Monthly Archives: June 2015

“Jurassic World,” Reviewed: Tooth Decay.

Chris Pratt in 'Jurassic World.' (Universal Pictures)

Chris Pratt in ‘Jurassic World.’ (Universal Pictures)

“No one’s impressed by a dinosaur any more,” says Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the administrator of the fully functioning theme park in Jurassic World (rated PG-13). She’s talking about the challenges of running an international tourist attraction, but the same could be said of jaded movie audiences and the knotty problem of getting us to return to the prehistoric party for a fourth time.

When Steven Spielberg brought Michael Crichton’s novel to glorious life in 1993, the cinematic combination of CGI and animatronics were just beginning to find its footing; as with James Cameron’s Terminator 2 just a couple of years earlier, he was able to show us a familiar onscreen villain with fresh graphic power. Jurassic Park was a horror movie with all-ages appeal, thanks to the sense of eye-popping wonder Spielberg packed into each frame.

But like the guests at Claire’s park, we’ve seen all that before; what else ya got? The solution in both cases is to go bigger and badder – “More teeth” is the command given to the park’s geneticists, and they deliver. If you judge Jurassic World by its ability to show you a new version of a dinosaur, writer/director Colin Trevorrow’s film is an unqualified success. If you want anything more – say, likable characters or a plausible story or anything that isn’t reduced, reused and recycled from the original – you may be profoundly disappointed.

The film is set 20 years after the genetically resuscitated beasts first ran amok (let’s pretend the middle two Jurassic films never happened), and the world appears to have conveniently forgotten just how incompatible humans and dinosaurs really are. The Jurassic World theme park is overflowing with guests of all ages, including Gray and Zach Mitchell (Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson), Claire’s underage nephews who are there to visit their aunt and be put in harm’s way.

When the creatures inevitably bust loose, it’s kind of astonishing how unprepared the park employees are to do anything about it – but fortunately they have Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to save the day. Owen, who wears a leather vest to prove his action-hero bonafides, has developed a rapport with four velociraptors and respects the creatures enough not to want to mess with them. No one takes Owen seriously until the genetically enhanced Indominus Rex starts gobbling up staff members and pterodactyls swarm in the skies. But Owen can take it. Owen doesn’t mind. Aw, heck, Claire, give Owen a hug already, willya?

Director Trevorrow came to Jurassic World with exactly one feature film on his resume – the low-budget indie Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), a defiant non-blockbuster that told a time-travel story with offbeat wit instead of CGI trickery. I have no idea what possessed anyone to give him this for his next job, but he’s unsuited for the “promotion” – his action scenes are flat and his dialogue is wooden. Young Zach and Gray don’t have enough personality for us to care whether they wind up as dino chow, and Owen’s character as written saps every comedic instinct Pratt would likely have brought to the role. Only Howard shows occasional flashes of life as Claire, but the script keeps pushing her back into running-and-screaming mode.

When I heard Trevorrow was at the helm, I wondered if we were in for an bit of anti-establishment guerilla filmmaking – some kind of ironic take on what it means to make bloated blockbusters through the eyes of someone inclined to do more with less. Unfortunately, the irony seems unintentional: Jurassic World doesn’t realize it’s criticizing its own existence better than any critic can. When all you can offer audiences is “more teeth,” it may be time to stop gnawing on this particular bone.

Flashback: “Jurassic Park III,” Reviewed.

Sam Neill in 2001's 'Jurassic Park III.' (Universal Pictures)

Sam Neill in 2001’s ‘Jurassic Park III.’ (Universal Pictures)

I’m off tonight to see Jurassic World – look for a review tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a review of the last dino-spectacle, from the prehistoric days of 2001….

Steven Spielberg has been voted off the Jurassic Park island, and the survivors are doing pretty well without him.

Jurassic Park III is the first of the series that began in 1993 not to be directed by Spielberg – a good sign for people like myself who thought the first film was inspired entertainment but the second a joyless mess. (Before 1997, Spielberg had never made a sequel that didn’t feature Indiana Jones; since The Lost World: Jurassic Park, I’ve dearly hoped he never will again.)

The new director, Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), sets aside Spielberg’s pretentious reverence to produce a slimmed-down movie with few ambitions other than providing 90 minutes of familiar thrills. If ever there were an argument to be made for mediocrity, Jurassic Park III is it.

In the years since his trip to Jurassic Park, paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) has enjoyed mixed fortunes: his speaking engagements have made him famous and sought-after, but funding has evaporated for his old-fashioned research digs: why study dinosaur fossils, when the real things are just off the coast of Costa Rica?

Enter the Kirbys (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni), wealthy thrill-seekers who hire Dr. Grant as a tour guide over a fly-over of the dino-infested Isla Sorna. Of course, they promise, they’d never think of landing on the island; of course, we eventually learn, that’s what they had in mind all along. Soon Dr. Grant is guiding a different kind of tour: Over there you’ll see some velociraptors … they’re getting ready to eat us….

Each Jurassic film requires that people rather stupidly go to this remote island, struggle for a while, and escape, making the franchise hardly a hallmark of narrative innovation. This time, the only device more ridiculous than the one that brings the humans to Isla Sorna is the one that facilitates their escape. Jurassic Park III is basically a dinosaur-delivery device; it’s the meaty midsection – in which the humans flee raptors, T-rexes, and a colossal Spinosaurus – that delivers.

Creature guru Stan Winston magnificently breathes life into the dinosaurs for bravura sequences, especially one involving a beast new to the series – a winged pteranodon, trapped with its human prey inside a giant birdcage. Leoni doesn’t have much to do, but Neill and Macy perform admirably against their digital co-stars. They genuinely seem as if they’d rather be anywhere but on that island. Still, for the enjoyable middle of Jurassic Park III, we’re plenty glad they’re there.