Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jurassic World Review

SPOILER ALERT: The following post contains multiple spoilers for the movie "Jurassic World." It will not be a "scene by scene" review. But instead it will include some of my views and opinions about the characters, story, plot devices, and the film over all. If you have not yet seen it and don't wish to know any of the details or plot, read this post only after seeing the movie. Remember you've been warned. 

This past Thursday night, Paula and I went to see the premier showing of "Jurassic World." Other than the Avengers sequel, this is the movie I've been waiting for this summer. That's why I went to see it on the first night.

Ever since my dad and I saw it in the theater in 1992, I've been a big fan of the first JP movie and have watched it countless number of times. I also like the second film. 

It's your typical sequel. Although it does have the single best movie shot I've ever seen (ask me about it some time). It's enjoyable. The third film was such a mess that I don't even consider it "Jurassic Park cannon." 

With all the advancement in film making and special effects over the last two decades my expectations for this new dinosaur movie were high. Having the "hottest" action-adventure star, Chris Pratt, in the lead role was very promising as well. 

The movie starts off with a tight shot of baby dinosaur hatching from an egg. Not the "attention grabber" that I expected. I'm pretty sure it's the hatching of the dinosaur that will be the cause of all the chaos I was about to see. But that's just an assumption and was never confirmed during the movies.  

Instead of a "oh this is going to be so cool" reaction at the initial shots. All I thought was, "wait we've seen this before." That was something I'd say to myself a lot over the next 2 hours. 

The story starts with Jurassic World already established as a world wide tourist destination. Neither at the beginning or throughout the movie is there much explanation as to why or how it got to it's current state. 

This omission hatched a mind full  of questions for me. The cacophony of them inside my head distracted me from what was happening on screen for a few minutes. 

It is established quickly that Jurassic World can draw up to 20,000 guests on it's busiest days. The shuttle boats full of arriving tourists quickly communicates that its the "peak season. 

The audience is quickly told that the appeal of dinosaurs has faded over the years but they are never allowed to discover exactly tourists still went there. You get glimpses of some of the attractions, mostly as set ups for plot devices. 

Seen the most is the "Main Street" area and, what I would refer to as the park's "Welcome Center". Located at the end of the main street the center is at the hub of the park. But it's more of a museum or education center than an attraction. 

The characters are introduced but I was only initially impressed by one of them. That would be Owen played by Chris Pratt. Most of the rest of them are stereotypical characters found in any "monster" movie of the past.  

I'm not going to write about all of the characters but here's my opinion of some of the major ones. 

The young boys, Gray & Zach, don't come across as believable at all. There's something a little "off" about them from the beginning. They lacked personality and seemed very passive, emotionally immature and naive for kids their age.  

John Hammond's grandchildren from the first movie were more edgy, adventurous and smarter than these two.

I would have enjoyed them a lot more if they were more like the brothers, Adam and Barry, from the ABC comedy "The Goldbergs" 

Here's an example of what I mean. There's a sequence where while riding around the open fields in a gyrosphere, the brothers discover a hole in the security fence. Zach, doing the driving, decides to do a little exploring into the unknown much to Gray's opposition. 

They end up jumping from the top of a giant water fall to avoid being eaten by the most dangerous dinosaur in the park. 

After making their way to the shore of the pool below the falls the brothers have a sentimental moment revolving around sibling loyalty. They put their arms around each other. It's a blob of over sentimentality that's completely out of place.

Any real little brother would have made some sarcastic remark reminding his older brother that the danger they just escaped was the consequence of his stupid decision to break the rules.

 The other blatant unbelievable moment in the film involves the brothers as well. After stumbling onto the welcome center of the original Jurassic Park, the boys find an old gas powered park Jeep. With just limited automotive experience based on helping their dad restore a car the brothers revive the engine of the Jeep that's been dormant for over 20 years. They drive away.  Yeah, right!

How's that possible? When there are times I can't even get my 2 cycle lawn mower engine started after sitting in my garage for less than a week.   

Now let's get back to some more of the characters. 

Gray and Nash's aunt, Claire, is the head administrator of Jurassic World, but from the beginning she seems to be extremely overwhelmed by, and at times completely clueless about, her responsibilities. I didn't for one moment believe that she was the head of a major theme park.  

When she has to deal with a situation that could quickly become a catastrophic and deadly disaster she attempts to do what she thinks is right. When that doesn't work out she allows her authority to be circumvented by not one but two others.    

However, later in the film, Claire transforms into someone who is up to the challenges she faces and even acts in a brave and heroic manner. She saves Owen's life at one point and risks her own to save the island. 

The character of Simon Masrani, the CEO of the corporation that owns Jurassic World, is an inconsistent at best. 

