Parallel Park: Jurassic World (B-)

The numbers are hyperbolic. $208.8 mil in the U.S. and $524 mil worldwide… Those are the kind of box office figures you’d dream up if you were writing a Mad Magazine article (or, uh since it’s 2015, Clickhole post) about absurd box office figures. That’s the highest domestic opening weekend of all time! The highest worldwide opening of all time!

But I’m pretty sure that Jurassic World – not the box office phenomenon that just rewrote the record books, but the actual film – is averse to all the hyperbole that we are going to want to throw at it.

I am not, in good conscience, going to be able to stand with those people who will excitedly squee that this third sequel to Jurassic Park is as good as (or shudder better than) the original.


Originally posted by onyx-the-dino-hybrid

I am also going to steadfastly refuse membership in those camps that poutily posit that this late-arriver, which comes 14 years after its nearest predecessor, is as poor a follow-up to Jurassic Park as the two films (Lost World and Jurassic Park III) that it ostensibly pretends never existed.

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Originally posted by pastaforian

On most days, I can work myself into the steadfast belief that Jurassic Park is the greatest/my favorite film of all time.* It is my personal definition of a masterpiece. It’s two sequels are not particularly good films. They are paced poorly and they misunderstand this: the first film isn’t great because children are in perpetual peril, it’s great because John Hammond’s dream of a dinosaur theme park is so easy for us to glorify and abhor in equal measure.

  • The line between objective and subjective opinion is blurry, and I often wonder why I should subject myself to others definitions of greatness when no film brings me more joy than Jurassic. For the record, the competition on both counts is Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.

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Originally posted by iliopsoas

There is a wide, Gulf of Mexico-sized gulf, then, between Jurassic Park and its first two sequels, a gulf that thousands upon thousands of films can fit snugly into without issue. Jurassic World is one of those countless films, nowhere near the equal of Speilberg at the top of his game (Jurassic Park, Jaws, Indiana Jones) but also, you know, a perfectly okay movie.

Really, Jurassic World is the sort of sequel that Jurassic Park always deserved all those years ago IF you are inclined to believe that, as a general rule, sequels can not surpass their forebears in quality. It is about man reaching too high, too far, too fast, and probably not for the right reasons. It is about how money, corporations, and commerce fuel that greed. But it is also fundamentally about the little magic spark, the gleam in a child’s eyes, that the dream could be at its purest and simplest. Unlike Lost World it doesn’t twist that conundrum into an obvious good vs. evil parable. Unlike JP3, it doesn’t completely ignore any pretense of theme (one poorly thought-out egg theft aside) just so it can take another tour of a dinosaur infested island. In it’s own giggling, sometimes charming, sometimes infuriating, easter egg laden way, Jurassic World is the first film since Jurassic Park to fully wrestle with John Hammond’s grand dream and society’s resultant nightmare.

Speaking of greed:

The Jurassic Park franchise soared and then had its wings melted in the very brief window when it was known that a film that had as large a cultural footprint as Jurassic Park did should be exploited and fast, but also when it was not yet known how to keep that exploitation sustainable. Like many a 90s phenomena, those dinos burned bright and, ten years later, sulked in the shadows, where franchise’s that have lost their audience’s goodwill go to sulk.

But life… uh… life finds a way.

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Originally posted by lurk

In our current climate, where it is never to late to resuscitate even a franchise as moribund and long-forgotten as Mad Max, or as confounding and desiccated as the Terminator kerfuffle, it is no surprise that Jurassic World could thrive by finding the perfect gene splice of the original film and our modern blockbuster sensibilities.

What is surprising is that Jurassic World put up Avengers/Harry Potter numbers. Both those franchise’s highest grossing entries had multiple high grossers rolling out the red carpet for them, and both featured returning casts packed with stars renowned worldwide for their portrayals of some of the world’s most famous and beloved fictional characters.

