Jurassic World – review

jurassic-world-posterI am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man.
Why? Because miracles do happen.
After two miserable sequels, the world had no reason to expect anything good from another Jurassic Park movie; in fact, we had every reason to expect we would be better off without one – and it’s not as if the trailers did much to assuage our feelings of apprehension that Jurassic World would be a heaping pile of dino-dung. Why the hell would anybody build a park on the site of the previous disaster, and who would be stupid enough to put up the insurance? What kind of morons would buy tickets to visit a place with that kind of horrible and undoubtedly very high-profile history? Are we really supposed to get excited over the sight of Chris Pratt using Raptors like a pack of hunting dogs to track some new mutant dinosaur? Doesn’t the whole thing feel desperate and ridiculous?
And yet, in spite of every ill omen, Jurassic World turns out to be the most enjoyable blockbuster in recent memory, easily eclipsing the moribund Marvel superhero franchise. How this miracle was achieved, I am not quite sure – perhaps through some bureaucratic oversight, Universal Pictures hired some people who actually wanted to make a good movie? Maybe someone realized that, in a marketplace saturated with special effects, just doing another formulaic dino-munch-athon was not going to cut it?
I suspect that both may be the case: some talented people realized the challenges they faced and devised clever ways to meet those challenges. In particular, Jurassic World works because it is almost as much about Jurassic World the film as it is about Jurassic World the tourist attraction. The premise is that audiences grow jaded with familiar wonders; this attention-deficit-disorder requires an ever increasing escalation of scale in order to continue selling tickets; unfortunately, escalation can lead to disastrous results for audiences, who end up being assaulted instead of entertained.
In essence, this is the situation in which the makers of Jurassic World found themselves: back in 1993, showing regular dinosaurs – with the added novelty of computer-generated imagery – was enough to wow viewers; twenty-two years later, the familiar beasts are old-hat, so upping the ante is necessary. Thus, is born the new Indominus Rex; fortunately, the ensuing disaster is visited upon the on-screen audience in the park, not the real live audience in the theatre, because the filmmakers seem completely aware of how far wrong this strategy could go.
After all, they had only to look at Jurassic Park III, which gave us the Spinosaurus. Remember him? No? I’m not surprised. Spinosaurus is the equivalent of a “new and improved” product that provides exactly what you got before but in new packaging. It’s just a T-Rex with a sail on its back, and though having it kill a T-Rex early in the film is supposed to strike terror in our hearts, we all realize that – regardless of whether it looks a little different and kills the monster from the previous films – a Spinosaurus can’t kill you any deader than a T-Rex, so in practical terms there is absolutely no difference.
At first, Indominous Rex seems to be Jurassic World’s Spinosaurus – just another bigger, badder T-Rex, no doubt intended to sell new tie-in merchandise. Fortunately, it turns out to be something much better than that. Indominous becomes a self-referential plot point, in which the filmmakers acknowledge what circumstances are forcing them to do (create a new dinosaur as a marketing gimmick) and then ruthlessly satirize the result while ultimately inviting us to root for the old-school dinosaurs we lovingly remember from the first film.
And if my prose makes this sound like a dry, intellectual exercise, I apologize, because the result is a kick-ass, high-octane adventure that perfectly manipulates its pop entertainment elements – which is to say that, whether or not Jurassic World features sophisticated drama and in-depth characters, it makes you feel involved with the on-screen events,so that, even if the scenario plays out in a way that might seem predictable of even trite when viewed with cynical, retroactive disdain, you will fall under the spell while the film unspools before your eyes – fearing the threat and rooting for the heroes to defeat it. Or to put it another way: the film can get away with roasting a lot of chestnuts, because it cooks them to perfection and makes the audience hungry for more.
Indominous Rex (the dialogue acknowledges the absurdity of the name, manufactured – like the creature itself – to sell tickets) is a freak of science, a gene-spliced hybrid that emerges as the modern equivalent of Frankenstein’s Monster – an abomination that has no right to exist in our world of naturally evolved organisms. Intelligent and ruthless, the creature kills for sport – a hint that pays off late in the film, revealing that Indominous is something more sinister than just a redesigned Tyrannosaur.
In short, Indominous is almost a dictionary definition of a monster, which beyond any doubt needs to be exterminated, and much of the triumph of Jurassic World is that the battle that ensues is not a Transformers-like exercise in empty visual flash; it’s a textbook example of the value of rooting interest: I cannot remember the last time I anxiously cheering for a character to be put down for good (unless it was the moment in Evil Dead II when Ash jabs his finger at the severed head of his undead girl friend and angrily intones, “You’re doing down!”).
