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?

Mini-Review: The Brotherhood

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Brotherhood

This is a film about a fraternity initiation ritual gone terribly wrong.

This is one that starts off very strangely but do stick with it. There are surprising and intriguing plot twists in store and in a situation that’s extremely tense throughout there’s some really great acting especially the performance by Trevor Morgan who has the talent to become a breakout star but just hasn’t had that one project yet.

I got this film from Netflix and actually watched it twice in two days. It’s the standout of the bunch.

Here was my reaction to it upon further reflection at year’s end:

Who saw this movie? In all likelihood practically no one, which is why it had to show up here. Perhaps the biggest mantra of my year-end write-ups will be advice for film enthusiasts: “Seek and ye shall find.” With almost as many distribution paths as there are films now, it is likely something you’d be inclined to enjoy will slip through the cracks. I had to confirm what this film’s release date was on IMDb and got the disc from Netflix. Aside from my mini-review round-up post I never saw it elsewhere but essentially this film is part suspense, part horror, part tragedy and part comedy. It takes a commonplace situation and exploits it to its fullest potential and thus has been very memorable to me and could easily have finished higher.

It is a film well worth seeking out.

10/10

March to Disney: Genius (1999)

Introduction

Last year to coincide with a trip to Walt Disney World in March, I decided to have a month-long focus on Disney fare. Their vaults are vast and varied enough such that this is a theme that could recur annually. Below you will find links to the inaugural posts written for the theme.

Genius (1999)

For this year’s March to Disney I most definitely wanted to cover a few Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs). I have at a few points in the past (most recently Teen Beach Movie). While they can be painful, as a lot of Disney Channel fodder can unfortunately be; on rare occasions they are quite good, not just among their own subset, but in general also. This particular title comes from the very earliest vintages of the DCOMs. In these days, late in the last millennium, these titles stood alone more and didn’t necessarily springboard performers into A-List Disney status, or weren’t always star vehicles. It sounds idealistic to state that “In this era the play was the thing,” but in many cases this is the truth.

Genius is a tale of a twelve-year-old wunderkind (Trevor Morgan) who is socially maladjusted, on his way to college and has his pick of the litter. He goes with an underdog choice in part because he gets to work with his idol. While the school fills his academic requirements the fact that he has to teach remedial classes for his scholarship underscores his misfit status, and leads to the alter ego plot that takes up a bulk of the tale. This is teased through most of the trailers. Now that plot line is old hat, and there are other tropes like a getting-to-know-you montage, mirror smooth-talk practice and more, abound that one has seen quite a few times before, but many of them are executed quite well and the mixture of them is what makes the film stand out.

It would be tiresome to list them all but there are most definitely moments where you will willingly have to suspend disbelief. However, if you do that there are rewards in store. And for some of the scientific and other fudging that’s done, the ice hockey elements are, for the most part, well-executed and not over-exaggerated.

Most of why this film does work has to do with the central performances, namely Trevor Morgan as Charlie Boyle. Morgan, in what was his first leading role, even at this young age, shows an innate ability to listen and react naturally such that his line readings don’t sound like readings at all but rather just talking. This influences everything from his timing to his physicality and makes all of it play more true. Playing his goal, his impetus for his dual personality, is Emmy Rossum who you may know from many films and most notably Showtime’s Shameless; she has her moments (especially her story about her mother’s figure skating which is better than 99.9% of what you usually get in these films). Playing his idol, in a rare onscreen appearance, is Charles Fleischer perhaps best known as being the voice of Roger Rabbit.

The prior mention of hockey, my favorite sport on the face of the earth, isn’t just a nod to the fact that they included it; it also plays a vital function in illustrating the progression of the protagonist. The film starts with his being a benchwarming cheerleader. In Charlie’s cooler persona he is allowed to play and shows sympathy to one who is in the same position he was once in. Lastly, a game of pick-up hockey is also used as the denouement when all’s well that ends well. This is not to mention the fact that there are the organized games played in a rink built above his lab that also play a vital role in the narrative. The sport here is most definitely a metaphor for acceptance and a narrative device, you rarely see something so deftly folded in to a DCOM.

There is bit of self-awareness to the silliness abound in the film, such as an actual ‘wah-wah’ chord in the score at a well-chosen moment. The effects work in these days were in shorter supply and more attentively done. A skeleton dancing in this looks better than most of what airs today, and reads as a nod to Harryhausen in its approach. While there are some aforementioned aspects that need to be overlooked there is a built-in symmetry that does aid this script. The jock/brain conflict drives a lot of this film and is given many chances to boil over. There are several great pieces of dialogue like Krickstein’s advice about experiments, smart barbs like “japesome wag,” use of phrases like “The Eureka Syndrome,” and the like. While the film does cram a lot of necessary plot elements into the third act it all works in the end and is one of the best, more under-appreciated DCOMs.