But this new Jurassic behemoth was the first entry in the dino franchise in 14 years, a gap that had happened for good reason… Because, erm, Jurassic Park III was… something that happened to us. It has one returning human character, and he’s a guy who showed up for one scene in the original – essentially he was an important book character who was written out of the story and exchanged for Exposit-Bot 1994. The cast’s biggest stars would have been considered, before this coup, next-gen up-and-comers at best. As strong as the Chris Pratt charm offensive is, I’m not willing to say his turn as Star Lord secured Jurassic World the best opening weekend of all time.

More than saying anything about the film currently on offer, that opening speaks volumes about Spielberg’s initial tour of the park. It speaks volumes we didn’t even know that film had, a Library of Alexandria full of volumes that we just unearthed. The most likely driving force behind Jurassic World’s nigh unfathomable conquest: Jurassic Park has appreciated in value far more than anyone could have anticipated. It was huge when it came out for sure, but, as it has become one of the Four Horseman of Early Onset Millennial Nostalgia (here are my four nominees, all released within the same year and change: Jurassic Park, The Sandlot, The Lion King, and Mrs. Doubtfire) it has taken on an almost magical, untouchable aspect.

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Originally posted by favoritedisneyclassics
So of course, the rational response to that is: how can we recapture the magic? How can we touch the untouchable? Give Jurassic World this: it is aware that it is treading upon the ground of the recently anointed.

I’m fairly certain that no piece of art this resoundingly successful has expended so much effort warning us away from it. Or at least warning us away from the Blockbuster Industrial Complex that created it.*

  • Maybe the Lego Movie. But the Lego Movie follows through on its symbolic insurrection to its last minutes, and it also made as much in its entire theatrical run as Jurassic World made in three days. It’s an inexact comparison.

Jurassic World loses some its acute metatextual awareness as its more parodic concerns are subsumed by tense dino business. Still, at its purest level, this is the story of a foolhardy entertainment corporation that focus grouped and corporate spoke its way into a bloated hybridized sequel to a beloved original product so that it could milk more money from a consumer base numbed by “old news” like, y’know, a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

That is some Grade-A shade the movie is throwing at its own weird development process. Speaking of which… This will forever be a strange footnote about one of the most successful films of all time now, but I want us to remember this: the cart leading the horse aspect of Universal desperately needing a fourth Jurassic film not because anyone had a good story for a fourth Jurassic film but because not making one was like throwing away money led to what you see below.

That’s a hybrid dino man… So as silly as I and many people think trained raptors are, and as much as I can’t take the possibility of an American military operation that involves stealth dinosaurs seriously, everything in Jurassic World is a tame version of something bananapants that came earlier in development hell.

And the cycle will repeat itself. Now, because we all went and saw Jurassic World the moment it came out, it is all but certain that one of the biggest blockbusters of this decade, if not of all time, will be about trained dinosaur soldiers, under the command of Dr. Wu, taking down terrorists while Chris Pratt squintilly glowers at the hubris of man. We did that.

In spite of all that – in spite of how ludicrous military raptors are, in spite of the cheeky self-awareness as a guarding mechanism rather than an engaged commentary on anything in particular, in spite of the consequences laid out above – I can’t hate too hard on Jurassic World. Because, ultimately, it is very often fun.

I have to keep checking myself, reminding myself how delightful a ride Jurassic World is while you’re on it, because Jurassic World is a surprisingly easy movie to get frowny-faced about once you leave the theater.

Maybe it’s not that surprising since it is trying to stand up with/pay tribute to one of the most universally beloved examples of the cinematic arts (and a personal favorite of yours truly). Comparing this kooky DNA splice of a sequel to its genetic donor is patently unfair no matter how much all those Isla Nublar easter eggs make the comparison fair game. It’s extremely easy to fall into the trap of putting Jurassic World scenes or characters up against iconic moments that have had two decades to marinate in our memory. It’s much harder to recall that I gave Pacific Rim an “A” while actively excusing its thin characters and nonsense plotting because it was such an insane thrill ride and I was tickled pink when a giant robot split a giant monster in half with a giant sword. I can’t suddenly not be that person when one Rex has another in its gaping maw. Pacific Rim was a tribute to B-movie creature features that happened to technically be an original property. Jurassic World is a tribute to B-movie creature features that happens to be a self-aware brand extension of one of the most popular film’s of all time. Aside from who they pay royalties to, they could be each others’ reflections.

