Jurassic World

Jurassic World (2015): Colin Trevorrow

Ah, remember the 90s? A decade when Steven Spielberg wowed us with a Michael Crichton story about dinosaurs; a chaos doctor; and some geneticists who, doggone it, just wanted to make kids smile?

Sure you do. Jurassic Park is a classic popcorn movie, and in 2015 we finally got a sequel. Yes, Jurassic World IS the sequel to Jurassic Park. Say it again: Jurassic World is the sequel to Jurassic Park. One more time: Jurassic World is the sequel to Jurassic Park.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Crazy scientists and investors make a crazy-dangerous dinosaur that goes on a crazy rampage through the crazy-expensive Jurassic World theme park.

Hero (6/10)

Universal Pictures, Universal’s marketing team, the casting director–just about everyone wanted to make Chris Pratt the hero of Jurassic World. He’s certainly the star. Coming off of Guardians of the Galaxy and the hit-maker NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, Pratt can pick whatever role he wants.

But his retired Navy/alpha raptor Owen is not the hero. Bryce Dallas Howard plays park executive Claire, whose haircut resembles a Spartan battle helmet. Claire is a highly paid master of running Jurassic World, where more than 20,000 people daily come to gawp at dinosaurs and sip Starbucks lattes.

Claire agrees to take her sister’s kids, Gray and Zack, around the park for a couple of days. Except she doesn’t really have the time, instead sticking them with a British assistant. No problem, though, because the Brits practically invented nannying, right? Claire hasn’t seen her nephews in seven years, and doesn’t know their ages, not that she would care, because she’s a heartless woman with no time for children. Or so we are led to believe.

When Claire isn’t caring for her pristine hair or wearing Ann Taylor jackets without using the sleeves, she’s rehearsing her pitches to potential corporate sponsors. In other words, she’s not cut out for traipsing through the jungle after escaped dinosaurs. And that’s OK, because few people are.

Howard fully commits to the “damsel in distress” role. When she learns her nephews are unaccounted for in the park, she says to Owen, “I need you,” quickly correcting to “I need your help.” (Owen, when told the situation, asks “How old?” as if he only needs their ages to identify the nephews.) She cares about her nephews, showing great concern for their safety, once the I. Rex gets loose. It was supposed to be a family trip, the boys’ mother says to Claire.

Howard and Owen went on one date, and it didn’t work out, but the attraction is there. You know they’re like totally gonna hook up at some point. But not until Claire has sat around a while watching her “boyfriend” get all the (dinosaur) action.

Claire is a woman crazy enough to release the T. Rex from Paddock Nine into the fray at movie’s end. It’s a crazy idea, the dino should have just eaten her, but it perhaps prefers the chase. And it’s a good thing that the I. Rex was part raptor, because that seemed to be the part of its genome the T. Rex wanted a piece of, since they fought immediately.

Claire possess a Samson-like power: the moment her hair goes wavy she transforms into a badass. As soon as that happened (which was in an instant) she was pumping rounds into flying dinos and lighting flares to lead a T. Rex to fight their enemy.

Claire saves the day, but she never does learn how old the boys are.

Villain (6/10)

King Tyrant Lizard. So translates the Latin name of the most famous and feared predator to walk the earth–Tyrannosaurus Rex. The famed T. Rex has wowed park goers for two decades, but investors (namely Verizon Wireless), wanted a new dinosaur, one so scary that, according to the park’s owner, the parents would have nightmares.

Enter the 50-foot-long Indominus Rex. Why Indominus? “Try getting a four-year-old to say Archaeornithomimus.” Try getting anyone to say that. I. Rex was born in a lab, where she ate her sister, and raised in a cage with 40-foot walls. She’s white, for some reason. Maybe that part is scary, too.

I. Rex is smart. We don’t know what she was engineered with, because Aunt Claire won’t tell us. But she does figure out how to break from her cage. She claws the high walls, drawing in the humans, who believe she’s left the cage. Claire asks her control team to track the chip in her neck. They do, and, hey, she’s still in the cage. And so are the people!

Why did the humans enter the cage? They thought the dino wasn’t there because it didn’t show up on thermal scanning. But, aha, the scientists but tree frog DNA in her, and said frogs can modulate their thermal output.

I. Rex does a lot of damage. But as much is, of course, the fault of human hubris. I. Rex was raised alone and in a cage. She never got the chance to hunt, and when she escapes, that’s just what she does. She’s just doing as nature does, which makes her much scarier, because she can’t be reasoned with.

I wasn’t that interested in her genetic mutations. Magneto’s magnetism isn’t what makes him scary; it’s his desire to use that power for ill. I. Rex’s camouflage doesn’t impress me so much as her desire to eat humans. But, oh boy, did she EAT some humans.

