Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thoughts on Jurassic World!

Time to stop neglecting my pet blog and get some stuff written! Been busy with throwing my life savings at Steam for the summer sale and trying to edit another Primal Frontier story, I'm excited for this one, but I managed to go out and see the vaunted Jurassic World this Monday. I didn't post immediately because I wanted to take a few days to let myself mull over what I saw after the initial dopamine rush from the theater.

So, was it the epic rush with proper pacing and storytelling that I'd hoped it would be? Or was it the dumbed down Hollywood inferior clone that I feared would be lurking beneath the trailers?

To my infinite relief, it was the former.

I recall telling anyone who would listen at work and church that the trailer told us the entire basic premise of the plot, and that all they had to do was follow that and not screw it up. If they did this, it'd be great. The problem with Hollywood lately is that they don't think things through and screw up what should be simple stories.
Thank Odin that in this case, the trailers were in fact honest.

Right from the get go they make the wise decision of giving a bit of build-up with the infamous Indominous Rex, showing it and its sibling hatching in the nursery, hinting at things to come later. It's quiet and not bombastic, which would have snuffed itself out and deprived us of upcoming excitement.
I think that was one of the biggest mistakes in Jurassic Park 3. There is virtually no build up to any kind of the Spinosaurus. Great beastie, but we are in no way given a chance to wonder about it or the like. They land on island, hear roar, and within a minute we get a huge look at the thing killing someone, shortly followed by it going on a rampage.

This mistake is in no way repeated here. On the contrary, the build up is beautiful. In fact, you could say that the entire first act involves the build up. We never get a clear, up close look at it. We get hints, glimpses, and see the aftermath of its actions within its enclosure, but never get a full shot.

The first act is slow, and in fact actually shows a lot of the park actually working darned well. The young sprog of the movie, Gray, is actually great. I know a lot of people were down at first for having kids as main characters in the movie yet again. After all, the kids in the first one were there as basically part of an experiment. Second one Kelly was kinda shoved in. Third one? Yeah, no. Screw that. Here though? They actually make perfect sense, Gray especially. For the first act he basically represents the childish awe and wonder that many of us felt when we first saw Jurassic Park. We didn't care if stuff was scientifically inaccurate. We didn't care! Because we were looking at dinosaurs!

We weren't concerned with gimmicks, scares, or super predators. We just loved the fact that we were seeing what appeared to us were actual, living, breathing dinosaurs. Gray captures that perfectly, devoid of any of the cynical aggression we see so much among us old time fans. Sure, some of his lines could have been done better, but he wasn't an annoying twerp that kept getting in the way. He was just a welcome presence that helped capture an emotion many of us felt as children.

So yeah, I dug that a lot. It was nice to see calm, safe excitement and characters grinning stupidly, experiencing the joy John Hammond intended in the first place. It's actually quite fun to see the park working smoothly for once. It also offers a great contrast for when things go downhill.

I really like our macho action man, Owen. Opinions are a bit diverse about him, being from thinking he's awesome or being down on him for being awesome and having no real character arc.
Personally, I'm really glad he's there. I'm not sure if I'm in the minority here or not, but I'll be honest. It's one of my biggest pet peeves in a movie when disaster strikes and everyone involved is a helpless little lamb lost in the woods with no idea what to do. I often end up frustrated and actively hoping characters die because they aren't worthy of the adventure. I wanna jump in there, slap them, and show them how to do things correctly. My personal problem I guess.

Anyway, Owen fills the roll of someone who has initiative, is practical and isn't a complete idiot. Works for me! He has a gun, knows how to use it, and best of all he actually has an idea of how to handle animals.
For me personally, I feel like this movie more than any other gave the animals personality and individuality. The raptors here all have some level of personality. Of the four Owen trains, Charlie seems like the submissive well-behaved beastie, whereas Delta is much more feisty and unpredictable. Blue, the beta of the pack, is stable but rebellious.
I feel here like they are really alive and I actually got flashbacks to handling various animals myself. That's something special.

Even in the first JP movie, as much as I love it, I couldn't tell the raptors apart and they had one mode, which was "kill everything that moves." Here we actually see them not doing that! They are intelligent, certainly, but also very instinctive. This movie manages to find that fantastic balance between energetic killing machine and humans in animal bodies. I've rarely seen movies actually achieve this.
Here Owen recognizes them as living creatures with behaviors and emotions, yet still recognizes them as animals. He's not getting cuddly with them, but he treats them with the respect they deserve. As you can probably tell, I'm extremely pleased.

It is true that Owen doesn't undergo any sort of character arc, but I'm okay with that. He prevents me from getting angry at the cast and helps indulge in superb action.

