Tag: jurassic park

Jurassic Park III


Jurassic Park III (2001)
★★ / ★★★★

Joe Johnston’s “Jurassic Park III” suffers from similar problems as Steven Spielberg’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” only it is even less ambitious. This time, the plot revolves around a straightforward rescue mission of a pre-teen (Trevor Morgan) whose parasail crashed in Isla Sorna, the island we came to know quite well in the predecessor, where bioengineering company InGen bred various creatures that roamed the planet during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Although exciting in parts, the picture is a product of diminishing returns: there is a lack of freshness in the majority of chases: setup, initial jolt, a whole lot of running, followed by last-minute saves. To claim there is minimal drama would be an understatement.

There are only two sequences worth sitting through: when we first come to meet a Spinosaurus and the Pteranodon attack amidst a heavy fog. With the former, the screenplay does a solid job in communicating that a Spinosaurus is equal to if not a greater threat than a Tyrannosaurus rex. Although silly, I was entertained by the duel between the two creatures especially because it gives us time to observe how they attempt to render their prey helpless. For instance, the T. rex. tries to overpower its enemy using its size and body weight. But when it comes to the Spinosaurus, it is more reliant upon its agility and jaws. Look how it twists its neck at every opportunity in order to get the upper hand. I got the impression, too, that perhaps it is more intelligent than the T. rex. (But we all know that when it comes to intelligence, Velociraptor is king.)

As for the Pteranodon scene, it is unlike any of the dinosaur attacks we’ve encountered throughout the “Park” series. While there is running, there is a whole lot more jumping and gliding. Aerial shots are terrific, especially when the Pteranodon, while grabbing hold of a human, is required to maneuver among cliffs and other obstacles. Its astounding speed in combination with the thick fog, there is tension that a character may be in real danger should we lose sight of him or her. Bonus points for injecting personalities to the infant Pteranodon, not just in the way they sound but also in terms of movement. Because they are not quite so adept in using their wings, they jump—adorable but also terrifying. I wish the picture consistently functioned on this high level of creativity.

Like “The Lost World,” when the action dies down, the work reverts to a state of comatose. The couple (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni) who hires Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) as a “tour guide” is not only boring but bad caricatures. I felt they were stripped right out of generic suspense-thrillers in which their offspring has been kidnapped and in dire need of rescue. Cue slight bickering for comedic effect. And, of course, they are required to get a little closer or learn to appreciate each other more before the end credits. All that’s missing is a renewal of their vows.

It is so disappointing because there are a few characters worth getting to know. First, there is the technology-averse Dr. Alan Grant. Neill infuses him with big personality, but the screenplay by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor fails to get him to say anything remotely new or interesting. Laura Dern, as Dr. Ellie Sattler, makes a quick appearance but she, too, is not used in a way that elevates the material. An argument can be made that the best scene involves no dinosaur at all, just Alan and Ellie—former colleagues and former lovers—spending time with one another, looking in each other’s eyes, talking about science. So why aren’t these two in the middle of this film?

Another potentially curious character is Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola), Dr. Grant’s graduate assistant. Instead of functioning as an awkward appendage for the majority of the picture, why not write this character, for instance, into Dr. Grant’s likeness? Never mind the surprising moments of blind heroism; that’s an easy similarity. But actually write a character with whom we feel to be Dr. Grant’s equal—but young, ambitious, and especially driven. As we observed in “Jurassic Park,” the Dr. Grant character becomes a more curious specimen to study the more often he is surrounded by minds and personalities that challenge him. So why not apply a similar approach to this project?

The answer to both questions is that it requires more effort to create memorable characters that feels exactly right for the story being told, not to mention the themes being tackled, compared to creating superficial and expected thrills. Laziness is what prevents “Jurassic Park III” from truly taking off. There is nothing wrong with a standard rescue mission plot. But the details must be specific and emotions behind them must ring true when the occasion calls for it. Otherwise, it is just another romp in the forest with CGI dinosaurs—watchable but not impressive.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park


The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
★★ / ★★★★

It doesn’t take much brain power to imagine Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” stripped off its sense of wonder because the product is “The Lost World,” a sequel so constantly on autopilot that not even one of the best characters in the predecessor, chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), is able to outshine its generic screenplay and execution. Notice that when the noise and movement die down and characters are required to speak and connect with one another, boredom numbs the mind. At least it is proud to be a mindless monster movie, I guess.

