[Review] - Jurassic World

Courtesy of Amblin Entertainment

Go with your gut. I'm going to come back to this in a minute.

Jaws is not a movie that needs a sequel. Jaws is not a movie that suggest a sequel. Jaws is a movie that has three sequels, each increasingly bad, each increasingly ludicrous. And it took three increasingly bad and increasingly ludicrous sequels for the people making them to realize that they should stop. Jurassic Park is officially the modern Jaws. Jurassic Park is not a movie that needs a sequel. Jurassic Park is not a movie that suggest a sequel. Jurassic Park is a movie that has three sequels, each increasingly bad, each increasingly ludicrous. The difference is that Jaws was made in an era when a bad movie could fail. That when a film was bad, people would stay away, it wouldn't make money and future installments would be viewed as a bad investment. Now, we live in an era when a film, regardless of quality, critical reception and public opinion, will make stupid amounts of money. It is very difficult for a movie to out-and-out fail these days. And a movie drawing on a recognizable brand will likely be a success based on the recognition factor alone.

I have had a rocky relationship with this film since it's announcement. My initial proclamation was that it would not end well. Over the past two years though, director/writer Colin Trevorrow slowly changed my mind; I was as surprised as anyone. He gave interviews in which he presented cogent concepts, waxed about interesting and original ideas, made valid and logical extrapolations, and suggested a thesis built on a believable commentary of modern social culture. These interviews gave me hope. But, as it turns out, I should have stuck with go with your gut.

Jurassic World is not a good film. Jurassic World is a ridiculous film, at every level. And, frankly, that it was postponed a year for additional development, so they could make sure they got things right, staggers me. That this is the end result of an entire extra year of getting it right inspires no confidence. Hit the jump for the review, which does not contain spoilers because there is nothing to spoil.


Right up front: Jurassic World is two interesting ideas, and one really exciting action sequence amid a jumble of one dimensional characters, terribly dialogue, and contrived plotting. And perhaps the movie's biggest sin is that it spends so much of it's time jostling between forcing references to the original film to feed on society's apparent blood-thirst for nostalgia, and flat out ripping the original off. This film apes Park so much and so often that I thought I was watching a Planet of the Apes movie. Jurassic World is the Star Trek into Darkness of Jurassic Park films, and if you remember how much I hated that movie, that gives you some idea of the low esteem in which I now hold the third revisit to Michael Crichton's dinosaur island.  It takes it's two ideas and it's one decent sequence, and buries them in a fetid swamp of rehashes, allusions, call backs and straight up thefts of another person's good works.

The thing is, there are shades throughout Trevorrow's script that suggest he was on the right track. Maybe more time would have allowed him to hone the script more, to finesse the dialogue, to make the plot less forced, and to find his own voice among the cacophony of nostalgic reverence that bogs the film down. That nostalgic reverence actually has a voice in the film, Lowry played by Jake Johnson, playing the fanboy/hipster voice of the audience, proclaiming that everything was good the way it was. That the original park (which was never a park, because it never opened) was pure and better. Pretty much every other character is the voice of the studio, shutting the fanboy down and saying that things need to be bigger, louder, more impressive with every new version. So, this suggests that Trevorrow was aware of the opposition, and attempted to get out ahead of it. Except, Lowry is treated as a socially awkward joke who is either shut down or ignored. As much as saying to the audience "you'll get what we give you, shut up and take it."

The rest of the movie is a cardboard cut out of a film, propped up with bad CGI and characters that are as bland as they are forgettable. And now you're thinking, "oh here he goes again. Every time, it's the same damned thing. Bad CG, no character development, yadda yadda yadda." And yeah, those are common complaints of mine, because they are common mistakes. If movies would stop making them, I'd stop pointing them out. This is another movie that is over saturated with overt and distracting CGI. It looks cheap, so long as it is day light out. Once the movie movies into night, the effects start to look better, if only because it is harder to see how obviously they stand out. In interviews, Trevorrow seemed almost proud of how little practical effects there were in the film, but the only dinosaur scene that was in any way convincing was a dying Apatosaurus that was obviously a practical head on location. That is also the only scene with any emotional weight to it at all. Yes, the CG can accomplish much more, but it also means that things have no limitation. The dinosaurs don't feel like animals, they look and act like cartoon characters. You don't feel that physics has any effect on them, and with the exception of a single raptor interaction, you don't feel like they are genuine creatures. Just another flashy, meaningless thing on the screen.

As for the characters, they just aren't there. I'd love to say that Chris Pratt saves the day with his performance, but the best his role provides is to showcase that he can carry a film not just on his wit, but on his dramatic ability. Of course, we've seen that already in other films, where his characters are interesting and have an emotional arc. Every character here is one thing, and only that thing. Actually, scratch that, because that would suggest consistency. There is a scene in which Wu (B.D. Wong) and Masrani (Irrfan Khan) argue over the merits of genetic manipulation, in which the two men switch their staked side of the debate at least twice during their discussion. But Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is mostly unlikable and has very little personality, Owen (Chris Pratt) is only personality, and Barry (Omar Sy) appears in this film. That is actually the best description of most of the characters in this movie: they appear. Beyond that, the movie isn't interested in letting us get to know them, to become invested in them, and thus the movie has no emotional weight. When one character dies during an action sequence, the only reason I felt bad was because I liked the actor playing the role, not because I had any investment in the character.

