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 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.