Of course, this is no easy task; it requires some satisfying inter-species cooperation. Not only does Owen (Pratt) ride out with his Raptor-pack; Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) unleashes a useful ally at the climax. The sly joke is that these two dinosaurs were mortal enemies at the conclusion of the first Jurassic Park, but now they set aside their differences to help humanity defeat the monster.
In a weird kind of way, Jurassic World is the franchise’s equivalent of Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, in which Godzilla teams with former foes Mothra and Rodan to fend off the new threat. The difference is that, avoiding camp, Jurassic World sells the idea with a straight face conviction that precludes us from even questioning the convenience that a worthy opponent for Indominus just happened to be conveniently waiting in a pen to be unleashed for the climax. I certainly wasn’t going to question it, because it was sure as hell what I wanted to see happen.
To spread some credit around to the humans, Pratt and Howard and effortlessly appealing in their roles; yeah, they’re fairly typical movie characters, but they’re watchable and even believable. The two brothers at the center of the story are likable instead of annoying (and neither one defeats a Raptor with a kick from the parallel bars). It’s also nice that even some nominal bad guys – execs and scientists responsible for Indominous Rex – seem sort of like people, and sometimes even make a halfway decent attempt to do the right thing, as when new park owner Masrani (Irrfan Khan) pilots a helicopter attempting to shoot down Indominous – even though he is not fully qualified for the task. It’s always nice to see B.D. Wong (here as the dino-designer), and Vincent D’Onofrio does good work as the film’s one officially unredeemed asshole, who wants to use the Raptors as dog soldiers. Guess what happens to him?
But while you’re guessing, remember this: the joys of Jurassic World do not being and end with seeing an unlikable character get what he deserves (a la the lawyer in Jurassic Park). This movie wants to bring you back to a state of mind where a rampaging dinosaur would have you scared shirtless. (Did I just write that? Must have been a typo!) When Indominous escapes his pen, you are not chanting, “Go, go – Godzilla!” You are moaning, “Oh no! Oh hell! Everybody – run!” It’s a sign of truly impressive film-making when even the disposable “red shirt” character inspires more sympathy than blood-lust in an audience that has paid to see a creature with an appetite for destruction go on a wild rampage.
That rampage is rendered with excellent CGI that is not merely pretty; it also suggests a believable physicality – a sense of inertia and momentum seen in real object but lacking in most digital work, which tends to betray its virtual origins. The 3D aspect is reasonably well-used: true to form for recent 3D films, the effects tend to be less in-your-face than the old school “comin’ at ya” shots of the 1950s and 1970s, but the extra dimension helps convey the sense of gargantuan size, and there is one great shot of a pterodactyl trying to fly out of the screen to escape a predator.
Despite its wonders, not everything is perfect in Jurassic World. Some early scenes do not strike the intended note (an early aerial shot, backed by swelling music, implies a sense of grandeur that simply is not visually evident in what looks to us like a standard theme park layout). The over-reliance on digital dinosaurs robs the film of the satisfying blend of computer and mechanical effects that worked so well in Jurassic Park, providing a live-action texture and immediacy that yielded a greater sense of human-saurian interaction. And finally, near the end, Jurassic World goes a little bit “Ray Harryhausen” on us, in a bad way.
To my surprise, I had bought into the Raptor scenario up till then, which had Owen interacting with the predators like a tamer dealing with lions: yes, he could get them to obey commands, but that didn’t mean he would turn his back on them. Still, there was some sense of a bond, insofar as Owen was the “alpha” member of the group, the pack leader upon whom the others had imprinted when they were born. This bond is tested, strained, broken, and possibly repaired in the film’s third act, which sees shifting alliances that lead to some shuddery plot twists. At the end of the day, certain characters make a decision to stand not with their biological kin but with their adoptive relative – even at risk to their own lives. And for too long during this sequence, Owen stands there like one of those slack-jawed heroes in an old Ray Harryhausen stop-motion monsterfest, watching while a friendly creature does his fighting for him. As much as I was rooting for Indominous Rex to take his well deserved fall, I was practically yelling at the screen for Owen to get off the sidelines and get some skin in the game – you don’t just stand and watch while your brothers-in-arms become dino-chow.
It’s ironic that, in a film which tries to add a glint of humanity to the usual blockbuster formula, the heroes turn out to be not so much the humans as the cold-blooded reptiles. In a weird kind of way, despite my misgivings, I’m okay with that. Because it’s nice to see old enemies united against a common foe; T-Rex is still the Lizard King, and like the end of Jurassic Park, the climax of Jurassic World takes you back – mentally, at least – to a time When Dinosaurs Rules the Earth.
Jurassic World (June 12, 2015). Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly, from a story by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, based on characters created by Michael Crichton. Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Irrfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Judy Greer, Jimmy Fallon. PG-13. In IMAX 3D.

