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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Jurassic World

JURASSIC WORLD (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Colin Trevorrow, 2015


Ever since Jaws made his name and fortune in 1975 Steven Spielberg has been the king of the summer movie, and his production of this weekend’s nearly-record-breaking mega-hit Jurassic World simply continues that tradition. Where would we be if we didn’t have a shark, a dinosaur, a U.F.O., or an E. T. to run from or play with or queue up for?  Even when his movies aren’t released in summer, they can feel like summery treats.

Jurassic World, in which we see novelist Michael Crichton’s all-too-real dinosaur amusement park (of the 1993 massive Spielberg hit, Jurassic Park) opened again on Isla Luba island, packed with customers (but not enough for the greedy bean-counters), and once again stocked with re-created, hatched-again dinosaurs, who once again run amok and threaten our star players and identity figures, shows the Maestro of Middlebrow America once again returning in triumph to the movie genre and the movie season he ‘s made his own. And even though he’s “only” credited as an executive producer this time around, he still seems to be the auteur of much of what we see.

It’s not the credit that gives him primacy. The people who made this third (and best) sequel to his epic 1993 summer entertainment — director-co-writer Colin Trevorrow, producers and longtime Spielberg collaborator Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley, screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (of the new Planet of the Apes series), and director-writer Trevorrow an co-writer Derek Connelly (of Safety Not Guaranteed and a whole raft of top-notch technical people — plus some of ubiquitous Spielberg composer John Williams’ original themes, reworked and added to by Michael Giacchino — may not have all worked alongside the Jawsmeister. But it‘s safe to say that, as members of the post’70s, post-Jaws movie generations, they’ve all picked up or been saturated with his storytelling style, his rhythms, his tastes and distastes, and the whole Spielbergian gestalt, for probably all or most of their moviemaking lives. Much of the audience will be saturated with Spielbergiana too — which is probably why they’re flocking to it in near-record droves (the third best opening day in movie history).

I was pretty consistently entertained myself, even though I thought the show fell down a bit in the final big action scenes, which aren‘t quite as clean and engrossing as the rest. But overall, the picture works just fine. It’s a superior sequel and a better movie than either 1997’s not-so-good The Lost World: Jurassic Park (which Spielberg directed) or 2001‘s even-less-good Jurassic Park III (which he didn’t direct, but which he produced, as he does here). And it’s not as good as the original, which it copies sometimes slavishly — though it‘s closer in quality than we probably thought it would be. (For an unabashed tent pole movie, in which the franchise is the dinosaurs, it has a lot more heart and soul than we usually expect. One dying dinosaur, in fact, almost brings tears to your eyes.)

The latest Jurassic isn’t too original or innovative — though it’s nevertheless, again, better than some of us probably expected. But it does have the same kind of awesome special effects and believably created dinosaurs as the ‘93 movie, and, this time around they’re enhanced by IMAX and 3D and 22 years worth of improved technology. As for the script, it’s derivative, but well-constructed — and better than some reviewers give it credit for.

The movie also has a good cast, of actors and actresses who were selected for more than their looks and perceived star power, including a very attractive and engaging hero and heroine (Chris Pratt as gutsy velociraptor handler/whisperer Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard as the initially somewhat nervous park manager Claire), plus a hissable villain (Vincent D’Onofrio, in full glower, as the nefarious military entrepreneur Hoskins), and a crackling supporting ensemble (Irfan Khan as nervous park owner Simon Masrani, Jake Johnson and Lauren Lupkus as chatty park techies Lowery and Vivian, dangerous inventor and vet of the original movie BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu, and Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins as Claire‘s visiting and not-nervous-enough nephews Zach and Gray, who, of course, get lost in the park right when a rampaging Indominus Rex — a new improved, meaner and more dangerous creature that Hoskins covets for war duty — breaks free of her bonds and starts turning the whole park, with a little help from her friends, into bloody chaos.)

As for the action, the bloody chaos has gotten bloodier and more chaotic over the years — and it includes a gigantic, totally hideous sea monster who leaps out of a park tank, and, before a wildly cheering crowd, chomps and devours a hapless great white shark, which is probably around to remind us of the much-maligned Bruce the Shark in Jaws. And the same sort of things that happened in Jurassic Park — dinosaur assaults, mad chases and one terrifying encounter after another — happen once again, against a scenic backdrop of tropical vegetation, rolling hills, and incessant product placement (everything, it seems, from Starbuck’s to Verizon Wireless to Mercedes Benz). There are also numerous cross-references to the ‘93 film (but not the 1997 and 2001 sequels, whose stories have, perhaps understandably, erased from history — and one attack of swooping black-winged pterodactyls, which is an obvious homage to Hitchcock‘s The Birds. No Red Sea partings though, for the executive producer who, as a boy, called himself Steven B. DeSpielberg.

The filmmakers around him execute it all with gusto. There’s something both technologically cutting-edge and engagingly old school and nostalgic about the movie, and I don’t think very many people predisposed to enjoy it will actively dislike it. The actors connect with their material and have fun with it, and so do the technicians. The entire movie is a kind of self-referential and self-kidding action-and-horror-picture fiesta, and even though it keeps doing what we expect it to, there’s a lot of fun in watching the moviemakers pull their characters out of (or back into) the fixes they keep inventing for them. Jurassic World is about a huge expensive entertainment project that has a history and goes haywire because of greed and politics, and, to some extent, in setting it up this way, the moviemakers are making fun of themselves. And having fun doing it.

Colin Trevorrow, and his writing partner Derek Connelly, are young moviemakers, who made their mark with the Sundance hit time-travel comedy-drama Safety Not Guaranteed, and they were a good match for this movie. It’s hard to decipher what they may have added to the script written by Jaffa and Silver, but, for most of its length, up until the hectic last act, everything flows along smoothly and amusingly. The writers have fun with it. They don’t take the material over-seriously — but they take it seriously enough so that the audience doesn’t feel silly watching it, as some of us might while watching, say, San Andreas.

Speaking of politics, I think Bryce Dallas Howard’s much-dissed Claire is getting something of a bad rap by some for alleged political and fashion deficiencies. (In any case, they’re the character’s flaws and not the actress’s, who does a fine, tongue-in-cheek, yet emotional-when-it-had-to-be-job.) Claire has an antagonistic relationship (but they really like each other) with the raptor–loving Owen, who had a bad date with her once and keeps trying to put her in her place, while she frostily puts him down. She also runs around for much of the movie in high heels — an amazing achievement given the fact that‘s running from, and later battling with gigantic dinosaurs.

But she‘s no airhead. After all, she‘s managing the park — even though she takes a lot of time off to rescue her nephews. Her taste in footwear and other men may be questioned (there seems to be a class antagonism of sorts between her and Owen), as may, in the beginning, her suitability as a role model for young girls or for career women trying to cope with a sexist marketplace. But, after all, she is the park manager. And, by the end of the film, she’s practically a full-fledged action-heroine in the Ripley mode. (Or so it seems.)

I thought Claire was basically quite likeable, as was Owen, even at her most nervous and prickly, and even at his bossiest and least sensitive. And she was gorgeous. At the age of 12, which is probably the right age to see this movie, Bryce Dallas Howard in this film would have knocked me out — especially since I’ve always had a special place in my heart for redheads, especially Shirley MacLaine. Then again I‘m not saying that 12 year olds are the most politically sophisticated segment of the population. Or me either, for that matter. But I know what I like — and so does the massive audience for a Spielberg movie, even when the actors and the sharks are being eaten alive in 3D and IMAX.

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So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon