Tag: summer blockbuster

Jurassic Park


Jurassic Park (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Jurassic Park” was one of my favorite movies when I was about seven years old and it still remains a guilty pleasure of mine. (And I’m guessing my love for this film will be passed on to my kids.) Based on the novel by Michael Crichton and directed by the great Steven Spielberg, this film made me experience every emotion that there was to experience in (smart) summer blockbusters and creature-feature movies: heart-pounding thrills, suspense embedded in silences, funny one-liners, and astute script supported by storytelling that inspires true wonder.

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) wanted to open a new theme park that was full of dinosaurs and everything else from that specific time period. But in order for the park to get a green light to open, he must get the approval of outside parties: a mathematician who loves to talk about the chaos theory (Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm) and two dinosaur experts who are opposites but undoubtedly share great chemistry (Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant and Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler). Other characters included Hammond’s grandchildren (Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards), a greedy computer expert who made a deal with another research group to smuggle DNA outside of Jurassic Park (Wayne Knight), another computer expert who likes structure and discipline (Samuel L. Jackson), a dinosaur hunter (Bob Peck), and a lawyer who values money over safety (Martin Ferrero). Although none of the characters were fully explored, I did not think that was too big of a problem because each of them contributed something to the picture, such as being dinosaur bait for our entertainment. And who really wants character development when one can look at how ferocious and fatal dinosaurs can be?

I admired this picture’s ability to balance. With its two-hour running time, I noticed that the first half served to explain how the scientists were able to replicate (with slight but crucial modifications) extinct creatures and the second half focused on the many brutal ways of getting hunted. As a Biological Sciences major, I liked the fact that it offered an explanation that made sense with regards to how the scientists acquired the dinosaurs’ DNA. Moreover, I also liked that it mentioned that acquiring the DNA would not be sufficient. That is, there were missing gaps in the DNA that had to be solved in order to commence the process of DNA replication and eventually cloning entire organisms. As for the chase sequences, I found that once it started it never lets go until the final three minutes. There were definitely a plethora of highlights in the second half but I’m only going to mention some. The kitchen scene that haunted me when I was younger was even more thrilling than I thought. When I was seven, I remember being able to identify with those kids because I thought that if I were in their situation, I wouldn’t want to get eaten by those hungry velociraptors either. Not that I’m older, I still could identify with them but on a different level: I didn’t want them to get hurt because they are smart, funny and energetic kids. Another highlight was the first appearance of the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex and how the water vibrated as it moved closer to the characters. I’ve seen the impact of vibration reference in a plethora of films that came after “Jurassic Park” so I think it’s safe to say that that scene is pretty much embedded in the collective media unconscious. And it rightly deserves to be because of Spielberg’s great execution by building suspense and eventually delivering the thrills.

The special and visual effects must be given applause. I’ve seen a number of movies surrounding 1993 and nothing even comes close to this film’s magic. Back in 1993, it must have been that much more impressive. Nowadays, if one was to watch this movie, one would find out that some effects were noticably computerized. Given that, while the two sequels greatly improved on the effects, neither comes close to the original’s sense of wonder and tension. For me, it goes to show that a movie can have the best special and visual effects in the world but if there’s not enough story and heart, it’s essentially weak as a whole. Last but certainly not least, I liked that it managed to tackle ethical questions of building such a park. I was glad that the whole “playing God” issue/religion was acknowledged but it eventually focused on defying nature without thinking of the consequences first. Goldblum’s character provided much of the ethical questions and I was always interested with what he had to say. And really, his questions are still relevant today because of all the technological advancements our generation are acquiring.

“Jurassic Park” is truly one of the best summer blockbuster popcorn flick ever made. By the time the credits started rolling, despite the death and terror that happened in the park, I still wished we had one just like it in real life so I could visit. If I were to describe this movie in the fewest words possible it would be “A Landmark.”

Terminator Salvation


Terminator Salvation (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

This fourth installment of “The Terminator” franchise may not have been as good as the first two films but it was a step above from the somewhat mediocre third outing. Initially, I was underwhelmed during the first few minutes of “Terminator Salvation” due to my high expectations. However, once the ball started rolling about fifteen minutes into the picture, I really got into it and I was curious what was going to happen next. (Not to mention I was at the edge of the seat during the more intense chase scenes.)

This sequel is set in year 2018 and it features a grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale) and his struggle to lead humanity against Skynet and its fatal machines. It also tells the story of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a man that was sentenced to death back in year 2003, woke up fifteen years later and eventually found out that he was a hybrid between a human and a robot. Their paths later collided because Wright was saved by Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) during his first encounter with a terminator; Connor, on the other hand, was on a mission to find his father, Kyle Reese, because if he dies on the hand of Skynet, Connor would not exist and therefore alter the future altogether. To prevent further confusion, it must be noted that it was not explicitly mentioned in this installment that Kyle Reese time traveled back to the past and conceived John Connor. (I dislike describing storylines that involve time travel. It’s always been my weakness so I apologize if it is in any way confusing or inaccurate.)

