Saturday, August 15, 2015

"JURASSIC WORLD" (2015) Review

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"JURASSIC WORLD" (2015) Review

Being Southern California resident and native, I have made numerous visits to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. And for the past decade, a guide for the Backlot Tour attraction has announced to visitors about the studio's intention to produce and release a fourth film for the JURASSIC PARK movie franchise. After five years, I stopped taking these announcements seriously. 

Then lo and behold, these announcements turned out to be true. Universal finally made it official last year that a fourth movie would be made and it was to star Chris Pratt. Despite this announcement, I did not make such a big deal over the matter. One . . . I simply did not care. Mind you, I am a big fan of the other three films. But fourteen years had passed between the third film and this fourth one. For me, that was ten to eleven years too long. And two, I could not see Chris Pratt in an action film in which he would have to somewhat curtail on the jokes. But when I learned about the reactions to the film overseas, I finally began to look forward to seeing it.

Set twenty-odd years after "JURASSIC PARK" and less than a decade after "JURASSIC PARK III""JURASSIC WORLD"takes place on Isla Nublar, the same setting as the 1993 film. There, a fully functioning dinosaur theme park called Jurassic World has operated for ten years under the ownership of Simon Masrani, CEO of the Masrani Corporation. A pair of brothers named Zach and Gray Mitchell are sent there during the winter holidays to visit their aunt Claire Dearing, the park's operations manager. Due to Claire's busy schedule with recruiting corporate sponsors for a new attraction - a genetically modified dinosaur called Indominus rex, her assistant is tasked to act as the boys' guide. Slightly leery about this new attraction, Masrani orders Claire to recruit the park's Velociraptor trainer, a former U.S. Navy SEAL named Owen Grady, to assess the Indominus rex. Unfortunately, the dinosaur manages to escape his/her compound by tricking Grady and two staff members that it had made an earlier escape. And Masrani discovers from the dinosaur's creator, Dr. Henry Wu, that the Indominus rex has the DNA of several predatory dinosaurs and modern-day animals. While Masrani orders Security Chief Vic Hoskins and the Asset Containment Unit to capture the dinosaur, Claire tries to organize the evacuation of the park and recruits Owen to help her find her nephews.

"JURASSIC WORLD" had a few problems. Actually, I had three problems with the movie. One, I wish the movie had taken its time to set up the reason behind the Mitchell brothers' visit to the theme park. Audiences never really learn the reason behind their visit - namely an opportunity for their parents to organize their upcoming divorce - until a brief conversation between the two brothers in the middle of the film. Apparently, director Colin Trevorrow; who also co-wrote the film with Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly; wanted to get the brothers to Isla Nubar as soon as possible. Another aspect of the script that I found slightly troubling was the vague and confusing situation regarding Masrani Corporation, The InGen Corporation and the Dr. Henry Wu and Vic Hoskins characters. Was there an executive or two within InGen plotting with the two men to regain the company from Masrani? What roles did the Grady trained Velociraptors play in this possible scheme? Perhaps the matter will be clear once I see the DVD version. Also, the Owen Grady character spent most of the film reacting negatively to Hoskins' idea of training and using Velociraptors on behalf of the U.S. military. I could understand his feelings. What I failed to understand was his reasoning for training the dinosaurs to obey his commands in the first place. Why did he engage in this profession? The movie never really explained.

Otherwise, I had no problems with "JURASSIC WORLD". Wait . . . I take that back. My reaction to the movie was a lot more that mere tolerance. I really enjoyed the film. A lot more than I had expected. In fact, it has become one of my top favorite films for the Summer 2015 movie season. Aside from the hiccups I had mentioned above, I really enjoyed the movie's story. The previous three movies merely gave hints - although bloody ones - that the idea of introducing the general public to genetically created dinosaurs is a major mistake. Actually, the second film, 1997's "JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD", was really the first time that featured a confrontation between the public (citizens of San Diego) and lethal dinosaurs (a Tyrannosaurus rex and its infant child). But that incident was nothing in compare to what happened in "JURASSIC WORLD". When I watched Jurassic World's guests and staff members encounter the deadly Indominus rex, flocks of flying Pteranodon and Dimorphodon, and the Mosasaurus; I found myself remembering what the Ian Malcolm character first said in the first movie - "There is a problem with that island. It is an accident waiting to happen." I could also imagine his reaction to the media reports of what happened in the theme park.

