Friday, June 19, 2015

Blogorium Review: Jurassic World

 Jurassic World is a pretty good movie and a great example of corporate filmmaking at its best. That is to say that it reflects the kind of movie that fulfills all quadrants, offends nobody, and coasts along on enough charm that it does not bore or annoy audiences. Just don't think to hard about it, and you'll be just fine. It's weird, because I feel strange saying that I thought it was enjoyable. I've watched the Screen Junkies debate and I watched Red Letter Media's Half in the Bag review, and to be perfectly honest, I can't mount a defense of any of the problems raised about Jurassic World. The characters are barely one note, the contrivances and narrative conveniences are at time embarrassing, and yeah, there are plot holes you could drive a truck through. I'm not even going to try to defend the movie from the type of criticisms I'd normally hold it accountable for. I can't. By the same token, I've tried to talk myself out of the fact that I did enjoy it, and it's not sticking.

 Let's get the elephant out of the room right away: I don't view Jurassic Park with rose colored glasses. I feel like that's important to point out, because I didn't watch Jurassic World through the lens of nostalgia. I think Jurassic Park has some fun moments, mostly the suspenseful ones, but have always felt like most of the characters are broadly drawn cartoons who dress in such a way that you can easily tell their toys apart. I'm the weird person who still kinda likes the mostly terrible The Lost World, even though I just watched it again, and yeah, it's still pretty bad. The "Spielberg does Godzilla" part still makes me laugh, because it's such a stupid, audacious way to close out that movie. But I didn't really care about seeing Jurassic World. I wasn't interested at all, and when I did see it, my thought process was "what the hell, I just watched The Lost World yesterday, and it can't be worse than Jurassic Park III." And it's not. Unlike just about every review, I'm not going to say that Jurassic World is better than the sequels but not as good as Jurassic Park, because I don't hold the first one in the same standard as most people. Bear that in mind as we move forward, because your mileage may vary.

 For starters, I guess I do like the premise: Ingen finally got its shit together and John Hammond found somebody to reopen the park. His name is Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), and he's immediately not like the usual sleazy businessmen you've seen in the other Jurassic movies. He's one of those carefree billionaires who is managing the money and taking care of Hammond's vision, but mostly just wants to show off that he's almost finished his helicopter lessons. He leaves the actual running of the redubbed "Jurassic World" to Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is a numbers, spreadsheet type that thinks of the dinosaurs as "assets" and is concerned about the bottom line and appeasing investors. In other words, the character we're probably not going to like but since she's a main character, she'll eventually see the error of her ways, right? Eh... maybe not so much. Back to that later. Claire is supposed to be hanging out with her sister (Judy Greer)'s kids, but she doesn't have time and foists precocious Gray (Ty Simpkins) and moody teen Zach (Nick Robinson) on her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath). They have VIP passes, so they can go anywhere which is a good way for us to see the park. It beats seeing the control room, which is where comic relief audience nostalgia surrogate Lowery (Jake Johnson) works. (He bought a Jurassic Park t-shirt on Ebay and has dinosaur toys on his work station).

 Anyway, nobody cares about the characters, because there's a new dinosaur. Like, a new, genetically modified dinosaur that never existed, and as dumb as Indominus Rex ends up being a lot of the time, but reason for her existence is actually a pretty sound one. In the universe of Jurassic World, the park reopened two years after Jurassic Park (well, actually they completely rebuilt it, as we find out) and it's been a tourist attraction with a cruise ship that takes people to Isla Nublar every day since then. Claire is explaining to investors from Verizon (no, really) that after twenty years, the allure of dinosaurs has started fading, and they want something new. Audiences want something they've never seen, something scary, so Dr. Wu (JP alum BD Wong) cooked up the I-Rex, a mystery hybrid that has super powers. We'll also come back to the convenient super powers later. The reasoning behind creating the new dinosaur plays like a commentary on moviegoers today. I mean, the novelty of seeing dinosaurs in a movie has pretty much worn off, so lets make them bigger stronger faster scarier. More CGI. More mayhem. Jurassic World the movie is the proof that Claire the character isn't wrong: people went in droves to see it.

