Friday, June 26, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Last Friday for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood's special month-long Jurassic Park series, we watched Jurassic World. Now that the podcast is up for you to listen, here's my usual review...

The Plot

Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Hammond's dream has come true. There's a functioning dinosaur park on Isla Nublar where children can ride baby dinosaurs in a petting zoo (there's a particularly cute bit where a child hugs an infant sauropod), people can kayak down rivers where stegosaurs and hadrosaurs drink, massive enclosures where herds of giant herbivores like the triceratops roam, and feeding the mosasaurus a la a bloodier Sea World is always a big crowd-pleaser.

However, as park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) points out to some visiting dignitaries, the park, though profitable, is not profitable enough, and focus groups suggest the people want something bigger, scarier, and with more teeth. So Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) and his staff have played mix-and-match the dinosaur to create a creature they call Indominus Rex. As you can imagine things get difficult--with Claire's visiting nephews caught in the mix no less--and it's up to trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his pack of semi-trained raptors to save the day...

The Good

*Once we actually get to the island with the dinosaurs, the movie is never boring. I had some issues with what they did with the plot, characters, etc., but the film was really entertaining.

*I liked how Owen pointed out that the Indominus is so dangerous because it never interacted with any other creature (other than a sibling that it ate). The book The Lost World depicts the raptors of Isla Sorna being particularly brutal and anti-social with one another because they were born in a lab without socialization from parents, other members of the pack, etc. The Indominus was basically raised alone and fed meat from a crane, so we might be dealing with a creature that has the dinosaur equivalent of Reactive Attachment Disorder. After all, when dealing with aggressive and dangerous animals (I'm thinking primarily of dogs), bad animals are generally the fault of bad training or upbringing.

(Granted, we are talking about a customized tyrannosaur here, unlike dogs that have been bred for generations to be human-friendly...)

*There's a bit of social commentary about how people grow bored with what were once marvels and constantly want more and more interesting things. I thought it ridiculous that people would be so spoiled they'd get bored with living freaking dinosaurs, but perhaps I'm being unduly optimistic. There'd be a whole generation (the park has been open for ten years, with the events of the first two films happening before that) to whom this isn't new. There's also commentary on focus groups and the focus on short-term profitability. I agreed with this message far more than the pantheistic nonsense Malcolm spouted in the earlier films (or Grant's implication in Jurassic Park III that the people who created the park were outright evil). See director Colin Trevorrow's quote here.

*The scene where Owen and Claire find a mutilated, dying sauropod was legitimately sad.

*I liked how they brought back Dr. Wu from the first film. Although I don't like what they did with his character, it provides a nice bit of continuity. Furthermore, as one of the senior (surviving) InGen personnel from the original park and the one with the most technical knowledge of the cloning process, that the company would bring him on-board makes a lot of sense.

*And Wu provides a great explanation for new park owner Simon Mizrani (Irrfan Khan) about why the dinosaurs, among other things, don't have feathers. The lack of feathered dinosaurs in the original film is a product of the lack of knowledge at the time, but the writers managed to explain this understandable oversight in a really clever way.

*I liked Mizrani as a character. He's the inheritor of Hammond's dream (Hammond seems to have passed the torch onto him personally) who has brought his vision to reality. Furthermore, he's learned from Hammond's mistakes in regards to the velociraptors at least--when ambitious InGen security chief Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) wants to use them to hunt the Indominus, he flat-out says there will never be free-roaming velociraptors on Isla Nublar, ever. He's also eager, brave, and confident, which comes back to bite him in the end but still reflects well on him.

*Of all the cast, Owen is the most purely fun character. He's strong-willed enough to tame the raptors and his interactions with Claire are a really funny bit of odd-couple. Like a a good trainer of big predators, he knows damn well how dangerous these creatures are and unlike many other characters, he actually respects them. This works out for him later on, when things all go to hell.

*The writers do a good job of showing, not telling, how distant Claire has become from her family. She can't remember how long it's been since she's seen her nephews, she doesn't know how old they are, and falls back on treating them like the little-little kids she remembers later on.

*There are a lot of humor. The interactions between the laid-back and irreverent Owen and the anal-retentive, hyper-organized Claire are funny and in one scene, there's actually a cameo by Jimmy Buffett. Yes, the god of beach music has come to his people.

