Wednesday, October 21, 2015

JURASSIC WORLD: Blu-ray (Universal Pictures 2015) Universal Home Video

In 2001, Universal Pictures released Jurassic Park III, a decidedly down-scaled affair from the first two installments in Spielberg’s Dino-franchise, though, in hindsight, fairly engaging in its own right. It ought to have capped off and concluded the series. The original movie, based on best-selling author, Michael Crichton’s novel, was fraught with all sorts of murky scientific/religious and moral implications, put forth – at least in the first movie – by chaos theorist, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) who points out “Gee, the lack of humility before nature that's being displayed here, uh... staggers me. Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that's found his dad's gun. If I may.. I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here. It didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox….your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could do it that they didn't stop to think if they should!”: words to live by when exploring the retread that is director, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World (2015).
The chief gripe I have with Jurassic World is, it is more of the same, or, as Goldblum’s good doctor has already astutely surmised, ‘the next step’. By now, the commonalities between the first and fourth installments of this franchise should be blatantly obvious to anyone – even those educated on an air hose and an inner tube. I don’t want to ruin this for anyone, but ‘Psst! Dinosaurs eat people again!’ Let us forgo the incongruities cobbled together in Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, and, Derek Connolly’s screenplay; as in the genetic Franken-dino, Indominous Rex is supposed to attack its’ prey based on movement, though in a pivotal scene, velociraptor wrangler, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is forced to douse himself in transmission fluid to confuse the Indominus’ sense of smell and escape being eaten alive.  I would also really like to know how a well-connected billionaire fat cat like Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), CEO of this grandly implausible theme park (looking in CGI long shots like a pathetic hybrid of Disney’s Epcot and those insidiously bad miniatures created by Dale Hennesy for Logan’s Run, 1976) and heir to the late John Hammond’s genetic research, has managed to convince any major corporation – much less Verizon Wireless - to sponsor an attraction that has already proven highly unstable three times. Come to the park. Get eaten alive. It's not a good marketing slogan; n'est pas?
Part of the appeal of Jurassic Park III was it returned audiences to Isla Nubar; that failed venture for a dino-themed attraction put forth in the original movie, allowing Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant his own meridian of closure and pontification on mankind’s arrogant disregard for the natural order of things on this tiny planet, or as his cohort, Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) astutely surmised in the original movie, “God created dinosaurs. God destroyed dinosaurs. God created Man. Man destroyed God. Man created dinosaurs. Dinosaurs eat man…woman inherits the earth!” Here, here! Well put and well said!  
Yet, Jurassic World undoes virtually all this didacticism from the first and third movies, if for no other reason or purpose, then simply because in the interim – so we discover – man has not matured in this outlook one iota, but rather become even more jaded and overweening in his blind ambitions to make nature subservient to his own desires and profitability. Buried somewhere inside Jurassic World is yet another liberalized bitch-slap against corporate America and the U.S. military, the real baddies of this piece.  Maybe it’s just me, but I have grown rather weary of movies that fly in the face of Darwin’s old ‘survival of the fittest’ analogy, blatantly to subliminally blanketing western civilization as the affront to all free peoples of the world; a derisiveness against white European culture, perpetuated by the laissez faire, pot-smoking, politically correct and politicized by our present-day cultural mandarins all out of proportion, particularly during the last decade or thereabouts. Frankly, it is high time to get on with the business of living together in harmony, rather than promoting perpetual discord. So, let’s stop playing this ‘blame game’.
There is plenty of the latter to go around in Jurassic World; the park’s superficial interests perpetuated by frontwoman, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard); a scissor-legged operations manager, sporting a lethal Uma Thurman haircut and perpetually antiseptic scowl, denying her rather obvious – if frigidly suppressed – desire to mate with Owen Grady; the alpha male of this piece.  Howard’s performance, as stiff and uninspiring and vaguely reminiscent of Sean Young’s replicant in Blade Runner (1982) runs the gamut of emotions from A to B; a leaden weight and pointless appendage in this horror movie, running around the jungle in high heels and wearing white. Spielberg’s original movie was not thematically interested, or even focused on horror, though it did manage to tap into a series of unsettling chills during its second and third acts. Jurassic World, however, is all about scaring the hell out of the audience, assaulting the senses with one interminable chase sequence ladled upon the next: too much overlap of moments done to better effect elsewhere in this franchise, with Chris Pratt assuming the reigns as a younger, more athletic incarnation of Alan Grant; the position vacated by Sam Neill’s character, as the sole voice of reason.
