Sunday, June 14, 2015

In Theaters: JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

(US - 2015)

Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly. Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus, Brian Tee, Andy Buckley, Katie McGrath. (PG-13, 124 mins)

JURASSIC WORLD, the long-in-gestation reboot/continuation of the JURASSIC PARK franchise, opts to ignore 1997's THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK and 2001's underappreciated JURASSIC PARK III and instead function as a direct sequel to Steven Spielberg's 1993 classic. Much has changed in the ensuing 22 years and JURASSIC WORLD exists in a CGI-driven cinematic environment. There's very sporadic animatronics used for a close-up here and there, but overall, the dinosaur effects are CGI creations, utilized sparingly by Spielberg (who has an executive producer credit here) in 1993 but relied upon heavily here by director Colin Trevorrow. With only one feature film to his credit, 2012's low-budget Aubrey Plaza rom-com SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, Trevorrow is an odd choice to helm a mega-budget summer tentpole, but honestly, any anonymous indie filmmaker or idealistic, wide-eyed kid fresh out of film school could've supervised the actors in JURASSIC WORLD. There's really nothing for Trevorrow to do but direct his actors and let the plethora of CGI and visual effects teams do the heavy lifting. There's no Spielbergian sense of wonder this time around--Trevorrow really just needs to make sure the camera's pointed in the right direction and the actors are looking exactly where the dino threats will be added during post. JURASSIC PARK was the JAWS of its day and by the time you get to the fourth film in the franchise, there's not much magic left to mine. That doesn't mean JURASSIC WORLD is another JAWS: THE REVENGE. It's big-budget summer junk food of the highest order: dumb, derivative, but undeniably entertaining since all Trevorrow really has to do is not screw it up. The film almost owes as much to James Cameron's ALIENS as it does to JURASSIC PARK, with one sequence directly harking back to when soldiers encountering the aliens are killed and their monitors start flatlining one-by-one back at the control station. Trevorrow does a nice job handling these scenes, but we've seen them before. There's some early digs at marketing tie-ins, commercialization, and that bored, "can't even" teens aren't even excited about seeing live dinosaurs anymore, but the satire is a gentle nibble rather than a bite, and it's quickly dropped to get on with the action. About the only "Trevorrowian" touch the director brings comes in the form of two minor characters in the control room: ironic hipster Lowery (Jake Johnson, who co-starred in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED), who wears a vintage Jurassic Park tee he found on eBay, and his snarky quipping with co-worker Vivian, played by comedian Lauren Lapkus, who looks and acts like a somewhat less deadpan Aubrey Plaza.

Going back to Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica, Jurassic Park has been reinvented as Jurassic World, a massive theme park that allows visitor interaction with the more docile dinosaurs, who have been genetically engineered to be safe for such activities. Except, of course, for the carniverous ones like the T-Rex, kept in glass compounds safe for guest viewing. Jurassic World's billionaire owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the eighth-richest person in the world, vows to follow in the footsteps of John Hammond (the late Sir Richard Attenborough in the original films), to allow the public to experience these wondrous creatures, "no expense spared." Masrani's workaholic marketing chief Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is constantly monitoring the bottom line and ways to enhance profits, so much so that she dumps her visiting nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) off on her harried, distracted assistant Zara (Katie McGrath). Most of her attention is devoted to a Jurassic World-created hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, engineered in absolute secrecy by the scientific team of Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong, the only holdover from the 1993 film). The Indominus Rex has lived its entire life in its compound, has no social interaction skills other than with a backup Indominus that it opted to have for dinner instead of companionship, and has a DNA makeup so secret that even Masrani doesn't know what really went into its creation. Of course, the Indominus will escape its inescapable paddock, and of course Zach and Gray will get separated from the inattentive Zara, and of course, icy, brittle Claire will fall for Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the ex-Navy hero velociraptor expert--a Raptor Whisperer, of sorts--who understands the dinosaur mind and is constantly at odds with Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), the security contracting chief who wants to train raptors for use in military situations as a replacement for boots on the ground.

