Review – Fourth Time’s A Charm! (“Jurassic World”)

First understand something: there was NO Jurassic Park part 2 or 3, okay? That never happened! No Ian Malcolm or Dr. Grant having adventures of their own on different islands. Got that? Good! The living dinosaur theme park that John “spared no expense” Hammond wanted to have finally has become a reality. Disneyland, eat your heart out!
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It’s been 20 years since the Jurassic World theme park on Ilsa Nublar has been open to the hungry public; problem is, it’s gotten old hat. “Today’s kids look at a Stegosaurus like an elephant in a city zoo”, says Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager. To boost park attendance, and to appease her boss Simon Misrani (Irrfan Khan), who happens to also be CEO and owner of Jurassic World, she has Dr. Henry Wu (B. D. Wong from the first movie) concoct a brand new species of dinosaur by mashing together a T-Rex with other frog DNA and wallah! A ginormous, thundering, super-intelligent killing machine called an Indominus Rex that’s bigger than a T-Rex and more ferocious. Yup, that’ll up the “wow factor”!

Meanwhile, Claire’s two nephew’s, Zach and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), are at the park, but long for their auntie’s company. Zach, the teenager, has a roving eye for girls and is generally bored with the place, while his younger brother, Gray (a dino-enthusiast) is like a kid in a candy store. But, their tour with Aunt Claire will have to wait as there’s a problem. . . is the Indominus Rex paddock really safe? Best call out local dino expert and velociraptor whisperer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to check things out.

Owen, it seems, has raised four raptors from pups (Pups? Chicks? Oh, whatever. . .). Raptors Blue, Delta, Charlie, and Echo are under his control, but they’re not quite pets as they still will attack anyone else. BIG problems happen when ol’ Indominus Rex gets loose and proceeds to cut a swath from his home up north straight towards the park’s visitor area and thousands of unsuspecting guests. Things go from bad to worse when Misrani is killed and Owen’s crazy military boss (Vincent D’Onofrio) takes over the park. Wouldn’t you know it, he wants the Indominus for military application! 

Owen tries to use his beloved raptors to track and locate the rampant Rex, but once the Big Guy is cornered, something totally unexpected happens. I’m not gonna give it away, but it drew a gasp from the audience as well as myself.

Anyway, the third act is one chase after another chase scene, with humans on the menu and our hero’s trying to stay alive with dinosaurs all around them having bottles of BBQ sauce at the ready. The finale, as preposterous as it is, is nonetheless thrilling with Claire turning hero, Owen pulling a ‘Dr. Grant’ from the first movie, and computer geek Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson from TV’s New Girl) getting most of the laughs.

With a bevy of four screenwriters (Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, and Colin Trevorrow), the story didn’t disappoint like it’s two previous predecessors. I went in expecting another people-being-chased-by-dinosaurs movie, and while I got that, I got so much more. This was as rich and full of adventure as the first movie was 20 years ago without degenerating into an eye-rolling farce like parts 2 and 3 did. Even seeing Pratt on a motorcycle riding alongside his raptors was genuinely cool!

Director Colin Trevorrow, who had only made small indie films up until now, really stepped up his game for this, his first major motion picture, and showed his talents off. Crisp, clean, and a straight-forward approach makes this the “sequel” that should have been.

The kids, especially Simpkins, are not your typical Hollywood ‘cutsie’ kids and convey some great emotions, while Pratt is just being his lovable self that we can’t get enough of these days. Howard has the best moves here with her character arc and really gets a chance to flex her acting wings, while D’Onofrio is just terrific as the sleazy military dude. The dino’s are all CGI (with a few practical one’s) and are all quite nice looking, even the one’s in the petting zoo scene, which actually made me feel sorry for them!

With the release of Jurassic World, let’s look back at the whole Jurassic franchise that made Universal Studios a historic boat-load of money, and continues to do so with their theme park rides, T-shirts, toys, special edition DVD & Blu-ray’s that come out every six months, and anything else they can and will sell you. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Money Maker Park!

Jurassic Park (1993)

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Michael Crichton’s magnificent book (read it, it’s better than the movie!), Steven Spielberg’s fantastic direction, John Williams stirring musical score, an exceptional screenplay by Crichton and David Koepp, and that incredible cast?! Oh, the practical as well as the CGI dinosaur effects? You just could NOT go wrong here!

Jurassic Park, a work-in-progress theme park filled with living dinosaurs, is ready to open to the general public on the Costa Rica island of Ilsa Nublar. It’s CEO, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) needs authoritative okay’s from leaders in their field prior to it’s opening, so he nabs chaos theory mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), leading palaeontologists’, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his girlfriend, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), along with a lawyer (Martin Ferrero), and Hammond’s “target audience”, his grandchildren Alexis (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello).

They’re all given the short tour (how the dinosaurs are genetically ‘made’) and sent out in unmanned SUV’s to see the real dino’s, but things go south very fast as an unscrupulous employee (Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight) sabotages the computer system so he can abscond with stolen dino embryos. A power failure, plus a nasty storm result in the dangerous captive velociraptors and T-Rex running amok on the island!

