Jurassic World Dominion

In preparation for the latest Dinosaur extravaganza, I recently watched all the other films in this series. There is a reason that Steven Spielberg is the most celebrated director of our times and Colin Trevorrow is a journeyman with only bits of occasional inspiration. Two suspense scenes in the first two Jurassic Park films show you what a master Spielberg is. The initial T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park is one of the most tense, frightening and well directed scenes in a movie ever. In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the attack on the trailers adds on tension in each moment that Spielberg makes work so much longer and more effectively than anyone else has managed to do. Trevorrow, for all his gifts, simply does not have the instinct that Spielberg does. His tension building scenes are too abrupt, too frequent, and sometimes over the top in a way that he can’t quite pull off.  It’s not meant as an insult to say he is no Spielberg, it is simply an acknowledgement that his films have not been able to work at the same level.

Jurassic World Dominion is not a failure because of the action scenes, the problem is actually the opposite, the action scenes fail because the rest of the movie cannot quite justify them, I was willing to go along with the revamped “Jurassic World” because it stemmed from a solid idea, that built on what came before it, and even though it stretched the concept a bit, it managed to work. “Fallen Kingdom” and “Dominion” don’t have the right premise going for them, so the stringing together of solid action beats with bad story ideas and dumb characters, just won’t cut it. I enjoyed the moments of action in the film that employed the main characters from the two sets of film groups, but the secondary characters are underwritten, somewhat unnecessary and disposed of either too soon for us to enjoy their comeuppance, or without much drama. 

These posts never give away spoilers and I try to refrain from simply recapping the film as part of the discussion, which is a good thing in this case because I’m not sure I could keep it all straight. Characters come in who start off as antagonists, then end up as allies and allies disappear after a few scenes and are never heard from again. There are genetically created murder locusts, that may threaten the world food supply, but then they may simply be a marketing tool for genetically modified crops, but then the geneticist who created them demurs and maybe we want to get rid of them. It simply depends on the scene as to which way the evil corporation is going at the moment. There is no logical consistency in the objectives of the antagonists and the heroes have mixed motives for their actions as well. There are a bunch of shady characters who are acting out of greed, but sometimes they just seem to be malevolent for the sake of being evil.

All of this is happening in a universe that is not vey well thought out. There are dinosaurs in the wild, dinosaurs nesting in urban areas, dinosaurs in nature preserves, dinosaurs in illegal breeding factories, and dinosaurs in private possession. Despite all of the potential dino death surrounding everyone, the culture moves on as if the threat does not exist, until it is in your face. Are the velociraptors creatures to be feared and potential rivals to our dominance of the planet? Or are they creatures to be pitied because they are hunted, and misunderstood?  The film makers do their best to get as many different dinosaurs into the story as they can, and sometimes they come across as teddy bears, and other times as venomous snakes from the outback. 

As dangerous as a dinosaur might be, the human characters are the ones that present the biggest menace because they all offer a moment of pontification and exposition that just might kill…your interest in what is happening. Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Laura Dern, Sam Neil, Jeff Goldblum, B.D. Wong, and Campbell Scott all have a moment when they provide exposition and supposed philosophical insight into the events that are happening. Remember the scene where Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neil are warning John Hammond at the dinner table in Jurassic Park? Well it feels like that happens every ten minutes in this film. It’s as if TED Talks become the standard way that people communicate with one another. The most human and realistic moment comes when Ellie Stadler voices exactly what the audience is thinking after listening to a guru like Steve Jobs monologue from Dodgson. “What?”  It drew a laugh, but even such meta awareness doesn’t stop it from continuing. Everyone sounds like Jeremy Rifkin or Al Gore at some point, and it just gets to be too much.

Aside from the schizophrenic story telling, cartoon characters, implausible technology and unexplained political realities, the movie was fun to watch for two and a half hours. If you want high tech thriller mixed with old school adventure, just drop down to the subterranean hyper loop of Elon Musk, I mean Lewis Dodgson, and follow Sam Neil’s Dr. Grant as he plays ‘Indiana Jones in the Tunnel of Dinosaurs”.  Just don’t get distracted by the flaming killer locusts who will distract you until it is time for the two apex predators to face off in a climax that means nothing. If you put some Raisinettes  in your popcorn, along with some Hot Tamales, you will have done a more logical job of gene splicing than this movie, and you will enjoy consuming that a lot more than the film.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Do you go to a Jurassic Park movie for the story, characters and wonder that the idea of dinosaurs living in the modern world would evoke, or do you go to see a monster movie, you know with visually interesting creatures ripping up various human characters in a variety of ways? Your answer to this dichotomy will largely tell you whether you are going to like this movie or hate it. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a creature feature. It is not an adventure movie or a science debate, it is people running and screaming from monsters. Sometimes those people get away, sometimes they don’t. If the characters were more well drawn, you would probably care which, but frankly, this film could not be bothered to worry about actually killing one of our somewhat sympathetic heroes, mostly it is just concerned with mayhem.

