Review: Jurassic World

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The first movie I remember seeing multiple times in theaters was Jurassic Park.  Pretty sure it was three times.  And I was 11.  I loved this movie and still think it holds up to a ridiculous degree, considering it’s over 20 years old and ushered in an era of CGI-based summer blockbusters.  Seriously, I picked up the Bluray last week and we watched it this weekend.  Those dinosaurs still look good, better than many other heavy CGI movies that come out today.

The sequels were “decent,” at best.  I don’t remember if I saw Lost World in theaters or not, but I know I didn’t watch Jurassic Park III until it was out for rental.  Neither movie had as good a story, and both of them started to try doing too much with their effects.  If I recall, many of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park III looked about as good as what you see on any given Saturday night on SyFy Channel.

Thus, the franchise died.  Until it was revived, over a decade after the third iteration, in the form of Jurassic World.  This movie all but retcons the middle two movies, returning 20 years later to Isla Nublar, which is now fully operational as Hammond’s dream theme park.  They have their own Disney World main street equivalent, roller coasters, hamster wheels that let you drive among stegosaurus, triceratops, and diplodocus – truly a spectacle.

As we’re quickly told by the park’s administrator, Bryce Dallas Howard, they have to constantly introduce new, scarier beasts to attract new guests to the park.  Thus, they have taken to genetic engineering (carried out by BD Wong, the only returning cast member from the original), combining multiple species of dinosaur into a single animal, named Indominus Rex.  Chris Pratt is brought in to consult on the enclosure for this fierce new dinosaur, followed shortly after by the escape of said dinosaur from said enclosure, leading the characters (and audience) on an epic chase through the island.  Indominus Rex is clearly intelligent and uses its genetically-endowed defenses to escape from its captors at nearly every turn.  InGen’s private military force, led by Vincent D’Onofrio, is brought in to try and contain the situation, though he has ulterior motives of proving that Velociraptors would make great soldiers in war zones to fight on behalf of the military.

Yeah, you read that right.  This is about the point where I couldn’t suspend my belief much more.

Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the movie (Brooke saw a movie with me!!!).  I caught myself smiling like an 11-year-old multiple times, any time I saw my “old friends” from the 1993 original, or they made some reference to the characters of that film.  It really was quite good fan service.  But I don’t think it was as good as the first one.  I suspect it’s because I’m biased toward the property I grew up with, and this new one is for a generation 20 years younger than me.  The two things that hold me back from loving this movie are the aforementioned Soldier Velociraptors, and the excess of CG effects.

First, the raptors.  Chris Pratt is on the island because he’s training 4 raptors to follow commands.  That part’s actually pretty cool.  He isn’t doing anything all that complicated with them, but he demonstrates that he can get in the cage with them and can get them to follow simple orders, but only to the extent a trainer could do so with a lion: they’re still very, very dangerous.  But D’Onofrio is there to get these raptors to follow orders, like “go chase that terrorist in Afghanistan,” and at this, I say “okay, that’s kinda nuts…why would you try to train a velociraptor, who were clearly smarter than the humans 20 years ago in the first movie, to act as soldiers?”  It just wasn’t believable for me.  I feel like the plot would have been stronger if Pratt was there training raptors for his own scientific ends, and D’Onofrio came in from InGen to solve the Indominus Rex problem, but they had no prior connection.  The same plot points could have been there without certain key scenes, while keeping all the awesome action scenes.

Secondly, the effects.  Overall, they were good.  We saw it in 3D here in Marshall, where the screen isn’t exactly IMAX, so perhaps I’m clouded by the less-than-stellar visual fidelity.  In short, many of these dinosaurs were obviously computer generated, whereas I’m still fooled by some of them in the original movie from 20 years ago.  Most of that comes from the fact that Spielberg used a mix of animatronics and computer animation to make a seamless experience, where each dinosaur felt huge and weighed down, adding to the realism.  CG has a problem when you integrate it with the “real world,” where the creatures seem to “float” unnaturally and gravity doesn’t actually affect them because they aren’t a real thing.  Animatronic animals from the original were actually quite heavy, and that showed when you watched the film – and the CG dinosaurs they used in certain shots were designed to match those animatronics in their slow, lumbering movements.  That wasn’t a problem in this movie, as nearly all of the dinosaurs were CG animated.  So while many of them shots looked really good in Jurassic World, there were others that pulled me out of the experience because I knew I was watching dinosaurs that weren’t really there, unlike the way I feel when I watch Jurassic Park.

Hopefully that just made sense…

Regardless, it was a great movie.  Brooke enjoyed Jurassic World quite a bit, but for my money, I prefer Jurassic Park so far as this franchise is concerned.  If anything, Jurassic World was spectacular fan service in the callbacks it made to the original, and certain aspects of the original they brought back to this movie to remind you of the magic you felt in 1993.  At least on that level, it completely succeeds.

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