In 2009, Pratt, looking more doughy and haggard while starring in the popular TV show, Parks and Recreation (2009-15), made the farcical prediction he would appear in a Jurassic Park movie. Indeed, the actor has come a long way from those days and in just a very scant few years; undergoing a crash course weight loss metamorphosis that, coupled with his formidable acting chops, at least sells his character with magnanimity, hard-pressed to be found in any of the other characters in this movie. From a purely technological perspective, Jurassic World outclasses virtually all its predecessors; the visual effects more seamlessly integrated; the audio animatronics more complex and engaging. But what I would have preferred to see in this movie is more originality. Thematically, Jurassic World is frustratingly passĂ© and increasingly rehashes the tried and true. We get the same ole ‘kids in peril’ scenario regurgitated yet again; brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) mere substitutes for Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards from the first movie, and, Trevor Morgan’s prepubescent survivor in Part III.
Herein, the brothers Mitchell are suffering from unspoken anxieties of a traditional American family in crisis; their parents, Karen and Scott (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) on the cusp of divorce; the kids sent away during their Christmas holidays on an all-expense paid ‘family’ holiday, meant to be chaperoned by their Aunt Claire, who has about as much interest in rearing children as she does in peeling a turtle. Zach’s outlet is girls; a clingy gal pal left behind (Kelly Washington) and his perpetually raging hormones that cause him to stupidly moon after anything between the ages of 16 and 20 wearing a skirt. This, predictably, becomes the brunt of his younger brother’s jokes. Claire has assigned her assistant, Zara (Katie McGrath) the thankless task of following the boys on their journey through the park. Even more predictably, she quickly loses sight of them – thereby allowing Zach and Gray all sorts of opportunities to make a damn nuisance of themselves. Most predictable of all – neither comes to any real harm. Jurassic World is so formulaic, it hurts.
Not surprising, the picture went through a dreaded period of gestation begun in 2001, when Jurassic Park III director, Joe Johnston vehemently denied rumors another installment in the franchise was already in the works. In hindsight, Part III was something of an anomaly, as Spielberg had hoped for an entirely different movie altogether, involving the mythology of dinosaurs. This never materialized, but the kernel of that idea carried over into Spielberg’s plans to produce the, as yet untitled, Part IV. At this point, Johnston officially bowed out of the project and, shortly thereafter, talks with Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum began. Screenwriter, William Monahan was brought in to begin the first draft, based on Spielberg’s concept; that the dinosaurs had figured out a way to migrate to the Costa Rican mainland and were breeding uncontrollably. From here on, the rumors became even more unwieldy: SFX wizard, Stan Winston leaking information Spielberg would be borrowing scenarios as yet un-filmed from Crichton’s novels, and actress, Keira Knightley letting it be known she was under consideration for two separate roles. Curiously, there was even a rumor Richard Attenborough would return as John Hammond – the originator of the first failed theme park who had died by the time the events in Part II’s The Lost World (1997) take place, suggesting Part IV would either be set in the distant past or, at the very least, entirely ignore the events as unfolded in Parts II and III.
Throughout these permutations, paleontologist, Jack Horner agreed to act as Part IV’s technical advisor. Horner added an even more bizarre spin on Part IV’s plot, suggesting its scenario would imply humans were genetically derived from dinosaurs. Screenwriter, John Sayles entered the picture. By mid-2004, Jurassic World had a new director on board, Alex Proyas and a new cast, presumably to costar, Jeremy Piven and Emmy Rossum, with Richard Attenborough reprising his role. But only three weeks later, Proyas made it clear he had no intension of committing to the movie and once again, Part IV fell into turnaround. That same year, Sayles’ first draft script was leaked. Rumors once again abounded, this time, that Buffy/Angel/Bones co-star, David Boreanaz would be cast as a brand new character; mercenary – Nick Harris, who would lead a team of genetically modified human-dino hybrids on a harrowing mission in the Swiss Alps. Mercilessly, as Spielberg had final approval, he quietly vetoed this scenario.
