Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, and Michael Crichton (characters). Starring Chris Pratt (Owen), Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire), Ty Simkins (Gray), Nick Robinson (Zach).
Bottom line: All aboard the nostalgia train that is Jurassic World; but like a second class Amtrak train, not a Polar Express train.
Jurassic World has broken just about every box office record so you’ve probably seen it but, for what it’s worth, if you haven’t – don’t. Please don’t.
The very name “Jurassic World” gives an indication of the shenanigans the film is going to try and pull. I can almost hear a business team saying, “Alright, we want a new Jurassic Park movie. We want it to be bigger! We want it better! And, just for good measure, let’s use all the memorable moments from the movie that started the franchise!”
While there are several plots throughout the movie, the overarching plot is that the park’s yet to be released attraction, the genetically engineered dinosaur hybrid “Indominus Rex,” escapes from it’s holding pen. It’s racing towards the innocent tourists! What is Chris Pratt and company going to do?
The cast of characters includes the ruggedly handsome, Velociraptor trainer, Owen (Pratt), the high-strung career focused Claire (Howard), and her two nephews. We have a couple token characters that exist to drive their respective plot lines. We have Mr. Military-Industrial Complex (D’Onofrio) who wants to turn the trained- velociraptors into “the perfect soldiers/weapons.” We also have Mr. Scientist (Wong) who created a monster in the name of science. We have a brother-bonding story via the nephews. None of the side plots are really ever developed so, similarly, few of the characters are developed either.
But, let’s be honest, this isn’t a movie about the story or the dialog or the actors. It’s about the graphics, right? Oh, and the nostalgia. Graphics and nostalgia. That’s why I went to see this movie. I love Jurassic Park. And, man, this movie is banking on the fact that you love Jurassic Park.
I think I distinctly remember hearing the iconic theme song played in three different ways; solo-piano for introspection, horns for majesty, full-orchestra for success. Do you remember the final shot from Jurassic Park where the T-Rex breaks through the T-Rex skeleton and roars? Well, they have a T-Rex and the Indominus Rex do it. Nice nice, I could say it twice. Jurassic World even goes so far as to have the nephews take refuge in the original park, and fix up one of the original jeeps so they can drive to safely. The list goes on.
I’m all for references and in-jokes but I’m even more a fan of restraint. If I want pure fan service, I’ll go see Street Fighter: The Movie. Jurassic World uses all of these references just so you can feel all warm and fuzzy rather than nodding to its heritage.
In terms of graphics, the movie falls short. Maybe it’s just that they marketed the heck out of it but I saw the shot of the water-dinosaur too many times to count. By the time I saw it in the theater, it didn’t do anything for me. Overall, there’s no build up or context. It’s pretty graphics for the sake of pretty graphics and, unfortunately, that doesn’t really work. I’ll get into details in a bit but, for the time being, I’ll just say “eh.”
Overall, Jurassic World was a painfully disappointing movie. Its selling points were nostalgia and graphics and it didn’t succeed in either. If you want those, you can save your time and money and just see the original. Now, mind yourself of spoilers for the next part, but let’s get into more detail about why the effects didn’t really work for me. Then, after that, I’d like to talk about the bizarrely, ethically hypocritical message in Jurassic World.
As Jurassic World references Jurassic Park so often, I feel like it’s ok to make comparisons between the two. That is, to explore why the one works and the other doesn’t. And, don’t worry, I’m not going to say, “it’s because the original didn’t use any CGI!” I’ve read that on a bunch of YouTube comments (not that YouTube comments are a reliable source of anything but passive aggressive rage). First, if you’ve never seen the original, just put reading this on hold and go watch it.
One of the reasons why Jurassic Park was so effective and why it holds up so well is the balance between computer graphics and practical effects (physical props). Consider the scene where the raptors learn to open the kitchen door. The camera focuses on the little window. You see the raptor’s snout as it snorts, fogging up the glass. It moves and looks through the glass, focusing on its’ prey. It’s up there in my list of favorite shots of all time. Your attention is focused on a specific point in the frame and the varying textures (the cold metal door, the scaly skin, the hot breath, etc.) create such a visceral experience. Moreover, even the placement of the camera adds to the shot. We are hiding in the kitchen with the terrified children – the raptor is looking at us too – and because we know we’re safe in the audience, we want to see more than the fleeting glance provided by the window.
To compare, let me discuss a sequence from Jurassic World. It’s the most memorable point of practical effects (of any effects quite frankly) in the movie. Don’t worry about spoilers; it’s in the trailer.