King of the Lost World (2005) review

King of the Lost World posterIf you have never heard of KING OF THE LOST WORLD, you’re lucky – or at least you were, until you started reading this review. Sorry about that, but if I had to suffer through watching this movie, the least you can do is suffer the knowledge of the film’s existence. Just be thankful I took the bullet for you.
Anyway, this paradigm of low-budget exploitation proceeds from The Asylum, a company whose rai·sons d’être is the creation of direct-to-video schlock cleverly titled to cash in on high-profile theatrical releases. Thus SNAKES ON A PLANE (2006) begat SNAKES ON A TRAIN (also 2006); even better, The Asylum’s I AM OMEGA (2007) conflated the title of  2007’s I AM LEGEND with its 1971 predecessor, THE OMEGA MAN. Continuing their strategy of expending more creative ingenuity on their titles than their films, The Asylum one-upped their word-splicing technique to create KING OF THE LOST WORLD, a moniker so loaded with potential it leaves you wondering just what, exactly, is being appropriated.
At first glance, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997) looks like a good candidate, but the Asylum usually targets current releases, so perhaps KING KONG (2005) is the true source of “inspiration” – a theory buttressed by the presence of a giant ape on the cover art. But when you pop the disc into your player, the film starts with survivors of an airplane crash realizing they are stranded on an island filled with much mysterioso weirdness, and you realize that the LOST television series is being sourced as much as anything.
The screenplay pretends to be based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World, which is in the public domain and thus grants The Asylum license to riff on (or rip off) films with similar story lines – including the previously mentioned KING KONG. Oh well, what goes around comes around, I guess. Strictly speaking, the only connection between the book and the movie is some character names and the general idea of an isolated, prehistoric world surviving in present day.
Anyway, you’re probably wondering what happens in the movie, and the answer is: not much. We see bits and pieces of the crashed plane but not the whole thing because that would be too expensive. As Challenger, a mysterious man with a secret, Bruce Boxleitner (TRON, BABYLON 5) shows up to provide some name value, and like the pieces of the airplane, he is shown in brief cuts meant to convince us that he is, indeed, in the movie, though not always with the rest of the cast. (Steve Railsback shows up in a cave later to provide similar service.)
Our intrepid crew realize that this island is a graveyard for crashed planes. If they can just get to the other half of their plane (which somehow ended up miles away), maybe they can send out an SOS and get themselves rescued. Not much of a plan, but it gives them an excuse to trek across the island, encountering the occasional enlarged arachnid and some flying reptiles that look more like dragons than pterodactyls.
Eventually, the survivors find a primitive tribe that might not be indigenous: it kinda-sorta seems to be populated by previous crash victims – at least, we see some of our survivors subsumed into the group. The reasons for this development are not made clear; presumably it was to justify the casting of actors who do not particularly look as if they were born on an uncharted island.

King of the Lost World
It's King Kong - er, King of the Lost World.