Then, in 2005, Spielberg prolifically made references Part IV would include a sequence taken from Crichton’s The Lost World novel, where a character on a motorcycle would outrun a pack of raptors. But the next year, a new screenplay co-authored by Joe Johnston and Horner went nowhere fast; producer, Frank Marshall muddying the waters even further – first, by hinting Johnston would direct the picture, then putting forth Spielberg as the only viable candidate to make any sense of it all. The death of author, Michael Crichton and Jurassic Park film alumni, Stan Winston in 2008 did much to sour producer, producer, Kathleen Kennedy on pursuing the project. Yet, pre-production continued; director, Johnston adding fuel to the fire once again in 2012 about Part IV as the beginning of an entirely new trilogy.  A year earlier, Spielberg had engaged writer, Mark Protosevich to prepare just such a treatment. Eventually, two treatments would be written, but neither gelled. Finally, Spielberg latched onto Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, while Kennedy and Marshall found their inspiration in nailing down a director to helm their movie: Colin Trevorrow, whose first movie, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012 - about a man who believes he can time travel) was met with great enthusiasm; as was Jaffa and Silver's script about a fully functional dino-theme park. Along the way, a prologue set in China was dropped and several subplots about human-dino interaction either streamlined or toggled back in service of the central ‘chase’ narrative.
As all the preliminary footwork neared completion, Spielberg concentrated on the more practical aspects of the enterprise; returning to Hawaii, specifically Kauai, as the fictional Costa Rican isle of Nublar. Nearly two years before the picture’s premiere, it was decided to rechristen the franchise Jurassic World to mark it as a departure from the earlier three movies. Josh Brolin, briefly considered for the part of Owen, was eventually replaced by Chris Pratt, yet to show promise as a box office draw. When Pratt’s breakout performance in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) garnered rave reviews, Spielberg and Trevorrow were left congratulating one another on their good fortune.  Principal photography would take full advantage of locations in Honolulu, Oahu and Kauai; also, New Orleans abandoned Six Flags theme park, substituting for Jurassic World’s main thoroughfare.
The events in Jurassic World take place 22 years after the fiascoes encountered on Isla Nublar in the original film. Brothers Zach and Gray Mitchell have been given the rare opportunity to escape to this much sought after tourist retreat by their parents. Actually, Karen and Scott could use the time to reevaluate the longevity of their marriage.  Karen has entrusted her children’s safety to her sister, Claire Dearing; Jurassic World’s operations manager. But Claire has no time for kids – even the nephews she has barely seen all but twice in their lifetime. Hence, on Zach and Gray’s first day’s sojourn through the park, Claire pawns off their care to her assistant, Zara Young. Besides, it is a crucial time for the park. While attendance is up and profits have soared, so have expenses incurred from the daily operations of this world-class venue, to say nothing of the prohibitive costs afforded the park’s chief geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong reprising his role from the original movie) to create new and engaging ‘assets’ – hybrid dinosaurs, meant to ever-increasingly challenge the imaginations of park attendees. At present, Claire is taking executives from Verizon Wireless on a private tour to show off the park’s latest attraction in search of corporate sponsorship – Indominus Rex – a Franken-dino nearly fifty feet larger than the conventional Tyrannosaurus Rex, with cross-referenced DNA from several predatory dinosaurs as well as modern-day animals.
Alas, just like Frankenstein’s creation, the Indominus Rex proves to possess a will of its own that cannot be tamed. Meanwhile, in another part of the park, ex-military, Owen Grady is involved in training velociraptors to obey his commands. The park’s head of security, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) is intrigued by the progress Owen has made, but only insofar as he believes the raptors can be controlled for military purposes and sold on the black market to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, park owner, Simon Masrani has engaged Owen to evaluate the Indominus‍‍ '​ enclosure for safety concerns before debuting it to the public. Claire attempts to broker favor with Owen. However, like Dr. Alan Grant before him, Owen recognizes the dangers of breeding dinosaurs in captivity and isolation. Furthermore, he is diametrically opposed to the creation of hybrids with no means for socialization with the other animals. Both Claire and Owen are unaware of the Indominus’ capabilities; it can camouflage itself in heavy foliage. It can also reduce its body temperature so as to disappear from the park’s thermal detection radar.
