Friday, June 19, 2015

Jurassic World: A Worthy Sequel

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Director: Colin Treverrow

Reviewed: 19 June 2015

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

For whatever reason, Colin Treverrow's new film Jurassic World has captured my imagination with its wonder and jaw-dropping sound and special effects. As a fan of Jurassic Park (which came out when I was in high school) who skipped the next two films, this sequel sidesteps those films and offers up a 'What if?' scenario after the retreat from Isla Nublar in the first film. The shadow of John Hammond looms over this film in the form of a statue of Jurassic Park's late creator, but despite a book jacket photo of Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and a near-cameo from Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), Treverrow is playing with a new park, mostly new dinosaurs, and a new set of rules. And in this film, dinosaurs are even more scary and even more destructive when things fall apart at the park, which they must, though I will admit to being as captivated by the quieter moments as much as the anarchy.

The film transports us to a fully-functional park, complete with Disney-like wristbands, monorails, SeaWorld-esque shows (with perhaps the coolest seat movement ever), and the inevitable worries of any big new thing: How do we keep the public's attention? How do we attract more visitors? How do we raise profits? The raw capitalism leads to reckless genetic engineering of new breeds of dinosaurs with the hubris that humanity can control what it creates. What could go wrong? Treverrow makes our lenses for this world a pair of brothers, Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), not particularly close, both weathering the imminent divorce of their parents who send them off for this vacation with their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), one of the executives that runs Jurassic World. Claire is sketched broadly in the beginning of the film, always shown in high heels, Starbucks cup in hand, cell phone attached to her ear, navigating the world of the park with an eye for efficiency and not at all acknowledging the wonder of this created world. She, of course, is counter-balanced with the earthy Owen (Chris Pratt), animal trainer and tracker who takes the paycheck from Jurassic World but spouts off speeches about these animals being alive, bonding as a precarious Alpha of a pack of Velociraptors in a tense early scene. Pratt's character is there to teach Claire's character a lesson and to be a tough Indiana Jones-type, though Pratt delivers another charming, winning performance. In short, the center cannot hold, and both are thrust together in pursuit of Claire's nephews who find themselves alone in the park chased by Indominus Rex, a pretty awesome creature.

As expected, the dinosaurs are pretty amazingly rendered, and there are so many of them! Although there is no seen of emotional grandeur like the scene from the original film when Dr. Grant sees the first dinosaurs from the car, John Williams' score soaring behind him, the film comes close with a few innovations: a little kid riding a baby Triceratops in the park, bubble pods that allow people to race alongside a herd of galloping beasts, rafts the float down a river with dinos munching calmly alongside, and the thrilling underwater dinosaur that performs by leaping up to devour a great white shark as lunch! The creation of a hybrid dinosaur allows a new chance to be afraid with the rules being slightly altered from what we expect. We do not fully understand the newbie's power and tactics. Technology fails early and often in this film, so the film becomes about the managing of a retreat more than the fighting back. At its best, Jurassic World is scary and gruesome, with people getting taken and eaten in truly disturbing ways, a world where if you do not know a character's name or recognize the actor, watch out! I think it must push the limit of PG-13 in terms of people being devoured and torn apart; much is hinted without too much blood shown, but I felt it had a certain ruthlessness in the way it dispatched victims. I think it might be too intense for little kids, and I cannot believe that I just wrote that statement.

There are surprises and shocks that took my breath away, and the sound design booms all over the theater arriving from different corners, crafting a very unique cinematic experience. I do not think this film will ever be as much fun at home or on a computer; it is meant for the big screen. I never fully bought Zach and Gray as brothers or their emotional turmoil. Is it not enough that they are both nearly killed together? They have to deal with divorce too?  Much like the two kids in the original film, they are mostly there to be put in harm's way, though thankfully there is no scene as stupid as in the first film when an electric fence meant to dissuade a T-Rex only slightly injures a young boy grabbing onto it when the park's intermittent power returns. And, the denouement does not involve kids saving the day by tapping away on computers, thankfully. The film's sharp look at what a park would look like includes the trappings that would most appeal to families. It extends John Hammond's vision into a quasi-reality that looks and feels familiar. I think there's a terror here from the threat to the park goers that feels fresh and new. The crowds milling about are families with little kids and strollers, and the stampeding was quite scary to me as a relatively new father. No parenting book that I've read offers "How do you save your loved ones from dinosaurs?"

Of course, the characters take time to engage in philosophical arguments and debates that should have happened way before they started creating new dinosaurs or even started taking a paycheck from the company. The chain of command seems remarkably unclear for an enterprise of this magnitude, and Vincent D'Onofrio's character Hoskins need only twirl a mustache to be any more ridiculously villainous as a potential defense contractor, eager to sell trained Velociraptors to hunt terrorists. There is a nice acknowledgement of the first film through a quick foray into an abandoned building with reminders of touchstones from that story, but Treverrow does not linger, and soon everyone is chasing everyone, with efficient storytelling streamlined. Owen always shows up on his motorcycle wherever Claire is driving, and cell phones and communication work when the plot needs them to do so. New Girl star Jack Johnson delivers some much-needed humor as Lowery, a park technician with a birds eye view and a sense of responsibility to his job. Irrfan Khan plays Simon Masrani, a charming CEO-type of the park whose recklessness is telegraphed early and often through his insistence upon piloting his own helicopter. What could go wrong? But despite the film's flaws and its stumbling through with its main character Claire who goes from bumbling neophyte to efficient gunsmith to quick-thinking heroine, it works and entertains at a high level.

Ultimately, Jurassic World won me over with its eye-popping effects and imagery. The final fight is one for the ages, and the technology overpowers because it provides such a dramatic response in me. That underwater dinosaur is cool and terrifying. The film's quieter moments offer some food for thought about what we would pay for as consumers. I can forgive the film's more egregious sins because it brings me dinosaurs and fear, two potent ingredients that made this an ultimate summer movie going experience.

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