Initially, he appears to be a Middle Eastern Richard Branson type billionaire who never stays on the sidelines. The fact that he's flying a helicopter the first time he's on screen conveys that. 

Next we learn that he's the one who has placed a demand on the Jurassic World management, creative, and lab staff to come up with bigger, better and more dangerous dinosaurs and attractions to keep up the public interest. He does this for no other reason than improving the company's bottom line. This results in the creation of Indominus Rex, the dinosaur that reeks havoc when it escapes. 

Then he expresses a loyalty toward the park and welfare and protection of the animals. He openly talks of the respect he has for the legacy handed him by Hammond (how exactly that happened we never learn) and his example of "sparing no expense" in making it a success. 

When made aware of the danger associated with the parks newest biological exhibit, Masrani cautions Claire. He sights lessons learned from John Hammond's mistakes regarding the park's design and security  As a character, he's all over the place. 

The final peculiarity for this character is his decision to lead a mission to kill the genetically engineered dinosaur he pressured into being created. This guy is not a trained security officer and is just barely a pilot. He ends up dying in that mission. That's perhaps the most senseless death in the film. 

But Masrani's death is one of the things that makes way for the 3rd act.  Which brings us to the villain at least the human one.

Hoskins, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, is an employee of the In-Gen corporation. In-Gen is the company that was the main investors in John Hammond's Jurassic Park. Apparently (although we are never told how or why) despite Hammond's failure In-Gen continues an association with the dinosaur theme park more than 2 decades later. However it is one with a hidden agenda. 

Hoskins is overseeing a behind-the-scenes R&D project involving the training of velociraptors. 

The progress he observes in the trainer's ability to control the dinosaurs, brings him to reveal his plan to use trained raptors in military situations. 

Once the theme park is thrown into a volatile state of emergency because of the Indomius Rex; Hodgins becomes stranger and stranger. 

Upon Masrani's demise, he takes over the security aspect of the park. In a "my way or the highway" manner he brings in the raptors to go after Indominus as a "field test" for his ultimate plan. 

He turns the tables on a "secret deal" with the head of the genetics lab, Dr. Henry Wu, played by BD Wong who reprises his role from the original movie.

By the 3rd act, Hodgins turns into such an over-the-top character, over committed to the outrageous idea of militarizing dinosaurs that he reminded me of a villain from a 1960s James Bond movie. Eventually, he faces a poetic demise. 

I've saved the best characters for last. 

Owen, played by Chris Pratt is by far the most interesting and passionate character in the entire movie. He seems to be the only one on the entire Jurassic World island that understands, cares for and respects dinosaurs. 

As a trainer of velociraptors, he has a connection with them that proves to be one of the key elements in the climax of the story. 

One once during the entire film did I question something Owen did. That was his reaction after Claire saves his life. It just seemed spontaneous and out of character given the situation. 

There is no doubt that Owen is the smartest man on the screen throughout Jurassic World. He always has at least one foot in the reality of the situation. 

This performance by Pratt gets me on board to the rumored possibility of him being the next Indiana Jones. He could absolutely do it. 

Of course you can't have a movie about a dinosaur theme park without dinosaurs. There are plenty of them in this film but only 3 are really featured: Mosasaurus, Velociraptors, and of course the dino star of the picture, Indominus Rex. T-Rex makes a brief but significant appearance as well. 

There are dinosaurs featured in a petting zoo, roaming free on a savanna where guests can get close to them in a touring vehicle and in the previously mentioned gyrosphere. Also there's a shot of dinos roaming free along a river bank while guest canoe and kayak right past them.  

The theme park is also a character but it is not used very efficiently. I'll repeat the director needed to show more about what made this a successful and fun destination. If there had been more the audience, most of whom have been to a theme park or knows someone who has, could have identified better with the situation. 

Some of the area's of the park that get the most screen time are the water tank arena and the main street. The Mosasaurus is the "killer whale" of Jurassic World. It's featured in a Sea World like show. 

Main Street is common area that leads from the entrance to the hub of the park. It is also unintentionally becomes an open buffet for the flying dinosaurs set free when Indominus Rex breeches the parks aviary. 

From my point of view the park patrons are treated as cattle. They are herded from the attractions throughout the island into the main street area. When the pterodactyls escape and there is a serious and immediate threat that they will be carried off that's when they are urged to seek shelter. 

There is no backlash from any of the patrons for what's happened to them. Eventually they are harbored in the boarding area for the aquatic shuttles and their injuries tended to.   

I think it would have been interesting to have a guest insert his or herself into the situation as an advocate for the other 20,000 guests involved with what was going on at the park. Going so far as to having something to offer the effort to quell the threat the park was facing; even getting involved in the actual pursuit.   