Being a summer blockbuster film or not, the visual and special effects are outstanding. In my head I kept thinking, “How did they even manage to shoot that?” and “Hey, that’s a neat stunt.” Throughout the entire picture, I really felt like I was watching the planet in ruins after Skynet took over. The post-apocalyptic feel reminded me of the best scenes from “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men.” As for the acting, I thought everyone did a really good job because they were convincing in their respective roles. However, Worthington was the one that stood out the most. I found it strange that I cared more about his character than Bale’s–the supposed main character. Even though Worthington was tough on the outside, there was a certain sensitivity in his eyes that reminded me of Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s style of acting in his most dramatic roles. Worthington embodied Marcus Wright so fully to the point where I was convinced that there was more to his story and that he’s not just a hybrid between a human and a robot. He almost made me wish that he was the focus of the story instead of John Connor. (And that’s probably not a good thing.) If he chooses to appear in films that are astute while at the same time able to feature his acting abilities, Worthington is definitely someone to look out for in the future.

For me, the main weakness of “Terminator Salvation” lies in its story. With such a big mythology set up by the first two films, this one felt considerably smaller in scope. The secondary problems that chip off from that primary issue include having too much action sequences, not having enough character development, not having enough comedic moments to let the film breathe, and sidelining John Connor’s importance. It’s nice to have exciting action scenes (and they undoubtedly do have that here) but it’s hard to care if there’s not enough moral conundrums facing characters who matter. It’s also suffocating if the tone of the picture is one-note–this one felt too serious for its own good, as if it was trying to be “The Dark Knight” when it was not even close to that level. What made the first two installment so great are the vibrant pockets of humor that were ultimately ingrained in the media consciousness. (Remember “I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista, baby”?) Lastly, John Connor did not feel as important as he should have been. Yes, I got that he was supposed to be leader and therefore supposed to be tough and commanding. And that’s the problem: I only saw him in that light and I wish McG, the director, established more scenes where we could ascertain another dimension of his personality.

There’s no doubt about it: I would recommend “Terminator Salvation.” However, I must urge people who have not yet seen the first three films (especially the first two) to catch up because there were references here and there that enhanced my viewing experience. If one had not seen the prior installments, one will most likely miss those or “not get it.” While I admit that this is far from a perfect post-apocalyptic adventure with subtle moral ambiguities, the positives outweigh the negatives as mentioned above. Perhaps if this series is to survive (and it most likely will), a more capable director and stronger writers could take over to truly blow die-hard fans and nondie-hard fans out of the water. In the meantime, “Terminator Salvation” will have to suffice.

Angels & Demons


Angels & Demons (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I enjoyed “Angels & Demons” more than “The Da Vinci Code” for several reasons. First is Ron Howard’s direction: In its prequel (even though, chronologically, “Angels & Demons” happened before “The Da Vinci Code” so it depends on how one looks at it), I felt that Howard was all over the place and missed some crucial information from Dan Brown’s novel. That is why the ending was not as powerful as it should have been. To me, the facinating locales were at the foreground instead of the story. It was so concerned with being so fast-paced that it almost sacrificed its emotions and the details that made the book such a page-turner. In here, the director has more focus and confidence when it comes to tackling certain scenes and some of them are downright impressive (whether it’s about thrills or visual effects). I also liked Tom Hanks a lot more here than I did in “The Da Vinci Code.” Aside from the absence of his ridiculous hair that distracted millions of audiences from the first film, I felt like Hanks is more comfortable as Robert Langdon–he has that certain intellectual swagger but he doesn’t take it too seriously. I have to admit that there were times when I forgot about Hanks playing a role; I was so interested in what was happening, trying to recall if the events that transpired in the novel were being accurately portrayed in the picture. I also liked the lack of chemistry between Hanks and Ayelet Zurer. As strange as that may sound, films have the tendency to attach a romantic angle to “spice things up” when they really do not need to. In fact, most of the time such romatic interests weigh the picture down so I was glad there was none of that nonsense in “Angels & Demons.” It’s really focused in Langdon’s quest to solve the mysteries that were unfolding in the Vatican. Lastly, I have to mention Ewan McGregor as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna. I’m not religious in any sense but the way he delivered some of his speeches were so powerful, I couldn’t help but have my eyes (as well as my ears) glued to the screen. He has a certain subtlety that is both charming and dangerous. Overall, “Angels & Demons” is a pretty entertaining summer blockbuster flick that really shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. It’s interesting to me how religious groups respond to these type of films. If they are so secure about their faith, films like this should not matter in any way. Its goal is to simply entertain and I think it achieved just that.