Friday, 10 July 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015)


Time for part two in our look into classic genre franchises from the 80’s-90's that are getting remakes lately… yes, this is enough of a specific trend for me to call this “a look into”. Jurassic Park, the original at least, is the perfect example of the nostalgic classic: An old(er)-school sci-fi adventure that is unbelievably silly, and more than a little stupid, but it has held up far better than a lot of other films from the same era for most people and is considered still as good as it was when it came out. Watching it again, it’s kind of amazing how good it looks even today effects-wise, but that might just be the inner SF snob in me who has grown weary of the near-endless CGI. Then The Lost World came out, and aside from Pete Postlethwaite doing his best to salvage the thing, it was pretty god-awful. Then came the third film, which somehow managed to one-up the lack of effort from before and somehow made a film that’s worse. Between the sheer awe-inspiration of the first, the animal rights “we’re-making-28-Days-Later-look-restrained” idiocy of the second and the utter boredom of the third, this easily has the worst build-up of the three revamps I’ll be looking at: Say what you want about the Mad Max sequels, at least they have the benefit of being insanely influential in their own rights. Let’s see if this film can go above the low bar 2 and 3 set for it: This is Jurassic World.

The plot: Set 22 years after the original film, the attendance numbers for the more advanced Jurassic World theme park have started dwindling. To offset this, the genetics team at the park led by Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) have created a new hybrid dinosaur: Indominus Rex. However, when the dinosaur escapes and runs amok, killing the other attractions and several parkgoers in her wake, operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) tasks raptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to take it down before it destroys everything. Meanwhile, head of security Vic (Vincent D’Onofrio) wants to capture the Rex for his own motives.

The casting is a bit weird this time round, which considering this is a Jurassic film should be a good thing. After all, Jeff Goldblum’s off-kilter performance was one of the big highlights of the original that didn’t involve roaring. Chris Pratt, star of the two big fan favourites of last year with The Lego Movie and Guardians Of The Galaxy, was a great choice for his role as while his dialogue is ridiculous at times, he still sells every line he’s given with that same charisma that he proves that he is a Pratt in name only. Dallas-Howard and D’Onofrio do well enough considering their rather weak roles, and really that’s the best we could have expected out of them for this. The inclusion of B.D. Wong, the only returning cast member from the original, feels more like fan-service than anything else and fairly bland fan-service at that. Irrfan Khan portrays the park owner Masrani, and him having that high up a position is in no way shown in either his dialogue or his acting; he’s a little too aloof here, and the running gag about his bad flying was just wasteful. By contrast, Let’s Be Cops survivor Jake Johnson works really well as tech guy Lowery and gets some decent laughs, even if he looks like they were trying desperately to find a Goldblum look-alike. Beyond that, the only other actors worth mentioning are Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson as Gray and Zach, Claire’s nephews; credit where it’s due to Simpkins, as child actors who are capable is a rarity these days, and Nick is okay as well.

The Jurassic films have never been strong on plot or writing in general. But even with that said, this might be the most clichéd, stock, utterly worthless excuse for a plot this franchise has seen yet. Yes, even worse than the previous sequels; at least they made some attempt to be different and didn’t fall into the utter depths of basic plotting. Here, the original theme of playing God is pushed to its most annoying edge with a literal “We created a monster” story, making for one of the least compelling trailers I’ve seen this year. As it plays out in-film, the plot is so beat-for-beat that the film itself seems to admit that they only kept certain details out of the loop because they would jeopardize the already weak twists at play here *SPOILERS* like the revelation of the Indominus Rex being part-raptor right as they send out Owen’s team of raptors to help take it down. This kind of laziness extends to the characters as well, most obviously with the work-obsessed Claire that learns to loosen up by getting together with Owen. She rivals the rich asshole in San Andreas in terms of spelling out the character’s obsession with work over anything else, along with not even resolving it by film’s end. Add to that the magically-intuitive Owen (seriously, half of his information about the Indominus Rex is pulled right out of nowhere), the bland military type with Vic and the naïve but intelligent kids, and this isn’t looking so good. What makes this worse is that this film doesn’t even have performances strong enough to make up for the weak character writing, save for Pratt who manages to warp a turd into something halfway edible.

