JUNE 11, 2015
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
There's a moment in Jurassic World where I actually got teleported back to 1993, when 13 year old me was blown away by Spielberg's original film. It's early on, when the younger of two brothers who serves as one of the film's eleven or so main characters opens the window in his hotel room and gets his (and our) first look at the theme park, fully functional and packed with tourists. John Williams' terrific theme swells and the camera gives us a nice hero shot of John Hammond's dream, presumably never realized while he was still alive. I even came close to misting up a bit; it's a super calculated moment, to be sure, but damned if it didn't work exactly as it was intended.
Unfortunately the movie as a whole failed to recapture the spirit and awe of what made Jurassic Park one of the biggest films of all time (and one of my personal favorites, I should mention). This, of course, is nothing new for a JP sequel - even Spielberg himself couldn't get it totally right with 1997's The Lost World, and I came close to fully disliking 2001's Jurassic Park III (it's saved from total disaster by Sam Neill coming back and the pteranodons sequence). All I wanted out of this one was to be better than those, and maybe it is (I'm still debating between it and Lost World), but even if so it barely reaches that low bar, and ranks as yet another bit of evidence that maybe Spielberg should have applied the same good sense he had with ET and Jaws and not made a sequel (or, in the latter's case, simply not gotten himself involved).
It's interesting that all the sequels fail for different reasons, however. Lost World had the highest expectations because Spielberg himself was directing, but his mind was clearly elsewhere (Amistad?) and outside of a few key sequences (like the trailer going over the cliff) it lacked the crackerjack thrills of the original, not to mention the groundbreaking FX (one thing that unifies all the followups, quite incredulously, is that none of them have FX as good as the 1993 original, and they just look worse as time goes on). As for Jurassic Park III, it's easy enough to point a finger at Joe Johnston, who has made exactly two good movies (Honey I Shrunk The Kids and The Rocketeer*). I'm sure there were too many cooks in the kitchen on that one (William H. Macy was vocal, BEFORE release, about the frequent rewrites during shooting), but Johnston has proven time and time again that he has no sense of pacing, never worse than in this movie where he blows his wad with the Spinosaur way too early, gets his best scene somewhere in the middle (and one that he just recycled from a sequence removed from the original film), and skips a climax entirely.
So what's the problem here? It's hard to know if director Colin Trevorrow is to blame since he's only made one other feature and it was a tiny indie comedy/romance (Safety Not Guaranteed, which I saw for no other reason than to enjoy air conditioning during a heat wave and found it pleasant enough); there's just not enough evidence for or against him to really judge. With Spielberg, and even Johnston, we know they can do better, but with him? 20 years down the road we might be wishing his other movies were as good as this. But he IS one of the four credited writers, none of whom are Steven Spielberg or ubiquitous Legendary head Thomas Tull, who probably got their say. Add in the other producers, the fact that the movie has been in development for a decade (meaning uncredited writers), and the increasing problem of FX movies like this (ones with release dates set in stone long before a script is complete) designing their big action scenes first so the CGI wizards can get started, and you can make a safe bet that the problem is that we're watching something like five different movies at once. Some of those movies seem like they'd be really great, others not so much. Jammed together, it just creates a schizophrenic experience; there's no real central character, but as an ensemble it doesn't really work because everyone seems like they're in different movies.
Take the brothers I mentioned earlier. I kept hoping there would be a line explaining that the older one was bipolar or perhaps suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder, and that the younger one was actually mentally challenged, because it would certainly explain their behavior. The younger one is like 12, but acts like a 5 year old in some scenes (he also has weird Rain Man-esque tics that show up on occasion, but like just about everything in this movie, are inconsistent). The older one is a horndog that begins just about all of his early scenes ogling female tourists, but there is no payoff for any of this (hell it's barely even MENTIONED), and he alternates his attitude from scene to scene with no rhyme or reason. At times he's a typical older brother/sullen teenager who hates that he has to hang out with his little brother at this dumb dino park, and others he's super protective and seemingly having more fun than the other one. They also have a bizarre relationship with their aunt's assistant; they seem to hate each other, prompting them to run away when she's not looking and go off on their own, but why they didn't get along with her is anyone's guess. When (spoiler) the assistant is killed later in the film, it seems a death befitting a character we really hate (especially since she's the first female to be killed in the series, interestingly enough), but whatever made her deserve such a fate was clearly part of an earlier script or cut of the movie that also established their antagonistic relationship with her. As it is, her death might actually be her longest scene in the movie; even her introduction is bizarrely discarded, with Trevorrow's camera floating up and away just as the boys meet her, as if she wasn't a character we needed to concern ourselves with.
Then there's Bryce Dallas Howard, as their aunt who also happens to be one of the higher ups at the park. She's a generic workaholic movie character who can't remember her nephew's ages and spends most of her first scene with them looking at her phone and such, so of course she'll have to make amends by saving them. Except she really doesn't; they basically save themselves by fixing an old jeep they find (whatever) and driving back to the park, where they instantly get into trouble again only to be rescued by Chris Pratt's character. Howard eventually does something heroic, but it lacks oomph, and is hampered by the fact that her action is an obvious one (spoilers ahead!). You might notice throughout the movie that the T Rex hasn't shown up, so when their giant super dinosaur, the Indominous Rex, has seemingly gotten the upper hand, it's her idea to set the T Rex loose and lure it to the Indominous to let them fight it out. So even then she's not really doing anything as awesome as Ellie Sattler heading into the jungle and turning all the power back on or even Malcolm's daughter kicking some raptors around - she's just opening a gate.