Fooling Owen and several security guards into believing it has already escaped from the paddock, the Indominus fakes out and devours everyone except Owen, escaping its enclosure and heading for the perimeters of the theme park. It claws out the tracking device implanted in its own back, forcing Owen and a team of military paratroopers to hunt her through dense jungle foliage. Meanwhile, Zach and Gray have taken one of the park’s exploratory gyrospheres into an uncharted area of the jungle – the pair unaware the entire park has been put on lock down since the Indominus’ escape. All too soon, Zach and Gray find themselves at the mercy of the Indominus, narrowly escaping from the gyrosphere and leaping to relative safety from a fifty foot waterfall. The pair stumbles upon the ruins of the old Jurassic Park Visitor Center and manage to repair one of its rusted Jeeps still docked in the remnants of a garage. Masrani elects to use brute force to tranquilize the Indominus, piloting his helicopter toward the Pterosaur aviary. Tragically, the Indominus has breeched the atrium glass, releasing a massive flock of pterosaurs into the air. They dive bomb Masrani’s copter, crashing it to the ground and killing all on board.
Zach and Gray return to Jurassic World’s main thoroughfare, discovering the guests have been corralled into one area, regrettably making them vulnerable to an attack by the pterosaurs. In the resulting deluge, many guests are decapitated, gutted or otherwise killed, including Zara. Hoskins assumes control of the park’s command center. He convinces Owen to use his raptors as trackers to locate the Indominus. As night falls, Owen, on his motorcycle, his raptors, and a small army of ex-military descend upon the jungle. Unfortunately, the Indominus possesses the communication skills of a raptor and quickly establishes herself as the alpha in control of their decision-making processes. Owen, Zach, Gray and Claire flee, returning to the main thoroughfare.  Meanwhile, Hoskins has Dr. Wu helicoptered off the island with the dino embryos to protect his research. Now, Hoskins unveils his diabolical plan; to further mutate the species with genetically modified dinosaurs that can be used as militarized weapons. Too bad for Hoskins, one of the raptors smashes into the lab and devours him as Owen, Claire and the boys helplessly look on.
The raptors corner Owen, Claire, Zach and Gray. But Owen uses this opportunity to reestablish contact as their alpha male. Hence, when the Indominus reappears, the raptors attack it instead. Alas, they are outsized and easily picked off one by one. Claire decides to free the Tyrannosaurus Rex from its paddock; the only real rival capable of challenging the Indominus’ supremacy. In the resultant battle, the last surviving raptor and the T-Rex manage to delay the Indominus long enough to lead it to the edge of a man-made lagoon where the titanic and whale-like Mosasaurus is waiting to devour it. The next day, the park’s survivors are evacuated to the mainland. Zach and Gray are reunited with their parents, while Owen and Claire forge the beginnings of a romantic bond.
Jurassic World is, in a word, predictable. It is, however, largely enjoyable as a mindless piece of pseudo-horror/sci-fi, action/adventure. The success of the picture, with its staggering tally of $1.52 billion, making it the third highest grossing picture of all time (second only to Avatar and Titanic) has practically guaranteed us a sequel – and yes, Jurassic World II is already in the works, with a tentative release date in 2017. While I cannot deny the numbers, I can most certainly protest the propagation of an entirely new dino-franchise as a very bad idea. It stands to reason any such one-premised endeavor must eventually reach its own creative plateau, if, in fact, one has already not been achieved. Personally, I would argue that it has. Jurassic World offers audiences nothing new and/or ground-breaking. Indeed, it is mostly a retread of ideas borrowed and/or regurgitated from a litany of sources already run out of steam. While Spielberg’s original tale was not focused on terror per say – Jurassic World is all about achieving an overriding sense of dread and fear. This, I willingly concede, it does. There are cringe-worthy moments scattered throughout the picture with director, Trevorrow achieving his primary objective: good sustaining chills and escalating thrills.
Question: how much scarier can the franchise get, going into the future. How much more frightening do we want it to be? We’ve already seen dinosaurs devour humans in the most excruciatingly painful ways; decapitations, dismemberments, eviscerations, etc. et al. Is it really necessary to explore such grotesqueness any further to the nth degree? Haven’t we all had enough spayed guts and bloody entrails strewn across our movie screens to last a lifetime? These are questions I would sincerely propose directly to Steven Spielberg, who began his career, not as the grandmaster of such schlocky and intestinal-exposing nonsense, but as a serious and trend-setting entrepreneur of his film maker’s craft, and, with a penchant for illustrating the benevolence behind mankind’s insatiable desire to explore the unknown. Simply because Spielberg did not direct Jurassic World does not absolve him of his responsibility in partaking in this gruesome re-envisioning of his earlier masterwork; nor does it excuse him of the transgression against that legacy he began to establish so very long ago.
