(2015 - Director: Colin Trevorrow Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard)
Jurassic World has plenty of merits. Colin Trevorrow takes the helm as director/co-writer after only having directed one prior feature (a personal favorite, Safety Not Guaranteed) and gives a giant picture with a giant scope about giant creatures some clarity all while peppering in homages to the original Jurassic Park. No matter what, every Jurassic Park franchise film will be compared to the original. And rightfully so. There are plenty of things that Jurassic World does right, but it trips over so many essentials that made Jurassic Park a classic. A lot of other people have written about the overuse of CGI, the amount of screen time dinosaurs have versus the original, and how every female, minus the dinosaur, has a brain the size of a fish. But what bothers me most about JW is its lack of attention when it comes to fear and suspense.
JW sets up a world where, after 20+ years of the park being open, there’s a perception that people are bored with watching dinosaurs. They’ve turned into nothing more than common zoo animals. This is no more evident than when the two brothers show up to the park. The younger one is fascinated with dinosaurs and wants to see every ride while the older one couldn’t care any less, even while watching a T-Rex 20 feet away. I actually like this commentary of how JW reflects what it’s like for a movie about dinosaurs to come out in 2015 and how different that is from JP coming out in 1993. There are no scenes where people are speechless while getting out of a Jeep to watch a dinosaur eat some branches. The awesomeness and spectacle of seeing dinosaurs for the first time is over. That can never be repeated. But what carries over from JP is the insistence that these animals can be domesticated and survive in a theme park environment. People start to lose their primal fear of these animals because they feel safe. And if we couldn’t already feel how dangerous that mindset was, we always had Chris Pratt to explain to us how stupid these people were.
So what happens when someone goes off the grid, or an animal loses containment? People should go ape-shit crazy, right? We see it in JP when the Jeeps break down. We get this sense that something isn’t right and that lives are in danger. When the T-Rex is let loose, there is a slow build up. There is character realization that they most definitely will get eaten. We see fast and furious decisions to stay alive. The focus isn’t on the creature, but on the fear of the creature. That’s what makes JP so scary. Just like in JP, the children in JW are left on their own. This time because of neglect rather than cowardice. They are riding in a park vehicle, just like JP. The park fails to oversee the vehicle, just like in JP. But what little hesitation there is to continue riding in their gyrosphere against the park’s wishes is quickly overcome by the desire to rebel and the desire to connect with a brother for the first time. There’s no slow build. There’s no trepidation or tension that what they are doing might not be safe. The characters’ realization comes in a matter of seconds once they see the Indominus Rex behind them. All suspense is gone. And then what follows isn’t soil-your-pants level of fear, as it should have been. The child actors in JP gave reactions that I can still picture in my mind. That’s what sold those dinosaur scenes. The brothers in JW do some screaming and act scared, but they never are put in situations where they seem out of control. The Indominus Rex is closing in on them and the older brother spends 10 seconds trying to reach for his cell phone rather than franticly unbuckling his seat belt. When the boys get out of the gyrosphere they aren’t in any state of shock. They know to run and to run fast. When they get to the waterfall they wait and chat before jumping from a waterfall just moments before getting eaten. There is no adult with them like Dr. Grant was in JP. He acted as the voice of reason and directed them how to survive. He grew to be their protector. I know these are different kids and different kids are scared of different things. But when we’re talking about two brothers who don’t have a great relationship, have very little positive adult influence, and have grown up their entire lives knowing dinosaurs to be safe, it seems odd that they are so well equipped to survive with a new genetically modified monster chasing them through an unknown jungle.
But it’s not just the brothers. It’s every character but Chris Pratt. If anyone should be deathly afraid of these dinosaurs, it should have been Bryce Dallas Howard’s character. As dumb and spineless a character as she plays, how does she, a woman who is all about control, willingly go out into the out of control jungle with Pratt and have little to no hesitation? She should constantly be terrified. She isn’t a scientist Dr. Sattler was in JP. She doesn’t know nor care about these animals. And she never grows to be the boys' protector, much like Dr. Grant did in JP. She really does have no redeeming qualities.
After the pterodactyls get loose and start attacking the mass of people, FINALLY, we get some truly horrified people. But besides the one time Pratt has to fend off a pterodactyl (and that kiss? Really?) Pratt and Howard just stand there. At one point, Howard stands up high on an object to see better. Umm, there are birds swooping in and eating people. That’s not a good idea. Once they reunite with the boys, the four of them stand there like the threat is gone. Again, no urgency.
When the raptors attack the brothers in the back of the truck, there isn’t an immediate reaction from the boys to shut the back door. They just sit there and watch before deciding to use weapons. Again, the first time they’ve ever seen raptors in person, after having watched them kill and eat a small platoon on the TV monitor, and they aren’t the least bit afraid? Then why should the audience be scared? What makes scenes like this dramatic if there isn’t anything to be afraid of? Is it because these actors were mostly dealing with CGI creatures and didn’t have the animatronics like JP had? I’m sure that didn’t help. They seemed like capable actors, and gave convincing performances otherwise. But a lack of real fear was an overall trend in JW. When Howard releases the T-Rex, she walks in front of it like she was taking it for a walk. They all sit and watch the final battle like it’s on PPV instead of high tailing it out of there. And then to top it off, once the Indominus Rex is killed, they just sit and stare at the T-Rex until it decides to leave them alone. In every other JP film, the cast is running for their lives until they are off the island. But not here.
JW went bigger, and crazier than any previous JP films. And I think by doing that, it loses the best part of JP; the constant fear for your life. If they make another JP film (and of course they will) I would LOVE if they made it really small in scope. Like a one-man-surviving-on-his-own-in-the-jungle-being-hunted-by-a-group-of-raptors type of film. It would be a psychological drama more than anything. It could be about the boy in Jurassic Park III. That boy survives on his own on the island for how many months? How was that movie not about him? Ugh. Maybe someday.
Here's me doing my part to help JW inevitably reach it's $1 billion+ in ticket sales