 Indominus has been raised in her paddock, alone ever since she ate her sibling, and Masrani wants Claire to have ex-military consultant Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to check it for security before the consider opening it to the public. Claire doesn't like that because of course they went on a date when he started working there and of course it didn't work out because she's into designing itineraries and he's into the Matt Foley school of living life. But he's Chris Pratt so we mostly like him and he's capable and manly and cracks jokes, etc. He cares about the dinosaurs and has raised a pack of Velociraptors from birth and is their alpha. Just in case we don't get that, their names are Echo, Delta, Charlie, and, uh, Blue. I guess maybe they thought audiences might not understand why a raptor was named "Bravo" or maybe the network said they couldn't use it, so it has blue markings instead.

 The raptor subplot is actually a lot less stupid than the trailer made it look, because Owen just barely keeps them in check for most of the movie. It's established early on that they accept him as the alpha, but only to a degree. They listen to him, but he still has to roll under the closing gate to get out of their pen when he saves some idiot who falls in. They know he's not like them, but he's their alpha, so it's a tenuous balance. You've seen the part in the trailer with the motorcycle, but that happens because he's following them as they follow the scent of the I-Rex, and that happens as a matter of last resort. Mostly thanks to subplot we didn't need in this movie character Hoskins (Adventures in Babysitting's Vincent D'Onofrio). His "lets militarize dinosaurs" contractor guy feels like a leftover plot thread from the abandoned John Sayles draft of Jurassic Park 4 with the human / dinosaur hybrid Dirty Dozen*.

 But anyway all of these characters have to converge so of course the kids are out in a gyrosphere rolling around when the I-Rex gets loose and Claire has to evacuate most of the park while the Asset Containment Unit gets slaughtered. See, the I-Rex can mask her thermal signature if she wants to, so she tricks them into thinking she's not in her cage and Owen can see how dangerous she is when she eats a fat slob red shirt (seriously, this dude has a tie that's not on straight, a barely tucked in shirt, and a safety hat that's tiled at an angle: he's clearly getting eaten from the moment we see him). I-Rex goes on a murder spree, killing everything, in a once again reasonably explained way. Owen correctly points out that having been raised in captivity with no contact at all, Indominus Rex has never encountered other dinosaurs (or anything) before, and doesn't know its place in the food chain. And they really don't want her to find out.

 Anyway, dumb kids somehow go "off road" and Claire and Owen have to find them. Hoskins takes over the control room, and everything goes straight to hell. This leads to the disaster part of the movie, where people die horrible, horrible deaths. Like, I was surprised how horrible in some instances. There's one character whose death is wildly disproportionate to their behavior in the movie, unless being inattentive means you should be pecked apart by Pterodactyls and then swallowed alive by the Mosasaurus, the Sea World-like attraction. I mean, the dude who grabs his margaritas while running doesn't even get it that bad. He might not die at all, and there's no way he ordered both of those drinks for himself, if he ordered them in the first place. There are people who totally deserve to have their arms bitten off or to be dino-stomped or Pterodactyl impaled**, but there's dome disproportionate brutality going on. Maybe director Colin Trevorrow had a bad vendetta with somebody or just hates Mary Poppins or something.

 Well, now's as good a time as any to transition into the "why people think this movie sucks and I can't even argue with them" part of the review. I'm going to start with two pieces of dialogue from the dumb kids who are only in Jurassic World because the movies are ostensibly aimed at kids (and not their 30-something parents who saw Jurassic Park twenty years ago). I'm going to slightly modify what they say to point out what incredible plot conveniences they introduce, but if you're SPOILER averse, you might as well skip ahead to the last paragraph.

 "Hey, do you still have those matches neither of us ever mentioned at any point before now even though we just got away from the I-Rex by jumping into water?"

 "Do you remember that time we fixed up Grampa's car which would totally mean we can repair this Jeep we found in the old Visitor's Center from Jurassic Park and then drive back?"