So, as I dive into what makes Jurassic World tick as a film, I will of course break down why it doesn’t work quite as well as some Grade-A Speilbergia. But I will counterbalance every doomed comparison with a reasoned argument for why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim.


Originally posted by justepicmoments

Owen Grady (Chris “Call me Star-Lord” Pratt)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: Who is this guy? Where did InGen find him? Everyone keeps throwing around this guy’s Navy experience like its some sort of dinosaur-wrangling qualification, which begs the question: was he the Navy’s top dolphin trainer? Was he Seal Team 6′s lion tamer? If I’m looking for someone to imprint on flesh-eating lizards from birth, I’m not sure why the Navy is on my shortlist.

Even more confounding is the question of what Owen does now. He’s referred to by Masrani, the park’s owner, as “a consultant,” which implies he’s some visiting outsider who is providing valuable insight on something, but from everything we see, this guy’s been entrenched for a long time, and he’s running his own operation. He’s been with these raptors since they hatched, he’s got a loyal buddy, he’s got a cool lakeside bachelor pad, heck he’s even already had time to go on a bad date with the leading lady and then ignore her for months. When the film transitioned from Mizrani’s request to bring in the “consultant” over to the raptor pen, implying this consultant was present, I initially assumed Vincent D’Onofrio’s character was the consultant. He seemed new to the island and he seemed to be throwing around a lot of outsider’s opinions. When I’m getting characters mixed up because jobs are unclear, there’s some work that needs to be done on the screenplay level.

So if he’s not a consultant, what does Owen do? Well, he trains raptors obviously, but also: everything. He is the most competent man you are ever likely to meet. His job seems to be “always being right in every situation.” Having a character this sculpted, this chiseled, this righteous, this perfect… it actually puts a major drain on the fun we’re having. I think the filmmakers thought that by putting Chris Pratt in those tight shorts, they were making their own sexy jungle Wolverine, but they ended up writing the most self-righteous version of Cyclops into their film instead.

So let’s do the unfair thing and consider Doctors Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm for a moment. Did Speilberg have to cast then 45 year old Sam Neill as his film’s central human character? Couldn’t he have grabbed a young, smoldering hunk like Patrick Swayzee or Christian Slater? He could have, but it would rob Grant of a certain hard-won ruggedness and weariness if he does. It’s important to Jurassic Park that Grant has been out in the field digging up bones for decades. It means that when Hammond comes to him with a truckload of money, Grant has to bite. This guy’s too pragmatic and knows all too well what happens when you have no sponsor to reject that sort of interest from a walking blank check. His age also means that Grant is reasonably insecure in the face of this rowdy, young chaos theoretician with the leather and the attitude.

Speaking of the man with the stuttering monologues: Ian Malcolm is always right too, isn’t he? It’s true, but recall that we are shown the contrast between Malcolm’s high-and-mighty ideals and his less-than-stellar execution. Malcolm’s a great guy to have around if you want someone to smirk at you and condescendingly tell you you’re wrong. He is not the guy to get you safely through Killer Dinosaur Island.

See what Speilberg and Crichton have done? They’ve put all the characteristics that will save everyone right there on the island, but they’ve split ‘em up evenly between two guys. Neither one of them is flawless. Both of them are right pretty much constantly, but they’re also undercut by personality flaws. Owen Grady, by contrast is Adonis in a zookeeper’s vest. If this guy’s so righteous about the wrongs being wronged on Isla Nublar, how did he end up there working for a guy like Hoskins in the first place? We know how Alan Grant ended up in Hammond’s employ; we see it and we need to see it, to see how much he knows and how much he doesn’t. With Grady on the other hand, we pan up to this shining, glimmering figure commanding the most vicious beasts on earth with utter rectitude. There’s no room for an arc there; Owen is the same moral compass pointing due north at the end of the film as he was at the beginning. Which proves to be a problem when you compare him to his co-lead.