There you have my opinions on most of the key characters in the movie. Are you still with me? 

Now let me expound on my personal interpretation of the story. The whole "arrogance of man/animal rights thing has never worked for me. Like in the first three films, this theme is present in this one as well. 

What really struck a chord with me was the idea that to continue to be successful a theme park has to cater to a very fickle public. The pressure to stay on the cutting edge of creating attractions or exhibits that drive guests to the park is the only means of survival in the modern theme park entertainment business. As a fan of Disney and other theme parks that is premise draws me in.

I think the story telling was rushed. There was no mystery or suspense about Indominus Rex. Well there was some mystery. I mean her genetic make up was kept secret as part of the third act twist. But other than that she was seen almost immediately. Every fan of monster movies (and this is to some extent is one) knows you don't see the monster right away. She should have escaped at the beginning with minimum reveal until some time halfway through the 2nd act.

I liked that they turned the velociraptors into heroes despite Hodgins intentions.

 The element of humor in the movie happens mainly in two places. There's some humor in the early relationship between Claire & Owen. Most of the jokes come in the park's command center and revolve around an employee named "Lowery". Most of them involve jabs at his "nerdiness."

Overall the story and the characters were underwhelming until the major twist involving the Indominus Rex and the raptors. 

The action and suspense that happened from then on kept me interested. I think the other element was wanting to see what Owen would do after he was backed into a corner; forced to do what he didn't want to do. 

The 3rd act of the film is what kept it from being a total disappointment. 

I know I've gone on way to long but I still have some other points I need to make before wrapping up this interminable review. Most of these are just personal preferences and observations. 

First of all, based on the lack of containment or security measures seen over the course of the film the park owners and management did not learn from the mistakes of the past. Guests riding around in open vehicles and canoeing down rivers with dinosaurs large enough to crush them right next to them. 

Also the gyrosphere that the brothers use to wander off into restricted territory were driven by the guests themselves. The park had no control over where they went or when they returned. That was a recipe for disaster. 

At the beginning of this review I mentioned that there was a lot of "we've seen this before" in this film. The attack of the gyrospher by Indomius Rex was just like the T-Rex and the car in the first film. 

The very presence of the brothers on the island is a "seen it" for this franchise. I mean a pair of kids sent to visit a relative on a distant island? Remember Tim & Lex, Hammond's grandkids?

There were many other examples that I'm not going to mention here. 

Now I know there are certain things that would be common in stories in the same setting. But the director should have found ways to show them in a different way. That's what a good director does. Look at the way Spielberg shot the Jurassic Park and Lost World. They may be connected by subject but they are definitely different films.    

Another mistake director Colin Trevorrow made was over use of foreshadowing. Specifically when it comes to the Mosasaurus. 

One of the most attention grabbing clips in the Jurassic World trailer was the scene with the Mosasaurus jumping out of his tank and swallowing a shark dangling from a hook. It was the one most talked about by the public. That scene takes place relatively early in the film. 

The creature makes another out-of-the-water appearance during the scenes where the flying dinosaurs are attacking main street. It was the director's way of reminding the audience that the aquatic dinosaur was there and just how quick and menacing it could be. But it was a bit too much of a reminder.  

It took a bit of the "Wow factor" out of the climax of the final battle. I was in a full theater watching this film. During its fight with the T-Rex and the raptors, the Indominus Rex meets its final doom in a quick and menacing way. But I don't remember hearing or feeling any reaction of surprise from the audience. It was cool but not really wasn't that much of a surprise. 

The director "watered down" his own ending.

I think this story and the way it was made was not the right way for the franchise to come back. This script and story would have made a very good 5th film. I would not be so bold as to submit that I have any idea what the 4th film should have been about but as I mentioned at the beginning of this review some type of history or origin story would have been appropriate. 

So there you have my personal review of the new Jurassic World movie released this weekend. 

Despite my disappointment, the film has gotten positive reviews and reactions. The website Rotten Tomatoes it's got a 70% positive rating from critics and 86% rating from movie goers. Also from what I've seen on the internet the film has had the 2nd highest opening weekend of all time at the box office.   
Chance are I will be adding this movie to my list of summer movies I want to see again to give another chance. It hasn't been a bad summer movie season so far but it has been disappointing. Maybe a second look will change my perspective. 

I waited for over a year to see the first Jurassic Park movie in over 20 years. But as it turns out for now it fell way short of my expectations.  Now I know how Star Wars Fans felt after seeing the Phantom Menace. 

This is my first movie review on this blog in a long time. I am planning on writing more in the future. So I am now going to set up my personal ratings system. It will be the RHFactor scale. It will range from 1-10 with 10 being the best, 1 being the worst. 

Jurassic World gets an RHFactor of 5. 

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