Sneak Peek – Jurassic World

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They really should consider putting the kibosh on these dinosaur-themed amusement parks. It always seems to end badly.

I saw the first Jurassic Park movie in the theaters when it came out back in 1993. I still have memories of sitting in the second-run cinema at the old Pyramid mall in Saratoga and being dazzled by what I was witnessing. Jurassic Park is one of the few Steven Spielberg films that I actually like and the technology for the special effects seemed pretty cutting edge at the time. While I enjoyed the movie a lot when I watched it, I don’t think that I’ve ever revisited the movie since that initial viewing; I like it and thought it was fun, but apparently not enough to ever watch it again. In some ways that isn’t super surprising – this was around the time that I started going to the movies a lot, emboldened by having my own car and license and plenty of pocket change thanks to my lucrative babysitting business. So I wasn’t particularly interested in watching movies over and over again, but in consuming as many movies as I could. And this was a pretty great time for movies so I wasn’t lacking for things to watch. I also was never particularly all that into dinosaurs. Some kids go through a phase where they are all about these extinct creatures, but I wasn’t one of them. Dinosaurs were cool and kind of interesting, but my interest in them was pretty cursory.

The fact that seeing a film once twenty-plus years ago doesn’t not make that lasting of an impression was drilled home for me when I went to see an advanced screening of Jurassic World. You could win free Jurassic World swag if you could answer trivia questions and it was then that it dawned on me that my memories of the original film were pretty sparse. My main memories from Jurassic Park were:

  • The film starred Jeff Goldblum and Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld). I have zero ideas as to their character names. (I totally forgot about Laura Dern and Sam Neill).
  • This scene:

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  • You cannot trust Velociraptors.
  • Nothing good can happen in a kitchen (which is why I try to spend as little time there as possible):

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And that’s about it. I didn’t even know that they made two sequels to Jurassic Park until the news of Jurassic World was announced. Without Chris Pratt in the lead, I don’t even know if I would have gone to see the new film in the theater. I was pretty ambivalent about the existence of Jurassic World, despite my fond memories (vague as they were) of Jurassic Park; what impressed me at 16 wasn’t necessarily going to impress me in my thirties.

This preamble is to provide context so when I say that I enjoyed Jurassic World it is not coming from a fangirl or anyone who was remotely invested in the ongoing success of the franchise. Jurassic World is a flawed film – there isn’t a lot of character development or depth and its gender politics are troublesome – but it does what a summer blockbuster needs to do, and that is entertain. I don’t think that this film will have the lasting effect that its origin story did, but it serves its purpose as an action popcorn movie.

Jurassic World take place approximately twenty years after the events of Jurassic Park and doesn’t seem to pay any heed to whatever happened in the two sequels that came in between. You could easily walk into Jurassic World with absolutely no knowledge of Jurassic Park and do just fine; while there a few nods to the original film, Jurassic World is really its own self-contained story. A new park has been rebuilt – the eponymous Jurassic World – because people never learn. While the park is doing well, a generation of children raised with the existence of dinosaurs are no longer so easy to impress and the park must continually unveil new and exciting creatures to prevent attendance from plateauing or diminishing. To do this, scientists have started engineering genetic hybrid dinosaurs; their latest creation is the terrifying Indominus Rex, a genetic cocktail of various other dinosaurs and modern animals with some top secret DNA spliced in there as well. Raised in captivity and in isolation after eating its sibling, they are preparing the Indominus Rex for its debut in the park. I think you see where this is going.

Jurassic World is overseen by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager and resident uptight woman. She is asked to bring in Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to inspect the Idominus Rex’s enclosure. Grady is an ex-member of the Navy who is now working at the park training Velociraptors for some reason (that part of the study is a little muddied). He and Claire have history and he’s here to be the hero, increase the conflict (because dinosaurs aren’t enough), and occasionally man-splain stuff to Claire and prove a counterpoint to her “all work, no fun” demeanor. He’s also pretty hunky in this movie, which is a definite plus. There are also some moppets – there are always some moppets – in the form of Claire’s two estranged nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, respectively). They’ve been shipped off to spend time with their aunt, who delegates the responsibility for child care to her assistant. Vincent D’Onofrio is the human bad guy, which is not a spoiler since he practically turns up on screen twirling him imaginary mustache. None of these characters are written with any sense of depth, but the actors do their best with what they’ve been given and try to give some layers to what on paper are probably some pretty stock caricatures. Pratt is playing slightly against type here as he’s not the lovable goofball that he plays so well, but he does a fine job with the more serious Owen. He does get a few one-liners and Pratt in general is just so darn likeable that he makes Owen a more than serviceable hero.