Here’s why this is really a problem. Owen Grady is in the wrong movie. At least until he and Claire go out on the hunt for Claire’s nephews and he transforms her into a better person (ugh), Grady is a square-jawed adventure hero trapped in the middle of a corporate satire. It’s clear from Claire’s exchanges with every other InGen employee that Jurassic World is going for Network; it’s when Owen changes the channel to Romancing the Stone and forces an unnecessary “we hate each other to mask our love for each other” dynamic on Claire’s corporate ice queen character that the nightmare really begins.

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: In short, Chris Pratt. Pratt is the guy you want on the ground selling your movie right now. He will make your character work, even if that character is a poorly assembled collage of Manly Man traits. Pratt is toning his inherent smirk quotient down from a 9 to about a 2 here, but there’s still this light in his eyes that no amount of squinting can extinguish. Pacific Rim was saddled with a charm vacuum attempting a grizzled American accent. Even if Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket had something resembling an arc, Hunnam’s take on the moping action hero with a grudge was completely at odds with del Toro’s colorful kaiju romp. Pratt is nuetered of his man-boy immaturity, stuck playing a white-hat in a gray movie, but even with all that stacked against him, Pratt is first round draft pick in every producer’s Fantasy Casting League right now for good reason.


Originally posted by katicisms

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas “Not Jessica Chastain” Howard)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: Okay look, the fact that Bryce Dallas Howard is playing a cold company woman who can’t compute all your human emotions is NOT anti-feminist. Initially…

Inititally! It sucks that we all hissed at Jurassic World when Joss Whedon told us to, because we hadn’t seen the film, and we had no idea what they planned on doing with that character – a totally fine character to have if she’s done right. Because if Jurassic World wants to be a ruthless corporate satire (which it is for like forty minutes), it has full license to get its Faye-Dunnaway-in-Network on.

But this movie can’t leave well enough alone. It NEEDS to redeem this woman. It needs to FIX her. And that’s where we get in big trouble. The moment Claire realizes she’s out of a job so, screw it she’s going to go off with the raptor hunk and save her nephews, Jurassic World throws it’s rather savvy satirical elements out the window. Now Claire needs to learn that the dinosaurs are not “assets,” they’re wonderful animals. And she needs to learn that there’s more to life then being really dedicated to your job – like fawning over a man who’s really dedicated to his job. And, god dammit, she needs to learn her nephews ages or she’s never going to fulfill her destiny and become a doting mother! And who’s going to teach her. Owen Upstanding Grady, that’s who. (Come on, his middle name’s got to be Upstanding, it can’t be anything else.)

This is baked right into the script in that line where Claire’s nephews are like “Naw Aunt Claire, we want to be protected by the burly badass, not you.” What did Owen do to earn that level of admiration from the boys? A bunch of people were stampeding towards them, so Owen… drove a car backwards? Couldn’t they have all just… run the same way as everyone? I’m still baffled by this. Whatever, it doesn’t matter what Owen did or didn’t do, the filmmakers want us to know he could do anything. And Claire best stick by his side.

The movie gets to write off all this hand-wringing by having Claire save Owen’s life, earning her a big ol’ surprise smooch – SEE SHE’S EMPOWERED, AND OUR GOOD GUY SEES IT!!! – but it simply isn’t enough to say these two are on equal footing now because Claire can knock a dinosaur in the noggin. This is Jurassic World trying to overwrite a whole bunch of “bitch-shaming” that’s coded into every single wardrobe choice.

Especially the choice where Owen condescends Claire into turning her crisp white suit into some weird facsimile of Ellie Sattler’s get-up. Ellie Sattler was perfect ten years before the scrutiny of the Internet had studio’s watching their backs when creating “strong female characters.” This just highlights what a step back we’ve taken.