Claire, our female protagonist and corporate head on the other hand, gets a beautiful arc over the course of the movie. Normally what a movie might do is make her an uncaring and unsympathetic machine that looks like a human, caring only about stats and spreadsheets to monitor total profits. And at first glance that is what she appears to be. She isn't terribly close with her sister, who's sons, Gray and Zach, are coming over as sort of VIPs, and this is partly an attempt to knit the family back together.
Here's the thing though: Claire does care about her nephews. She doesn't regard them as just an inconvenience that interrupts her rigid schedule. She genuinely does show remorse when she realizes how much she's been neglecting them at points and seeks to amend that, but crap keeps getting thrown in her way. And to be fair to her, she is running one of the largest and most complex parks in the world. She has to help manage hotels, food, utilities, security, transport, investors, logistics, budget, and that's not even counting the dino stuff! Let's face it, that's a lot to have on your plate no matter who you are.

As the movie progresses and things start spiraling out of control, she doesn't dispatch just one squad of ACU guys to find her missing nephews. She grabs Owen and goes out herself. She absolutely refuses to not be part of finding them, even though it's a job out of her league. Owen even points out that her clothing and especially her shoes mean that she's gonna have a bit of a rough time trekking through jungle. She doesn't take any of that though.

One of the best moments in the whole movie in my opinion is when she and Owen stumble upon a group of mortally wounded Apatosaurus.  Along with some fantastic puppet-work, Claire for the first time seems to realize just how precious life is and has an emotional connection with one of the animals. She knows it's in agonizing pain and feels an entire cocktail of emotions. Being higher up the food chain and usually in the command room, she has been fairly removed from up close interaction with the dinos. Being so distant it's of course easy to see the animals as objects rather than living creatures.
But in this one scene, without saying anything we can almost visibly see her change. It really is beautiful, at least to me.

Even later when her nephews are safe again she doesn't just hand them off to security and lock up in a vault. Nope, she takes personal watch over them, refusing to let them out of her sight. Oh, I've heard that some people are complaining about her change, complaining that it's sexist for an experienced business-woman to begin developing maternal feelings towards kids.
Well, you know what? Screw you guys. I'm a manly man that loves guns, 80's action movies, pretty women, slaying monsters, getting into fights, and I don't consider it in any way weak to feel parental feelings towards kids. Heck, I love kids! And never once has anyone accused me of being weak or unmanly because of it. I've certainly never thought of anyone as being wimps for it either. And remember, I'm the guy who loves Tarzan of the Apes and Conan of Cimmeria.

What was I talking about again? Oh, right, characters.
Hoskins is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand he makes some level of sense. Especially his speech about how nature is in fact like war. Arms races going on, one species against another, all trying to survive and gain superiority over others. On the other, if he'd ever seen an Aliens comic he'd realize that weaponizing most animals doesn't work out too well. I'd love to see how much money it took to breed and train the four raptors they had to start with. I'm willing to bet that with that sort of money you could buy a few Abrams tanks. I'm just gonna go out on a limb here and assume that four raptors against one tank would at best case scenario, result in a draw for the raptors.

Still, he has a point in that being used for tracking of insurgents in wild environments would be most effective. Fast, smart and dangerous! Hope no non-combatants are around, cuz I suspect that won't turn out too well.

Hoskins as far as I can tell is part of Ingen and is really hankering for a military contract to breed combat raptors. The idea isn't entirely without merit, but at the time of his viewing of the squad on hand, it demonstrates that they just plain aren't ready and suggests some rather troubling eugenics ideas to help out with that whole obedience problem. Of course, lots of animals have been used in warfare with different levels of success. On one occasion a stray dog actually got enlisted in the US Army. He even ended up outranking his caretaker! Nor was he a useless mascot. He saved dozens of lives on the battlefields of World War 1, found a German sniper, resulting in his capture, and most of all alerted his human compatriots to incoming artillery fire, allowing them to get to cover before the explosions began.
In World War 2 the Polish army got a hold of a young bear, named it Voychek, and ended up being a major help in a battle, carrying ammunition back and forth to the artillery teams without dropping a single shell. Not half bad!

But all things considered, the raptors aren't quite ready for that. Hoskins is banking pretty heavily on a best case scenario here. Don't put any money on him.

A secondary character I like quite a bit is Barry, who to me feels like Owen's partner. Although he doesn't get nearly as much screen time, I ended up really taking to him. He too is darned smart, understanding animals and the like, and is one of the few guys with a smart gun selection. Unlike Owen who is packing a Marlin 1895 45-70 Guide Gun, he packs a Remington 870 with a short barrel and ghost ring sights. If loaded with slugs then he has a very potent pill pusher, in my opinion far superior to the AR's a lot of the other guys are packing. A 72 caliber lead bullet is nothing to turn your nose up at!
He also packs a Smith and Wesson 460 as a sidearm when he loses the shotty. Pretty easy to identify with the huge muzzle break. He almost ends up using it while hiding inside a hollow tree trunk. Thank heavens he didn't use it in there, otherwise he'd have a pair of very unhappy eardrums. I was so happy that he made it out okay. He earned it! I actually hope he shows up in one of the sequels which seem to be getting geared up already. He's too good to waste!