I found myself wondering about that theme park. After the incident of the first film, the John Hammond character had the good sense to ditch his plans for a theme park and realize it would be wise to keep the two islands and the dinosaurs isolated from the public. Yet, according to "JURASSIC WORLD", Simon Masrani had been encouraged to re-institute the idea of a theme park by Hammond before the latter's death. What made Hammond change his mind? Had Masrani managed to convince the latter that he would be able to keep that park under control? Someone had pointed out that "JURASSIC WORLD" was more about the negative effects of high finance and greed, instead of bad science. I believe it was a cautionary tale regarding both . . . along with defense contracting. I had not forgotten the clash between Owen and Hoskins over the use of the Velociraptors. 

One controversy managed to spring up following the movie's release. It had to do with the Claire Dearing character and her high-heeled shoes. There have been complaints about Claire - her uptight character and the lack of respect she seemed to generate from characters like Owen, her two nephews (who had witnessed her save Owen's life from a Dimorphodon) and Hoskins. Only Masrani seemed to have any real respect for her. A good number of critics . . . especially male critics, seemed to have a low regard for Claire. They saw her as a regression of female characters in an action-oriented film. What was the one thing that led them to harbor this low regard for Claire? Her unwillingness to shed her high-heeled shoes once the situation on the island became dicey. Perhaps they saw her shoes as this symbol of femininity that needed to be shed, once the action started. However, actress Bryce Dallas Howard thought otherwise and insisted that she continue to wear high heels throughout the movie. This decision caused a firestorm when the movie came out and still continues to do so. Personally, I am glad Howard made this decision. I do get tired of fans, the media and the entertainment industry insisting that in order for women to be considered worthy or superior, she has to shed any signs of outward femininity. Besides, she was not the only female character I have seen run for her life in high heels. Stephanie Zimbalist did it on "REMINGTON STEELE".

One cannot talk about a JURASSIC PARK movie without the mention of visual effects. Personally, I found the creation of the movie's dinosaurs - especially the Indominus rex and the Mosasaurus outstanding. I could also say the same about Ed Verreaux's production designs for the film. I admire his creation of the theme park's shopping area - which slightly reminded me of Universal Studios Hollywood - and the way he utilized the old sets of the 1993 movie as abandoned structures. I wish I could comment on Michael Giacchino's score for the film. But honestly . . . I simply do not remember it. Kevin Stitt did an excellent job with his editing for the film. I was especially impressed by his handling of the Pteranodons and Dimorphodons' attack on the park's shopping area and the Owen-led expedition against the Indominus rex in the jungle. But I was really impressed by John Schwartzman's cinematography - especially in the scene below:

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Amidst the crazy plot, the CGI dinosaurs and action, there is the matter of the performances featured in the movie. Personally, I had no problems with them. Perhaps I am being a bit too subtle. I really enjoyed the performances in the film. "JURASSIC WORLD" featured solid performances from Judy Greer, Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Katie McGrath, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins. The movie also featured a funny cameo by Jimmy Fallon as a video guide for the park's Gyrosphere tour. 

For me, the outstanding performances came from certain members of the cast. Vincent D'Onofrio gave an energetic, yet slightly sinister portrayal of the park's head of security operations, Vic Hoskins. Irrfan Khan was equally energetic, yet very charming as the park's owner, Simon Masrani. B.D. Wong made his second appearance in the movie franchise as Dr. Henry Wu, the geneticist behind the dinosaurs' creations. Wong made a decent appearance in the 1993 movie. But his performance in "JURASSIC WORLD" revealed the character's inability to question the consequences of his creations gave Dr. Wu more depth and complexity. Chris Pratt did an excellent job as the movie's leading man and Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady. Pratt effectively ditched his usual humor schtick to portray the no-nonsense Owen. But I believe that Bryce Dallas Howard gave the best performance in the movie as the park's operation manager, Claire Dearing. Howard did an exceptional job in portraying Claire's development from an emotionally reserved workaholic to a woman fiercely determined to keep her nephews safe at all costs . . . even if it meant wearing those much-discussed high heels throughout the entire movie.

What else can I say about "JURASSIC WORLD"? The movie's producers (including Steven Spielberg), director Colin Trevorrow and the three other screenwriters who worked with him on the script did an excellent in keeping theJURASSIC PARK franchise alive. They were ably assisted by a talented cast led by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the behind-the-scenes crew that contributed to the movie's visual style. And if I must be honest, I never thought they could do it.

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