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JURASSIC WORLD:

Review / Dissection

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CREATING "JURASSIC WORLD"'S
NEW GENETICALLY MODIFIED DINOSAUR
with
Paleontologist JACK HORNER



     Legendary paleontologist Jack Horner (the real-life inspiration behind original JURASSIC PARK protagonist
Alan Grant) explains how they conceived the genetically modified dino, Indominus Rex, in the new film
JURASSIC WORLD.



(2:24)



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"The Kid" (dir. Colin Trevorrow - left) handed the
factory by Willy Wonka (Ex. Producer Steven Spielberg - right)









(Circa 1969) Young Spielberg directs  
Joan Crawford in the NIGHT GALLERY episode "Eyes"
  


INDEPENDENT’S DAY

 "Chasing The Dragons" (M. Giacchino) -
 JURASSIC WORLD score
 



     Many were stunned when, after but one independently produced feature - the film festival hit SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, writer / director Colin Trevorrow was selected by Steven Spielberg to helm JURASSIC WORLD. And even more where shocked when Trevorrow accepted.  But this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to Spielberg’s lengthy career as not only a director but as a producer, and a proponent / fan of the independent cinema movement.


       In some respects himself the most independent of the 70s era “Rat Pack” of film school bred cinema titans (that group including good friends George Lucas, Brian DePalma and Martin Scorcese), Spielberg was the one amongst them who actually never graduated from a film school.  Making a series of homemade 8mm films as a child (THE LAST GUNFIGHT, ESCAPE TO NOWHERE and the feature length CLOSE ENCOUNTERS progenitor FIRELIGHT), he applied to the film school of the University of Southern California but was turned down because of his subpar grade average.  While majoring in English at California State University, Long Beach, he received an internship at Universal, which lead to the opportunity to film his 35 mm “road movie” AMBLIN’; it catching the attention of studio exec Sid Sheinberg, then leading to the young film maker being signed on as a studio TV series contract director - the youngest at the time.  


     Over the next decade he’d churn out episodes of NIGHT GALLERY, OWEN MARSHALL, MARCUS WELBY M.D. and more, until “hitting the bigs” with the TV movie thriller DUEL - so intense and well made as to be released theatrically outside the U.S. His first feature length film for Universal and producers Richard Zanuck & David Brown, THE SUGALAND EXPRESS, was a critical hit big enough for the studio and producing team (still basking in the success of THE STING) to hand Spielberg the reins on JAWS - the director’s chair of which had just been vacated. The rest, as they say, is history.
 

 (Circa 1985) Spielberg & Clint Eastwood on AMAZING STORIES

     Never forgetting his roots, in the mid 1980s, while films he produced - such as BACK TO THE FUTURE, GREMLINS and THE GOONIES, became theatrical hits, he turned his attention towards television by spearheading the woefully short-lived, and now (though not at the time) much lauded anthology series AMAZING STORIES. 


     Intended as part creative “playground” for established film making friends such as Clint Eastwood, Scorcese, Joe Dante, Irvin Kershner, Burt Reynolds, Joan Darling and more, STORIES was also established to give many talented up-and-coming film makers their first at bat in “the bigs”.  Some of these future industry movers and shakers, who received their first breaks helming episodes of the fantasy series, included Phil Joanou (later responsible for STATE OF GRACE), Ken Kwapis (who went on to SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS), Mick Garris (MASTERS OF HORROR), and actors-at-the-time-making-the-transition-to-directors Timothy Hutton and Danny DeVito.


     This creative all-points “keep on the lookout for up-and-coming talent” has remained an indelible part of Spielberg’s career as a producer, he over the last 20 years giving an “'A' List career profile boost” to burgeoning darlings of the independent movement including Vin Diesel, Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies and Adam Goldberg (all in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), Samantha Morton and Tim Blake Nelson (both in MINORITY REPORT), and a relatively-unknown-at the-time Vince Vaughn in THE LOST WORLD.  