BAM Best Picture Profile: Mean Creek (2004)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Mean Creek (2004)

There are a few things that can be said concerning the viewing of this film, considering what the IMDb cites as its release date, and the fact that I know I saw it at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York upon its release; I can fairly guess that this was what is as close to a birthday movie as I had in 2004.

As opposed to some prior titles, this is not one that I had anticipated for a very long time, but one that I ad heard of in indie film previews of the coming summer slate.

In casting terms there are a few things of note in this film: One of the more notable appearances in the film is that or Rory Culkin. Aside from his participation in Signs there was not really a very noteworthy credit on his resume yet. Certainly nothing with the teeth this film has.

And teeth, in a figurative sense, is what this film comes down to. In a prescient plot Mean Creek deals with a group of kids who trick a bully into going on a boat ride, the situation and the fallout thereof allows each of the characters to show their true colors and different reactions to the moral dilemmas faced.

The film also deals enigmatically with the bully, in perhaps one of the strongest demonstrations of just how hard it is to get inside someone’s head. The bully in this case played by Josh Peck. This a departure for him at the time as he had just finished up his time on The Amanda Show and was about to being Drake & Josh; and it remains his best work to date.

Not only amongst these kids do you have one actor playing completely against his type but you also have a revelatory kind of performance and a mind-changing one: The revelation in this film is the work of Ryan Kelley, he playing one of the characters on the more sensitive side of the spectrum (in another great tough he’s the adopted child of a same sex couple, while that it not the focus of the film). This was the first in a string of a few great performances from him. The mind-changer being the performance of Carly Schroeder. Who at this point I only knew from her work on Lizzie Maguire. Her character on that show was supposed to be on the annoying side, but it was not standout work she did there.

Jacob Aaron Estes

Jacob Aaron Estes

These casting choices and performances owe a lot to writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes who not only imbues this film with a great situation rife with dramatic possibility and ripe for the character development that ensues, who placed his trust in this young cast and they delivered in spades. Had I had parity in my award categories at this time Mean Creek definitely would’ve taken the Youth Ensemble prize as I’m not even done enumerating the great performances within it.

Then you also have the foils, Marty and Rocky. They seem similar enough but do have a split. Scott Mechlowicz is a assured and spot on as the calculated type; I saw him in a lot of indie work around this time and this is I believe the best and most widely available of those films. Then with Rocky, played by the always great and frequently under-appreciated Trevor Morgan, you have a seeming tough guy who does have a conscience and and empathy as events escalate.

Mean Creek is perhaps one of the best most recent examples of how you needn’t have a high concept to be highly engaged in a narrative.

Shyamalan Week: BAM Best Picture Profile – The Sixth Sense

Introduction

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

Here’s another one where I’ve decided on a different tact as opposed to the pre-existing text I’d written. I don’t recall what the assignment was but I originally wrote a comparison between The Sixth Sense and American Beauty as they were best picture nominees. I’ve decided to edit that such that I only discuss The Sixth Sense and why it won the BAM Award for Best Picture of 1999. As I recently stated in the site’s first official piece on Django Unchained all the Best Picture winners should have write-ups and to that end, those that do not yet will get their due in December. However, since I decided to focus on the work of M. Night Shyamalan this week, I may as well post it now.

Overly-Cautious Warning: If you’ve never seen this film stop what you’re doing right now and go see it. I do spoil it eventually in this analysis.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

When I first saw the trailer to The Sixth Sense I knew I wanted to see it. I thought it was going to be one of “My Movies,” meaning no one but me would like it. There was a sneak preview a week before the nationwide release. My family and I got our tickets early via Moviefone. Thank goodness we did because there were many people walking up to the box office wanting to see it and being turned away because it was sold out. That was a good sign.

The film spent five weeks at #1 at the box office. I then started to hear the Oscar buzz stirring. After the Golden Globes and SAG Awards it didn’t seem likely it would do much at the Oscars. It didn’t. That doesn’t make it right, though. However, that’s why I had started the BAM Awards in the first place.

The Sixth Sense starts slowly but builds upon detail, one thing that give it a boost is amazing ensemble acting. The role of Cole’s mother is played by Toni Collette, an Australian actress. She had her Philly accent down so well I believed it was authentic at the time. She’s a very caring, playful mother but there’s also anger, fear and worry in her performance.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

If you want character development this film is definitely for you, it’s not a concept-only piece. It has a strong and fairly high concept, but there is a lot of character to it. You are thrown into the life of Malcolm Crow (Bruce Willis) immediately. There is a confrontation in the first few minutes. This confrontation ends up being pivotal in the rest of the story. Then a year later he meets a boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). From that moment forward there is rarely a moment when one of them isn’t on screen.

