Thursday, June 18, 2015

How Do Attack Raptors Go Wrong?

I saw Jurassic World over the weekend.

In short: I didn't really like it all that much.

What's strange is how I left the theater: feeling pretty pleased with the movie I'd just seen. It was one of those situations where, on the way home, the more I talked about it with my wife, less I liked it. I didn't read a bunch of reviews that changed my mind--in fact, the only review I read before I went to see it was an incredibly positive review that basically described the movie as, [I'm generalizing here] "So incredibly stupid you can't help but have a good time, but also smart enough to wink at how stupid it is."

My initially bubbly discussion started turning sour as I pointed out more and more things that bugged me on the car ride back from the theater--before I'd had the chance to read anyone else's thoughts. It was sort of weird getting home online, checking the Net, and seeing so many other people echoing my own thoughts--I don't usually share the opinions of the majority. I like Insidious 3, for example, and that movie got weirdly panned by critics.

My biggest problem with the movie was that it played much of the movie too straight to be a legitimately good Bad Movie, but it had far too many flaws to be a Good Movie. The movie was a series of strange choices that left me afterward going, "Hey...what ABOUT that???"


For example, I understand Chris Pratt's desire not to be typecast. He doesn't want to be that snarky, loveable, goofball in everything forever. I'm sure he wants to demonstrate his range. But he's charismatic as hell, and like Will Smith, he's at his best when he's being outgoing and charming. Unfortunately, he was so restrained and bland in this movie, and was given so little to work with, that he was incredibly boring.

We know Chris Pratt can act. We've watched Parks and Rec and Guardians of the Galaxy. This was clearly a directorial choice, a very bad choice on Pratt's part, or a combination of one or both of the previous mixed with a flat, flat, flaaaaaat character.

He's also extremely condescending and rude to his female co-star. This would make sense if they were supposed to hate each other, but since they're supposed to have some sort of buried sexual tension, it was extremely jarring. He talks down to her, rolls his eyes, and has virtually zero chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire.

The strange flip side to Owen Grady (Pratt) is Jake Johnson's character. He was an outgoing, flawed, humorous but not cartoonish nerd. He wears a "vintage" Jurassic Park shirt in spite of it being in bad taste, and goes on about how "legit" Hammond's vision was vs. the sanitized Disney version in Jurassic World. He's disorganized, occasionally presumptuous, but he's also charming and provides a much needed bit of humor in the movie. In spite of his occasional jokes, he clearly feels the horror of the situation as it unfolds. In fact, he was aaaaalmost acted as a stand in for Dr. Ian Malcom. Except he was barely in the movie, and was very inconsequential.

The character of Clair only had one scene/arc that I thought worked really well. She is a business woman in charge of looking at the public perception, at the attendance numbers, and trying to keep the buzz up, the people happy, and the park in business. She's a big picture person. Therefore, it's not her job to view the dinosaurs as anything but sort-of, like, living roller-coasters. But when she meets a wounded, dying Brontosaurus (Brachiosaurus?)--in a scene that strongly calls back to the sick Triceratops from the first film--she learns to view them as actual living creatures. That is one of the best scenes of the movie. Heart-breaking, touching, and perfectly paced.

On the other hand, she spends most of the movie stopping every five minutes to gawk at mothers with their kids even though she has explicitly stated that she doesn't really like kids. The movie is very critical of this, literally bringing the movie to a halt so we can watch her sister berate her for not trying to have kids already. The movie REALLY hammers home how wrong she is.

What's weird is how tame she is compared to Sam Neill's character was in the movie. Sam Neill spun a pants-shittingly terrifying yarn about how deadly raptors were to scare a kid into respecting raptors. He complains about how they're loud, they're annoying, and they smell. And he totally brushes a kid off that read his book, tricking him into a different car and literally shutting the door in the kid's face.

But where that's meant to be viewed as curmudgeonly and humorous, we're supposed to think Claire's an ice-cold bitch for not wanting kids when the worst attitude she seems to have about kids is she's awkward around them, she can't seem to fully relate to them, and when it comes to having kids, she describes that as an "if" situation rather than a "when" situation. THE HORROR.

The movie also constantly shits on Claire in various ways because she wears skirts and dresses and wears high heels. She has a severe bob haircut that seems to have been clipped out of an "Uptight Female Characters" catalog.

This movie is extremely unpleasant with women. In addition to shitting on Claire constantly for her femininity and business-like demeanor, her assistant Zara is murdered one of the most strangely gruesome ways in the franchise. It's not that she couldn't or shouldn't have died in the movie. Good people can and do die in these movies. Samuel L. Jackson dies in the first movie in spite of being a seemingly decent human being. And the proto-Chris Pratt raptor hunter dies helping Ellie get to the breakers to get the power back on.

But this woman's sin was not paying close enough attention to the kids. (Women and kids, yet again. This movie is weirdly conservative. It's a wonder one of the female characters wasn't literally forced to hide in a kitchen from danger or something.) Zara wasn't being mean or dismissive to the kids like Sam Neill's character in the original film. She's on the phone, with her boyfriend I think, and they literally run away. She spends the rest of the movie frantically looking for them--we know because we hear her call Claire about it AND we see her reaction when she finds them later.