She's the one that cynically/metaphorically tackles the modern blockbuster movie, though. In one of the movie's few truly interesting ideas, it treats the Indominous as a metaphor for summer blockbusters - created by people jamming things together with no real passion, used to feed a hungry public who demands something bigger and better (apparently, Jurassic World has been open so long that the public is getting bored with mere T Rexes and Raptors). A better movie would have used this concept and ran with it for its entire runtime (in fact, we HAVE that better movie - it's called 22 Jump Street), but here... you guessed it, it gets dropped. Had they wanted to actually SAY anything about the mega-blockbuster problem, it would end smaller, letting real ideas and strong characters save the day. Instead, the movie just gives us a four way dino fight, staged like the mere two way one at the end of the first movie but on a grander, longer scale.
And yet, that part IS kind of fucking awesome, to put it bluntly. Nitpickers like myself are being beat up online by the "So what? It's just a movie!" type arguments (they seem to forget that all movies are "just movies" and most of them aren't this erratic, including the others in this very series, but whatever), and I suspect it's because the climax is so damn enjoyable, with a raptor sitting on top of a T Rex as they battle what's basically a bigger, different colored T Rex. Sending the audience out on a high note is a fine way to help them forget about any issues they may have had getting there (it's the same reason JP3 satisfied almost no one, because it just stops instead of offering a big finish). It lasts just long enough to be epic and not so long that it gets tiresome, and keeps the humans in the frame to appreciate the scale of it. I just wish the movie offered more terrific set-pieces like it, because it really kinda lacks in that department. They're all conceptually fine and provide highlights (like when a dinosaur eating a person is itself eaten by a bigger dinosaur), but the lack of cohesion and random storytelling that the movie suffers from nearly start to finish keeps them at bay. A car chase, a shootout, or even a dinosaur attack on its own is fine, but it becomes GREAT when it's paying off part of a good story or is the next natural step for its hero characters. Jurassic World never manages to hit that mark because everyone is so random and the movie has so many pointless diversions. For example, Pratt and Howard go off to find the kids after their park transportation vehicle (the gyrospheres you've seen in the trailers) gets smashed up in a restricted are (the kids just casually drive it into one - if Jurassic World spares no expense, why can't they invest a few bucks in the same tech that keeps me from taking my Target shopping cart any further than the parking lot?), which should be the sort of thing that drives the plot from here on out. But no! First they have Pratt make a joke about how he's not a tracker and then they track them just fine (why not cut the line? Pratt's character is defined by whatever the scene needs him to do anyway), and on top of that it doesn't even matter since the kids make their way back on their own, making their rescue attempts a total waste of time.
As for Pratt, the movie benefits from the guy's effortless charm and screen presence, but they don't return the favor by giving him anything to do. That big thing of him riding alongside the raptors? He hates the idea, so it's really not a very cool moment in the movie when it happens, because he's basically doing it against his will as opposed to realizing some dream he had. It's actually the idea of Vincent D'Onofrio's character, who has the usual evil science company plan of turning the monsters into a military weapon (the movie jerks off Aliens almost as often as it does Jurassic Park), and is the de facto human villain even though he really doesn't do anything evil. I'm sure there was some version where he caused the chaos to happen in order to justify implementing his idea, but it's more Pratt's fault than his if you think about it (Pratt enters the cage where the Indominous is held, and it uses the same gate he does to escape), and later when Pratt punches him in the face I actually had to sit and wonder why he did, never coming up with a satisfying answer. D'Onofrio is up to shady shit with Dr. Wu (the one returning character), but Pratt had no way of knowing that and knew exactly why things had gotten so bad, so I have no idea why he suddenly took it out on ol Vinny, who despite having a different viewpoint is actually trying to save the human lives that are in danger. The park owner is also more to blame, since he crashes his helicopter in the aviary (which we never see prior to it being partially destroyed) letting all the flying dinos out to wreak havoc, another thing that happened without D'Onofrio's involvement.
I could go on and on, but I think I've provided enough examples of how damn sloppy the movie is, populated by several things that seem like payoffs to moments we never saw. I know that blockbusters are kind of made by committee and have several more writers than are credited, but rarely do you see the seams of that patchwork process as badly as you do here. Make fun of Armageddon all you want (I thought of it since the two films share DP John Schwartzman, and it is known for having several writers), but even its harshest critics can't really claim that the movie has no consistency or sense of structure. If Armageddon was like this movie, Bruce Willis would refuse to go into space and then suit up in the next scene, someone would murder Billy Bob Thornton with Bay treating it like a crowd-pleasing moment, and the asteroid wouldn't be destroyed by the nuke but by, I dunno, the sun punching it out of nowhere. At the end of the day, a movie can be as dumb as it wants with regards to real world logic, as long as it's consistent with itself - and that's where Jurassic World drops the ball. The fun scenes are enough to give it a pass, and it's got some spot on humor (the yokel kid laughing as he rode a baby triceratops was incredible), but the entire two hour runtime plays out in fits and starts, with nearly every scene feeling like something that got added in during post-production instead of a part of an organic whole. Maybe that's part of its half-assed anti-blockbuster joke, but that doesn't make the movie any more compelling.
That said, the audience clapped at the end and it's made like 180 million dollars in 3 days, so what do I know?
What say you?
*I know folks love Captain America, and I am one of them... for its first hour or so. Then it turns into a mess, for the same reasons described above for Jurassic III. And Winter Soldier was infinitely better with different directors, so nyeah.