 Putting aside the fact that any theme park that offered a "gyrosphere" attraction without a guide should have a way to bring said gyrosphere back when the park is unexpectedly closed, those two lines are indicative us just how lazy the writing in Jurassic World is. They both happen within five minutes of each other, and I think they were hoping we'd be too caught up in fact that "hey, it's the old Visitors Center! I remember Jurassic Park! Omg!" to really think carefully about how contrived those plot points are. Almost as contrived as Indominus Rex, who is white (except when she's not), can mask her thermal signature (once), pulls out her own tracking device, and is part Raptor. How do we find out she's part Raptor? Someone in the movie has to say it. In fact, here's what Owen says:

 "No wonder they didn't tell us what's she's made of: she's part Raptor..."

 This happens at the end of the motorcycle scene, when the Raptors find I-Rex and, even though she's never seen a Velociraptor before, she begins communicating with them. Guess there's a new Alpha. Oh wait, that's also something Owen says. The Raptors of course turn on Owen and Hoskins men and kill them, and then go all the way back to their paddock to chase Claire and the stupid kids who are sitting in a truck that the boys for no apparent reason won't close the back doors of. It's one of the many, "wait, what?" moments that Jurassic World hopes you won't ask questions about, like "where did the other helicopter pilot go if Masrani and the helicopter are still on the island?" or "wait, wasn't the Mosasaurus attraction further away from the main park area?" or "would you really stop to comfort a dying dinosaur when there's nothing you can do to help at all and you're searching for two children that may or may not be in mortal danger?" Yes, the last question is the closest scene Claire has to a humanizing moment, and it may be the only dinosaur in the entire movie that isn't CGI, but if you give it a moment's scrutiny, why does it need to happen?

 And yet, I didn't really mind while watching it. Yes, in retrospect, the film compounds so many lazy, convenient, or "we hope you're not paying attention to this" moments that you probably won't even remember the loose plot thread they leave for the next Jurassic sequel (hint: BD Wong). Does it really matter what happened to Lowery? Eh, I didn't even think about him in the last scene. In truth, most people are only going to remember the final battle, and to Jurassic World's credit, it takes the humans out of the equation and goes for full on dino fight. And it's a pretty good fight with a great (if implausible) conclusion. You'll be excited, you won't care about product placement - I mean, have you been to a theme park? Is the Jimmy Fallon scene really that out of place? - and if you loved Jurassic Park, you might even cheer when T-Rex makes her grand return by crashing through a Spinosaur skeleton. Take that, Jurassic Park III. You never forget that everybody hates you. I'm sure there's tons of press material where producers and the director and four writers talk about making the fans happy, and that lip service is expected, but this movie was created by committee. And to be honest, for what it is, it's better than it has any right to be. I cannot pretend that it's a well constructed, well thought out film, but Jurassic World gives you what you came for. If you're the nostalgic type, there's a chance you might like it even more than I did. It's not really the best or the worst, which I know the internet hates, but that's how it is sometimes. Every now and then you get a mostly happy middle, and for reasons I can't quite fathom, Jurassic World was entertaining, in spite of itself.

 * I am not making that up.
 ** Although, if we're picking nits, one was done in The Lost World and the other was the original ending of the film before Spielberg took T-Rex to San Diego.


Anonymous said...

Nearly everyone I've seen online and offline agrees that THAT death scene was one of the lowest points of the movie. It's a sign of amateur film making to do something so "edgy" as to give an undeserving victim the worst death in the movie out of nowhere, and yet then never speak or refer to it again. The scene can be cut from the movie and nothing would be missing. It's gratuitous torture-porn for the sake of it.

Cap'n Howdy said...

I've seen (and disagree with) the argument that it's one of those "anyone can die" moments in the film. Not only is it a cheap kill, but since we know none of the main characters are in danger (ever), it struck me as particularly cruel to kill off such a minor character in such a prolonged manner. It's not like there's even enough development of the character for it to really register if it was intended to shock you into thinking nobody is safe.