Like the kids. Why are they in this movie? Is it just because an Amblin movie needs to have a kid in danger? Structurally, they are meant to be the audience surrogate, the precipitating factor that gets the audience to the park. Then we follow them around as they encounter various wonders and dangers. Except that Owen could just as easily fulfill that role, acting as the sidekick to Claire's protagonist (and we'll get to that). The kids are as ill defined as anyone else, the older kid (Nick Robinson) is A Teenager, and the younger (Ty Simpkins) is possibly somewhere on the autism spectrum. And keeping them in the action is a chore. The film bends over backwards to force them into situations where they can be in peril. Every one of their scenes is more contrived than the last. At least with Owen, he has a viable reason for continuously ending up in these situations. To make matters worse, there isn't really a protagonist in the film. It is marginally Claire, but rather than push the plot along, she gets swept away by the current of a plot that is going to happen despite her. Logistically, the closest thing to a protagonist that the movie has is the D-Rex. It is the character that instigates the events of the film, and in many ways is the most sympathetic.

Bizarrely, the character that makes the most sense in the film is also as close as the film gets to a baddie. Vincent D'Onofrio as Hoskins is an InGen strong man with delusions of bad-assery, but when the shit hits the fan, he also makes the best and most reasonable argument for how to effectively utilize all resources during an emergency, to quickly contain and combat a specialized situation. But because he's the bad guy, and can only be thus, he's doomed to being too aggressive, too short sighted and wrong. There is no other option, not even a hint of complexity within this frame work. He has a different opinion then the characters we're meant to like, so he can only be wrong. And that, more than anything, is what is wrong with the film. Everything is so preordained, that even the twists feel inevitable. The twists also don't make a damned bit of sense, and the third act is full of them, leading up to the stupidest, most over the top climax I've seen since Michael Bay's last film. I actually disturbed the guy sitting beside me, I was laughing so hard at the spectacle.

So, now you're thinking, "OK, so what were the two ideas, and the good action sequence?" Well, the ideas were more concepts than ideas. Ideas suggest fruition. The idea of training the raptors, and having that training be tenuous at best, is a solid premise for the technical plot, and why it wasn't the primary focus is because the film felt that it had no choice but to escalate the physical threat, not the psychological one. This movie could have been Blackfish with raptors, and still fit the basic sequence of events as is, and made more organic sense in terms of who was involved and when. The second good idea, and I will continue to agree with Trevorrow's basic premise that a jaded modern public, with their selfies and twitter reactions and constantly needing to have the maximum sensory experience, would likely become bored with the same old, same old dinosaurs. The problem is, that applies essentially only to teenagers and hipsters. As the film absently showcases, there would be a constant replenishment of amazement and wonder as new children funnel through the gates, their parent in tow. Has Disney's popularity dipped over the years? Certainly, there would be the need to introduce new amusements and refresh things from time to time, but dinosaurs sell themselves (Owen makes this point in the film, as he is also apparently the voice of reason, which the film ignores except with it suits it).

The good action sequence is the raptor chase in the middle-end of the film. But, raptors and motorcycles were going to happen in a fourth Jurassic Park movie back as far as the release of Jurassic Park 3. This one core concept has had a decade to percolate in Spielberg's mind, and thus is was of course going to be the best structured, the most engaging and the most terrifying. The rest of the sequences lack tension, because there is no investment. It's nameless characters and faceless crowds running and screaming, without any real sense of peril for anyone that we give a damn about. It is a sad fact that the most engaged I was with any character was a brief glimpse of a twenty year old picture of Jeff Goldblum on the back of a hardcover book. Trevorrow frustratingly also took the Jaws mantra of hiding the beastie to a new, extreme level, as he obscures the D-Rex in blood and motion blur and branches. Which at first is fine, it heightens the suspense. But once it's been forty minutes, the thing has killed a dozen people and we still haven't gotten a good long look at it, that is just being purposefully obtuse.

In the end, the film feels like it is just checking off boxes. And the vast majority were already checked the original film, so this one is just going over them in a thicker marker. Trevorrow wants to take us into the park, but has no time to actually take us into the park (I'd have much preferred a movie that showed the park's successful operations). He wants to make a socially aware commentary, but he wants to fully support the wrong side of that commentary. He wants us to remember the original, and does so by making the high school production version of it. About the most telling metaphor for the utter misunderstandings of this film are when Michael Giacchino's score swells to John William's familiar and awe-inspiring tune. Except, when it does, the film shows a generic helicopter flying over an anonymous Hawaiian forest. And when something awe-inspiring does come along, the score settles for a minor flutter of strings.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

1 comments :

  1. Given that it had made 1.5billion dollars and I really liked Park I finally went to see it yesterday. Massively disappointed and couldn't get invested in any of it. Sadly sequels will follow..

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