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Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: I’d say that Claire and Owen’s romance is the most unnecessary, most underwritten pairing in sci-fi blockbuster cinema, but look at the movie we’re comparing it to. Pacific Rim is the winner and still champeeeen and it’s not even close. Once again, I was willing to excuse that horrible last kiss because mechasuits with swords are the shit. I’m similarly willing to let certain things fly if the Indominus Rex is the shit.

And you know what else? I really enjoyed Bryce Dallas Howard’s untamed take on Claire, before Owen turns her into Ms. Nurturing. And I even occasionally like her after. She’s great in the scene where she’s watching the raptor strike from the ambulence while her nephews look on from the back. She pops. She’s really funny, especially in her scenes with Ifran Khan. I also love the way she walks through dinsoaur holograms multiple times as if she can’t even see them – its a nice visual way of illustrating her disconnect from the majesty of resurrected dinosaurs.

Like I said above, this character has every right to exist, and has every right to be a woman. It’s when we start attributing Claire’s inability to see the flaws in her park to her slavish dedication to being a working woman or to her lack of maternal instincts that we wade into hot water. And it’s when watching Chris Pratt shephard a brontosaurus from this world to the next makes Claire expel all her bad juju out of her system in a single beautiful tear that the hot water boils.

The Kids (Ty “Moptop” Simpkins and Nick “’Tude” Robinson)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: You know what, I don’t mind the kids that much. Tim and Lex are nobody’s favorite Park characters (even though they completely own what is arguably that film’s best scene), and I think the “visiting kids” trope actually makes more sense in a film about a fully functioning theme park. We need to see how Gray and Zach see the park differently. Zach, largely ambivalent, skulking behind his phone and his headphones, shows us that Calire is at least somewhat right: her audience is restless and she does need to go bigger to satisfy them. Gray shows us that Claire is wrong: there’s a portion of her audience that will always respect these creatures for what they are and what they represent.

That said, I’ve got to call out one utterly wasted thread: what is up with Zach checking out every lithe teenage female in the park while he’s got a girl waiting for him at home? Zach can’t say “I love you” and has wandering eyes? Fine… So, what does that do for the movie? To some extent, we’re supposed to look at that and go “Oh, he’s a TOTAL teenager,” and to some extent, we can read into Zach’s restlessness a sort of “I learned this behavior from my divorcing parents” demeanor. But, considering there’s no payoff to multiple scenes of Zach scoping out chicks, it’s also a waste of time. It’s indicative of a script with a lot of fat to trim. It has threads that go nowhere and characters that do nothing: I quite like Omar Sy’s performance as Owen’s raptor trainer bestie, for instance; but imagine the film without him for a second. It’s the exact same film, right? Barry is just Owen’s mouthpiece when Owen is elsewhere on the island. He’s one more body to worry about when the raptors turn. In Jurassic Park, if a character shows up and says something, you better believe that will pay off down the line.

(Also, Gray telling Claire to go get the T-Rex by vocally adding together the number of teeth present and saying more teeth are needed… That’s a stupid, terrible line, plain and simple. Even avowed dinosaur fanboy Tim wouldn’t stoop to that.)

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: Zach has an actual arc. By that, I mean we see him transformed by things that happen in the film from a somewhat immature individual into a very mature individual. This isn’t always necessary but it’s nice when it happens, and it’s nicer when that transformation is somewhat nuanced. I like that Zach starts to bond with his brother after he sees how cool the Mosasaurus (Shamu the dinosaur) is, but he’s still a bit of a jerk. It’s not until things get dire that a more parental, protective side of Zach comes out. This is a vast improvement on the other character with a major arc in the same movie, Claire, who becomes a radically different character the minute she touches a dying brontosaurus; I mean, I’d be pretty rocked by that moment too, but I don’t know that it would fundamentally change everything about me instantaneously. Zach’s arc is also a transformation that’s better written and better performed than anything in Pacific Rim.

