18 July 2015

The Park Is Open

As you probably know, this is a mystery blog. I know that too--after all, I work here. But today I'd like to veer off the mystery/crime/suspense path and down into the cross-genre weeds, and focus on suspense fiction only. (One out of three ain't bad, right?) I promise I'll get back on track next time.

Return with me to '93

A few weeks ago one of our sons and I went to see Jurassic World. Not on the day of its release; this was a week or so after its debut. I'm timing-challenged, but I do know better than to go see any movie rated less than R on its opening day. I like kids, but I also like to be able to hear the movie.

This film reminded me of my recent SleuthSayers column on movie taglines. The tagline for Jurassic World, according to its trailer on YouTube, is The park is open. I like that. It brought back, as it should have, memories of the excellent film Spielberg directed in 1993, the one that was "65 million years in the making." And although the word "sequel" is used a little loosely these days, this was most definitely a followup to the first movie. It pretty much ignores the second and third installments, but the original theme park is mentioned throughout this film, and is even seen via Jurassic Park logos on T-shirts and Jeep doors, and long-ago characters like founder John Hammond are mentioned as well. The old visitor's center, now abandoned and crumbling, even makes an appearance. As expected, the new tourist trap--an unfortunately accurate term, considering what happens--is bigger and better, as are the dinosaurs inside its walls. But they are just as deadly and unpredictable as before.

All creatures Crichton small

I truly enjoyed this movie. It had its faults, that's for sure, but it also had everything it takes to capture and hold my interest: a good premise, engaging characters, a lot of action, (fairly) sharp dialogue, humor even in tense situations (there are many of those), and a satisfying ending.

Other things to like:

- A score by Lost composer Michael Giacchino, and the occasional use of John Williams's original music. Some might say this is too much of a reminder, but in this case it works, since almost everyone has either seen Jurassic Park or has heard that theme, or both. It's comfortably familiar.

- Two new dinosaurs (the super-intelligent, super-evil Indominus Rex--one reviewer labeled it a Holyshitasaurus--and a shark-gobbling leviathan called a Mosasaurus) that make the T-Rex look like a teddy bear.

- A bad-boy, rough-around-the-edges raptorwhisperer hero who is shown to be both brave and compassionate, in an early scene where he rescues a colleague.

- A villain who sincerely thinks he's in the right even if he's not--they're always the best kind--and who gets what's coming to him, even if it is a predictable end. There's also an unpleasant-at-first character who later turns from the dark side and is not only won over by the hero, she becomes the heroine--how's that for a character arc?

- Nonstop action. This is one of those films where wetting your pants almost seems a better choice than taking a restroom break and missing something.

- Two lead characters (Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard) who are among the most appealing actors in Hollywood right now. It's been rumored that Pratt will play Indiana Jones in the next installment of that series, and Howard is Opie's daughter, so how could she not be likable?

- [Possible spoiler:] An ending in which the real villain (the genetically-designed behemoth that goes on a rampage) is finally dispatched by a combination of (1) a clever last-minute brainstorm and (2) the only thing on the island more fearsome than it is. You'll see what I mean.

The only downsides were maybe too many subplots, some cartoonish characters, and a silly scene where the hero takes a motorcycle ride alongside the normally deadly velociraptors . . . but I can live with that.

NOTE 1: As in the first movie, two of the visitors to the park are kids who are related to the Big Boss (Richard Attenborough in the original, Bryce Howard in this one, both of whom for some reason dress only in white). Here, in a great example of showing-vs.-telling, viewers find out how much danger the kids are really in when their assigned "guardian-for-the-day" gets eaten in spectacular fashion: she is snatched off the ground by flying pterodactyls, gets passed from one to another in mid-air, then is dropped into a water tank and devoured by a creature as big as a passenger train. Who would've thought babysitters deserve hazardous duty pay?

NOTE 2: The lady who plays Bryce Dallas Howard's sister, Judy Greer, also played her sister in the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village. Too much information, right? Sorry--I can't help myself.

It's a monster mash

So that's my report. In my opinion, Jurassic World was not as good as Jurassic Park but it was better than Jurassic Park III, and it was about equal to Jurassic Park II (The Lost World). Have any of you seen the new one? Did anybody like it as much as I did? If you're looking for a summer blockbuster that's great fun, gets the juices flowing, and doesn't overburden your brain cells, I think you might. Apparently a lot of paying customers have, so far.

