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Friday, June 12, 2015

Review: Jurassic World – Something old, something new, something borrowed, and Dr. Wu


I didn’t have high hopes for Jurassic World. Each attempt to reinvigorate the franchise has failed worse than the last, and despite the glimmer of hope provided by Chris Pratt, I wasn’t buying the raptor-taming, motorcycle-riding persona from the trailers. And while it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, it also wasn’t anywhere near as good it could have been. Basically, there’s not much I can add to the conversation about the quality of Jurassic World that you don’t already suspect. It straddles a line of mediocrity, with some moments of fun and others of absurdity.  Stupid/Fun.
To be honest, I spent at least half of the most suspenseful scenes wondering how Bryce Dallas Howard was still running in around high heels, constantly scanning to see if she’d chucked them in favor of going barefoot. It sounds stupid, but if you’ve tried wearing stiletto-style high heels on grass, the practicality of it will eat away at you (apparently the secret is staying on your toes, according to Howard). Spoiler: she never chucks the heels. Ever.
But what struck me most about Jurassic World was how much of a hybrid it is of things I’ve seen before, which makes the entire film’s premise sort of meta. Jurassic World focuses on the business of running a successful dinosaur theme park, and the need to create bigger, better, and scarier dinosaurs to satisfy the demands of the public (read: you, the viewer, are the public). So they make a hybrid dinosaur – actually, several – and splice together components of each that they know work, hoping to create something even more spectacular than the original versions, but missing the mark.
So what elements were cobbled together to make this beast?
Something old
Remnants of the original Jurassic Park are littered throughout the film, with one character literally sporting a t-shirt with the original logo. We see the old jeeps, the old facilities, and constant references to Dr. Hammond. But the formula of the first film is the most recycled item. Two scared kids who are going to get chased by dinosaurs a LOT? Check. Romantically linked man and woman, neither of them parents, charged with saving them? Check. Ridiculously evil dude stealing stuff, e.g. Newman? Check. CEO with a huge vision and complete lack of common sense? Check. The list goes on, and on. And on. Fortunately, in that “something old,” Jurassic World only seems to acknowledge the existence of the first movie, essentially setting itself up as a sequel instead of the fourth in a series.
Something new
Well, attempting to train raptors to do tricks definitely counts as new territory for the film. And there is, of course, a new big bad: Indominus Rex. Genetically engineered to be part T-Rex, part it’s-a-secret, it’s larger and scarier than anything in the original, in theory. While almost every character in Jurassic World maps directly onto a character archetype in the original, Howard’s portrayal of an uptight, by-the-numbers, and cold business woman is fairly unique for the series (and unfortunately probably one of the worst new elements).
Something borrowed
I don’t want to spoil anything outright, but I’ll say this: watch the newest film rendition of Godzilla and watch Jurassic World and you’ll see some clear parallels.
Dr. Wu
Technically, there’s only one single character in the film who actually comes back from the original – Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong), the mad scientist who spearheads the genetic recreations in the first film and continues his work here. He’s back to his old tricks, plugging away at his attempt to play god, and looks like he’s barely aged in the process. It’s kind of incredible. He lands some good lines about the dinosaurs – that since the beginning of the park, they’ve always been hybrids; human idealizations and engineering of what dinosaurs should look like. Wu’s appearance, however, felt like it should have been another “remember Jurassic Park?” type of cameo, but extends further, and eventually goes off the rails into an odd side-plot that feels like it’s there mostly to create fodder for a sequel.
…And Wu rhymes with new? So there you go.
Some of those winks and nods mentioned above do help to increase the fun factor; indeed, they borrow heavily on the huge amount of nostalgic good will built in the first film, reminding you of how good dinosaur movies can be, how incredible it was seeing a dinosaur tear apart a jeep, or how intelligent and menacing raptors are in this world. And in spite of the wooden acting and bad dialogue, the film doesn’t look half bad. But the formula for Jurassic World relies so heavily on its predecessor, it also succeeds in reminding you that it’s nowhere near as good.
If you see the Jurassic World, watch how the final scenes play out (again with the meta), and you’ll realize the filmmakers know it too.
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