Trevorrow, one of four credited screenwriters (William Monahan and even John Sayles had a crack at the script as far back as 2007), pulls off a good number of exciting sequences and for the most part, keeps JURASSIC WORLD moving at a furious clip, whether the Indominus is rampaging or the pterosaurs are escaping from the massive aviary and attacking the 20,000 park visitors. Sometimes, the action is diminished somewhat by the disconnect that comes with too much CGI. Aerial shots of a helicopter going down look embarrassingly bush league and there's no denying that some shots have an almost SyFy look to them. There's also some glaring inconsistencies in logic and character portrayals: Masrani is a benevolent humanitarian with no concern for profits and margins in one scene, and in the next, he's refusing to authorize the killing of the Indominus, a clear threat to the visitors and a certain PR nightmare, because "We've got $26 million tied up in this thing!" The whole military contracting subplot with Hoskins and Wu is only barely touched upon and completely forgotten about, with Wu, made into a snarling Dr. Frankenstein villain for some inexplicable reason and even getting a hissing "This is what we do!" speech when Masrani asks him what he's been up to, boarding a chopper with lab-created dino DNA samples and promptly disappearing from the movie. And how does it make any sense whatsoever--other than plot convenience--that Masrani isn't authorized to know what DNA strands make up the Indominus?  Isn't he the owner of Jurassic World? Isn't he signing Wu's checks? How does he not have clearance?  If not Masrani, then who? Does Dr. Wu answer to no one? Wu's character shift from the first film to this one couldn't be any more ludicrous if he was Fiendish Dr. Wu from BLACK DYNAMITE. And who put Hoskins in charge of security? I guess it wouldn't be a Jurassic Park without an incompetent and dangerous Dennis Nedry somehow slipping through the vetting process and the background check and ending up on the payroll, but D'Onofrio plays him a lumbering loose cannon who's just salivating over the opportunity to mutiny and take control of the park.

But the brontosaurus in the room and the plot element set to launch a thousand inane thinkpieces thanks to the internet's perpetually churning outrage machine is Howard's Claire. Complaints of sexism dogged the film prior to its release, starting with a Joss Whedon tweet, and while it's easy to dismiss the complaints of SJWs who need to invent things to be offended by, there might actually be some merit to the charges. Claire is portrayed as an incomplete woman because she chooses to focus on her career instead of having a family, unlike her sister (Judy Greer), Zach and Gray's mom. There's tension between Claire and Owen, who went out on one disastrous date at some point, over which he chides her for having such a stick up her ass that she brought an itinerary with them ("I'm an organized person!" she whines). Much was made of Claire being in high heels the entire film--at times, Trevorrow goes to almost Tarantino lengths to get a shot of Howard's heels, and Owen even mocks her about them at one point, as he does when she rolls up her sleeves to get down to business when they find themselves in the middle of the forest, needing to get back to the main part of the park, asking "What was that supposed to be?" to which she replies "That was me getting ready for this!" All of Claire's attempts to be heroic are dismissed, even by her own nephews, who cling to Owen because he's a "badass." What finally loosens Claire up is a big kiss from Owen after she finally gets it together and saves his life, after which she largely stands aside and lets him be the hero. The film doesn't go so far as to directly send the message that what she really needs is some Owen dick, and the treatment of Claire by the filmmakers isn't necessarily awful (she does step up when she has to) as much as it is out of step with the franchise's past portrayals of women. Laura Dern's paleobotanist in JURASSIC PARK and Julianne Moore's paleontologist in THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK were independent career women who weren't made into an object of smirking derision for it. Maybe Claire was a throwback, Fay Wray, "damsel in distress" idea that played better on paper than it does on the screen...who knows? Regardless of how sexist the film's treatment of Claire is and how Owen is lauded as a hero for being the same kind of career-driven loner more comfortable with raptors than people, anyone going to a big-budget dinosaur rampage movie and fixating on the heroine wearing heels and needing to be rescued by a big, strong man probably lost the ability to have fun years ago anyway.

JURASSIC WORLD is an easy film to pick apart, but in the end, plot holes, logic lapses, and missed satirical jabs aside, it gets the job done. It doesn't do it with the same intelligence and sense of freshness that Spielberg brought over 20 years ago, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Those who will get the most out of this are those too young to have seen JURASSIC PARK on the big screen 22 years ago or those moviegoers who don't really care to learn much any pop culture that existed before they were born. To them, sure, JURASSIC WORLD probably kicks ass and JURASSIC PARK may as well be a relic from the Cretaceous. But where Spielberg forged his own path, Trevorrow is merely following in the footsteps, more or less admitting as much during the press junket when he said that Spielberg would provide feedback on what needed to be fixed and it was he who ultimately had final cut. So really, like any good soldier, Trevorrow was just following his boss' orders, but that's really all one can do four films and 22 years into a franchise in an era when any kind of deviation from formula or challenge to the audience are simply not realistic options. It's Trevorrow's second movie and being hand-picked by Spielberg would be a big deal for anyone in his position. With that in mind, it really didn't matter who directed this, but it's doubtful an experienced and long-established filmmaker would want to enter such an arrangement. Just ask Tobe Hooper.

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