The InGen Team (Irfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio, B.D. Wong, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: Maybe the InGen of World is more believable than the InGen of Park – we do not live in a world today where the entire power of a major corporation is represented by an old coot with a cane and a dream, and I doubt we lived in that world in 1993. There’s something to be said for the way Jurassic World presents an InGen with a corporate structure so baffling that no one really seems to no who reports to who, because, if this is a satire of corporations, that detail is spot on.

It’s also baffling.

It’s really difficult as an audience member to tell which way is up at any given moment, because the three major InGen characters – the park owner, the InGen security chief, and the lead geneticist – are doing this weird power struggle dance.

So while it may not be believable that Hammond could have really put an entire park together on will alone, it’s also efficient storytelling. It boils our feelings about the impetus behind the park down into one man. And Hammond is a freakin’ fascinating character. I said earlier that the raptors in the kitchen scene is arguably Park’s best. Fact is, Park is a film with about six or seven best scenes, and my personal favorite is its quietest. Just Ellie and Hammond eating ice cream while Hammond tells us about his flea circus. It does nothing for the plot, but it tells us everything about why this park exists and how it all could have gone so wrong. Credit where credit is due: Jurassic Park transcends its creature feature leanings riding on the back of Richard Attenborough’s tender performance as a deeply flawed, irresponsible, but ultimately sympathetic man.


Originally posted by dinosandwichpwned
Irfan Khan is essentially playing Hammond in Jurassic World. I like him. He’s got swagger to spare, and he captures some of that special magic. His character is also a contradiction in a designer suit. Khan sells Mizrani as a carefree, happy-go-lucky guy who sometimes accidentally backs himself into a situation he can’t handle – piloting helicopters, asking for cooler dinosaurs, stuff like that. But, with one line, the film undoes everything we think we know about this guy. The man who sternly puts down Owen’s request to use lethal force on the Indominus Rex because he has $26 million riding on that abomination is not the same man who was genuinely curious about the happiness of his customers AND his dinosaurs. That line could have gone to anyone else, especially Claire. That line should have gone to anyone else. This guy’s death is the most important one in the film, and he features in the film’s two best scenes (with Claire at the enclosure, and with Wu in Wu’s office); but all of that is undermined because it’s impossible to get a read on who he actually is.

At least D’Onfrio’s performance as Vic Hoskins leaves no such room for ambiguity. Hoskins is this big, swaggering military id who repeats the same message over and over again until you want to see him get eaten: basically some variation on “I want to see these raptors in uniform!” Hoskins genuinely believes, based on one display of Owen’s appeasement of the raptors that any guy could just command the raptors do his bidding (”Raptor, go kill Osama!”) and they would. It is a phenomenally stupid conceit, and it only gets stupider when Hoskins realizes that the raptors aren’t as under control as he initially suspected, so he decides miniaturizing the beast that just destroyed the whole theme park and controlled the raptors is a better military strategy. I can’t believe I’m saying this but: training raptors to perform tricks ina a Sea World-like show is one thing; training them so they can replace Seal Team 6 is pure idiocy and it renders Hoskins completely limp from the moment he speaks.

At least Jake Johnson (Nick!) gets this. When Hoskins takes over the control room and starts getting up close and personal with Johnson’s character, Lowery Cruthers, Johnson looks at this Neanderthal like the idiot he is. It’s gratifying, to say the least. Johnson and his control buddy Lauren Lapkus are great, but while we’re talking problems, one more to throw out there before we move on: Lowery and his fellow techies are never even remotely close to danger, and that’s a problem.

Jurassic World sets up these huge stakes.

Over 20,000 people!!!!!

You thought Jurassic Park was bad??? There were only like 10 people on that island when the dinosaurs got loose. We’ve got hundreds of kids and grandmas and innocents!

And for one brief moment, it capitalizes on that conceit. Flying dinosaurs swoop in and start carrying people off or pecking them, and one named character dies a horrible, gruesome death at the hands of Shamu-asaurus.

