Even at their worst (ahem…looking at YOU, ‘Jurassic Park 3’!), the ‘Jurassic’ series is, if nothing else, entertaining. Let’s be honest, they’re not what you would call ‘high art’. It’s humans arrogantly messing with genetics and then having to fight for survival when their tinkering literally turns to bite them, in the form of de-extinct’d dinosaurs who insist that Human is back on the menu. Granted, when you put the original goofy concept into the hands of a master-craft director like Steven muthafuckin Spielberg, you get the piece of cinematic gold that is the first 1993 film. He came back in ’97 to contractually film the inevitable sequel, ‘Jurassic Park: The Lost World’ which he essentially did ‘by the numbers’…even though ‘by the numbers’ for The Beard still results in a highly watchable product.* Side note- the only film of Spielberg’s that I just can’t get through (or even into) is his bloated and obnoxious ego-piece ‘1941’ (1979). Holy shit, that movie’s a train-wreck! Virtually everything else he’s done has very praise-worthy elements, and effortlessly suck audiences into the narratives. That being said, ‘The Lost World’ still has some inventive and exciting action scenes, and the welcome return of a beloved character from the first film (The Goldblum…who’s in this one for literally one scene, don’t be fooled). After that, Spielberg bailed on the franchise (as a Director) and the director of one of my favorite movies (‘The Rocketeer’), Joe Johnston, was brought in. He delivered a perfectly serviceable film that plays like a ‘budget’ version of a ‘Jurassic’ movie…Spielberg Lite, if you will…which is what it is. It was competently crafted, but noticeably short (as in run-time), and one-dimensional, in both scope and character development. Plus there was some goofy bullshit like the notorious Talking Raptor scene (“Alan!”), the ringing phone in the alpha-predator killer dino, and the stupid, cop-out ending. Not great…but also not awful. Just really dumb. Due to the luke-warm reception to the quickie 3rd installment, the ‘Jurassic’ series seemed to go into hibernation, only to re-emerge in 2015 with ‘Jurassic World’. ‘JW’ was…decent. It was nothing to write home about. I enjoyed it when I saw it the first time, but when the credits rolled…not a lot stuck with me. There was a blandness, as well as the sense that they were REALLY milking the 80’s / 90’s nostalgia vibe that permeates through Hollywood these days (that’s not a complaint…that time period is very much Me!). In many respects, it reminds me of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, in that it feels like VERY well-financed fan-fiction. But it was…fine. Fine enough to make a shit-load of cheddar at the Box Office…which pretty much guarantee’s the Sequel Treatment. So here we are…in the strangely wet June of 2018…and ‘Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom’ is upon us.
One of my best friends, whom I hadn’t seen in a criminally long time, and I got ourselves up to drunken ‘no good’ last night and in the morning, as we shook the cobwebs from our brains over coffee, we decided to hit up a morning matinee for some rampaging dinosaur action.
3 years after the calamitous events of the first flick (in this new trilogy), a volcano on Isla Sorna threatens the last batch of living dinosaurs at the abandoned Jurassic World facility. ‘John Hammond’s previously unmentioned ex-business partner ‘Lockwood’ (James Cromwell) and his chief executive ‘Mills’ (Rafe Spall) seek out the former chief administrator of the resort, ‘Claire’ (Bryce Dallas Howard) to entice her to illegally retrieve as many dinosaurs as possible, in order to move them to a new sanctuary, in the name of conservationism. In order to capture the prized, last surviving velociraptor ‘Blue’, ‘Claire’ enlists the aid of her former fella / dino behavior specialist ‘Owen’ (Chris Pratt). Along with a supporting cast of one-dimensional stereotypes, dinosaur-related shenanigans ensue…eventually moving from the island to a whole new and complicated setting. Naturally, not all is as it seems and shit gets violent and scary for our heroes.
I liked ‘Fallen Kingdom’, noticeably more than ‘Jurassic World’. For starters, it’s a LOT prettier. The cinematography and the color / lighting scheme are solid and bring a unique ‘character’ to this entry in franchise. I haven’t seen much of Spanish director J.A. Bayona’s work, only his 2007 horror flick, ‘The Orphanage’ (which I liked). Given that Guillerno Del Toro (‘Hellboy’) was a producer on that film, it’s strangely fitting that this film frequently reminded me of Del Toro’s signature visual style, with heavy use of contrasting blue/green – yellow/orange lighting and quick, flashing reveals of monstrous things lurking in the dark. There’s also a notable horror vibe running through the undercurrent, in how it looks and how situations are handled, usually with a decent amount of suspense built upon the threatening advances of the dinosaurs, from set-piece to set-piece. Key scenes stand out in my mind, particularly the sweet and scary opening, in which a mini-sub ventures into the Mesosaurus lagoon, it’s two man crew moronically assuming that the behemoth underwater predator MUST be long dead. Guess again, dipshits! There’s also a cool volcano explosion sequence where our heroes must dodge through a dinosaur stampede as the pyroclastic flow roars at them, only for the scene to continue in one, very impressive ‘one shot’ sequence underwater. Among others.