However, I’m not going to turn on the blinders completely with this one as the writing admittedly does have some nice touches. For starters, despite the obviously phoned-in characterization, the film takes some time out to go after a couple of clichés, namely the big villain speech near the end and the ‘farewell romantic kiss’ gag. The latter’s effect is blunted a bit by the fact that it is played straight the first time and made into a joke the second time, but even the minor effort is still appreciated. It also tries to walk the tightrope between paying tribute to the original film and picking apart some of its bigger logical fallacies. There are a lot of little moments throughout the film that pay homage to Jurassic Park, from the more subtle like a call-back to the scene where Goldblum explained chaos theory using water droplets, to the more obvious like *SPOILERS* when our mains go to the ruins of the old park, since the new one was built on the same island. On the flipside, it tackles one of Park’s bigger bits of pseudoscience, that being the frog DNA they used as genetic duct tape, and pushes it to its furthest extreme and actually comes out with a legitimate reason for experimenting as much as they did this time around and the consequences of it, even though the character motivations behind it seem to shift on a dime. Alongside the numerous dinosaurs that went into making the Indominus Rex, we also get cuttlefish and tree frog DNA in the mix to give it extra abilities, with Dr. Wu even admitting that they have deviated from the norm so far that it might not even be an actual dinosaur any more. Hell, they even retain the notion that velociraptors have intelligence greater than most primates from the third film and make it a plot point in this film; props are certainly due for translating a decent idea in a bad movie and putting it into a better one… well, comparatively better anyway. Also, I can buy resurrecting dinosaurs just fine, but two kids repairing the Jeep they find on their own in the time they did? I’m calling all the bullshit.

But, despite how long I’ve gone on about it, the story doesn’t matter. The Jurassic films live or die based on two main aspects: The characters and the visuals. Now, while the characters are pretty hit-and-miss, Pratt alone manages to balance things out just fine. The visuals, however, aren’t so lucky. The opinion concerning animatronics being more effective than CGI is one of the worst beaten horses in the industry, but that doesn’t make it wrong: This simply doesn’t have the same effect as the previous films because of its reliance on computer graphics. Not only that, the few moments where they do use animatronics looks pretty weak as well, so viewers lose on both fronts. The Indominus Rex itself is lameness personified; despite how kind of awesome its concept is, that being a pastiche of a bunch of different dinosaurs and a few miscellaneous creatures, it just looks like a slightly deformed T-Rex. To put it as plainly as possible, this is way too generic when its appearance is the main draw, both in and out of the film’s universe. Michael Giacchino’s epic and sweeping score serves the film well in helping the film feel grander than it really is, and I’ll even admit that the park itself looks good, but it just doesn’t have the draw and feeling of wonder that it should. It’s almost as if the film itself is aware of this, given a certain moment in the film involving a hologram not to mention the film’s climactic fight scene. To be fair though, that scene along with the sequence involving the raptors hunting Indominus are the best scenes in the film. Basically, to put it in the film’s terms, what would you rather see: A real-life dinosaur or a fairly realistic but still artificial computer generated image? Actually, the film admits that people aren’t as interested in dinosaurs anymore because it isn’t as fantastical as it used to be. That’s a really bad sign when the smartest idea your film has is one that negates its own reason to exist.

All in all, this doesn’t even really qualify as mindless entertainment; it has that little energy behind it. Chris Pratt is a lot of fun to watch and some of the ideas present are cool, but the overall writing is lazy and unfathomably stock, the rest of the acting isn’t enough to save the weak roles the actors have been given and the visuals fail to capture any kind of excitement or awe involving the setting or premise. It may be kind of fun to watch with the right mood, but Pratt is pretty much the only thing this film has going for it… and even then, his character is pretty inconsistent. It’s better than Dumb & Dumber To, as this doesn’t even register enough to be as annoying as most of that film was, but Taken 3 was more fun to watch overall, probably because it doesn’t try and fail as much as this did. As the franchise stands now, it has one and a half good movies in it: The original and this half of a decent watch.

1 comment:

  1. Somehow stumbled upon your pages.Ended up staying. Love your blogs and writing. Very funny and smart. Only thing is the font is hard to read with the dark background and small illuminous font. Can you change it? Then I won't have to skim so much. Thanks!

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