Action/Effects (5/10)

After the I. Rex escapes, the ACU team chases her through the jungle. They trace her to a creek. One guy wades into the water to find the tracer has been removed, by the I. Rex, because she remembered where they put it in her. I. Rex pops out from behind the trees. All the troopers look up at once. She’s green. She can camouflage. Uh oh. The ACU people brought non-lethal weapons to the fight. These do nothing. I. Rex kills five people, one in a shower of blood, and escapes. This scene was more horror than action.

The I. Rex reappears in the jungled hills near the park. With each appearance she has closed the gap between her pen and the vulnerable, unknowing park guests/walking meat packs. To kill her, the park’s lone helicopter, flown by the shaky Masrani, has been converted to a gunship. A huge machine gun is bolted to its floor.

Masrani flies the gunship through the jungle. The gunner fires at her, but most of the shots miss. Masrani does an impressive job of compensating for the excess weight on the left side of the craft. Man+gun must have added 400 pounds at least. The I. Rex doesn’t want to get hit, so she runs to the safest cover available–the enormous aviary.

She crashes through the wall and havoc ensues. We get our first glimpse of pterodons, but several of these have been engineered to have little T. Rex heads. So they are carnivorous. We need not be told, just that it’s the case. Dozens of these creatures fly toward the helicopter. The gunner gamely shoots a few, but others knock him out of the chopper. Another, pointy-beaked, collides with the windshield and stabs the co-pilot in the chest. We have serious “containment anomaly going on.)

Now it’s up to Masrani to fly the chopper to safety. And…he crashes and explodes to death. The I. Rex, seeing her lone foe explode, runs on. Hoskins, now in charge in the control room, can’t contain his glee at the death. He’s a Sick Guy, folks.

The flying Rexes swoop onto the regular Janes and Joes just having an ice cream. When they attack the patrons, the camera switches to handheld for a grittier, warfare-like shot. Many steak dinners are ruined. But the commandos arrive on hand, with Claire and Owen, to shoot some down. The boys are there as well. Claire shoots one off of Owen and they make out, as you do in such situations. The Nanny (see below), inexplicably, is horribly tortured to death. The animals toss her about and drop her in the Mosasaur tank.

I really enjoyed watching the dinosaurs eat people. But, unlike Hoskins, I know I was watching a movie. I’m NOT a Sick Guy. I wanted the dinosaurs to eat most of the characters in Jurassic World. Scratch that, I wanted them all eaten.

The movie leaned heavily on CGI. CGI is fine, but we know it’s not real. Images can move in a more realistic fashion, but animatronics are, to me, superior, because they are tangible. J.J Abrams understands this, which is why he chose to eschew heavy CGI in Star Wars 7. The I. Rex was not as terrifying as the less motile, but actually built, T. Rex from the series original.

Sidekicks (2/8)

Chris Pratt plays Owen, sexy badass ex-Navy dinosaur whisperer who wears his watch facing inward. When Grady isn’t training animals he’s working on motorcycles or bantering with Jurassic World bosses. What an alpha male. When Owen introduces the raptors to the children, the little one asks which is the alpha. “You’re looking at him, kid,” Owen says.

Owen spends most of the movie indignant, because folks like Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins are always trying to get at his raptors. Hoskins thinks the animals obey orders, Owen knows they just tolerate him. He busts into JW control room to yell at Claire, and he doesn’t even show his credentials. Even dirty Hoskins flashed a badge.

When Claire scans the park’s monitors for Owen, she finds him berating an employee about something. Owne knows that raising a dinosaur in isolation, without understanding its phenotype, is “probably not a good idea.” Message received, Owen, you know and we don’t. The audience is always shaking its head at whatever he’s against.

Owen knows how to have a good time, though. At his shack by the lake, he fixes bikes with one ear on the soccer game blaring from the radio. It’s Claire who can’t have a good time. She’s chides him for wearing board shorts on a first date. “It’s Central America,” Owen says. “It’s hot.” He says this while wearing long pants. He wears long pants the whole movie. He wears cargo jackets most of the movie.

What most upsets Owen is Hoskins’s use of the raptors to hunt the I. Rex. Why is he so opposed to it? No one else had a better idea. The I. Rex killed five specially trained operatives in its first encounter with people outside the cage. It unleashed dozens of flying dinos which brought down the island’s only gunship. It turned off its thermal signature. Humans can’t stop the damn thing. Let the raptors do it!