Films of a supernatural nature like this one often have underlying messages and present real questions. These movies, like horror fiction, are generally frowned upon. This may be another reason it didn’t win at the Oscars. If that’s so, it’s not justified.

In my estimation, Haley Joel Osment is not a supporting actor in this movie, he is the lead. Just like Joseph Cross wasn’t a supporting actor in Shyamalan’s previous film Wide Awake. Bruce Willis like Rosie O’Donnell prior sold the film. While Crow starts and ends the movie, a vast majority of it is dealing with Cole and his issues. You can argue Crow is a lead based on perspective, but if you’re talking screen time and, more importantly, who faces and ultimately overcomes their obstacles it’s Cole.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

Osment’s performance is incredible. The best acting is when you believe it’s happening and he sold it to you and you bought it because it’s real. He’s genuinely afraid. He’s shy and awkward when necessary and his suffering reaches off screen and wrenches your guts. In one scene when the thermostat drops and his breath vaporizes, I felt cold. Osment’s performance would not have been so amazing if not for the brilliant script. The script is nearly Hitchcockian in both its detail and the way Shyamalan is seemingly tossing elements up and plucking them down at exactly the right moment. The ways Shyamalan got everyone to believe Bruce Willis was alive then allowing hindsight to show he definitely wasn’t is both amazing writing and directing.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

The Sixth Sense has subplots, even aside from the obvious ones which are the tales of the spirits that Cole sees. One example is the characterization of a secondary player: Tommy Tommasimo, played by Trevor Morgan, isn’t just a bully. His performance is typical of a bully when it has to be, but in his character’s cough syrup commercial it’s commercial acting and satirical. It also gives the audience good comic relief. Tommy in the end of his narrative is comedic and dejected. He becomes and inside joke between Cole and Malcolm. Another storytelling interlude goes as follows: In a classroom scene where the school grounds were the sight of hangings. His teacher denies the fact. Then Cole starts to yell calling him by his boyhood nickname. It’s very intense and serves as momentary comic relief as well. We empathize with Cole for it, and who wouldn’t want to know their teacher was called ‘Stuttering Stanley’? We see the hanged bodies later and perceptive viewers are awed, those who miss the connection will be frightened regardless. It works on two levels.

That’s what most of the brilliance of the script and the film is: connection. Cole’s mother is cleaning and she notices some spots shining in the pictures. All we see her do is questioningly look at it. Later, when Cole tells her his secret she believes him deep down. The proof is given after. That too is a subplot. It’s a movie of such intricacies but it works because of its intimacy. There aren’t too many characters in it. The movie deals realistically with the supernatural. There is a psychologist involved with the boy. Cole at one point is in the hospital and the doctor questions his mother about the bruises on his body. This is a societal critique, but a subdued one and a welcome one. Both her and the therapist are in the room and disgusted by these accusations. They don’t see each other. We don’t know that though.

The crumbling marriage of Malcolm Crow is also a pivotal part of the puzzle. This also works brilliantly as an illusion. The best illusions are the ones we believe to be true. He and his wife never speak to each other anymore. She is with another man and Malcolm never quite chases him down. What’s crucial is when Malcolm comes to the restaurant late. She signs the check says “Happy anniversary” and leaves. This is so key because we think she is talking to him. She wasn’t and what’s best is the way all the pieces fit together and nothing is really out of place.

The Sixth Sense (1999, Touchstone Pictures)

The film also expertly foreshadows after re-viewing The Sixth Sense you see how it was set up all the way through the movie and you wonder how everyone took the bait, but we did. The ending was a shock. Nothing in The Sixth Sense seems forced or out of place. It all comes together in the end and it moves me. Cole asks, “Grandma says the answer is ‘everyday.’ What’s the question, Mama?” His mom is on the brink of tears and puts her hand on her chest, “Do I make her proud?” This is something we can all identify with. I got teary-eyed just thinking about it. I went to see it again with my cousins in Brazil. They all loved it. It’s truly a universal movie and now fourteen years on this films has not waned in my eyes, not in the slightest. It’s tremendous.

The Awards

The Sixth Sense was nominated for 10 BAM Awards, and won seven.

The wins were in the following categories:

Best Picture

Best Director

Best ActorHaley Joel Osment

Best Performance by a Child Actor – Haley Joel Osment

Best Supporting Actress – Toni Collette

Best Score – James Newton Howard

Best Cast

The Other Nominations were for:

Best Original Screenplay – M. Night Shyamalan

Best Cinematography – Tak Fujimoto

Best Supporting Actor – Bruce Willis