Claire kneels down and pets a dying long-neck (I’m not sure of the exact name, sorry). There isn’t really any build up like there is with the raptor in the aforementioned scene. You just see it. It does, however, allow you to see the complexity of the of the dinosaur prop. By showing it’s pained eyes and that it causes Claire to tear-up, she is humanized for the first time in the movie. The shot abruptly ends. The model may be detailed and the shot might be trying to provoke an emotional response, but it doesn’t quite work. Claire crying is one of the only clues that this scene is particularly sad.
One thing that I find fascinating about Jurassic World (for that matter, any movie I really dislike) is that it forces me to really think about why. Let me digress for a moment.
When I first drafted this review, I was disappointed by the movie, feeling guilty about not writing reviews in a while, and probably hungry. When I sent it to my wife to read, and then I read it again, I just had to laugh because it was so angry! I was so upset that I was essentially saying, “This was bad. That was bad. Bad. Bad. Bad.” I didn’t say why it was bad because I was just so caught up in upsetness. That’s no fun to write or read. Whew. Now where were we?
A major component of Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, or anything with a special effects creature (be it a sci-fi movie alien, or a horror movie monster) is that, at some point, it’s going to show the full creature. Jurassic Park does that right off the bat with the super long show of the Brachiosaurus or Brontosaurus. But the shot that I most enjoyed was the group of gallimimuses that are ”flocking this way.”
The Dr. and the kids have to run to safety as the dinos run around and past them. Now, mind you, these are 1993 computer graphics. There are technical limitations. The way they work around those limitations is by carefully composing the shot. The camera is shaky so it’s like your running along with the group. The shakiness isn’t enough to become a distraction but it makes it harder to focus any single thing. The dinosaurs are fast so you don’t have a chance to audit their detail and, finally, the plight of our heroes forces you to focus on the scene as a whole.
In Jurassic World, during a big fight scene, the camera turns to a raptor that approaches from the distance. The lighting is pretty clear, the landscape is flat concrete and nothing else is happening on screen. The shot starts in slow motion but then speeds up as the raptor gets closer. Because there’s nothing else to look at, we can take our time in picking apart the graphics. Don’t get me wrong, they’re clear and detailed, but it’s just a spectacle rather than a scene.
In Jurassic Park, the practical effects and CGI are used interchangeably where appropriate; first you see the prop claw of the raptor opening the door then see the computerized body as it moves through the door. In Jurassic World, it seems like they injected practical effects rather than using both styles to make memorable sequences.
One last major point I’d like to make comes with the ethical statements made throughout the movie. Owen’s relationship with the raptors is presented as positive. He has built up a relationship, based on love and respect, with the three dinos. They are shown being led around their pen, responding to audio queues from a device operated by Own (it’s like a clicker or a whistle or something). The immediate image that came to mind was training dolphins and aquatic creatures tricks. Instead of feeding them fish, the raptors are fed with rats upon completion of a task.
Cut to the business people and the scientists who have just created a new super-dinosaur by splicing different dinosaurs together. The CEO told them to create a bigger, scarier dinosaur. Why? It’s because people are bored with the same old dinosaurs. Owen says that they shouldn’t have created this Indominus Rex: it’s an artificial monster. Now, why is it that the Indominus Rex is a monster while the Velociraptors are animals? The one scientist even notes that all of the dinosaurs are artificial. The dino-dna was spliced with frog dna so the velociraptors are just as “real” as the Indominus Rex.
In terms of the Military-Industrial Complex, why is it not ok for the raptors to be trained by the military but they can be trained to amuse tourists? Aside from the fact that they shouldn’t be used as weapons, being used to make more money isn’t exactly treating them with the respect that Owen seems to claim. I got the vibe that they were saying that the dinosaurs should be appreciated for their natural majesty…so why are they being taught tricks? And, now that I think about it, ultimately the raptors are used as weapons; they help fight the Indominus Rex. I suppose the difference is that the raptors “choose” to fight.
The positioning of the audience is strange too. In the original, we are in the party of the group of excited archeologists, Dr. Alan Grant (Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Dern). We learned about the dinosaurs and came to understand the dangers of bringing them back to life. In Jurassic World, we kinda fall into the role of the investors and tourists. We’ve been to the park before and we want a bigger, badder dinosaur. Even more, we want to see the new super dinosaur fight our favorite T-Rex in spectacular CGI. It’s violence for the sake of violence.
So what do you think? Was my assessment fair? Are you excited for the sequel that was already announced for 2018? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear what you have to say. Thanks for reading!