Besides, all of it is just variations on a theme. Chris Pratt is a valiant ‘update’ of the Alan Grant character first put forth by Sam Neill – less cerebral, more earthy and sexually desirable to the adolescent teen and early twenty-something female attendees (always good for box office). I will reserve my judgements on Bryce Dallas Howard for now – Ron Howard’s daughter (gee, I wonder how she got this gig…no family nepotism at work here); a marginally attractive, though frankly dull and mismatched ‘love interest’, minus the necessary intangibleness of ‘on screen’ chemistry to generate genuine sex appeal. But moving into the future, I really would appreciate it if someone inform Spielberg and his entourage they have already plumbed the well once too often for the ‘kids in peril’ motif. Children in a Spielberg movie are always in possession of more resourcefulness than most of their adult counterparts. In Jurassic World’s case, two defenseless kids trapped in a glass-encased gyrosphere survive what a small army of ex-military, loaded to the gills with bazookas and other various destructive weaponry, cannot? Okay, Steven – if you say so. But by and large, the original Jurassic Park was a cautionary tale against man’s intervention – nee dabbling – into aspects of creation he neither understood, nor quickly discovered he could not manage. Jurassic World is merely a bastardization of these precepts – superficially covering the same ground, but also re-purposing the concept to fit the confines of a horror movie with less artistic sensibilities to carry off the rest of the lesson.
There is better news via Universal Home Video’s Blu-ray release of Jurassic World – made available in hi-def 3D, 2D, a special ‘collector’s tin packaging’ gift set, and, a standard Blu-ray keep case. Rest assured, whatever choice you make, you are receiving an impressive 1080p mastering effort. The 3D version isn’t as remarkable as I might have anticipated, proof positive (as though proof were needed) that any good movie (even a marginal one like Jurassic World) can survive without its gimmick to momentary discombobulate the equilibrium. I have to say, I preferred to watch Jurassic World projected flat; more readily able to appreciate John Schwartzman’s lush cinematography and careful framing without constantly being reminded of its perceivable ‘depth’. Clarity is startlingly achieved throughout, the stylized color palette richly satisfying. Flesh tones are accurate and the jungle foliage is vibrant green. Contrast is bang on; the night sequences exhibiting some very fine detail and a modicum of grain that looks fairly indigenous to its source. No edge effects or other digital anomalies. As expected, an A-1 hi-def release that will surely please, coupled with a full-throttle DTS 7.1 lossless soundtrack, meant to shock you right out of your seat…and it does.
Extras are a bit on the superficial side: the ‘making of’ a veritable puff piece with talking head points made by the stars, director and Spielberg in tandem. The superficial Q&A between Pratt and Trevorrow is painfully self-congratulatory. Guys: you made a dinosaur movie. It made a lot money. But that still doesn’t make it Lawrence of Arabia. Move on. We get deleted scenes – none particularly worth noting, although I suppose I should give Trevorrow high water marks for not including a moment where Howard and Pratt smear themselves from horn to hoof in dino feces to escape being eaten alive by the Indominous Rex. The moment reeks (pun intended) of some pseudo-pornographic fascination with scat; Owen mildly turned on by Claire’s decision to caress this warm ooze all over her thighs and breasts. Not funny, or erotic, or even mildly amusing, if you ask me!
If you purchase the collector’s set, there is also an ‘extra’ bonus disc, that includes several additional featurettes, covering the science behind dinosaurs, as well as the SFX in the movie, plus original theatrical trailers and an audio commentary. I confess to not having listened to the audio commentary at the time of writing this review (and likely will not revisit it for some years yet to follow – if, at all). Bottom line: I wasn’t particularly impressed by Jurassic World.  As disposable entertainment it is far better than most offered today. That isn’t say much, because so much of what’s being pumped out today is still disposable – like dirty Kleenex, tampons, promises one doesn’t intend to keep or live up to, and finally, movie dreck, unlikely to be revisited 75 years from now; except to ask “what were they thinking?!?” , “were they thinking?” and “what was all the fuss about?”  If this is your cup of tea – the Blu-ray looks fabulous.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)

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