It’s a wild and scary ride with giant dinosaurs chasing humans who are hungry for a quick snack and great lines like: “If The Pirates of the Caribbean [ride] breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists”. Look for Samuel L. Jackson in a small role as computer programmer and the voice of Richard Kiley as the tour narrator. After all, they spared no expense. Sure, there are some people who poo-poo’d the idea that dino DNA can’t be real, but screw ’em, this is one entertaining and super-fun movie to watch.

This move made a humongous amount of money and racked up some impressive awards from Best Movie (MTV Awards) to Best Director (Saturn Awards) and everything in-between. It also gave Universal Studios a mega-shot in the arm theme-park wise with a gargantuan (and highly profitable) merchandising campaign, along with its popular Jurassic Park–The Ride water coasterThis movie also single-handedly resurrected the whole dinosaur mythos and re-interest that we have today. Pretty damn amazing.

So, given all that. . . you KNOW they had to make a sequel, right? Right!

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

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This is what happens when you should leave well enough alone. Based loosely (VERY loosely) on Michael Crichton’s book The Lost World, Steven Spielberg returned to make a sequel (which he rarely does) to one of his movies. And there’s a good reason for that.

It’s been four years since the disaster on Ilsa Nublar (aka Jurassic Park) and things haven’t gotten better. A bed-ridden John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) contacts Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) for help since his company, InGen, is in danger of being taken oven. Malcolm, it seems, is in hot water since he told everyone about what happened on Jurassic Park, even though he signed a non-disclosure form.

Anyway, to get himself out of trouble, to has to go to Ilsa Sorna (also known as “Site B”), the island where the dinosaurs were engineered and then moved to Ilsa Nublar. There he meets a team that will document the dinosaurs in their natural habitat as a way of rallying public support, plus the fact that Sarah Harding (Juliane Moore), his girlfriend, is there, too! Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that Ian’s estranged African-American gymnast step-daughter, Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) stows away on board to the island.

Once on the island, things aren’t looking too good: a screwball tracker named Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite) is capturing dino’s for a theme park in San Diego and wants to bag himself a T-Rex, Ian and Sarah are not getting along, Kelly and Ian are not getting along, a baby T-Rex, being used for bait, gets injured and that brings out a pissed-off mom and dad T-Rex, and funny man Vince Vaughn as videographer Nick VanOwen, isn’t getting any laughs at all.

So there’s alot of death’s via dinosaur eating, Kelly saves her dad from a killer raptor by using her amazing gymnastic skills, and Julianne Moore wishes she was in some other movie. The T-Rex (and baby) get shipped to San Diego were he gets loose on the city (cue the homage to Godzilla) and causes all sorts of mayhem, because that’s what they generally do. They manage to get Big Bob back in the ship’s hole and take him back to the island, while John Hammond apologizes on TV for the terror that befell downtown San Diego. Giggle giggle.

The movie opened strong at the box office and then died off (like the dinosaurs) after a few weeks when word of mouth got out just how weak the story was. Even Crichton was unhappy about his ‘sequel’. Screenplay writer David Koepp lost the original movie’s magic and opted out for the generic being-chased-by-a-monster movie. It was trounced by critics and everyone thought that the Jurassic Park fate was sealed. Now, you would think they should have stopped making any more sequels after this one, right? Right!

But they didn’t!!

Jurassic Park 3 (2001)
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I quote Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!”

This is what Sam Neill was probably saying when they got him to reprise his role for this three-peat in the franchise. That and a substantial paycheck, no doubt. This time directed by Joe Johnson with a unconvincing screenplay by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor, you had to wonder what the hell the Universal Studios was up to. Did they really need the money THAT bad?

A supposedly wealthy couple named Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) offer Alan Grant (Neill) generous funding for his dino research if he will give them an aerial tour of Ilsa Sorna. ONLY an aerial tour, mind you! Alan reluctantly agrees, still having nightmares about his days on you-know-where. But, faster than Admiral Ackbar can say, “It’s a trap!”,  Alan learns that the Kirby’s plan to land on the island to help find their son who was lost during a parachuting accident.

Once they’re on the island, guess what happens! Let’s get out our Jurassic Park check list: dinosaurs attacking? Check! Dr. Grant fuming about his kidnapping and telling everyone that this is a bad idea? Check! Secondary characters along for the ride are just there so they can be eaten and/or killed? Check! Lost boy gets found so you cater to the child demographic in the audience? Check! Use of completely stupid ‘raptor bone flute’ telegraphed early in Act 1 so that it can be used in a crucial spot late in Act 2? Check, check and double-check!

There’s miraculous saves from a giant vindictive spined dinosaur, raptors who NOW can be fooled, estranged couples getting back together under perilous conditions (because that’s what they do), a kid getting rescued by Dr. Grant (because that’s what HE does), and a ridiculous ending that is SO tacked on, it’s laughable.

As expected, Jurassic Park 3 went down in flames at the box office, despite a mighty promotional push by Universal, who apparently knew this was gonna be a dud. It even cost them $18 million in rewrites to “fix” the rejected script by former Jurassic writer, David Koepp. One only imagines what THAT script looked like if they used this one! Sheesh!

For the record, it did win several lesser special effects awards here and there, but none too precious as the highly coveted Worst Sequel or Remake Award given to this movie by the Golden Raspberry Awards – an award it richly deserved.

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