Friday, June 12, 2015

Jurassic World

3/4

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Judy Greer

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Science-Fiction Violence and Peril

Everyone has their favorite moment from the original "Jurassic Park:" the T-Rex chase, the kitchen fight, the final battle (for action scenes, my vote goes to Dennis's run-in with the dilophosorus, which still scares me to this day).  But the scene that sticks out in my mind the most is when we see the merchandise while John Williams' theme plays softly in the background.  It's a poignant moment, perfectly composed by Steven Spielberg.  It gives us a sense of John Hammond's vision of what Jurassic Park could have been.

"Jurassic World" is built on that idea.  Not the poignancy, but the imagination of what Jurassic Park would be like when it actually opened.  Now called Jurassic World, the park is indeed open, but as we all know, when man plays god, he loses.

When the film starts, Jurassic World has been open for years and is a huge moneymaker.  But audiences are growing bored, and while attendance spikes when they create a new dinosaur, investors want something big and ferocious to maximize the pizazz.  So they experimented with genetic modification to up the ante, creating the Indominous Rex.  The head honcho of the park, a Type-A workaholic named Claire (Howard), sends in Owen (Pratt), the velociraptor wrangler, to make sure the enclosure is fortified enough.  However, the dinosaur gets loose and goes on a rampage, heading straight for the visitor center.  This is good news for a man named Hoskins (D'Onofrio), who wants to test the ability of making the velociraptors into war machines.  Meanwhile, Claire's nephews, Gray (Simpkins) and Ryan (Robinson) are trapped in the park.

There are some good things about "Jurassic World" and some not so good things.  The goal of this movie is to provide some intense dino action, and it delivers.  It's scary, it's violent and there's lots of adrenaline.  On that very important level, the film is a success.  Unfortunately, it lacks what made the original, and to a lesser extent the sequels, so special: a heart.  The characters in this movie are all types, and none of them has anything coming close to a personality.  We identified with Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, Ian Malcolm, and the rest of them.  That's not the case here, and it holds the film back.

The acting is adequate (which considering the odd choices, is to be expected), but no more.  Chris Pratt, coming fresh off of "Guardians of the Galaxy," okay, but I got the sense that another actor could have done it better.  Bryce Dallas Howard plays a decent anal-retentive suit that grows a heart.  Vincent D'Onofrio is miscast as the gung-ho military guy; his character is obnoxious, and not in a good way.  Sadly, Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson aren't successful.  Putting it bluntly, they're really annoying, especially Robinson, who is both too young for the role and gives a terrible performance.

Colin Trevorrow was picked to direct this movie after he made the indie romantic comedy "Safety Not Guaranteed."  I haven't seen it, but it got good reviews (including those outside of the Sundance crowd).  Here, he's trying to imitate Steven Spielberg, but lacks his imagination and deft touch.  Some moments don't have the impact he would like because he isn't able to think on the same grand scale, while others simply don't land correctly and come across as cheesy and overwrought.  Nevertheless, it packs in the thrills, and when action these days is all about 3D and visual assaults on the brain, that's to be praised.

Apart from the acting and the flat characterization, the film lacks heart and wonder.  Spielberg has always been an optimist, and that has shown in many of his movies like "E.T." and "Raiders of the Lost Ark."  That's missing from here.  I got a kick out of seeing what the park is like (there's everything from a water show that puts Shamu to shame to a petting zoo where little kids can ride the baby dinosaurs), but they feel like in-jokes.  I didn't feel like I was there, and the excitement at seeing the actual park dissipated pretty quickly.

Part of that may be from the social satire of big business greed, instant gratification, and the addition to all things bigger and badder (they certainly explain why this superhero mania hasn't died yet).  While it's definitely on-target, it's more than a little cynical, and that has filtered into the project.

The film's look is also worth mentioning.  The original three films were bright and colorful, but here, the color contrast has gone to extremes.  The bright colors (i.e. sunlight) are super-bright, while the darks (i.e. the forests) are super-dark.  It's meant to make the film more visually appealing, but it has the result of making every part of the image look like it was created by CGI.  It's less realistic, and that hinders our involvement in the film.  It also shows the dinosaurs for what they are: images created on a computer that are put in after filming is done on a green screen.  Again, it looks nice, but the color shading, not to mention their movements, make them look fake, which hampers our involvement.  The creatures in the original were the combination of animatronics, models and CGI, which was by all accounts extremely difficult, but it paid off tremendously.  "Jurassic World" lacks such intimacy.

All that said, "Jurassic World" is worth seeing.  It does what it sets out to do, and while it could have been a lot better, it's still entertaining.

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