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.