Jurassic World (2015) – Movie Review

jurasic world

You may have heard some critics champion Jurassic World as “The best Jurassic Park sequel”, some fans declare that it “brought them back to their childhood”, and others who may have made the absurd claim, “It’s better than the original”. Don’t believe the hype. Jurassic World is nowhere close to the best Jurassic Park sequel (Spielberg’s own, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, will always have that title). It is not going to bring you back to your childhood, and it doesn’t hold a candle to what Steven Spielberg and crew accomplished with the original Jurassic Park. In a time of dark and self-serious blockbusters such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, Jurassic World is a refreshingly light adventure flick, but let’s not pretend this is anything groundbreaking. The fourth Jurassic Park movie remembers to have fun with its premise, but Spielberg’s magic touch is still sorely missed.

Jurassic World is the latest film in the Jurassic Park franchise in name only. Call it a sequel, reboot, or re-quel, the fact remains, this is not the same world created by author Michael Crichton and made real by Spielberg and company in 1993. All the major characters from the first three films are gone. Alan Grant, Ellie Satler, Ian Malcolm, and the rest of the interesting, likable, and developed characters of the earlier movies are replaced with broad archetypes and superfluous supporting characters. With respect to our new kid characters and Vincent D’Onofrio’s bone-headed military grunt, the only two characters worth noting in Jurassic World are Owen, a rugged dino-expert played by bona fide movie star Chris Pratt, and Claire, an uptight scientist played by Bryce Dallas-Howard. They are both likable in doses, and the script doesn’t subject us to too much of their dopey bantering. Still, Jurassic World is a movie less concerned with characters than it is with celebrity personalities. Owen and Claire are not interesting, but Pratt and Dallas-Howard bring a lot of star power. For JW’s brand of disposable summer adventuring, that may be enough.

There’s a neat little hook to the story of Jurassic World. After a re-branding of sorts, John Hammond’s dream is finally realized and Jurassic Park is somehow opened and fully operating. However, the public begins to lose interest in seeing the same old dinosaurs, prompting the scientists of Jurassic World to create an all-new hybrid dinosaur called the Indominus Rex. Well, you guessed it, that dinosaur escapes. Okay, so that’s a clever solution to the classic Jurassic Park sequel dilemma, “How does this stuff keep happening?”, but that plot line takes all of twenty minutes to peter out. The rest of the film is a chase picture, and a simple one at that. The few subplots are banal. Be it, two brothers who come to Jurassic World to spend time with their aunt, or a ridiculous thing about a plan to weaponize velociraptors (The latter of those subplots is one of the most embarrassingly stupid ideas I’ve seen in a movie in years), Jurassic World doesn’t have much to get invested in besides big scary monsters running after people.

I do enjoy certain aspects of the film. The care that went into designing the look of the theme park is a great deal higher than the care that went into the story or the filmmaking. Jurassic World is a living, breathing place, and its filled with all kinds of minor details that help sell the illusion. The triceratops petting zoo, the hamster ball ride, the souvenir shops, and scores of other theme park related details are touches that I was grateful made it into the film. There are more than a few nice moments where you get to enjoy the park as it was “intended”. It’s a shame then that by the end of the film, any fleeting sense of wonder that you might have felt is replaced with Call of Duty-esque sensory bombardment.

Once the Indominus Rex gets out, and all Hell breaks loose, director Colin Trevorrow’s filmmaking falls apart. Jurassic World is an impressive technical feat. The action is staged well, and the special effects and production designs are incredibly polished. It all looks like a million bucks (or 150 million to be exact), and it’s all very fun, but when it comes to the meat of the movie, it’s foolish to think that Jurassic World is anything more than Transformers with dinosaurs. In Jurassic Park and The Lost World, Steven Spielberg infused his action scenes with tension and drama. There was a certain kind of visual poetry to the way he filmed the T-Rex attack in the first movie or the raptors in the grass scene from the Lost World. The action scenes of the first two movies were exhilarating without showing everything. They were subtle and scary and they exploded at just the right moments. Jurassic World’s action scenes are loud, chaotic and devoid of any technique. Trevorrow throws the kitchen sink into every shot. The Indominus Rex chomps up machine gun toting mercenaries left and right, pterodactyls dart all over the screen pecking and biting everything in sight. and big, lumbering CGI beasts fight each other and destroy every last peanut brittle building around them. Sound familiar? It’s the kind of mind-numbing chaos that can be loads of fun to watch while you’re there but leaves no lasting impact.

