Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dino Might... Or Might Not... - Jurassic World, Reviewed

You do not need to see Jurassic World.

But it is entirely possible that you should see it anyways.

To be completely honest, I wasn't even that interested in going.  The marketing completely failed to capture my imagination, dirtbike-riding Chris Pratt playing 'Leader of the Pack' to a quartet of velociraptors didn't make any sense to me, and the new hybridized dinosaur Indominus Rex (and the possibility of it having thumbs) left me entirely cold.  If you have run out of stories to tell with actual proper dinosaurs, I thought, maybe it's time to just hang up your axe, y'know?

But Audrey and Glory really wanted to go, because dinosaurs. And Audrey kept referencing how we felt coming out of the Eaton Centre Cinema late at night those two decades back, our pulses still racing from the thrill ride we had just experienced, and half expecting to see a behemoth from the late Cretaceous round the corner of the parking garage, and the next thing you know, I actually was looking forward to it.

And once we sat down, we watched the internal struggle play out, as Park Director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) laments how now that the park has been around so long, people aren't excited by dinosaurs any more; they look at a stegosaurus the same way they would at a giraffe in the zoo.

And if that's not good enough for parkgoers, the same can probably be said for moviegoers, right?

I had no idea Jurassic World was going to be such an exercise in meta-filmmaking, such as when dino-behaviorist contractor Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) comes to inspect the enclosure for the new beast, and asserts the dinosaurs should be 'wow factor' enough.

Now, I don't think I am giving anything away, and certainly nothing not already in the trailers, but just in case, brace yourself:


Indominus Rex escapes.

I know, right?!

Stop me if you've heard this one: the scientists, all too eager to blaze new ground, gleefully rush off the reservation and into the mad scientist territories at the behest of their corporate masters, eager to maintain profits, and prepared to sell off the naming rights for the new 'asset's' exhibit to Verizon Wireless.

(Interestingly enough, despite the blunt and notable presence of Coca Cola, Margaritaville, Pandora and Mercedes, IMDb trivia informs me that no one actually paid for product placement in Jurassic World; it was actually done by director Colin Trevorrow to lampoon such deals.)

In their futile attempts to once again dominate nature/play God, HAVOC is unleashed; oh, the hubris! Oh, the humanity! And once again, it is all about the tiny, frail featherless bipeds trying to avoid being dramatically re-positioned within the food chain.

In fact, Jurassic World is so much of an homage to the 22 year old original (and one of my all-time favourite adventure movies), that this 4th entry in the franchise rarely gets a chance to step out from beneath its lumbering shadow.  Two kids whose parents are breaking up are brought to the island so a relative can keep them occupied.  Later on they are terrorized by a giant carnosaur while trapped inside an upside down vehicle, but this time it is a 'gyrosphere' instead of an electric Ford Explorer.  At some point a drastic decision has to be made in mission control in order to protect the guests, but someone will need to go into the danger zone to rescue the kids!

Nothing really new here.

And yet, there are shadows of a good science fiction story lurking about the edges of this adventure and effects epic, as ruthless InGen contractor Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), is constantly looking for an opportunity to field test his premise of weaponized velociraptors, which, as he is clearly Chekhov's asshole, you know for a fact will come to pass.  And the scariest part is, by the time it comes around, you are ready for it, because they do a great job making the Indominus Rex into a terrifying foe, and siccing the ruthless pack-hunters on it is a long way from the worst solution you've seen in a monster movie.

There are a couple of good discussions about whether the responsibility for the I. Rex failure belongs to science or commerce, largely between the new owner Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and the sole returning character, Dr. Henry Wu (played with characteristic poise and aplomb by B.D. Wong).

Dr. Wu: Nothing in Jurassic World is natural, we have always filled gaps in the genome with the DNA of other animals. And if the genetic code was pure, many of them would look quite different. But you didn't ask for reality, you asked for more teeth.
Masrani: You created a monster!
Dr. Wu: Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We're just used to being the cat.

It is always appreciated when a movie doesn't rely too much on stupid people to advance the plot, and while there are a number of bad decisions made in this film (beginning with 'hey, let's hybridize a bigger, scarier dinosaur!' 'great idea! let me just give my kids some matches to play with and I can help out!'), but they are usually decisions made out of greed or curiosity or desperation, not an apparently innate desire to vacate the gene pool via a bloody demise.

There is some lazy screenwriting though; the cell phone service on Isla Nublar is atrocious, rendering these handy telecommunications devices almost worthless at three different points in the film.  A single line about how sunspots were in full force or that the mercenaries later needed to rein in the dinos are intentionally jamming those frequencies would have been much appreciated.

Chris Pratt is a good choice for the action lead in this film; he has great comic timing that Trevorrow has the good sense not to overuse, he comes across well as both a smart cat and credible burly alpha-male type who is secure enough not to need to preen, and he has charisma to spare.

(You're welcome ladies.)

In the end though, there is only one reason to see any movie with the word Jurassic in it (after the first one, at least), and that is for the dinosaurs.  Here, they do not disappoint.

The mosasaur shown so prominently in the trailer (and poster above) is a wonderfully presented spectacle that makes you feel like you are joining the in-park audience in the splash zone.  The scene with Owen facing down the raptors he is training within their own enclosure is very well staged, but best of all, the pteradons and dimorphodons that Spielberg and Co. have been trying to get into the movies since the very first Jurassic Park, FINALLY get loose, and watching these winged terrors diving into a crowd while a WWII air-raid sirens warns panicing guests to take cover (wow, really?) is as terrifying as anything seen in the franchise to date.

All in all, despite being extremely derivative, despite treading very little new ground, despite not using nearly enough practical effects for my taste (More puppets and animatronics, dammit! At least Trevorrow used motion-capture to animate most of the dinosaurs, making them feel a bit more organic.), I enjoyed watching Jurassic World.

You can't look too closely at it without revealing its many flaws, but it does as good a job as any of the other sequels in reminding us how cool dinosaurs are, and how lucky we are that they aren't around any more.

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