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Monday, June 22, 2015

Movie Monthly - Jurassic World

Welcome back to Movie Monthly where I spend an entire month spotlighting entries in a niche genre of films.  Normally I don’t like to focus on big, well-known films unless I feel they’ve been overlooked or forgotten but this is a special case.  The whole reason I decided to make this first month of Movie Monthly ‘Jurassic June’ was because Jurassic World premiered this month so it would feel a bit disingenuous not to cover it here.  With that said let’s dive right in. 

For those somehow unfamiliar Jurassic World is the fourth installment of the overall very mishandled Jurassic Park franchise.  Now, as a child of the ‘90s myself I regard Jurassic Park as a stone cold classic, a tremendous film with incredibly well written dialogue, superb direction, and great acting holding it all together.  I often cite Jurassic Park as one of the perfect films to just have on to pacify a large group of people, similar to Pacific Rim or Independence Day.  More than just being a crowd pleasing blockbuster though, Jurassic Park was also a very smart flick with interesting commentary on themes of scientific hubris and specifically how we use technology as a conduit to both relate to and gentrify the natural world.  The plot, in case you don’t know, was about a flamboyant billionaire using mad science to resurrect dinosaurs for an amusement park. 
This latest sequel and soft reboot of the series is set sometime after the events of the first film where said theme park has finally been constructed and is fully operational.  In fact the park is a little too operational as the wow factor of seeing dinosaurs has worn thin on the jaded public so the corporation has opted to start creating genetic hybrid dinosaurs to attract a larger audience.  As you’d expect from any story playing on themes of “man’s hubris” the newly created Indominous-Rex quickly escapes activities and begins a reign of terror across the park. 

I realize that doesn’t sound like much of a plot but keep in mind I’m jettisoning a lot of flotsam involving corporate scheming and family dilemmas that are painfully superfluous and will be dealt with later.  The thing is that I’m not actually opposed to the simplicity and junky B-movie nature of Jurassic World’s plot, at least no on principal.  Jurassic Park’s plot is pretty simplistic as well after all and I’m one of the most likely people to tell you that plot is one of the least important parts of storytelling.  No the plot is actually one of Jurassic World’s semi-decent aspects, unfortunately it’s one of the only decent aspects because of the rest of the movie is downright terrible. 
Yes this is going to be a slightly different Movie Monthly, rather than examining a bad but interesting film or under looked classic this is just a straight up bad movie.  So, taking it from the top; Jurassic World has almost no structure whatsoever, if you tried to chart the story’s progress it’d look like a quantum wave function.  The first act is so brief it’s nearly non-existent with the characters barely getting any establishment beyond one-word job titles like “hero” or “children.”  From there the plot wildly careens from set-piece to set-piece with almost no connective tissue, rather than having events follow one another naturally Jurassic World opts to just launch its action scenes at the audience like rotten fruit.  This is the result of the twin demons of poor characterization and obsessive sequel fixation. 
One of Jurassic World’s primary structural problems is the film doesn’t have a main character.  There’s Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady, a raptor wrangler and ex-Navy SEAL, but he’s so passive his action never drives the story.  Conversely there’s Claire, the head of day-to-day operations for the theme park but the film seems to revel in depriving her of any agency or competence in a deeply sexist, unfunny, and alienating subplot.  Claire also has two nephews touring the park but they’re so bland and underdeveloped it’s not even worth it to learn their names.  The only other character afforded any focus is Vincent D’Onofrio as the villainous Hoskins, who I’ll discuss later, but suffice to say ends up far too stock, one note, and useless to really be engaging. 

From there you might conclude that the Indominous Rex is the main character, after all the Indominous is the one whose actions drive the plot and there are plenty of other films that work with the villain as the main focus like Batman ’89.  The problem is the Indominous Rex, much like all the evil dinosaurs in this installment, is too ferocious and cruel to want to engage with.  There are several sequences highlighting the I-Rex brutality murdering various herbivores and I do mean murdering as they go out of their way to establish the I-Rex is killing for sport.  I get the sense this is intentionally mean-spirited, trying to create a focus on how corporate tampering with nature only ends up destroying the natural beauty the park was meant to preserve. 
That’s a nice idea for a plot but it falls completely flat when it comes to engaging with the audience.  There’s no one in the film you can root for, no one whose fate you are legitimately invested in because no one exists enough for you to become attached to.  The humans are all too shallow and vacant and the dinosaurs are all too cruel, individually those elements could’ve been overcome but combined they create a deadly anchor that constantly drags the film down. 
The other major problem with Jurassic World is more of a teething issue for all nerd tent pole franchises these days, namely the amount of world building and seed planting being done for the inevitable sequel.  Far too much of the film’s third act is spent crafting unfinished plot threads for Jurassic World 2 to follow up on, to the point that several questions about the park go completely unanswered and whole plot lines fall to pieces due to new revelations.  It all swirls around this incredibly inane and inherently dopey plot about the military wanting to weaponize raptors to fight terrorists. 

Despite being a big fan of both Dino-Riders and Extreme Dinosaurs the concept of “dinosaurs vs. army men” has always been downright infuriating to me.  The only point of the idea is to force a dinosaur vs. guns conflict, a pretty grim idea in and of itself in my opinion, but worse it’s an idea that relies entirely on stupidity to get it done.  Worst of all the pay-off just isn’t that impressive as most military tech is too sturdy for dinosaurs to do actually impressive damage.  What you end up left with is a hodgepodge of animals getting shot over human stupidity and that’s just not very appealing.  It also doesn’t help that any kind of militarized conflict between man and dinosaur can’t help but end up meaningless as man doesn’t fight war against nature.
What bugs me most about Jurassic World isn’t its laziness and how it acts like it can just phone-in its narrative and characters so long as there are dinosaurs on screen, it’s how mean spirited the film is about this fact.  The film is so callous in how it doles out death and violence, often inflicting gruesome punishments against innocent and likable characters for no reason.  It’d be okay if Jurassic World just wanted to be dumb fun but it doesn’t, it’s a nasty film smirking at its own cruel jokes, it’s a cinematic bully.  Not recommended. 

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