Friday, June 26, 2015

Jurassic World

You Bet Jurassic
"We're Just Used to Being the Cat"

It was tough to find parking when I went to see Jurassic World the other day—the parking lot was filled. The film has achieved the status of having the "highest grossing weekend" of any movie in history (surpassing the original Avengers).* That says something: the word-of-mouth is good, the marketing strategy worked, its box-office achievement inspired more movie-goers. In fact, it has surpassed the original in terms of box office crunching. I find that odd. Steven Spielberg's follow-up sequel The Lost World didn't do this well, nor did Jurassic Park III, even though those films had the original stars of the first in them (Jeff Goldblum in Lost World, Sam Neill and Laura Dern in III) and only B.D. Wong is around from the first one here. You could say that all the dino's were the stars of the film, especially the veteran T-Rex's and ingenue velociraptors. The director has only made one other film, the considerably low budget Safety Not Guaranteed, and the films are now far removed from Michael Crichton's original books.  So...why now?
The answer can probably be found in one of the themes of the film—there are many, sourced from other Spielberg films and diverse movie references—the finally-opened-because-we-worked-the-bugs-out theme park attracts visitors, sure.  But, business has leveled off.  So, to bring in the patrons again, they're going for a new route for producing dinosaurs under the dictate "Bigger. Louder. More Teeth."
Spielberg reference: the bait is a great white shark
That sounds like a movie tag line, and I'm surprised it hasn't been used on a poster for this...yet. But, it is "bigger, louder, more teeth" and it has an element that the other "Jurassic's" didn't have—more victim potential. This is the one that follows through on the original intent of the first novel; they've actually opened up a theme park for rich tourists to go see all the cute, cuddly dinosaurs that have been bred for the purpose. The disconnect in the first film was that if they're making a tourist attraction, why breed the most dangerous— and carnivorous—of the dinosaurs that would pose a danger to the folks paying good money. Dead customers are not return customers (one could make the same point about zoo's; tigers are good and all, but you don't exactly having zoo-goers walking amongst them. The park at Isla Nublar turns the zoo concept backwards—the dinosaurs run free, it's the tourists who are behind glass (in this case not the old Range Rovers on a track like the first film, but roving perspex spheres that look very, very vulnerable and prove to be so in the film). One wonders why they would breed the most dangerous of the dinosaurs in the first place, but, hey, what good is a dinosaur park without a T-Rex?
We'll put in the pterodactyls later...or is it The Birds?
Less of an insurance risk, actually.

And...really, everything has gone so well there in the past, what could possibly go worng?
Let me count the ways. For one thing, they're breeding hybrid dinosaurs, creating a new one called the "Indominus Rex" from sources unknown. Then, there's a visit from an overenthusiastic and ambitious InGen "suit" (Vincent D'Onofrio) who is all giddy about the possibility of "weaponizing" dinosaurs (oh, that's a really good idea—set 'em loose, get the job done and wait for them to attack their minders). Then, we've got the surly park ranger, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who fancies himself a "raptor whisperer" attempting to train velociraptors—oh, there's a really, REALLY good idea. Part of the appeal of the 'raptors from the earlier films is that they were dinosaur bad-asses—you couldn't trust them and they were cunning and relentless. So, here's this guy who thinks you can train these things like a poodle. For the movie franchise, isn't that a bit like undercutting the brand? Say, like making "Godzilla" a good guy? (Oh, wait, they've done that).
Then, there's the Park's Operations Manager Clair N. Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who while all of this is going down, meeting with investors, as well as a visit by the CEO of the corporate holding company (Irrfan Khan, always a pleasure), as well as having to take care of her two nephews who have been tossed by their parents (Judy Greer, Andy Buckley) who are hoping to have some time away from their kids so they can plan their divorce. She's also had a short-lived dating thing with Grady that didn't amount to much because they're such polar opposites. Things are probably problematic on a GOOD day, with so many guest-stars arriving, things will probably go south and in a big hurry.
Normal at Jurassic World
Now, don't get me wrong, Jurassic World is pretty-darned good, and in a way that's not so familiar in feeling to the other films, while being slotted to be an entertainment machine: it's constructed of so much past history of JP and a lot of other movies, it has a nicely formed cookie-cutter familiarity to it, which gives it a nice comfort level in its ability to provide discomfort. And it is so gleeful in its depiction of a corporate Disneyland with killing machines, it didn't remind me so much of an adventure movie, as say, Jurassic Park was, so much as a "Summer Movie" placeholder, designed to make audiences feel good. 
Not-so-normal at Jurassic World (it must be "Fog" theme-day)
Let me explain: Jurassic World does not put me in mind of Jurassic Park, so much as Jaws 2. Remember that one? The original Jaws was an adventure story about peril that disrupted a resort Summer. It was moody, and had high stakes, even while Spielberg was trying to milk as much screams and nervous laughter out of the material. Its sequel (which is odd because Spielberg had nothing to do with it, while he was part of the development of this film) had the trademarks of the first film (sharks chasing people, Summer, tourist season), but it had a peculiar mood, which featured cute teens in jeopardy, water-skiers in jeopardy, a general "fun-in-the-sun" kind of vibe that just didn't play well with any sort of adventure at sea aspect that was at the heart of the Jaws concept. It was Universal Studio's attempt to "theme-park" a meteoric success, to disassociate it from its roots and shoe-horn it into "Summer fun" activity.
Grady and Dearing realize they're going to have to do some re-stocking.
The Indominus Rex kills for sport.
Jurassic World has that same feel. As competently made as it is, one gets the feeling there's an attempt to shoe-horn more entertainment value by 1) putting tourists in jeopardy; 2) making the velociraptors more relatable to audiences, making them almost personalities (maybe the film-makers remember the dinosaur scene from The Tree of Life with its 'raptor that spares its helpless prey?); 3) promoting the Universal brand by emphasizing the "theme park" aspect of it and tying it into the "Summer" activity feel of things. Jurassic World isn't so much a movie blockbuster as it is a cross-promotional activity designed to re-emphasize the money-potential to be garnered by the corporation that produced it. It has more things on its agenda than merely being an entertainment in its own right. It has to be an advertisement, as well.
Probably the dumbest thing about Jurassic World:
"Release the 'raptors..."


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