Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bigger, Badder, And Louder -- With High Heels

Reel To Reel: Jurassic World

Going Rate: Worth matinee or dollar show price
Starring: Chris Pratt and... oh, does it really matter in a movie about rampaging dinosaurs?
Rated: PG-13 (and the MPAA means it -- this is too intense for young children)
Red Flags: Intense dino violence, very mild language

Jurassic Park broke new sci-fi ground, incorporating amazing CGI sequences and debuting a new theater sound system: DTS. Two decades later, I'm watching nearly the same movie again, seeing things I've seen before, nearly the same way I saw them, only with less ecological morality and more bite. Jurassic World is a highly polished, CGI-powered monster movie melodrama. I balk at using the term "melodrama" -- in fact, I've only used it twice before since 2004 -- but when the stuff fits, it wears it.

The film technically takes place 22 years after the original Jurassic Park disaster, when humans presumably learned re-creating extinct predators is not a good idea. Wait, they didn't, otherwise we wouldn't have a reboot set on the same island, now transformed into a hybrid of Disney's Animal Kingdom and SeaWorld. I have to ask: where's CNN with a documentary called "BlackLizard?" Where are the PSA's touting Jurassic World's commitment to animal welfare backed up with a girl in a safari suit saying, "We want you to know the facts?" Where's PETA outside the gates? Anyway, the new park is everything you would expect of tacky commercialism: a main street lined with expensive souvenirs, Starbucks easily accessible, and all manner of dino encounters. We get a Shamu show featuring a hungry Mosasaurus chomping dolphins. Monorails roll through Bronto country. Get up close from the safety of a rolling reinforced sphere. Take a kayak down a lazy river as the beasts graze nearby. And for the kids, a petting zoo. Have you hugged Dino the Dino today?

Into this we place our two young protagonists, Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins), a dinosaur fanatic, and his older brother Zach (Nick Robinson), who would rather be kissing his girlfriend. Their parents send them off to the island by themselves to visit their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who happens to be operations manager -- and because we need to find a way to leave the kids unattended and in danger at some point. Aunt Claire, predictably, leaves the kids with her British-accented attendant while she focuses on wooing new investors into the operation to boost the numbers. The consultants tell her guests demand more out of the experience and a 90 percent satisfaction rate just isn't enough. Sounds like something the broadcast consultants tell us. Anyway, the scientists who have brought back all the dinosaurs from extinction have come up with a game-changer: Indominus rex, an entirely new dinosaur combining DNA from several other species, along with market research and Godzilla's attitude.

Claire is all business, in a white suit with high heels -- everywhere. I kept wanting Michael Douglas to step out of the jungle and lop off those risers. ("Those were Italian!" "Now they're practical.") She's got a park to run, fitting into that disaster-movie mold of the mostly soulless bureaucrat. Let's call Central Casting and fill out the other open spots:

Handsome Velociraptor Whisperer Who's The Only Person Who Really Knows Dinosaur Behavior: Owen Grady (Pratt).
House Computer Geek In T-Shirt: Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson).
Security Guy With Testosterone Up To His Throat: Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio)
Super-Rich Foreign CEO: Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan)
Weird Genetic Scientist: Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong)
Tough Guy Who Amazingly Stays Clear Of Any Peril: Barry (Omar Sy)

Now that the gang's all here, let's get to the main event. Godzilla, I mean, Indominus, has gotten free of its pen under construction. Because it's a genetic milkshake of several other species, it's smarter than all the other dinosaurs, along with half this film's cast. More dinosaurs get loose. They eat people, panic ensues, brothers have to fend for themselves, Velociraptor Whisperer has to get the gun, aunt has to be a family woman again while wearing those heels, la-dee-dee, la-dee-dah, until we get to the compulsory Big Showdown At The End.

Jurassic World is painstakingly engineered and developed by experts to be a summer tentpole that hauls in wicked money. For a picture that took more than a decade to get to the screen, it had better be. Concepts, scripts and cast came and went, including Keira Knightley at one point, which might have turned this film into Pride And Prejudice And Velociraptors. As of this writing, Universal, Amblin Entertainment and Legendary Pictures have pulled in whammo b.o. of $1 billion against a reported $150 million negative cost. We can only hope part of the gross will buy Aunt Claire some flats.

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