Jurassic World sought to make Owen the most awesome dude in the Quaternary world. It didn’t work. Pratt is funny, and Owen is, at times, funny, but he can’t quite pull off the dramatics needed for the role. Owen is ex-Navy, and I didn’t believe that.

Henchmen (2/8)

Vincent D’Onofrio brings his full menace to the role of Hoskins, a military contractor-type working for InGen. He first appears after Owen feeds the raptors, and he’s excited. The raptors follow orders, he believes, and the Army could use them to track terrorists. Drones can’t explore tunnels, he explains.

Owen doesn’t like Hoskins from the start, so neither are viewers meant to. But he has some pretty good ideas. We’ve used animals in war for millennia and most folks haven’t had a problem with it. Dogs in war are always cast as “heroes” rather than victims. War Horse was a thing. Why not war raptors? Owen opposes the idea mostly out of filial attachment. He also knows the raptors don’t really take orders, but is he that concerned for the human handlers? He should be, but doesn’t appear so.

After Masrani’s death, Hoskins takes command of the control center. He unleashes a commando team that’s been stashed away somewhere for, presumably, the duration of the park’s existence. Hoskins’s problem is his joy in watching the dinosaurs kill people. He practically pants when the flying dinosaurs stab to death park guests. He also has some nefarious deal going with Dr. Wu.

Hoskins stumbles into the gene lab to foil the escape of Claire, Owen, and the kids. He starts explaining his evil plan and evil motivations, as villains do, when, mid-speech, a loose raptor busts into the room. Scared half to death, Hoskins gives up on the Big Plan Reveal and backs into a glass wall. He is promptly eaten and the heroes escape. Great death, unexpected and funny.

Stunts (2/6)

With so many CGI dinosaurs, stunts were hard to come by. But they were there. Owen does a cool slide on gravel to hide beneath the truck when the I. Rex first escapes. He hides often and dodges more from tail thwacks and teeth bites.

The boys jump off a cliff into water below. But their work in the truck as raptors chase them excelled most. Claire, driving the truck, smashes a raptor into a wall. The boys navigate the moving truck while shocking the raptors.

Owen rides his motorcycle through the jungle at night. Doing anything in the jungle at night is dangerous, and riding a motorcycle at any time is dangerous. Combine the two and you get a great stunt.

Jurassic World is a movie of and about lost potential, never more present in its stunts.

Climax (4/6)

With Hoskins in charge, the raptors are gonna get their chance to catch the I. Rex. They pick up her scent from the chunk of flesh she pulled out of herself once wrapped around the tracker. Blue and company have spent several hours in cages with their faces locked in metal bars. They’re pissed. And when the gates open, you can tell. Those bird antecedents can fly. The four raptors sprint through the night jungle, and the camera barely keeps pace.

We see the raptor running for several moments and through several points of view. Each animal has a night vision camera on its head. We see that. A camera tracks beside them a la the speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi. Owen follows on his motorcycle, and we see his viewpoint. (Watching this, Gray, the young boy, says to Claire, “Your boyfriend’s a badass.” Claire smiles like “Aww, gee, he is kinda neat, ain’t he?”) Finally, and best, the camera plants far downfield from the raptors as they run at full sprint. This was the film’s best effect: The four raptors hunched over, their legs churning rapidly, resembling long missiles tipped with sharp teeth.

The raptors slow and wait. Their prey emerges from the trees to taunt them in reptile language. The commandos wait behind. The animals have a nice chat, because, Owen figures out, the I. Rex ain’t just a rex, she’s part raptor. Remember when Owen claimed he was the alpha? Hmm, maybe he was wrong. The hubris of Man. “Raptor’s got a new alpha,” he says.

The SEAL team lights ‘er up. They brought a bazooka, and that scores an indirect hit on the lizard. I. Rex flees, but the little ones attack. A lot of grunts die. The best death occurs back at the truck holding Claire and her nephews, as one raptor leaps into the back of the truck to chomp a soldier. Claire drives the truck, using a couple of nifty moves to slow down a raptor, and the boys shock one away.

Barry, one of the raptor trainers, nearly dies when he hides in a log. Blue smells him and hops atop the log, snapping jaws and clawing to get at him. Barry clutches a pistol, and for a second I thought he might unload the clip and shout “Thanks for the advice,” like John McClane. Instead, Owen whistles her off.

The action shifts to the park’s concourse. The heroes, reassembled into a group, run into the info center, whose sliding doors are adorned with images of DNA gel electrophoresis, and find the lab, where Hoskins is killed. They’re just running to not get killed.

Back outside, Owen bumps into an old friend and now enemy–Blue. They have a staring contest. Owen removes the camera from Blue’s head. All is well between them, it seems. Then, in the far background, the I. Rex appears, looking like she was going to say, “Not…so…fast.”

Blue chooses Owen, her friend from birth, and fights I. Rex. So do the other raptors. But the fight is lopsided, since I. Rex is the most efficient killing machine ever known. The humans are forced to hide from the cataclysm, but the I. Rex knows. She knows.

Gray has a bright idea. “We need more teeth.” Well, there’s only one way to get more teeth, and it’s in Paddock Nine. Claire radios to lonely Lowery (who has found the time to replace all his dinosaur figures on console that Owen had previously swiped away) to open the door. He doesn’t want to, but he does.

Claire lights a flare, illuminating the eyes of the most feared predator to ever walk free about the Earth until that afternoon: King Tyrant Lizard. Claire is not eaten, because the T. Rex enjoys chasing lights. She runs to the concourse and, in a classy slow motion shot, tosses the flare at the I. Rex. Game on. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can lead a T. Rex to larger animals, and you CAN make it eat.

The rexes fight. The camera encircles them as they snap at each other’s necks. Blue rejoins the fray. The I. Rex fights hard, but she’s backed to the water. A final showdown seems imminent, until the Mosasaurus pops out to snatch the I. Rex underwater. Fight over. The T. Rex and Blue look at each other like Farmer Hoggett looks at Babe at the end of Babe, they practically mouth at each other, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

Jokes (3/4)

Treverrow plugs in jokes at random times to cut the tension. The best example occurs right after the control room team decides to flee the island. Lowery, the mustachioed tech, heroically volunteers to stay behind. He’s the only one. His neighbor at work, Vivian, tells him how noble he is.

Lowery goes in for the kiss, she rebuffs with, “I have a boyfriend.” It’s funny, because we don’t expect it, as the moment contradicts a movie cliche, one we saw earlier when Owen kissed Claire after she shot a dinosaur off him.

Lowery provides the comic relief. He wears a Jurassic Park t-shirt, for which Claire chides him as being in poor taste. But he’s an old soul. JP was legit, because it didn’t need hybrids, just real dinosaurs.

He’s telling the movie’s viewers that Jurassic Park, the movie, didn’t need all the fancy effects to smash box office records, exactly the opposite of what the movie he’s in did need. Was Lowery’s commentary on his own film lost on him?

The movie’s opening shot frames a huge, scaly claw thundering into the snow. The camera pulls back to reveal–a crow. Hey, they’re descended from dinos. Later in that same scene, Zach’s girlfriend is all on him like, “Call me every second I miss you I love bye.” And he’s all like, “Give me some space to breathe, God.”

The funniest unintentionally funny moment occurs during its tensest part. Owen, having barely escaped the I. Rex pen, hides beneath a truck and watches a guard get eaten. The I. Rex can smell, of course, so he needs to mask his scent. Owen draws his knife and cuts the fuel line, covering himself in smelly gasoline.

Gasoline is refined from oil, which is an organic material created from millions of years of organic decomposition. In other words, Owen covered himself in dinosaur, and no one thought to call it out.

Jimmy Fallon provided the least funny intentionally funny moment. He created a how-to video for the gyrospheres and employed Jerry Lewis-level slapstick comedy: spilling and breaking things in a science lab. Jerry Lewis was a slapstick genius, Jimmy Fallon is a hack. The kids, groaning and eye-rolling through the video, laugh not once.

Chris Pratt, forced to suppress his comedic chops, nonetheless finds moments to make us laugh. Pratt’s humor is all about tone and a willingness to play with other actors. He provides the wry grins to Claire’s fearful levity. But he’s ex-military, and, Rob Riggle aside, those folks aren’t world-famous for their comedy. It’s a tough marriage for Pratt to play, and though he comes out mostly on top, he’s more atop a mole hill than a mountain.

Setting (4/4)

Isla Nublar offers the best possible stage for dinosaur chases. Civilized humans fear the jungle already: huge snakes, mosquitoes mosquitoes mosquitoes, jaguars, piranhas, poison frogs, and crocs are just a few of the animals that many suburban dwelling lifeforms consider deadly and ubiquitous. When intelligent dinosaurs are also roaming said jungle, well, let’s just kill ourselves now and dispense with the drama.

Jurassic World is a theme park, but most of the action takes place in the fields and forests away from the promenades and their Ben and Jerry’s outfits. Oahu provided these expanses of dinosaur hunting turf. The island was beautiful and evocative. Waterfalls, grassy plains, thick forest and thicker forest–we saw it…destroyed by the I. Rex.

