Jurassic World

Posted on June 10, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Copyright 2015 Universal
Copyright 2015 Universal

One problem is that we really do not know very much about dinosaurs, especially live ones, and especially genetically tweaked live ones. A bigger problem is that we keep ignoring what we do know about humans. Over and over again we see that humans are petty, greedy for both money and power, and very unclear about the line between optimism and hubris. Maybe someday we will figure out a genetic tweak to adjust that problem, but for the time being we are stuck with it, which is bad for us, but pretty good for movies. It gives us just enough of a framework for the storyline without interfering with the real purpose of the movie, which is, let’s face it, seeing people get chased by dinosaurs. And that is what happens, all right. A lot of people get chased by a lot of dinosaurs, and it is exciting and cool and a lot of fun.

Remember what Jeff Goldblum said in the first “Jurassic Park” movie?   The man behind the idea of taking dino DNA from amber and re-creating creatures who died out 70 million years ago compared the delays to the opening of Disneyland. Yes, Goldblum’s expert in chaos theory replied, but “if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” Despite the devastation inflicted on the planet in the first three movies (remember that optimism/hubris problem), things have moved on, and Jurassic World is now a flourishing theme park with 20,000 visitors at a time. Indeed, it is all a little been there-done that, the dinosaurs so tame there is actually a petting zoo portion of the park, where children can ride on triceratops. Investors want better returns and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the director of the park, is under a lot of pressure to create more “wow factor.” The dinosaurs are no more exotic than the elephant at the zoo. “We want to be thrilled.”

She and the eighth richest man on the planet, the CEO of the company who owns Jurassic World, have decided the best way to do that is to spend $28 million to create a bigger, smarter, angrier dinosaur made up of all the scariest parts of all the other dinos. You know, Frankensaurus. What could possibly go wrong?

Making up the rest of the human cast are some disposable red shirt types whose primary job is to be clawed and/or eaten, as well as Claire’s two nephews (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) and a couple of Navy vets who have been working on an experimental program to see whether raptors can be trained, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Barry (Omar Sy). There’s also a computer guy (Jake Johnson), a scientist (B.D. Wong), and the grand prize winner of the really bad idea competition, a military type (Vincent D’Onofrio) who wants to weaponize the dinosaurs and use them in combat.

There’s a terrific opening, as powerful talons crack through egg shells, terrifying literally from the very first second. Then there’s a clever twist to remind us that we are here to have PG-13-style fun. We have about an hour to familiarize us with the characters, the layout, and the vulnerabilities, oh, yes, and the characters. And the rest is people getting chased by dinosaurs in a variety of extremely intense and exciting and creative ways, and in many different locations. The 3D effects are jump-out-at-you scary. Howard makes the best of a thankless part.  Claire starts out as a caricature of a control freak, dressed all in Olivia Pope white, with perfectly groomed, razor-styled red hair.  We know how inhuman she is because she barely remembers the names of her nephews and refers to the dinosaurs briskly as “assets.” And she once went on a date with a print-out of the schedule.  It is fun to see her become more messy and human, though ridiculous that she never takes off her high heels and gets the vapors over seeing a Real Man do Manly things.

The real wow factor in the film is Pratt, who exhibits a natural Indiana Jones-style, all-American heroism. Not many actors can hold their own against a genetically modified T-Rex the size of Godzilla, but Pratt, whether dinosaur whispering or racing his motorcycle, is an old-school hero. Even if we don’t believe there is any chemistry between his character and Howard’s, his quiet confidence and skill are as much fun as all the CGI-asauruses.

Parents should know that this film includes very intense peril and violence involving big, scary creatures with lots of teeth, many characters (human and animal) injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images, brief strong language, brief sexual reference, discussion of parental divorce.

Family discussion: Why did things go so wrong? Whose fault was it? How did the relationship of the brothers change and why?

If you like this, try: the earlier “Jurassic Park” movies and “Walking With Dinosaurs”

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Based on a book Fantasy Series/Sequel Thriller

Jurassic Park 3D

Posted on April 4, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense science fiction terror
Profanity: Brief strong language (s-word, SOB)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and sometimes graphic peril and violence featuring children and adults, adult characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 5, 2013
Date Released to DVD: April 22, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00B4804KS

Back in 1993, what was astonishing in “Jurassic Park” was the special effects that seemed to bring dinosaurs back to life.  Two decades later, rediscovering Steven Spielberg’s mastery of cinematic storytelling is the best reason to go see it again.