Dino DNA Q&A: Can a successful movie return in the form of a successful sequel, 22 years later?

You bet jurassican.


  1. John, I'm usually a soft touch for good sci-fi, but I felt tepid about Jurassic World, feeling it was too much of a remake of the original. But I liked the kids and Bryce and I want to try one of those hamster balls. One of my friends loves redheads and I strongly advised him to see it for that reason.

    Your last line cracked me up.

  2. Leigh, it was most definitely a rehash of the first movie, and I admit that originality wasn't the only thing it lacked. And yes, Richie Cunningham's daughter is certainly one of the good things about this movie.

    I'm afraid our family is contributing a lot to its record-breaking ticket sales--our daughter and her hubby plan to go see it today.

  3. I want to see that movie, but I think I will await the DVD version.

    When the original Jurassic Park movie came out on VHS (a format now almost as extinct as those raptors) I bought it and our kids had friends in to watch it downstairs. Our youngest son Colin was only about 4 then, but wanted to see the movie. Everytime the dinosaurs made an appearance, however, it was too much for him, and he would run upstairs to sit with his mother until the roaring downstairs in the television room had ceased. Then he would go back to the movie, only to run back upstairs when the dinos returned. The next week he proudly explained to his grandmother "I watched all of Jurassic Park except for the parts with the dinosaurs." To paraphrase the motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia, "sic semper tyrannosaurs rex!"

  4. Dale, when I first saw that movie, in '93 (I remember it well, because I took our kids to see it), I was tempted to run out of the theater a couple times myself. I honestly think Spielberg was/is among the best ever, at making the unreal seem real. You won't get that as much with this one, but I do think you'll like it. Colin too.

    And I love his explanation to his grandma.

  5. I'm still in the throes of Minion obsession, so Jurassic World may have to wait. But I do love my dinosaurs. At a distance. At the movies.

  6. Eve, since we have six grandkids (all under the age of 9) and another one on the way, I expect to see Minions pretty soon--I just haven't yet gotten a round tuit.

    As for dinos at a distance, these were in 3-D so they seemed up close and personal.

  7. John, you'll love Minions - it's hilarious. Among other things, when "Stuart" leaned up against a yellow fire hydrant and started murmuring sweet babblings that ended with a wink, a nudge, and a "Papagena," I knew I'd found a great movie.

  8. You are apparently not alone in liking Minions, Eve--I think it and my dinosaur movie are leading the pack at the box-office right now. Sounds like both offer a welcome break to the stress and violence that seem to dominate our news coverage these days.

    On the subject of things watchable, I must put in a plug for one of the TV series currently available via Netflix's streaming video: it's called Hell on Wheels, a Western based on the tent camps that followed the construction of the railroad in the late 1800s. I'm afraid it IS violent--but boy it's a good story. I'm in the middle of the fourth season.

  9. My husband and I saw this movie a few weeks ago with one of our daughters (she's twenty-eight), and we all enjoyed it. As you said, it's not very original, but how many original plots involving humans and dinosaurs can there be? (I'm reminded of something the Jeff Goldblum character said in the second movie, something along the lines of, "Yes, it always starts with `Aren't they wonderful?' Then come the screaming and the running and the eating.")I doubt any sequel could make us feel the wonder and excitement the first one did. Back then, just seeing lifelike dinosaurs was thrilling; now, that's old hat. As the owner of Jurassic World says at one point, simply seeing living dinosaurs isn't enough any more; now, the dinosaurs have to be "bigger, fiercer, cooler" (not an exact quotation). My husband commented that the owner was probably expressing the frustration that the writers and/or director felt.

    I wasn't quite as charmed by Bryce Howard as you and Leigh seem to have been--maybe that's to be expected. (Our daughter, however, was seriously charmed by Chris Pratt.) And, like Leigh, I loved your final sentence.

  10. Bonnie, I'm glad to hear you liked the movie. The one thing I think everyone can agree on is that it's entertaining. Would it have been better with Jeff Goldblum? Yep. With a more original plot? Yes again. But all in all, I was pleased with the "look" and the storyline and the casting too--of both the humans and the creatures. And I hate to keep mentioning the music, but I do love that John Williams theme.

    Bring on number five--I'll go see it.


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