Thursday, June 8, 2017

Jurassic World (2015)

Originally posted on June 17th, 2015.

There was a moment - several moments in fact - during Jurassic World, where I probably should have been angrier than I was.  This film clearly has some affection Jurassic Park, but has only passing aspirations to live up to it in any meaningful way.  But I took a deep breath, laughed it off, and continued watching.  For I had low expectations from the moment I saw the first trailer; Jurassic World was going to be a generic, nostalgia-driven cash-in on the original movie and nothing more.  Involuntarily, I started getting a little excited when I actually sat down in the theater.  Wow, I thought, A new Jurassic Park movie!  Then, during the opening few seconds, I watched as a CGI raptor baby cracked open its egg and moved with all the uncanniness of a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull groundhog.  It was precisely then that my expectations were tempered and never rose again.

It's been twenty-two years since the events of Jurassic Park.  Isla Nubar is now a fully-functioning dinosaur-populated theme park, filled with wondrous attractions but also too much corporate interference.  It seems to cost a tremendous sum to keep the place open, given that the park's developers have to keep inventing new dinosaur hybrids to attract more customers.  Their latest creation, the Indominus Rex, turns out to be more frightening and violent than the scientists had expected, and one day, it escapes its pen.  Now on a rampage, the creature kills everything in sight to assert its dominance and become master of the food chain.  Two brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), happen to be vacationing at the theme park while their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park's operations manager, deals with investors instead of spending time with them.  Before the Indominus Rex even escapes, the park's raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) has a bad feeling about all this, commenting on Claire's attitude toward the dinosaurs as attractions rather than animals.  When shit starts hitting the fan and the park is thrown into chaos, Claire seeks out Owen's help to find her nephews before they're killed by the curiously intelligent creature.

Directed by Colin Trevarrow, Jurassic World sees John Hammond's original vision for Jurassic Park realized, but dialed up to eleven.  Dinosaur safari?  Screw that! We've got self-operating hamster balls!  Holographic dinosaur movies! Impractically-sized aquatic dinosaurs!  While I think that the idea of finally seeing Jurassic Park opening and drawing in huge crowds is a fantastic idea for a sequel, I feel as though the execution in Jurassic World misses the point of the original concept; the new park seldom feels like it could be a real place.  That's a problem in a movie where I happily buy into scientists cloning dinosaurs.  And it's unfortunately not the only problem the movie faces.

Jurassic World contains enough spectacle to make the film watchable, but there's a distinct lack of effort in the screenplay.  Neither of the Jurassic Park sequels were great, so World hardly ruins a great franchise (in fact, it may objectively be the best). But I was hoping that at some point there would be some suspense to counterpoint the comedy, and it unfortunately never really emerges.  The movie is more concerned with wearing fan service on its sleeve while simultaneously making fun of itself, for better and for worse.  Making fun of obvious product placement?  Brilliant.  Making self-referential jokes while many people are dying?  Eh... we encounter some tonal dissonance.  There's a really nice meta theme running throughout the movie (intentional or not) about how dinosaurs were once an incredible thing to behold, but after all these years, people are growing bored of them.  It reminded me of how CGI effects (which Jurassic Park helped popularize) were beyond impressive when they were new, but we're actually getting bored of them now, too.

Part of the fun of a creature feature is caring about what happens to the characters when they're in danger.  But I'll be damned if I honestly didn't care who lived and died in this movie, save maybe the younger brother Zach.  Characters are either flat and unmemorable or obnoxious and unlikable, all the while making forced jokes and exhibiting no chemistry.  There's so much comedy without enough suspense to balance it out, and it makes the movie feel silly and inconsequential.  The only moment that tried to be genuinely terrifying was the pterodactyl attack, and as a result, it's probably the best scene in the movie.  I must admit to geeking out at some of the references to the original movie.  I won't spoil them here (though I'll bet you can't spot Ian Malcom's book just barely in focus in an early scene), seeing as some of them are a welcome surprise.  The only returning cast member is B.D. Wong as Dr. Wu, and while it's great to see him back and delivering a good performance, he's way underused.  How great would it have been to see him return as a full-fledged villain?  Instead we get a villain in Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), and the less we talk about him, the better.

Technically speaking, the film is well-paced and some of the visuals are amazing, but there is an over-reliance on CGI.  I would have loved to see some dinosaur animatronics (and there are a scant few) mixed with the CG to really sell some of the close-ups, but alas, the Stan Winston is no more, and his invaluable love for prosthetics and animatronics is sorely missing from modern Hollywood efforts.  The dinosaurs often look blurry and muddy, like cartoons or video game creatures.  I seldom felt like I could reach out and touch them.  The use of the classic Jurassic Park theme music is also bafflingly mishandled.  I'm glad it was used at all by Michael Giacchino (who I love very, very much), but over a kid's shoes?  Seriously?

Steven Spielberg himself said when he was making a movie about dinosaurs being brought back to life in modern times, you need to inject humor for anyone to take it seriously.  That might seem like a contradictory statement, but it's a subtle way of letting the audience know that the concept may be ridiculous, but you're gonna have a good time anyway.  Jurassic World takes that idea and runs with it, but it doesn't populate its story with enough suspense or intelligent characters to give it any weight.  The movie is pretty funny at points, but it's groan-inducing at others.  There are a few awe-inspiring visuals, but they often support concepts that are too over-the-top to make me believe that any of this could actually exist.  You have DINOSAURS, people!  Don't throw interactive holograms that don't exist in my face if you want me to drool over the dinosaurs later!