As for the Indominous Rex, what do I think of her? Honestly, I don't mind her too much. The reasons they have for her psychotic aggression against anything sucking wind actually make sense. Owen points out that she has been isolated and devoid of contact with other living things almost her entire life. This is actually a fascinating point. Creatures deprived of interaction with others act weird to say the least. She could in fact be flat out insane. That's a bit of a stretch, but it's not entirely off of the table. I once heard of an experiment where a monkey was born isolated and deprived of any social interaction with any other sort of organism. The results were less than pretty.

That's one of the things I really liked here. It was an angle I've NEVER seen in a monster flick before! That's darned hard to do. Granted, some of the behavior is influenced by the very nature of its genetic makeup, combining the aggression of multiple predators. It could even be a sense of extreme territoriality. After being cooped up in an enclosure its whole life, wouldn't it perhaps consider every bit of the new-found landscape its territory? Heck, I can't think of any predatory animal in those circumstances that wouldn't go on a rampage.

Its genetic makeup is a little more sketchy. But that's not necessarily a problem. Of course making it a cocktail of monster genes as a tourist novelty isn't a great idea. But was that its intention? When confronted with this, Dr. Wu from the first movie, clearly knows more than he's letting on. It's hinted that he was in cahoots with Hoskins. You gotta admit, an animal that can mask its heat signature, shift its skin pigment and bite the crap out of any infantry unit would be a serious problem for any insurgents. And spoilers, Wu gets out alive. With a crapload of data and viable embryos. In an Ingen helicopter.

Wu is in a very unique position to make a ton of cash depending on how he plays things. He's at the helm of very special tech, paving new roads. And if you recall from the first movie, Dogsen is still alive. In the books Dogsen dies on Isla Sorna. But in this series? He's still kicking, and the shark of Biosyn. For those of you who don't recall, Dogsen is the one who bribed Dennis Nedry into trying to steal viable embryos and screwing over the park systems, leading to the overall debacle. With the kind of money Dogsen was throwing around, who's to say he didn't reach out to Wu as well? With Nedry dead and that entire attempt a botch, it's entirely possible that he got to Wu. Or is Wu trying to go out on his own? Would he try to make his own batch of creatures and auction them off? There are a ton of possibilities here.

All in all, there is a heck of a lot going on behind the scenes. The Indominous Rex wasn't just a poorly designed creature. On the contrary, it was designed too well. And only Wu knows how or why. Hoskins might have, but he's in no position to share what he knows anymore. What other sort of machinations are going on behind the curtain of the Jurassic World genetics labs? Who knows? But dang it's intellectually stimulating!

See how this is way more fascinating than the Spinosaurus? All we know is that it wasn't on the Ingen list, but then again we didn't see anything else that wasn't on the list already, so goodbye intrigue. Here there is just so much mystery revolving around this animal that it's almost like a Chrichton sequel. Lots of corporate espionage and shady dealings in the background.

The only thing I felt I needed to call BS on was the Indominous communicating with the raptors. Okay, how is she doing that? If she's never interacted with other animals, how the heck can she communicate like that? This isn't a huge problem... but it did stick out to me.

Another scene that stuck out to me was partly due to my partner in crime. Gray and Zach are skulking through the jungle and actually stumble upon the original Jurassic Park tourist center, overgrown with foliage and completely abandoned. My friend, who hadn't seen Jurassic Park in years and notoriously difficult to please, leans over to me in the theater and says "They're trying to evoke nostalgia. And it's working." This is from a guy who is often petty about why he dislikes many movies, books or games. So if that scene really struck a chord with him, that should say something! It did to me.

This is also a very self aware movie. I almost ended up laughing early on as one of the tech characters talks about how he's annoyed with a lot of the dinos not being scientifically accurate and the like. I frigging know that some of the guys on the development team must have been reading forums and comments about the movie concepts and made a joke over it, letting them know that they are listening and taking stuff into account. He was a fun character to me. I especially liked his desk covered with dino toys!

Ah, good memories...

Plot-wise, I think overall it was very smooth. The pacing it just what I'd hoped for. Started of slow, gained momentum, kept going with well placed pauses for us to take a breath, before amping up the tension even further and drowning us in a superb experience with a fantastic finale.
Is it perfect? Oh heck no. No movie is perfect. But this movie really hit the spot. It did exactly what it set out to do, and doesn't pretend to be anything else. It's fun, surprisingly self aware, with great action and a good run of characters with enough subtlety to make you wonder at certain points. It's fun to have your mind stimulated and asking questions. In the good way. Bad questions are where the story is told poorly and you're left wondering what the heck is going on. Good questions are where they hint at things or imply them, leaving you to sort them out like you're a detective trying to put the clues together.

Yeah, yeah, I know I've pretty much just prostituted myself here for this movie, but what can I say? I had a fun time dangit! For me if a movie does nine out of ten things right, I'm willing to forgive the one thing they did wrong. After all, I'm here to see a fun story, and I certainly got that. What more could I ask for?

If you want a fun theater romp, this movie is well worth your time and I recommend it. :)

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