a strange thing to say. However, when I tell you that the series I’m referring to is The Fast and the Furious franchise, suddenly that doesn’t seem that odd. It’d be difficult to prove but I doubt there’s a precedent set for a series where part 5 is the most critically acclaimed and where part 6 is poised to be the highest grosser.

The ups and downs on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are similar: Metacritic: 58, 53, 46, 45, 67 and 61; and Rotten Tomatoes follows suit with slightly different numbers 53, 36, 35, 27, 78, 71.

With those facts in mind I wanted to backtrack and watch the series that I hadn’t seen up to part 5 before taking in the new one. It seemed many people did, only I haven’t been bingeing. I’ve been taking my time, however, getting the discounted double features wasn’t as easy as I thought because I looked at the titles of the first four: The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious and was confused. Since I’ve gotten in the bad habit of disregarding the word “The” in titles I couldn’t tell, and had forgotten, that part four had one of lazier more non-descript titles in recent memory.

A lot of the reason that the series has been so successful late in the game, and bigger than ever, is the producers have been willing to change it up from what I can tell already. The ante is upped, the players change, the stunts get bigger the location has changed and so on. What it lacks in over-acing philosophy and narrative through-lines it makes up for with its chameleon-like nature and progressively growing. It’d be nice if the titles matched that shift more though.

Essentially, this is a branding commentary, since the discussion is on a franchise and branding is an aspect of it, like it or not. These titles dilute the brand. The film stands apart as I’ve said, but aside from Tokyo Drift, which was a compelling reason to start the journey, they don’t stand out. This series has split the difference between straight numbering, like Iron Man, and subtitling. If a subtitle is good enough it will be remembered no matter how cumbersome. Just look at the Star Wars series.

I don’t think I’ll come out disagreeing with the overall perception of any of these films as represented by composite scores and box office, but as this series invariably continues and tries to innovate and better itself, hopefully it adds more character to the title it splashes across the poster.