If one signed up for action, the picture does not disappoint—to a degree. There are two highlights. The first is the Tyrannosaurus rex attack of a trailer that contains an infant T. rex. Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), a behavioral paleontologist who just so happens to be Dr. Malcolm’s girlfriend, intends to treat the infant’s broken leg. For some reason, it does not occur to her, despite being a professional who studies behavior, that the animal wailing about may attract its parents. Two angry T. rex attacking a trailer, the shelter of those whom the dinosaurs believe to have kidnapped their offspring, is worthy of the attacks found in first film. There is a defined setup, special and visual effects are employed to service and enhance the storytelling, and it forces viewers to undergo a rollercoaster of emotions. Just when you think it is over, it is far from it. I always love it when a character falls on glass… and then it starts to crack. Cue instructions being yelled at the screen.

Another terrific scene involves a desperate sprint through a field of long grass… which is also a Velociraptor nest. It works because this sequence is not always in-your-face violence and horror. Because it is near impossible to see what’s around the characters, it is more suspenseful compared to the garden variety shocks. I enjoyed how at times all that is required to show is a long, muscular tail grabbing its prey. Whack! Accompanying screams for help and squelching noises are enough to paint a vivid picture in minds. This sequel needed more of this.

There are some concepts worthy of exploration in “The Lost World” which is based on the novel by Michael Crichton and written for the screen by David Koepp. A few examples: how large, private companies exercise their power—even going as far as to squash the reputation of dissenters—to ensure prevention of a single cent being taken off their profits; how we, as a species, sometimes tend to exercise cruelty and dominion over creatures that we fear or do not yet understand; and how we can set aside our differences to attain a common goal.

The last bit is especially critical to dig into because there are two groups that have been sent to Isla Sorna: Dr. Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) team composed of our protagonists who respect nature (Goldblum, Moore, Vince Vaughn, Richard Schiff) and InGen’s team, a bioengineering company formerly led by Dr. Hammond and has since been under the leadership of Dr. Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Arliss Howard), made up of men with big guns and latest technology. For some reason, the work fails to mine the drama between these factions. When they finally cross paths, their differences are dropped at a… drop of a hat and they travel together with minimal tension. The stench of laziness emanating from the screenplay cannot be ignored.

This is a shame because one of the members of the InGen team is worthy of getting to know. Roland, played by Pete Postlethwaite, is a hunter who chose to be there not for the money or fame but for the thrill of hunting the apex predator. Postlethwaite injects the character with enigma, charm, and specific perspective of seeing the world. His Roland is no ordinary stern villain. Observing the way he approaches problems, he is pragmatic, methodical, extremely focused. Roland could have been a terrific foil for Dr. Malcolm. And yet the material simply brushes aside this potential source of conflict. Yes, for another tired chase scene.

Jurassic Park


Jurassic Park (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” is one of the movies that inspired me to become a scientist. Most viewers tend to remember the picture for its more overt images: A Tyrannosaurus rex swallowing a goat whole, a herd of Gallimimus creating a stampede as one of them becomes prey, a Velociraptor learning how to open doors. But I remember it most for its informative and entertaining presentation—using animation—of how businessman John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and his scientific team manage to clone creatures from Jurassic and Cretaceous periods: extracting DNA from fossilized mosquitoes coupled with the staggering power of genetic manipulation. Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, who co-writes with David Koepp, the film continues to stand the test of time because it is first and foremost about ideas. It just so happens to work in synergy among elements of high octane summer blockbuster entertainment.

Notice how the first half focuses on enveloping us with a sense of wonder rather than flooding our eyes with one-dimensional thrills, like chases or gore. When we see a dinosaur, yes, they are visually spectacular, but look at how the camera tends to fixate on the faces of our characters. No words are exchanged among them. Instead, we attempt to read what they are thinking and feeling by looking into their eyes. The experience of seeing live Brachiosaurus must mean differently for paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), even though they work together in the same archeological dig site, because we have met them earlier and got a sense of what’s important to them: as individuals, as a couple, and as scientists who must learn how to adapt to and utilize technology to further their careers. The screenplay is wonderfully efficient: it assumes we are intelligent and more than capable of wanting to get to know the colorful personalities on offer.

Speaking of personality, aside from Dr. Grant, chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is also invited by Hammond to take a tour of Isla Nublar. By the end of the tour, the businessman hopes to get their approval so the park can finally be open to the public. Naturally, things go horribly awry. In a sea of curious characters, with two adorable and energetic kids among them (Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello), Goldblum’s Malcolm manages to stand out in two ways: the character’s memorable lines which reflect what the audience might be thinking in terms of the danger of wanting to control what cannot be controlled (life, essentially) and the performer’s unpredictable (and joyous) line deliveries. Goldblum’s performance is as big as the dinosaurs. And he has the star presence to match.