What about Jurassic World, how would it attract as a park? The park appeared to be centered on a long causeway lined with shops and restaurants. At one end were the ocean and the arrival docks. At the other end was the SAMSUNG Information Center, a conical room centered on dinosaur holograms. Hotels, including a Hilton, towered on the flanks. Up in the hills stood the command center, where the T. Rex reasserted its ownership at movie’s end.

The park seems well cordoned. The largest area for a single dinosaur belongs to the Mosasaurus, a whale-sized reptile that eats great white sharks. These aquatic, carnivorous lizards reached 60 feet in length. Great whites grow to about one-third that size. The Mosasaurus appeared at least ten times the shark’s length. But Jurassic World loves playing with genes, so, sure, that reptile could be the length of a football field.

My favorite pen belonged to the T. Rex. It lived in a huge forest, and the visitors were placed on a viewing platform disguised as a horizontal log. Imagine walking through a redwood forest AND watching one of the largest land predators to ever live eat a live goat.

The gyrospheres looked good on screen, but I wouldn’t trust them in real life. Wouldn’t the glass, pristine for the boys, fog up or get scratched after a few uses? I’d rather go in an open-air vehicle to see the great herbivores of our planet’s past.

Commentary (1/2)

Jurassic Park asked us if we should be playing God with Mother Nature. We’ve been doing that since the first plow tilled ground between the Tigris and Euphrates, but with gene manipulation we leaped and bounded ahead. The answer, from the movie’s perspective, was a resounding NO.

Jurassic World shelves the God question for a more innocuous question: Who should control these animals? Are they animals at all? The movie assumes that we will play God, whether or not we should.

Hoskins says that extinct animals have no rights. He’s right, but the park’s dinosaurs are, by definition, not extinct. He wants the raptors for military uses, which Owen opposes, but animals have been used in war for millennia. Horses and dogs are the most popular, but don’t forget pack animals or Hannibal’s famous elephants. And sharks with freakin’ laser beams on their heads.

Claire is in deals to sponsor the new dinosaurs. She believes she has secured funding for the I. Rex. “Verizon Wireless presents the Indominus Rex.” Lowery, hearing this, is disgusted, asking when corporations will start naming the species. (Any person discovering a species can name it, so such an idea will happen someday. “Verizonus Rex,” anyone?)

For its posturing against corporate sponsorship, Jurassic World has a lot of corporate sponsorship. Here is a list of company names/stores seen in the park: Hilton, Brookstone, Samsung, Starbucks, Ben and Jerry’s, Pandora, and Margaritaville. You’re right, Jimmy Buffett IS everywhere. (He also wrote a song for the movie.)

Did the producers, fielding offers for in-film advertising money, say “Thank you and go to hell,” or are these contradicting items a proof of tone-deaf moviemaking? I don’t have those answers, and yours probably depends on your level of cynicism. For the score, I split the difference.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Jurassic World starred a woman in the main role. This movie even passed the Bechdel Test. Claire and Karen discuss the trip. They delve into discussion about their mother, and also the boys and their visit. They discussed males, but does it count if they are children?

BD Wong and Irrfan Khan have a scene together discussing whose at fault for the I. Rex. Masrani, the park’s owner, says he didn’t want Dr. Wu to create a monster. “‘Monster’ is a relative term,” Wu says. “To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”

Others

  • (-1) The British woman charged with watching Claire’s nephews receives a horrible, torturous death. Why? She was a victim, not a villain. Hoskins, an actual villain, got off easier.
  • I didn’t realize Owen had a mustache until the last scene.
  • When I fired up the Blu-Ray, a message on the home screen said, “Congratulations on choosing Jurassic World on Blu-Ray.” Congratulations.
  • There’s a subtle shoutout to the DNA cartoon from Jurassic Park.
  • (-1) Inexplicable soft strings accompany the post-climax scenes in the medical warehouse. Everything is not OK, movie, dozens died!
  • (-1) Jimmy Fallon says, in his gyrosphere video, that the invention is “made possible by science.” I know the video is aimed at children, but that REALLY dumbs it down, which is exactly how I feel about The Tonight Show.
  • (-2) I wanted the teenaged boy, Zach, to be eaten, to be thrashed and decimated, in front of the indifferent faces of park attendants. I know he was created to be unlikeable and later redeemed, but I didn’t buy it. The movie was supposedly Zach’s first trip to Jurassic World. He never showed any interest in the enormous animals living there. I don’t believe that a teenager could display such ennui.

Summary (30/68): 44%

Jurassic World was a movie so big they made it into a Lego video game. You don’t say that every day, kids. I’d tell you that Jurassic World underwhelmed and that they should not make a sequel, but what would that change? Hollywood executives love to play God.