Such is the problem with the movie as a whole. Jurassic World is big, bright, and fun, with lots of action and good special effects. It pleases crowds. But as with most big budget crowd pleasers, it comes with dull characters, brain dead plotting and booming CGI overload. Jurassic World left me with the same empty feeling I got after seeing Jurassic Park 3. Both movies are serviceable summer romps, full of dino-action and great visual effects, but there is simply a noticeable dip in the quality of the production. Jurassic World successfully mines from the franchise name a good B-caliber FX spectacular. For dumb summer fun, it works just fine. But there was a time when Jurassic Park aspired to more than dumb summer fun. Steven Spielberg’s first two movies had class. They grappled with ideas, they were intelligent, they showcased real filmmaking, and they were genuinely thrilling. Jurassic World is colorful and fun, but let’s be clear, when it’s all said and done, nothing beats Spielberg.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – Movie Review

Among Hollywood’s recent output of mediocre (and in some cases: downright abysmal) remakes of Sci-Fi classics, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was the rare movie which stood out, for it had as much of a brain as it had a heart – plus an original approach to the well-known material and great visuals. Having said that, ‘Rise’ practically pales in comparison to Matt Reeves’ sequel: the upcoming ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is as close to a Science-Fiction masterpiece as a 170 million PG-13 Hollywood summer blockbuster can possibly get.

The storyline picks up ten years after we saw Ceasar and his fellow simian escapees seek refuge in the woods near San Francisco, and although the film’s trailers already gave away pretty much everything that happened during that time (and alas, way too much of what will happen), I’m not going to spoil anything for those who carefully avoided watching said trailers. As with all my reviews, instead of giving away any details about the story, I’ll elaborate on all other aspects of the movie.

What needs to be mentioned first is what an astonishing achievement ‘Dawn’ is when it comes to the use of CGI. I’m normally very critical towards the (over-)use of CGI – but the level of craftsmanship displayed here simply has to be admired. It only took me seconds to forget I was watching digital characters (brought to life through the outstanding motion-capture performances by Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell and Judy Grier – to name but a few), and I can’t begin to imagine what a task it must have been for the artists and wizards in the animation department to work on every background and every tiny little detail of every character until this level of seamlessness and reality could be achieved.

But nearly every other aspect of the movie has been realized equally well: Michael Giacchino’s haunting musical score fits and reflects the drama on screen perfectly, while the – often terrifying – beauty of the images on screen had me immediately wondering who the DoP was (now I know: Michael Seresin, the genius veteran DoP of such classics as ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Angel Heart’). When it comes to the action; well, ‘Dawn’ is not your usual summer blockbuster. This is no light-hearted, comic-book-style fantasy film with fun, over-the-top action scenes. What we have here is a gritty, realistic portrayal of a slowly escalating conflict, and when we do get to the battle scenes in the third act, those scenes are a spectacular, mesmerizing visual feast (and ultimately heart breaking).

But the core of this film – and also the reason why the action scenes in the third act really do have an impact and all the mayhem really gets to you – is the intelligent, skilfully told story with its well-drawn, believable characters (portrayed by equally believable actors). The tragic simian/human conflict mirrors our real – and very human – past and present day wars and social frictions in a very credible way and thus makes this film resonate far beyond what any mere Sci-Fi premise would let you expect.

So my verdict: With its beautiful imagery, highly relevant story and breath-taking effects, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is as close to a Science-Fiction masterpiece as its mass-audience orientated constrictions allowed it to be (which – in this case – is very close); an astonishing achievement and highly recommended.

 

9 out of 10 stars.

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