When good people die in these movies it's either quick deaths OR they die off screen--see Sam Jackson's character. But this woman is swooped up by a pterodactyl, tossed from flying dino to flying dino, then dropped into the water where one of them repeatedly dunks her into the water, drowning her, before she and the pterodactyl are eaten by the Mosasaurus. This was fucking horrifying. It goes on for, like, 5 minutes. It's the kind of elaborate death you save for a villain, a truly reprehensible character, like Newman from the first movie, or Hammond's nephew in the sequel. It's the kind of punishing death I expected for, say, Vincent D'Onofrio's character. But this woman did literally nothing. It was uncomfortable to say the least.

If she was being punished for being inattentive of the children, it's strange that the brother was also not similarly punished since he spends maybe half the movie shitting on his brother and being out and out mean to him.

Speaking of the kids, they were handled clumsily and weird, too.

Continuing with this movie's weird thing with women, the older brother is introduced with a long, drawn out scene where his very devoted girlfriend is saying bye to him because...I guess he'll be away all summer or something? Regardless, she's taking it hard. The parents are predictably, "C'mon! Let's go!" But the boy and his girlfriend both seem torn up about this time away.

The older brother then spends the rest of the movie gawking at every girl that passes his field of vision, literally ignoring his brother for long stretches of time because he can't hear him over the sound (I'm assuming) of his massive boner.

This brother is an outright dick to him for most of the movie, constantly pissing in the little boy's Cheerios, even though the poor kid is just excited to see dinosaurs for the first time--very similar to the little boy from the first one, only his older sister was at least mildly interested as well.

Both boy's attitudes change on a dime because the script says they need to be in a situation where they can be in danger and be left deserted in the park after everyone else has been evacuated.

The little boy--out of NOWHERE--starts crying that their parents are going to get a divorce (which is very briefly hinted at the beginning of the movie after the boy's leave, but not when the boys are around to see it). The older brother then immediately goes into Nuture mode for the remainder of the movie, doing STUPID shit JUST because he wants to make his little brother smile--including going through a broken fence (broken by something clearly massive and dangerous, by the way) into a restricted area to look at some dinos up close. Mind you...they were already literally driving beside other dinos, but these dinos were special because....they were behind a fence I guess.

The little boy's freak out was so out of nowhere, both my wife and I turned and said, "Where the hell did that come from?"

Another strange thing: the Indominous Rex (the genetically modified dinosaur that will be the new attraction at the park soon). The movie constantly lays clues that there's something special about this dinosaur. It's genetically modified--but with WHAT???

Some things are explained throughout the movie: it's ability to hide its thermal signature, it's ability to see thermal signatures, its ability to camoflauage its skin--these are all explained similar to how the dinosaurs are able to procreate in the first film. In JP, the dinosaurs can spontaneously switch sexes just like a frog that was used to plug the DNA gaps. In this one, certain abilities from other frogs and lizards bleed into the I-Rex as well.

But it's also extremely smart. Like, weirdly, weirdly smart. It scratches the doors of its pen to make everyone think it climbed its way out, and then hid until the doors were opened so it could actually escape for real.

It also kills for fun. The aformentioned dying big dino scene where Claire learns to see these creatures as living things, is also the scene the reveals that the I-Rex is killing for fun rather than to eat as it's been wiping out the long necks in a mass slaughter.

Now, what creature was mixed into this slurry that would be dramatic enough for the big reveal.


Did you think humans? I thought humans. Lots of other people thought humans. But no, the big reveal is raptors. As Lindsey Ellis put it on Twitter, "It's like revealing that a dog hybrid is part pitbull." It was incredibly underwhelming because...didn't everyone already assume that? The raptors are one of the most popular dinosaurs in franchise, mashing up the T-Rex and the raptors was a no-brainer.

It feels like the original draft was leaning "crossed with humans" and then changed at the last minute for whatever reason. (And this may not be wrong, based on this very old article from Ain't It Cool News, which has some surprising similarities to the final version we saw.)

Other issues: too much CG. I know it's become almost cliche to complain about CG in this day and age, but given how devoted the originals (or, at least, the first two) were to practical effects and robots, this one is reeeaaaally oooooobviously CG almost all the time, except for a few moments--such as the raptor heads when they're in the petting helmet things, and a very few shots of the I-Rex when its stalking them as they hide behind things.

By the way, there's another annoying thing: they reuse the same moment--hiding behind something and the I-Rex's head slowly drifting into the frame...then slowly leaving...then POPPING BACK IN RAAAAWR! I guess to get as much use out of that one puppet as they could.

The end of the movie was legitimately awesome: the tyrannosaurus and a raptor team up to fight the Imperious Rex (the genetically modified dinosaur). It was literally so bananas, so ridiculous, was I cackling in the theater as it happened. But it's also tonally NOTHING like the rest of the movie--more out of something like Sharknado than Jurassic Park. And a cool ending doesn't make up for the uncomfortable/boring rest of the film.

It was weird. For a movie that I enjoyed so much at the time, the more I think about it, the less I like this movie, and the more I just would rather have watched the first one again. And that wasn't helped by the constant call backs to the original.

Also this movie had no Dr. Ian Malcom, and that means it's garbage. Gaze at his perfection and weep at its absence.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.