If I have to jump into Negatives…I can. There’s a sub-plot involving the grand-daughter of James Cromwell’s ‘Lockwood’ character and her Nancy Drew act to find out about the strange things going on around the huge mansion that occupies the 2nd half of the movie, especially where the ‘Mills’ character is involved. I understand what they were going for with her character and what I suspect she means to the ‘bigger picture, but it didn’t feel necessary for a large chunk of the 2 hour 10 minute run-time. More like a pace-killing bit of padding. Plus, her character does something in the 3rd Act that had me face-palming and inwardly yelling for someone to stop her. The fact that this one event occurs screams ‘Sequel’, even though in the grand scheme of things…what she does is just the flat-out wrong and HIGHLY irresponsible choice. Let me just say this…for the 3rd (or 6th, depending how you group them) ‘Jurassic World’ movie…the use of the word ‘World’ in the title will be no accident. The cast is just fine, but there’s nothing really unique about any of them, unless you want to compare them to characters we’ve already seen in the previous flicks. You again get the Aging Rich White Guy, The ‘Marlboro Man’ Hunter Dude, the Nerdy / Comic Relief Minority fella, The Funny, Manly but Smart Protagonist, his Capable, Independent but Sexy Female companion, Another Goddamn Kid, etc. Pratt and Howard still have decent chemistry and they felt a little more connected this time around. Cromwell could’ve done this ‘for the cheque’ role in his sleep and Rafe Spall (‘Prometheus’) is an interesting actor who I find I like seeing in movies more and more these days. ‘Buffalo Bill’ himself Ted Levine (‘Silence of the Lambs’) fits into the Great White Hunter character just fine…but that’s all he is. While we’re on the topic of recycled elements from previous films, as good-looking as this movie is, it really puts in the work to make sure those now-expected (and slightly stale) tropes from the franchise are front and centre…again.
“Oh, it’s a Jurassic Park movie?”
“Well then, it WILL have”…
– an opening prologue in which shit goes badly involving marauding dinosaurs: Check
– a ‘beauty shot’ sequence showing an aircraft flying into Isla Sorna: Check
– a sequence where characters are in peril in a vehicle / enclosure that’s in danger of falling or sinking: Check
– Scene where dinosaurs are being transported somewhere somehow: Check
– Scene where humans are spared because two or more dinosaurs get into a fight: Check
– The obligatory ‘running humans get caught up in dino stampede’ scene: Check
– The expected ‘humans Cat n Mouse dinosaurs inside a structure’ scene: Check
And so on…
But at least they made it all look good.
All in all, I (and my buddy) had a good time with ‘Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom’. Like I previously mentioned, I liked it more than it’s predecessor, even just from an aesthetic standpoint. As noted above, it really does Tick The Boxes, when it comes to ‘playing it safe’, making sure it can’t be mistaken for anything BUT a ‘Jurassic Park’ movie. That being said, I’m morbidly curious to see what they wind up doing with the next one, given the vastly open ending of ‘Fallen Kingdom’. Mostly, this movie is a lot of what you’ve already seen before, just with a new and attractive coat of paint. It looks great, there’s some very slick FX and set-pieces, it has an effective horror flavor that the other movie’s didn’t have and, while definitely not perfect, is a damn acceptable piece of Summer Blockbuster escapist entertainment! Some people may be put off by the change in gears half-way through the movie (where it did sag a little), but I was A-OK with it. I was also A-OK with the use of ‘strongly implied’ gore and violence, within the boundaries of the PG-13 rating…but just pushing it. If you liked most or even some of the Jurassic Park franchise up to this point, ‘Fallen Kingdom’ will be just fine with you. For two fellas on the mend after a night of tossing em back…this movie did the trick.
If I had to rank them: 1) ‘Jurassic Park’, 2) ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’, 3) ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’, 4) ‘Jurassic World’, 5) ‘Jurassic Park 3’. And there you have it.
PS – I just have to say that there was one scene in which our heroes have to watch from the stern of a ship as the volcano swallows the island and, in particular, a poor stranded brontosaurus that cries plaintively as the cloud envelopes it. I was impressed with the emotional weight of the scene and the beautiful way it was composed and edited. So congratulations, ‘Fallen Kingdom’…at least once…you got me in The Feels.