I figured if I was going to do a Jurassic World-related post on Stegosaurus I might as well follow it up with a review for the film. I grossly underestimated the draw of dinosaurs to the cinema. Despite 22 years of Jurassic Park, Walking with Dinosaurs (BBC version, not the Disney thing), and so on, people never seem to be burnt out on dinosaurs. That’s good news for paleontology (yay!), and also for movies seeing as how Jurassic World just raked in a record-breaking $208.8 million domestic in its opening weekend.
So what did I think? In short: I liked it and found it to be a worthy successor to the franchise.
If you’d like the longer, spoiler-ridden version click on the jump.
As I mentioned in the last post I had come to terms with the Jurassic Park franchise going the movie monster route ever since the release of The Lost World: Jurassic Park (T. rex in San Diego pretty much solidified it). So I went into the movie expecting nothing less and I did not come away disappointed. The overall premise of a functioning park in our modern-day, quick fix society was a cool concept and a nice bit of social commentary. Despite some earlier reviews saying that the film was a slow burn we wasted no time getting to the island and introducing the big bad Indominus rex (hell, you technically see the I. rex even before the opening credits). Keeping in mind that I was watching movie dinosaurs (i.e., monsters) rather than real dinosaurs made it easier for me to swallow moments such as the I. rex setting a trap to escape and having a vendetta against all humans. Similarly, this let me deal with the Velociraptor being ravenous killing machines, a bunch of freaked out pterosaurs attempting to steal anything that’s not nailed down, and the Mosasaurus chomping on anything that got into the water. I even felt that the justification for the killing spree that the I. rex went on was understandable. Animals raised knowing only captivity do tend to be messed up in the head.
In spite of my general leeway there were still moments that were hard to swallow. Seeing the Stegosaurus and Triceratops galloping alongside the hamster balls seemed a bit much (for their shoulder girdles). Apparently raptors are so deadly and intelligent that mixing their DNA with other animals is top-tier classified and forbidden. I. rex has not only the cephalopod-like colour change ability of the Carnotaurus from the Lost World book, but it also has the ability to mask its thermal signature. I found this concept flabbergasting in the theatre, but upon checking it out I did find that it had some basis in reality. Apparently the background researchers for the film (maybe even Jack Horner himself, who has a cameo in the movie during the Velociraptor clicker training scene) learned about this thermal masking ability in some frog species (members of the family Centrolenidae and subfamily Phylomedusinae) from a paper by Schwalm et al. 1977. The authors discovered that these frog species had the ability to mask their near infrared reflectance, allowing them to better blend into their surroundings. This is afforded to them thanks to a unique melanosome called pterorhodin (Bagnara 2003). Schwalm et al. argued for its anti-predator potential due to the fact that many birds and snakes have the ability to see in the near infrared spectrum. It’s a cool story, but one that has never been tested. Still, if you were wondering where the Jurassic World writers pulled that little magic trick out of, there you go.
I enjoyed many of the animal interaction scenes, be it the kids zooming by on the hamster balls and scaring the herbivores, or the ankylosaurs dealing with the Indominus rex, the reactions were what I would consider fairly realistic. In fact seeing an Ankylosaurus magniventris battle the I. rex was a highlight of the movie for me. I like ankylosaurs a lot, but I often feel that they get short shrift in popular culture. That I. rex was able to dispatch the A. magniventris bugged me (especially since it used the old saw about flipping the animal over), but since it is supposed to be the big bad I suppose its understandable. I. rex apparently also has bones made of adamantium since it took a pretty hefty blow to the legs from that clubbed tail and just kept going.
The movie does a very good job of building suspense and creating a sense of danger. Again, as a monster movie this makes sense. One definitely gets a sense that the I. rex is something to be feared. The movie also does a good job of paying homage to the original, including a look back at the remnants of the old park and even reviving an old JP jeep.
The CG effects are okay. Jurassic World has the benefit of 22 years of improved computer graphics, but it also come out during a time when much of the general public has started to feel burnt out on overused CG. Though I didn’t find the CG in Jurassic World to be overly intrusive, there did still feel like there was a disconnect between the actors and the dinosaurs. There was also a case of uncanny valley going on with the Velociraptor. During all of the scenes involving a close up of the raptor faces, the eyes never seemed to focus on anything. I don’t remember ever seeing that problem in the previous Jurassic Park films. The result is this weird effect in which the Velociraptor all appear to be dazed. While we are on the subject of eyes I have to hand it to ILM for at least getting the nictitating membranes right, and maybe even the eyelids (I’ll have to watch the film again, but it looks like the eyelids shut largely from the bottom as in most birds and reptiles, rather than the top like in mammals). There was lots of clear blinking via the nictitating membranes in the dinosaurs of this film. It was a subtle (and nice) touch.
Character development seems to have been kept to a minimum. Pratt’s character (Owen Grady) is the same person throughout the film, as is Vincent D’Onofrio’s bloodthirsty Ingen representative (Hoskins). B.D. Wong’s reprisal of geneticist Henry Wu was pretty neat. The Wu in this film is more in line with the Henry Wu from the book (egotistical and a little power hungry), so that was a cool change. We don’t see how he got there, though. He just winds up being that character throughout. The only real character arcs in the film come from the Bryce Dallas Howard as the park manager, Claire Dearing, and the kids. The kids arc is fairly small and involves them learning to get along as brothers. Claire’s arc is the big one as she goes from being the super-busy park manager with no spare time to someone who discovers her humanity over the course of the film. I thought it was a satisfying arc. I have heard rumblings about the film supposedly being sexist in their treatment of Claire, but I don’t buy it. Yes she keeps her slip-on heels with her the entire time, but that was apparently Bryce Dallas Howard’s idea, and not Trevorrow’s (doesn’t make it any less believable, but that’s largely due to the physics of slip on shoes). Similarly, her arc does not involve her stripping off her successful corporate job in favour of settling down and having kids (there is no point in the film where she suggests wanting to have children), yet even if it did one could simply swap her out for Alan Grant and get the same basic arc (doesn’t want kids –> Goes on adventure with kids –> Now likes kids). Hardly sexist, just cliché.
Lastly, I can’t end this review without talking about the climax of the film. It is at this point that Jurassic World had completely embraced being a kaiju film. The ending scene is one that would make the Carnivora forum proud. This was another area that I had a very hard time accepting. Even though a part of me was super excited to see it happen, there was the rest of my brain constantly screaming: “Why is this happening?! Real animals don’t act this way!” Still, in the context of the universe that Jurassic World created, this worked and was ultimately satisfying. It also really brought home the concept of the JP Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor as actors and not just set pieces.
All in all this was a good film that is actually a worthy successor to the franchise. The JP series will never be the vanguard to the latest dinosaur research that the first film kinda was (don’t forget all the crappy “facts” that JP popularized, nor the fact that the series itself is actually strongly anti-science), but as a monster film series it’s actually pretty good.
It’s going to be interesting to see where they go from here.
Schwalm, P.A., Starrett, P.H., McDiarmid, R.W. Infrared Reflectance in Leaf-Sitting Neotropical Frogs. Science. Vol. 196(4295):1225–1227.
Bagnara, J.T. 2003. Enigmas of Pterorhodin, A Red Melanosomal Pigment of Tree Frogs. Pigment. Cell. Res. Vol. 16:510–516.