It is back in theaters with the best 3D conversion I’ve seen, avoiding the cheesy Viewmaster effect too often the result of adding 3D effects after a movie has already been filmed.  Other than a couple of shots where the foreground is distractingly blurred, the effects are immersive and organic, and the dinosaurs-jumping-toward-you moments are sparing and effective.

My favorite moment in the film has always been when the characters are trying to outrace the charging T-Rex in a jeep.  All of a sudden, we see a toothy dinosaur coming at them fast and angry in the side rear-view mirror.  It takes a moment for the words on the mirror to register: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”  Spielberg has found a way to make us laugh and ramp up the tension at the same time.  And it is even more compelling in 3D.

The movie holds up remarkably well, other than the computers and walkie-talkies used by the characters, which will seem to today’s audiences almost as prehistoric as the dinosaurs.  On the other hand, its then-state-of-the-art special effects, a combination of mechanical creations and computer images, are still as immediately believable as the high-techiest creatures on screen today.  

Spielberg has gone on to weightier and more prestigious projects, but this thrill ride of a popcorn pleasure is one of his best and a masterpiece of the genre.  It shows his unparalleled gifts for pacing and for the visual language of movies, and his ability to make us invest in the characters.  That is what makes all the special effects pack an emotional wallop.  He conveys more with ripples in a glass of water — or a sneeze — than most filmmakers can with 15 pages of dialogue.

The story, based on a book by the late Michael Crichton, begins with hubris, the sin of pride so great that a man places himself with the gods and thus sets the stage for his downfall.  John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is a vastly wealthy man who dreams of extracting dinosaur and plant DNA that has been trapped for millions of years in amber and using it to reboot species of flora and fauna that have not been seen on earth.  Spielberg grounds the story with a strong moral core that lets us enjoy the catastrophic destruction ahead without any inconvenient pangs of conscience.

Spielberg also makes sure we have someone to root for, lining up our loyalties with a quick introduction to characters we can both identify with and admire.  Laura Dern and Sam Neill play experts in paleolithic animals and plants. They are (1) interested in science, not money (except to pursue more science), and (2) in love.  That’s all we need to know.  But just to make sure, he adds in a couple of children (Hammond is their grandfather), who not only get our automatic protective instincts going but give Neill’s character a chance to grow.  At the beginning, he does not like children.  At the end — spoiler alert — he does.

Go to see “Jurassic Park” in 3D.  Go to take your kids who were not born when it was released.  Go to see it the way it should be seen, on a big screen in a theater filled with happily terrified fans.  Go to see Samuel L. Jackson before he was SAMUEL L. JACKSON. And for a young female computer whiz who could grow up to be Sheryl Sandberg.  But most of all, go for the resoundingly satisfying delight of watching pure Spielberg movie magic.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop peril, with characters injured and killed and some graphic scenes of injury, including a severed limb, brief strong language (s-word, SOB), drinking and smoking

Family discussion: How many different controls were in place to prevent the dinosaurs from hurting anyone and how did each one fail?  What have been the biggest changes in science and technology since this movie was made? Learn about current experiments with gene splicing of animals by reading Frankenstein’s Cat by Emily Anthes

If you like this, try: your local museum to see dinosaur fossils and Spielberg’s “Jaws” and “Duel”


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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Science-Fiction Series/Sequel Thriller

Tribute: Michael Crichton

Posted on November 5, 2008 at 8:18 pm

I was very sorry to hear about the loss of author/director Michael Crichton. He was a man of astonishing range and accomplishment. He wrote best-selling novels, including Jurassic Park and the The Andromeda Strain. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, he created the television show ER. He became an accomplished director. One of my favorite of his films was the period heist story The Great Train Robbery. I am also a fan of his non-fiction book Travels, in part because his tireless curiosity and imagination were so engaging. His 1993 essay on the future of media was recently recognized in Slate as stunningly prescient. He was master of entertainment and a fresh and provocative thinker and will be much missed.

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