And then…

Apparently, all those people get locked up in a faraway bunker and nobody attacks the main part of the park until only the villain and the four heroes are left in it.

Look, I get it: Man of Steel got schooled on city-smashing decorum, and now films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World are taking the lesson plan to heart. As a filmmaker, you’ve got to make sure you don’t callously wipe out a populated area without thinking about the innocents. Words to live by, for sure.

But there’s a difference between Kal-El and Indominus Rex. The reason Zach Snyder was criticized was not because two superpowered beings flattened Metropolis without thinking about the little people. No, he was criticized because one of those superpowered people was Superman, and that’s just not how we expect Superman to operate. But a T-Rex/raptor/tree frog/cuttlefish genetic splice? Sure, go for it!

Because the whole point of a film where theme park attendees put down good money to endorse the remaking of man as capital-G God, resurrector of extinct Life, only to have that impulse shoved right back in their face raptor-claw style is that some innocents might die. Not just bad people. Not just flashy owners. Not just bored assistants and incompetent guards. But, like, a grandma.

In this, dinosaurs are no different than earthquakes or volcanoes. They don’t discriminate good victims from bad victims. Ask Arnold and Muldoon if they deserved having raptor claws inserted into their persons back in 1993. But, hey, their deaths are nominees number 5 and 6 for Jurassic Park’s best scene, so…

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: One scene: Mizrani confronts Dr. Wu, and two great performers go toe-to-toe in a perfectly composed, perfectly writen scene. We think we know how this will go: Mizrani is an all-around good guy who can’t believe his geneticist would stoop this low, and Wu has gone full-on mad scientist. But, for once, the film expertly turns the tables and successfully makes it about something bigger than what’s on screen. Wu chews Mizrani up and spits him off, and his kiss off to Mizrani (”Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”) seems like the result of a seance with Michael Crichton himself. I love that Jurassic World brought back Henry Wu and made him, twenty years on, the character that Michael Crichton originally wrote. This is basically an update on my favorite scene from Crichton’s book, in which Wu and Hammond have a tiff about the direction of the genetic future of the dinosaurs, and, as one might expect, it stands head-and-shoulders above any scene in Jurassic World; and any scene in the past few years of sci-fi blockbuster filmmaking, for that matter. It’s so great, it almost makes one forget that such a layered, interesting character is eventually reduced to a big bookmark that the filmmakers throw in the saga – “We’ll pick up from the scientist with all the Dino DNA who just got secreted away on that helicopter next time, so come back now y’all!”

Originally posted by pieceofartonly

The Dinosaurs (A Bunch of CGI Artists and One Brontosaurus Animatronic)

Why Jurassic World’s got nothing on Jurassic Park: Look, I hear you.

“If you’re watching a Jurassic film for the verisimilitude of the human characters, you’re doing it wrong…”

Maybe you’re right. As incredibly crafted as Arnold and Muldoon and Nedry and even Malcolm and Hammond were, none of them have had anywhere near the effect on our culture as that first glimpse of the T-Rex coming through the paddock fence did.

So let’s talk about what Speilberg does with dinosaurs. First of all, he keeps them off-screen for a long time after we first glimpse them. As our explorers venture out in their vans, the dinosaurs don’t just show up and roar on cue. They’re not entertainers; they are as ambivalent to the needs of Tim and Lex as a lion napping the day away at the zoo.

Their absence makes the heart grow fonder. When they show up… wow… Speilberg’s dinosaurs are awe-inspring and dangerous. They also have important limitations. The idea that a T-Rex can only see motion is fake-science mumbo jumbo. It’s also movie magic, pure and simple. With that rule established, we have a rubric for understanding what the T-Rex will and won’t be capable of going forward.

The raptors are full of surprises (they can open doors!), but we’re ready for them from the moment Alan explains their tactics to that terrified kids. That’s not just a character establishing his surliness and lack of affection for children; it’s tablesetting we need. And even the raptors are not infallible; they have a tendency of bickering over their prey at inopportune times and even they are powerless when they are interrupted by a dues Rex machina.