The CGI dinosaurs are terrific for its time. Couple showing them in their natural habitats—walking in herds, eating leaves off trees, drinking from a lake—alongside John Williams’ musical score, the whole enchilada is magic. But I prose an alternative: the animatronic dinosaurs are more impressive and have aged better than the CGI dinosaurs. The sick Triceratops quickly comes to mind. One of the most unforgettable scenes involves Dr. Grant leaning his entire body against the Triceratops’ abdominal area as the creature breathes in and out. Who doesn’t want to do exactly that when coming across a massive and gentle dinosaur? Another: Dr. Sattler putting her whole arm in a pile of excrement in order to determine what, if any, the Triceratops has eaten that made it so ill. I wanted to put my arm in there, too. It made me imagine how it must be like to be that close to a hill of feces: the stench, the warmth, living things that may be feasting in there.

“Jurassic Park” is a movie remembered fondly for its action sequences—which are well-made and executed well, often propelled by a high level of craft and bravado. But it is also a movie that inspires us to consider what’s not on the screen. You are looking at the screen, but images and sounds emanating from it are so powerful, so inviting, we imagine being on that island and yearning to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is for children, for the elderly, and everyone in between. Spielberg is able to tap on human curiosity through the guise of popcorn entertainment. Isn’t that one of the reasons why movies are made?

Jurassic World


Jurassic World (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” seems to forget what made Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” so successful: The sense of awe the viewers experience when a dinosaur—whether it be a T-Rex, a velociraptor, or a triceratops—is placed front and center of the camera. I was not impressed with the way the dinosaurs look here. With the exception of one scene involving a creature taking its last breaths, they look too fake, non-tactile, very likely to be surpassed by CGI technology five to ten years from now. What makes the original special is that many of the dinosaurs to this day still look real. I declare that this sequel will not stand the test of time.

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is in charge of making sure that operations in Jurassic World are running smoothly, but she is also tasked by her sister (Judy Greer) to show her nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), a good time. As the two boys sneak off to explore the theme park on their own, a dinosaur called Indominus rex (untamable king), simply called the I-Rex, ingeniously escapes from its enclosure and heads straight for twenty thousand visitors. This dinosaur is special because it is a hybrid of a T-Rex and… something else. We learn quickly that it is highly adaptable, extremely savage, and very intelligent.

The story is replete with unlikable or downright boring characters, from the controlling Claire, one of the main protagonists, to the villain (Vincent D’Onofrio) who wishes to use velociraptors as weapons in warfare. The brothers at the center of the story neither do nor say anything special about the park or the kinds of creatures they come across within the park. Although the screenplay forges a sort of bond between them toward the latter half, it comes across as forced because we learn next to nothing about who they are as people who just so happen to come face-to-face with extraordinary levels of danger.

The only memorable scene with the brothers involves being trapped in a cool-looking but ultimately claustrophobic gyrosphere and the I-Rex desperately wanting to eat them. I almost rooted for the dinosaur because then perhaps the movie would focus itself more on Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a raptor trainer who acknowledges and respects the inherent viciousness of these genetically modified animals. Despite this, I still thought Owen is not a very compelling character. His personality pales next to Drs. Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm from the previous pictures. Pratt can do more and should have been allowed to do so.

The product placement in this film is especially distracting to the point where I actually felt insulted. I am not the kind of viewer who is on the lookout for product placement but when a shot feels like it is only present for sake of showcasing a type of soda or a make of car, that is worthy criticism. The point of a movie is to experience a story as fully as possible. Leave the advertising to commercials. I felt so disgusted at times that I found myself wondering what the filmmakers were thinking when they decided to be so obvious about the products rather than what the characters are going through.

“Jurassic World” is not a terrible picture but it is tolerable because it does have some entertaining scenes beyond chase sequences. For example, we get a chance to see the ruins of a special location in Jurassic Park. Clearly, this film is not above utilizing nostalgia—including the insertion of the original “Jurassic Park” score from time to time. Ultimately, however, it is disappointing because one gets the impression that not enough effort is put into the material—whether it be from the writing, acting, or visual department—to give us an experience that makes its own undeniable footprint.

Watching “Jurassic World” is like going to California’s Great America but a lot of the rides happen to be broken at the time, and where I really want to go is Disney World with full-on VIP passes, VIP tours, an extended one week stay in a VIP room in a first-class hotel with free buffet accommodations. No, these are not too much to ask for when a movie costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make thereby having hundreds of millions of reasons to get it exactly right.

