Monday, February 8, 2016

Jurassic World

I really wish there had been someone else in the room when I watched Jurassic World, because when I watched it I really, really wanted to pause it and ask someone if they thought something I spotted meant anything or if I was just overthinking things.  The movie doesn't really present itself as anything other than mindless action and witty comments set up to show off a fancy new set of CGI dinosaurs, but I find it hard to believe that any movie Steven Spielberg takes part in wouldn't have at least some thought put behind it.

So if you wanted me to simply say "oh, man, DINOSAURS ARE AWESOME YOU GUYS" then I'm sorry, but you're stuck with me once again breaking down a movie in ways that I don't think it was meant to be broken down.

However, dinosaurs are totally awesome.

The original Jurassic Park is still a movie I absolutely love despite it having a few glaring plot holes.  The first time the water trembles as the T-Rex gets ready to make his appearance, the scene in the kitchen with the velociraptors, the T-Rex roaring as the banner from the main building falls down around it, they're all crystal-clear memories and they still bring a smile to my face.

However, I also remember reading about all the work that went into making that movie.  The need for animatronics and CGI brought out a movie unlike anything anybody had seen before, and it felt believable.  The T-Rex had weight to it (as evidenced by that great shot of just its foot sinking into the mud as it approaches some of the cast) and the raptors didn't feel like they were added to the movie as an afterthought.

Now, a lot of movies simply go for more and more outrageous action.  Things need to be bigger each time, which really distorts the scale of a movie to a point where it's really hard to connect with the action or anything you're seeing.  I liked the new Star Wars, but (mild spoiler) watching the impact of the newest bad guy "super weapon" didn't feel as powerful as the first time the Death Star blew up Alderaan and you saw the impact on a single person.  Jurassic World seems keenly aware of this and is surprisingly self-aware as it describes the need to constantly introduce new dinosaurs every year and how easily bored audiences get unless they have "more teeth."

There's a moment in one of the extras where an idea is discussed that was cut from the film.  Originally, the new CGI dinosaur (the acknowledged-in-the-movie silly-named Indominus Rex) was supposed to approach an animatronic T-Rex and bite its head off, but Spielberg wanted it cut because he was afraid of the message it would send towards how Hollywood looks at older movies (particularly the earlier Jurassic Park films).  I like it, but it made me think to other scenes in the movie where it feels like the film is acknowledging how older films are now simply recycled and then ignored in favor of something bigger and flashier.  Something, say, with "more teeth."

Take for example a famous shot from the trailer, where a giant Mosasaurus gets to consume a giant great white shark for the entertainment of the audience.  Watching that scene and seeing the scale of it, it felt like Spielberg was acknowledging that a movie like Jaws, which is probably one of my favorite scary movies of all time, just doesn't hold up in a world where directors blow up the planet every summer.

Granted, the ending does try to keep an optimistic look at the franchise by reminding people just how great the original dinosaurs are compared to anything that can be thought up in a lab (or special effects house), and there are enough big love letter moments to the original Jurassic Park that I think Spielberg misses those days as well.  There's also a neat little slam at Jurassic Park 3 which I loved, but it was just a little side joke that I think a lot of people missed.

That isn't to say the movie is bad by any means.  It does have problems, such as paper-thin characters, a love story that really feels wedged into the film with crowbars, some rather weird and outdated ideas of a "woman's role," and bad guys whose purpose just seems to be to twist their mustaches around and sneer at the camera.  If I had to pick the weakest point of the film, it would be "the humans."

However, there are moments that thrust me back to the 90's when I would watch Jurassic Park and revel in what I was seeing with my jaw hanging open.  There are moments where you can see Spielberg's influence in the film, where suspense manages to build without being forced.  There are homages to other classic movies as well (a clear one is The Birds), and some of the dinosaur scenes hold up to the original movie and will be as fondly remembered as those earlier memories.

When the movie hits its stride and lets go, it's an absolute blast to watch and a truly enjoyable experience.  I just wish that any of the people in the movie were as interesting as the dinosaurs, since we're supposed to care about whether or not these people survive.  Instead, I found myself mentally trying to remember anything about characters as they died, and I could often, at best, recall just two or three words to describe them.  Often, none of those words were the character's names.

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