*I liked the greater variety of prehistoric critters. For example, in the pterosaur aviary, not only is there the classic Pterandon (which we know from the end of The Lost World and from Jurassic Park III that InGen had cloned too), but also the Dimorphodon. My dinosaur knowledge has clearly decayed since elementary school--in the podcast I refer to it as a Rhamphorhyncus. The Mosasaurus (which due to its sheer size would probably be a Kronosaurus actually) was also cool.

*There are a lot of good callbacks to the original film, including a scene involving the T-Rex and flares. The T-Rex also still has the scars she got fighting the raptors at the end--yes, that's the original T-Rex, 22 years older and still kicking. And as one of my fellow podcasters pointed out, the way the blood drips onto an InGen security guy's wrist is just like how Malcolm dripped water on Ellie's wrist in the original film. Go to the TVTropes page to see them all, but beware of spoilers...

*They don't retcon the middle two films. They just don't mention them at all (with the minor exception of Ian Malcolm's book, mentioned in JP III, that some characters are reading). Those of us who enjoyed LW and JP III (I liked LW, but I doubt JP III held up) can believe that Isla Sorna is still out there under military quarantine as a neo-Mesozoic nature preserve (with Malcolm's book as proof the middle films are canon) and those who didn't can believe that the book is something completely unrelated and the middle films never happened.

The Bad

*The beginning is a little slow in a way that the original film never was.

*The Indominus is far too capable. In the scene where Owen and Claire come across a dying sauropod, they soon find the Indominus has wiped out several more. This isn't a spoiler, since this is from the commercials/trailers--the "she's killing for sport" line. The Indominus is as big if not bigger than a tyrannosaurus rex, but you don't see single lions killing one adult elephant, let alone four or five. A group of sauropods with their sheer bulk and whipping tails should have been able to absolutely destroy the Indominus. After all, an Ankylosaurus puts up a pretty good fight against it, and it's significantly smaller and alone.

And then there's the initial interaction between the Indominus and Owen's raptor mafia. Seriously, we're getting to Villain Sue territory here. Plus since the Indominus is an unsocialized, isolated monster, how does it know pack behavior?

*The Indominus could have been much more simple. Instead of a chimera of multiple animals, have the park find the DNA of a Giganatosaurus, a carnosaur that's bigger than the T-Rex. This would let them keep the whole "people want bigger creatures" plot and do it more simply. They could simply depict it as being more monstrous and aggressive (killing its sibling, needing to be contained more strictly) rather than some kind of less-sympathetic Frankenstein monster.

*There's this whole subplot involving Hoskins wanting to train the raptors for war that could be eliminated completely. Hoskins is obnoxious (and some people on TVTropes are convinced he caused the whole catastrophe to happen), Wu's participation (which leads into an obvious Sequel Hook) makes him into a semi-villain when in the original film he seemed like a pleasant and chipper young man, etc. They could have just simply had "Indominus escapes and evades or destroys attempts at capturing or killing it and the only thing standing between it and 20,000 tourists is Owen and his trained raptor pack" as the plot. No need for Hoskins, his conflict with Owen, and making Dr. Wu into a (mildly) Fiendish Dr. Wu at all.

*To that end, they could have referenced the Isla Sorna quarantine from the middle two films. Owen and his raptors have to stop the Indominus before military units from Isla Sorna (which is part of the same island chain) invade the park to protect the tourists--something that would definitively prove InGen too incompetent to run the park ever and likely lead to its closure. Owen and his raptors represent the park's chance to deal with the problem on its own and keep Hammond's vision alive.

*Claire's nephews get lost in the park and come across the ruins of the original Visitors' Center and a lot of leftover gear from the original film, including Tim's night-vision goggles and the original gas-powered Jeeps. It seems really foolish and wasteful that InGen would allow the nearly completed park to just rot while they built a completely new park elsewhere on the island.

(Apparently some extra materials suggest it was years between the failure of the original park and the building of the new one, but even if the original buildings were too far gone, they could have tried to salvage stuff. Maybe they helped finance the new park by selling all the metal and what not from the original to China?)

I like the callbacks to the original generally, but not this one.

*There's CGI blood. That never ends well. If you ever make a movie, dear readers, please use real fake blood.

The Verdict

A generally entertaining movie, but with some issues. See it once, preferably at a matinee price. 8.5 out of 10.

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