Sunday, June 14, 2015

‘Jurassic World’ is exhilarating summer fun

There is a great moment toward the end of the second act in “Jurassic World” where obsessive corporate operations manager Claire Dearing (played by the wonderful Bryce Dallas Howard) comes upon animal trainer Owen Grady (played by the red hot Chris Pratt) who is tending to an injured brontosaurus. For the first time the uptight corporate cold Claire realizes what Owen has been trying to tell her. These are not assets. These are live animals; living, breathing creatures with needs, and instincts, and desires, and yes, feelings. It is a moving scene and a tremendous character moment. It also illustrates why “Jurassic World” works so well. This is a great summer popcorn movie that is also a smart summer movie. It has action—great action. But it also has heart.

One of the movie’s promos said, “Steven wanted to make a movie about our relationship with animals today.” The Jurassic Park movies have all, to a certain extent, contained subtext about humans exploiting nature and animals for profit and greed. These were the major themes in Michael Crichton’s masterful novel. But “Jurassic World” is the first movie to really deal with these issues (and have a strong opinion on them) since the original classic film, and it gives the movie a welcome added layer to what otherwise could just be an exercise in special effects.

“Jurassic World” takes place some twenty years after the original park created by John Hammond in the first movie. A team of scientists and suits have taken his ideas and shrewdly expanded them, creating the mother lode of all theme parks. The resort in “Jurassic World” is part Epcot, part Universal Studios, and part African Safari. And it is a triumph in movie production design down to the last detail. The truth is, this is a place a lot of people would want to visit and to paraphrase John Hammond’s lawyer from the original, “they will pay us and they will pay us a lot of money. Whatever we ask them to…”

In a particularly snarky review session on YouTube’s What the Flick, the increasingly cynical bunch there bitched and moaned how “Jurassic World” is bogus and could never exist because there is no way anyone would ever try to build a dinosaur theme park after the events in 1993.

I mean are you serious? What world are these people (the film critics at What the Flick) living in? That is like saying all offshore drilling stopped after the BP disaster in 2010. In the real world, humans will do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING if there is profit involved. And when millions (and potentially billions) of dollars are at stake, someone will try and do it no matter how dangerous or morally dubious, because humans are stupid and greedy.

Another asinine criticism of “Jurassic World” is that somehow it is a failure because it is not as good as the original “Jurassic Park” or “Jaws”. Now if Spielberg himself had returned to the chair, (especially in the wake of “Mad Max: Fury Road”), I can kind of understand that comparison. That is one of the reasons so many people were down on “The Lost World”. Outside of the brilliantly choreographed action sequences, it felt like Spielberg directing on auto pilot.

But “Jurassic World” was not directed by Steven Spielberg. It was directed by Colin Trevorrow whose only previous feature film directing credit is the micro-budget “Safety Not Guaranteed”. And you know what? He does a helluva good job. The action sequences are choppy as they are for any non-Hong Kong director not named Spielberg, Cameron, or Miller. But the action is well-staged, and at times, wickedly suspenseful.

“Jurassic World” has a very Spielberg-esque story about family at its heart, best represented by the character arc of the Bryce Dallas Howard character Claire Dearing. But let’s cut to the chase. The real reason people pay to go to “Jurassic Park” movies is the same reason they pay to go to the theme park in the movie—to see dinosaurs. And the dinosaurs in “Jurassic World” are spectacular. They are fierce and majestic and cuddly and sinister and scary and very real. But the best part is this. Unlike the sequels, the dinosaurs in “Jurassic World” are treated with respect—both as animals and as characters. There is a moment toward the end in the finale where a character from the first movie emerges and it is a pure stand up and cheer movie magic moment.

It was a wise decision to use John William’s iconic theme music in this movie. It was an equally smart idea to hire Michael Giacchino to compose the “Jurassic World” score. He is the John Williams of today and his music for this film is filled with exciting action cues and he has composed a wonderful “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” styled sweeping main theme.

Bottom line: Ignore the grouchy cynics. “Jurassic World” is great summer entertainment and a worthwhile sequel to the original 1993 Spielberg directed classic.

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