Director J.A. Bayona appears to be a critics darling, having made three widely praised film. I’ve not seen “The Orphanage” but I did see “The Impossible” and  “A Monster Calls“.  These are both fine films with effecting personal and emotional weight to them. I do notice however, that he is not a credited screenwriter for either of those film, nor is he credited for “Fallen Kingdom”. It appears then, that the elements that make his material work best will be the way he frames and shoots the story, rather than the story itself. Those folks who respect his work may want to go back and see if what they really like is the concept or screenplay rather than the direction.  He has put together a reasonable thrill ride for us, but there is very little in any of this which would lead you to believe he is more of a visionary than a craftsman. Aside from two or three nice little moments, this is a picture that could have been assembled by anybody capable of the logistics required to move this mass of technology.

Just two scenes seem to have the visually creative touch that was present in the two of his movies I’ve seen. First, there is a clever moment when an expedition lands on the island that contained the former amusement park, and we see their vehicle driving down main street as we look at a tracking shot from behind the demolished vendor’s booths and stores. We see some stuffed dinosaur toys back-lit against the vehicle, until one of them runs off revealing that it actually was a small dinosaur. That was effective. There is another scene late in the film where the reflection of a dinosaur if superimposed over the face of a character in the reflections from a display window in a diorama. That works well also. Otherwise, there are really no surprises. Monsters do what they are expected to do, we get a couple of false paths that turn to jokes and a few jump scares that work effectively, and that’s about it.

Chris Pratt and Dallas Bryce Howard are probably worth what they were paid for the film. She is a lot more appealing in this story than in the first re-boot “Jurassic World“, and he continues to bring enough humor to make the movie lively, or at least lively at times. Her conversion to animal rights activist seems a little week, but she does work well with the dinosaurs and Pratt, especially on the island sequence. Pratt gets to make most of the jokes in the film which is fine because that’s what he does best. When he has to be a combination of Rambo, Bruce Lee and John McClane, it is harder to take the movie seriously. Two fine actors are wasted in the movie and another one has a felony committed in his name. Ted Levine, who is so memorable as “Buffalo Bill” from “The Silence of the Lambs”, has a thankless role as a villain, who is so stupid as to demand to be paid when crazed animals have disrupted an auction, and then goes souvenir seeking in the most dangerous scenario imaginable in this plot. Geraldine Chaplain, who was in “Dr. Zhivago”, also has a thankless role that sets her up as an important character in the household where the climax of the film takes place, and then she is dropped completely.

The major felony is the misuse of Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm character form the first two Jurassic Park movies. In those films, he was the voice of reason with a sardonic voice and the ability to let the air out of someone too inflated with themselves, in a sarcastic and hysterical manner. In this film, he has two brief scenes that bookend the movie. He sits behind a table and pontificates to a Congressional panel on the risks of the Dinosaurs being removed from potential danger. I don’t think he has a single joke, facial moment or tone that makes his appearance here essential. Someone else in the movie makes a joke about writing fortune cookies, that’s what all of Goldblum’s dialogue is. His aphorisms about DNA would make Jeremy Rifkin blush with overkill.

This looks impressive on the side of a tall building in L.A.

Tomorrow on a podcast, I suspect that most of the participants will be happy to poke holes in the logic of the story. Believe you me, that’s what I expect to do in order to make the conversation amusing. However, there are some good action sequences in the film. The opening mission to the park to recover some DNA was well staged and there were some clever moments in it. The sequence with Claire and tech guy/coward Franklin Web, where they are trapped in a control room at the park was perfectly fine at giving us tense jump scares and some funny moments. I also enjoyed the scene in you young girl’s bedroom as she hides from a monster under her covers. Chris Pratt’s hero mode is more functional there. Pratt got some good laughs in a scene where he and Howard are getting a blood donation from a T-Rex. So there is fun to be had, but you have to turn off your brain to enjoy it.

Ranking the Jurassic Park films seems to be one of the things that people are doing as they talk about this film. I have some opinions on that as well, but I will save those for the Lambcast. Otherwise I suggest you see the film, load up on popcorn, candy and soda, because that is where all the nutritional value of your visit to the theater will be.