Saturday, June 27, 2015

Jurassic World ★★1/2

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    The most pivotal scene in "Jurassic World" takes place--not in the re-imagined park where action and events tinged with misfortune seemingly never end--but in the laboratory, behind the scenes of this newly renovated theme-park and latest example of humanity's ignorance. It involves a simple discussion with Dr. Henry Wu, chief geneticist and sole returnee from the franchise's original storyline, and the notion that the company must "innovate or be left in the dust," so to speak, in terms of its approach to its prehistoric creations and accompanying attractions.

    What makes this conversation so important is the fact that it alludes to a trusted theme of prior "Jurassic Park" installments; a theme that can only fully be understood if considered under a humanistic lens, or more specifically, under a focus of morality. (Is it morally acceptable for a man to play God and so on.) It is a central concern deeply instilled in the writings of Michael Crichton (the forgotten genius behind this renown blockbuster series of films) and his numerous techno-thriller novels, which mostly highlight the ill-effect of man's unwarranted tampering with technology and the illusion that one is ever subsequently "in control" of that product.

    Now, although "Jurassic World" does hit on these notes from time to time, (mostly via references to John Hammond and his failings) the film ultimately chooses to center on vacuous entertainment and the thrills aligned with mindless action and gruesome on-screen deaths. Case in point: When the opportunity presents itself to provide our audience with even an inkling of substance, the moment is interrupted by a ferocious dinosaur attack; therefore, squandering any chance for intellectual endeavors. 

    There are even several moments where the picture pokes fun at this somewhat insatiable consumer appetite for all things "big and bad, and with more teeth," however, this is surely a moot point, considering the overall mindset of the film, which surely aims to please the restless minds of a summer audience; minds fueled by a desire to be simply entertained.

    Twenty years have passed since the preview tour of John Hammond's original biological preserve. This new expenditure, owned by a naive and carefree businessman, has adopted a Disney-esque sense of wonderment, as the park becomes home to a handful of new and creative features, including a baby dinosaur petting zoo, live feedings, and a "pod" ride in which the ticket holder can manually roam through a stretch of herbivores. Everything is essentially run by way of a high-tech control room and by a single woman, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who acts as the chief operator of all the island's activities. (Not only is she concerned with focus groups and recent polls, but she must keep an eye on her nephews, who coincidentally come to visit on this rather somber afternoon.) And, of course, there is the resident male persona, Owen (Chris Pratt), an ex-Navy Seal turned Velociraptor trainer. 

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    From here, the film inevitably transitions into a free-for-all type of atmosphere, as the genetically engineered premier attraction--the Indominus Rex--breaks free from its physical constraints. (I mean, what other conflict could there plausibly be?) The characterizations are undeniably dull and one-dimensional, and rightfully so; for, the focus here is that of action sequences, not character-building dialogue.

    Yet, with that being said, this lack of motivation certainly had a trickle down effect when it came to the acting, as Howard pieces together a mediocre outing and while the charming Pratt, a hot commodity as of late, provides us with a rather subdued and bland performance. (The former is limited to scenes that thrive on melodramatic energy, and the latter is reduced to lines oozing with dinosaur behavior psychology, even though this knowledge surely doesn't fit the mold of a Navy Seal.) This is in addition to a romantic inclination between the two, which is about as unenthusiastic as they come.

    What separates "Jurassic World" from its captivating predecessors (with the exception of "Jurassic Park III") is its inability to provide audiences with that magical and suspenseful build-up and its unfortunate dependence on computer graphic imaging to produce our prehistoric eye candy. A stroll down memory lane (culminating in a scene in which our adolescent figures stumble upon the remains of the original tourist destination) seems cramped and out of place, and although the Indominus Rex is everything she is advertised to be, it can never give off that quality of verisimilitude as effortlessly as the animatronic creatures could. (This is not to mention a CGI enhanced brawl for the ages, that will surely have any "Jurassic Park" fanatic shivering with excitement.)

    The foremost point is this: The subject matter of "Jurassic World" could have theoretically been about anything, considering the worldwide popularity of the brand and the boundless anticipation of its release. (The film made enough revenue in its first weekend to already warrant a green light for a sequel.) So why not infuse the story with some sense of intellectual, tangible meaning, as opposed to simplistic run-of-the-mill entertainment? Take away any theme of significance and the picture becomes nothing more than a dinosaur killing spree. How many more times are we going to fork over our hard earned cash to view such dealings?    

    Sure, one could say, "its intention is what it is" or "escapist films are what they are," yet where would the art of film-making be if this mindset became prevalent? Of course, there are colleagues of mine who can find solace in just about anything--most notably Richard Roeper--who instructs audiences once they obtain their 3-D glasses to "Check your brain at the door and pick it up on your way out." I would much rather prefer to keep my intelligence.    

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