Super 8


Super 8 (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

It was the summer of 1979 and five friends (Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills) were set to make a zombie picture using a Super 8 mm film. The director, portly Charles (Griffiths), recruited radiant Alice (Elle Fanning) to be in the movie and kind-hearted Joe (Courtney), whose mother had passed away four months earlier, was completely elated with the idea because he had a huge crush on her. But when the boys and the girl held a midnight shoot at the train station, they witnessed an incredible crash. Something was released from the cargo train and strange things started to occur in town. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, “Super 8” is the kind of film I love because it touched upon every single movie genre without losing touch with its heart. It was very aware of its environment. Notice that the water tower was consistently present in the background shots. As the movie went on, I managed to form a mental picture of where everything was relative to the water tower. I felt like I was one of the kids and my world revolved around that landmark. The storyline was divided into two extremes but the director had found a way to make the halves fit with a balance of elegance and intelligence. The first hour embodied a coming-of-age tone. We focused on Joe and his grieving father (Kyle Chandler) who never seemed to be around. It seemed like the two never really sat down and talked about death and what it meant to move on. When Joe caught his father crying in the bathroom, Joe was greeted with a closing door. Joe held a private fear that maybe he was slowly losing his father. I was surprised when I found out this was Courtney’s first role because his acting was quite impressive. I quickly identified with his character because of the way he used his eyes to convey specific emotions. I loved the scenes when Joe just looked at Alice in complete captivation. The warm looks he gave reminded me, at least from what I can remember, of my first love and what I was willing to do for and say to that person at the time. It was cute how he tried not to make a fool of himself but he did anyway. The second hour focused on the mystery involving a possible alien on the loose. Dogs evacuated town, local folks had gone missing, and the U.S. Air Force set up camp in order to regain control of the situation. Meanwhile, every time Charles yelled, “Production value!” (images that make it seem like a movie has a certain budget) the young filmmakers took advantage of their surroundings and shot their zombie movie with wonderful enthusiasm. Their plucky personalities was center stage and I couldn’t help but laugh at their interactions. “Super 8” was produced by Steven Spielberg and, understandably, it was compared to his work like the masterful “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I say it was more similar to “Jurassic Park.” The scene with the overturned bus and the roar of the creature outside was very reminiscent of the famous T. rex attack: the rumbling from a distance, the jump-out-of-your-seat scares, the sense of entrapment, and the eventual gore. “Super 8” was a love letter to Spielberg and, more importantly, people who admire his work. While specific references were wonderful in and of themselves, I felt the magic most when the director added his own twist into what was expected. I wasn’t just moved by its emotions; I was transported in its time and place.

Monsters


Monsters (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

The original plan was for Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photographer, to take Sam Wynden (Whitney Able), his boss’ daughter, from Mexico to the United States via a ferry because the land between the two countries were infested with giant octopus-like aliens. But after Kaulder and Sam had a night out of drinking and celebration, Kaulder ended up taking another woman to his motel room. The next morning, when Kaulder wasn’t looking, the woman stole some money including Sam’s passport, a requirement in order for her to get aboard the boat. “Monsters” was an effective science fiction film despite its small budget because it had a solid hold on its tone. The first forty minutes focused on the flirtation and possible romantic connection between the two protagonists. Even though Sam claimed she was engaged, it was apparent that she enjoyed Kaulder’s advances. When he suggested that he stayed on her bed because it was big enough for the two of them, she hesitated for a moment before sending him off his way. The rest of the picture’s running time was dedicated to their nail-biting journey across the infected land. Initially, they were protected by men with guns but we knew that they were simply there as bait. When they heard a strange noise from a distance, it was only a matter of time until the aliens came out from the shadows that hid them so well. I believe the film was highly influenced by Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.” Kaulder and Sam were always stuck in some sort of a vehicle as they were forced to observe the carnage. A small sound could potentially capture the aliens’ attention and so I caught myself holding my breath for them and hoped that they wouldn’t err. Furthermore, there was a scene set in a gas station that was very reminiscent of the children’s encounter with velociraptors in Spielberg’s sci-fi classic. We even had a chance to learn about how the aliens reproduced. It was horrifying. I felt like a child again; the feeling was similar to when I found out that if a worm was cut in half, the halves could survive and regenerate. (The concept still feels alien to me.) The extraterrestrials did get close to the characters but the filmmakers made a smart decision to not allow the creatures to catch up on them to the point where a human and alien would make contact. For a human to escape a giant alien equipped with sensitive feelers and great force would have been too unbelievable. It was all about the escape and the moments in which the characters believed that it might have been over for them. I understand some people’s disappointment about the film’s lack of CGI, gore, and explosions. That’s exactly why I enjoyed it. It was proof that those elements weren’t necessary to make an effective science fiction film as long as it has a wild imagination combined with a human story.