Needless to say, being primitives, the “locals” (or are they “ferals”?) make sacrifices to their local deity, who turns out to be a furry, blurry piece of computer-generated imagery somewhat resembling a giant gorilla. He shows up in the last reel to justify the word “king” because if you rent a film called KING OF THE LOST WORLD, and there’s no giant gorilla in it, you’re going to be disappointed (as if you weren’t already).
The cast and crew apparently intended to make a decent B-flick rather than a send-up, but good intentions and halfway decent performances take you only so far. The dragons look goofy; the ape is worse. The plot threads do not so much tie these monster scenes together and string them along, and it is hard to get invested in the mystery (is Challenger a good guy or a bad guy, and does he know something that may help the survivors?) when said mystery plays out against a backdrop that includes a tribe of islanders whose members seem to have wandered in from a frat party.
As silly as all this sounds, none of it is really much fun, not even as deliberate camp. You would probably have a better time watching a man-in-a-suit stomp around some miniatures, instead of watching blurry pixels stutter across your screen. There are many films far cheesier and technically incompetent than KING OF THE LOST WORLD; ironically, some of those are far more entertaining.
KING OF THE LOST WORLD (The Asylum, 2005). Directed by Leigh Scott. Screenplay by Carlos De Los Rios, David Michael Latt, Leigh Scott, based on The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. 80 minutes. Rated R. Cast: Bruce Boxleitner, Jeff Denton, Rhett Giles, Sarah Lieving, Christina Rosenberg, Steve Railsback.

CFQ Podcast 4-14.2: Jurassic Park, 6 Souls & The Brass Teapot

Jurassic 6 Souls Brass Teapot
Do you ever feel your Sense of Wonder being overwhelmed? We certainly did this past weekend (in terms of quantity if not quality) with no less than six horror, fantasy, and/or science fiction films opening in U.S. theatres – some nationwide, some in limited engagements. EVIL DEAD, THALE, and EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL were covered in a previous Spotlight Podcast earlier this week. That leaves JURASSIC PARK, 6 SOULS, and THE BRASS TEAPOT for this follow-up edition.
Podcasters Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski delve deeply into the prehistory of the Steven Spielberg classic, based on Michael Crichton’s novel, which has been re-released in a new 3D conversion, including IMAX engagements. Does depth add a new dimension of terror to the 1990s computer-generated imagery? And how does the film hold up two decades after its original release?
After that, Biodrowski offers capsule comments on 6 SOULS (a supernatural thriller starring Julianne Moore) and THE BRASS TEAPOT (a comic-fantasy about a couple who discover a teapot that gives them free money – when they hurt themselves). Lawrence French wraps up with an account of seeing producer Thom Mount (who was interviewing director Roman Polanski via Skype at the Roxy Theatre in San Francisco) and learning from Mount that there is director’s cut of Roger Corman’s neglected FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND (1990) lying in the Warner Brothers vaults. If only Warner Brothers could be persuaded to release that version on Blu-ray disc!


'Terra Nova: Now You See Me' Sneak Peek

Here’s a Sneak Peek of TERRA NOVA’s “Now You See Me”
Taylor and Mira square-off in the jungle where he learns more about her plans and about his son. But then they both face a pre-historic enemy they must conquer together.
Meanwhile, the “Sixer” mole scrambles to cover its tracks as Terra Nova goes on lockdown and Jim closes in. Also, Zoe faces a difficult decision as the Ankylosaur she has been caring for grows rapidly.

TERRA NOVA airs Mondays at 8:00 PM/7:00 Central on the Fox Network.

'Terra Nova: Proof'—Sneak Peek

Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) investigates a drug robbery in the lab.

Also: “Maddy starts interning for the colony’s greatest scientist (guest star Robert Coleby), and her life is put in danger when she discovers a terrible secret. Meanwhile, Josh (Landon Liboiron) makes a deal with the devil in order to solidify his plan to bring his girlfriend from the future to Terra Nova in the all-new “Proof” episode of TERRA NOVA premiering Monday, November  14 th(8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Fox Pushes 'Terra Nova' to Fall

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Once again, Steven Spielberg’s troubled televison production TERRA NOVA has had its premiere pushed back.
From Friday’s Press Release:

The new epic family adventure series TERRA NOVA will now launch with its series premiere in fall 2011 on FOX, it was announced today by Kevin Reilly, President of Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company.
“TERRA NOVA is one of the most ambitious television series ever produced,” said Reilly. “The cutting-edge visual effects used to create the world of TERRA NOVA, which is of massive scope and scale, require more time to be realized. This aspect of the series is essential, so we are pushing back the special early preview date to give the visual effects team the time needed for their ground-breaking work.”
“The world of TERRA NOVA is visually stunning on multiple levels, and effects play an enormous part,” said executive producer René Echevarria. “Premiering in the fall will give us the proper time to create a world never before seen on television.”
An epic family adventure 85 million years in the making, TERRA NOVA follows an ordinary family embarking on an incredible journey back in time to prehistoric Earth as a small part of a daring experiment to save the human race. In the year 2149 the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped, overcrowded and overpolluted. With no known way to reverse the damage to the planet, scientists discover a portal to prehistoric Earth. This doorway leads to an amazing world, one that allows for a last-ditch effort to save the human race…a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.
The series centers on the Shannon family as they join the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to TERRA NOVA, the first colony established in this beautiful yet forbidding land led by its founder COMMANDER NATHANIEL TAYLOR (Stephen Lang, “Avatar”). JIM SHANNON (Jason O’Mara, “Life on Mars”), a devoted father with a checkered past, guides his family – wife ELISABETH (Shelley Conn, “Mistresses”); and children JOSH (Landon Liboiron, “Degrassi: The Next Generation”), MADDY (Naomi Scott, “Life Bites”) and ZOE (newcomer Alana Mansour) – through this new land of limitless beauty, mystery and terror. In addition to blue skies, towering waterfalls and lush vegetation, TERRA NOVA offers new opportunities and fresh beginnings to its recent arrivals, but the Shannons have brought with them a familial secret that may threaten their citizenship in this utopia. These adventurers soon discover that this healthy, vibrant world is not as idyllic as it initially appears. The areas surrounding TERRA NOVA are teeming with danger – and not just of the man-eating dinosaur variety. The Shannons will come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind; in fact, there may be forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins.

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TERRA NOVA is produced by 20th Century Fox Television, Chernin Entertainment, DreamWorks Television and Kapital Entertainment. Peter Chernin, Steven Spielberg, René Echevarria, Brannon Braga, Aaron Kaplan, Katherine Pope, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Jon Cassar, Craig Silverstein and Kelly Marcel serve as executive producers. Alex Graves serves as executive producer and directed the series premiere.

Big Trouble on 'Terra Nova'?

terranova_LogoDeadline.com is trying to clear up dark rumblings about Steven Spielbergs’ TERRA NOVA time-travel/dinosaur series.
Rene Echevarria (DEEP SPACE NINE, THE 4400), has apparently been enlisted to produce the two-hour pilot, working with fellow STAR TREK vet Brannon Braga, who is set to be the 20th Century Fox /Dreamworks TV series’ “showrunner”.
Back in September  Braga’s co-excutive producer David Fury left the series, and last Friday the rest of the writing staff was “released”, as the show is going on a four month hiatus while the pilot/TV movie is filmed in Austrailia.  It’s expected to take two months to shoot, another two for post production & FX, and cost in the area of $14 Million. That would be a record, surpassing LOST’s $12 Million.
Originally, Fox was planning to go directly from the pilot into a 13 episode production run, but it’s been decided to air the pilot in May 2011, and not premiere the series until the Fall.
If TERRA NOVA ultimately does not go into production as a series, certain costs expected to be armortized over the first season might bring the actual cash outlay to around $20 Million.
The site reports extensive rewrites on the pilot, and the possiblities of cost overruns. See the link above for further details.

'Terra Nova' Loses Producer, Gains Actor?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, producer David Fury (24) has left the Fox Network’s time-travel dinosaur series TERRA NOVA.
Unnamed sources tell the site that Fury left due to “creative differences” while writing the pilot with Brannon Braga (STAR TREK: TNG, 24). Braga will remain as the ‘show-runner’ producer for the Steven Spielberg series.
It’s unclear if David Fury’s differences were with Brannon Braga, or higher up the chain of command.
LANG_AVATARMeanwhile, Deadline.com says that Steven Lang (AVATAR, CONAN) is in serious talks to play Frank Taylor, who they describe as “the charismatic and ruthless leader of the Terra Nova settlement.”
The article claims Lang was long favored for the the role, but unavailable due to feature commitments until recently.
UPDATE 9/17: Deadline.com is confiming that Steven Lang has signed for the role of Frank Taylor.