I’m not necessarily in love with how they wrote Bryce Dallas Howard’s character of Claire; to me this was pretty lazy writing that relies on tired tropes of women in these kinds of movies. They work very hard to make Claire unlikeable and cold in the early scenes of the movie and of course she is running through the entire film in heels (I personally wear flats every day just in case of dinosaur attack). I was a little concerned that Joss Whedon’s early criticism of Jurassic World as sexist was pretty spot on. However, through some sheer force of will on Howard’s part and a few moments later on in the film, my critique of gender roles in the film has softened, though not disappeared. Look, I get that people don’t go to summer blockbusters for a lesson in feminism, but I also don’t think that in 2015 writers can be ignorant of how they are depicting characters or just be lazy. This stuff didn’t ruin Jurassic World for me, but it also didn’t go unnoticed. Get it together, Hollywood. *end rant*

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I realize that most people don’t go to Jurassic World for the humans and on that front they will not be disappointed. Jurassic World is a visually beautiful movie; the special effects are mostly spectacular and the landscape is absolutely gorgeous. We saw the film in 3-D and it felt totally immersive; I was actually startled a few times to look down and realize that there were people sitting below us. The dinosaurs are totally captivating and spectacular to watch. The Indominus Rex is legitimately scary and the other dinosaur species, including the Velociraptors are pretty cool to watch in action. I got that same feeling I did back when I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. You just can’t take your eyes off the screen. I can’t imagine what this film would look like in IMAX.

The tone of Jurassic World is a somewhat a departure from Jurassic Park; while the first movie took its time to build tension and suspense, Jurassic World is more of an out and out action movie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just is a different experience. Once the onslaught begins in Jurassic World, it doesn’t really let up. There aren’t any cat and mouse style moments with the dinosaurs; moments don’t linger as much and aren’t given the time to build. I kind of liked the constant barrage and peril – it may not be a slow burn, but it was still pretty darn exciting and nerve wracking. There is absolutely something to be said for the Jaws method of movie making where the idea of the monster is used to be as scary as the actual reveal of the monster, but I thought they executed this model of action pretty well.

Some other thoughts:

  • There are some definite plot holes in this movie. For instance, there is absolutely no logical explanation for why a ten year old kid would be carrying around matches (except that they came in handy in one scene). Jurassic World works best when you don’t think about anything too hard and just enjoy the ride.
  • It was bugging me throughout the film where I knew Ty Simpkins from, but he was the kid from Iron Man 3. He also looks a lot like a young Sean Astin.
  • Jurassic World is more violent than I remember Jurassic Park being and it features a lot of dinosaur on dinosaur fighting, as well as plenty of humans in peril and graphically dispensed with. Depending on your child, this might be too much or upsetting to them. Take the PG-13 rating seriously. Even I got a little sad when an injured innocent dinosaur was featured. Pet ownership has ruined me.
  • Did I mention that Chris Pratt is dreamy? It bears repeating.
  • Unless they add it in for the theatrical release, there were no post-credit scenes.
  • **Mild spoilers** – Jimmy Fallon has a small cameo in the film, but sadly the reported cameo by Jeff Goldblum did not happen.

Jurassic World has its issues, but as a pure adrenaline-driven summertime blockbuster it definitely delivers. By doubling down on the action, it doesn’t give you much time to dwell on some of the film’s plot holes or poor characterizations. Instead it’s just a fun ride that certainly packs in plenty of jolts of excitement along the way. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, given my ambivalence about it and the issues I had with some of its execution. But I can’t deny that I did have a good time and was on the proverbial edge of my seat several times during the movie. Jurassic World is an imperfect two hours of escapism, but is definitely worth your time. The visual landscape, the action and the overall likability of the cast pushes Jurassic World into the win column for me.

Jurassic World opens nationwide tomorrow (Friday June 12th).

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