This is the difference between a cool moment (like the raptor jumping through Claire’s driver side window, or the Indominus Rex suddenly emerging from out of nowhere to take out a team of combat specialists) and a good setpiece. In Jurassic Park’s best setpieces, we understand the rules of the game at every turn, and are happy to watch tense scenarios play out minutes on end.

The Indominus Rex, on the other hand, breaks the game every chance she gets. We keep finding out surprising, impossible things about her that only really make sense after she’s pulled them out of her toolbelt and, twenty minutes later, they are tediously explained. We are playing catchup with this ridiculous monstrosity that can 1) turn off her own heat signature, 2) remember where she has had medical procedures done, 3) camoflouge herself, and 4) order raptors to turn on their masters!!! Every time, the effect is cool for ten seconds, but it’s not as cool as laying the groundwork so we can play along in the audience for seven or eight minutes.

The Indominus Rex is so tricked out that she ceases to be fun or impressive. The moments where she falters (like not being able to notice hidden people in spite of being able to READ HEAT SIGNATURES! [which is the exact opposite of Speilberg making his mythic beast functionally blind]) seem like bad screenwriting, and the moments where she succeeds begin to feel a bit old hat. She’s just here to be such a beastly collection of traits that man and raptor and T-Rex and Shamu-asaurus must form an uneasy, unnatural alliance in order to mitigate her sheer psychopathic gluttony.

Jurassic World is blaming you and me for this nonsense. Keep that in mind. It saves most of its satirical wrath for the corporation that kowtowed to the audience demand for Cooler and Meaner and Bigger, but lays it right there at the feet of the Jurassic World consumer, both in movie and out, too: you’ve done this, you asked for this thing, and now there’s no turning back.

But, you know what? I reject this movie’s easy skepticism. It sounds too much like old Speilberg and old Lucas shaking their fists at the moon, saying audience demand for bloated blockbusters will crash the film industry. I think that audience’s would have seen a much-desired follow-up to Speilberg’s dinosaur park movie if it featured a roving band of compsognathi as its big bad, so long as that gang of compys was presented with the diligence – the filmmaking acumen, the intelligence – that Speilberg presented his raptors and his T-Rex with.

Why Jurassic World is just as good as Pacific Rim: The first time I saw Jurassic World, that moment when Claire called forth the spirit of the first film, flare in hand, did not sit well with me. I couldn’t allow myself to get lost in the splendor because the movie was dramatically pointing to how cool it was that the T-Rex and velociraptor (the same two dinos who duked it out twenty years earlier) were teaming up to take down a bigger threat, and, when director Colin Trevorrow shouted FINISH HER, the Shamu-asaurus was there to do the job. This was manipulative fan service, and it was entirely too cute by half when all the victors gave each other this “I don’t like you, but for today, I’ll let you enjoy this” look.

The second time I saw it, I just gave in. It was wonderful.

I love dinosaurs. I always will. Dreams like dinosaurs walking the earth will always be one of the main reasons we need our movie screens to be so big.

This throwdown can’t hold a candle to that moment when Alan Grant first saw a dinosaur and stumbled over, but not everything needs to. If we didn’t allow anything on the screen if it couldn’t reach that level, the number of movie’s allowed in cinemas would reduce to a trickle.

This is what we’ve thirsted for since King Kong fought dinosaurs on Skull Island and batted down planes from the spire of the Empire State Building. We love reckoning with the huge and impossible, with attempting to fathom what this movie tells us: it’s not about controlling what you can’t understand, it’s about respecting it. The movie says it over and over again, “control this,” “control that, and I give it credit for ending on a shot of the T-Rex standing on top of the control room bellowing to the world “This is my house!” It’s big. It’s grand. It’s movies.

This thirst for spectacle isn’t some new phenomena.

It is as old as the movies themselves.