     In our current era, where the cinema trend dujour seems to be, after one film festival hit, a rising director is snagged for a mammoth production purportedly because of their “edginess” and “unique voice”, but in reality seems to be because they can be hired less expensively, and be controlled by a studio more than an established “A-lister” (we believe this was the case with THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE’s Scott Derrickson being assigned Fox’s 2008 remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL), with Spielberg we kinda believe the claims of a desire for “edginess and uniqueness”. 







Trevorrow and his SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED cast at Sundance 2012
(L to R - Karan Soni, Trevorrow, Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson)



     In a recent SlashFilm interview (April 30, 2015), JURASSIC WORLD director Colin Trevorrow recalled his first meetings with Spielberg, and speculated as to why he felt he was personally approached to helm the blockbuster-in-planning by its cinematic papa.


     “Steven saw the film (SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED), and Frank (Marshall) gave me a call and asked me to come out. We talked for about two hours and then they flew me to L.A.  A couple days later Steven and I talked for a couple of hours and then he gave me JURASSIC PARK because it was a very strange week. You know, I don’t know exactly why he made that choice. Part of me feels like he wanted a child in the way that, like, Willy Wonka did - who, like, you know, wouldn’t screw up the chocolate factory.



     SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012)




    
A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Trevorrow met his to-this-day screenwriting partner, Derek Connolly, during the time both served as interns on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. The duo has been creatively inseparable ever since.  In 2012 Trevorrow directed Connolly’s script SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED - its creation inspired by a true life classified ad (a joke) in the Sept. / Oct. 1997 issue of “Backwoods Magazine” which read …


     -
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before - 


Jake Johnson as Lowery Cruthers in JURASSIC WORLD  

      Ostensibly a comedy, SAFETY used its humor as a hook then diving board into a multi-layered narrative examining the faded dreams and lost loves of the once optimistic New Millennial generation of twenty and thirtysomethings. Trevorrow would say of Spielberg’s response to SAFETY’s thematic …

 
     “I know what he liked about SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, which is that that movie posed a question throughout the film and he loved the answer on a very fundamental level. And I think that my instinct to be able to have something be funny and sad and thrillery and weird and in this case, horrifying, you know, JURASSIC PARK doesn’t have a genre. Like, what is JURASSIC PARK? It’s a sci-fi, terror, family adventure thriller? It’s hard to define. And being able to bounce around from all these different tones, and do something that hits all the notes, I would hope it’s that. I didn’t win a contest or anything. So, I hope it’s that.







JURASSIC WORLD clip 2 - "Raptor Paddock"








  JURASSIC WORLD's Bryce Dallas Howard & Chris Pratt


ACTORS SPEAK
LOUDER THAN WORDS



"Pavane For A Dead Apatosaurus"
(M. Giacchino) - JURASSIC WORLD score




    
     While the true stars of the JURASSIC PARK franchise have always been (and will always be) the dinosaurs (sorry SAG), the importance of characters - stand ins for the audience both collectively and individually if you will, who are relatable, likeable, clever, smart, and even at times a little smart-assed, cannot be underestimated. When entering an “alien world” cinematically depicted, the unfamiliar sights, sounds and customs of that environment can be so emotionally disconcerting to the average audience member / viewer, that they’ll just “tune out” emotionally - which is the LAST thing a film maker wants.


     And these “alien” landscapes aren’t just limited to those of the sci fi / fantasy realm. A simple shift in time can similarly jolt an audience from its comfort zone. Y’know, as in with one look at an impossibly tight bustier or 18th century powdered wig, how our attention can suddenly shift to how uncomfortable it must be trudging up that cobblestone avenue in that attire on a warm day, rather than being focused on the fact that that character’s child has just died in battle. The canny film maker recognizes this and takes steps. And often the best of these is to create a “tour guide” in the form of a familiar character or characterization, a narrative device, trope, or even cleverly placed cliché, which will cause a comforting sense of subconscious déjà vu within the viewer to thus lead them through this alien world.


Nick Robinson as Zach Mitchell, and Ty Simkins as his younger brother Gray



     For example, as much as we have problems with the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet characters in TITANIC (they have no individual personal flaws to overcome in order to be together, like say Streisand and Redford in THE WAY WE WERE, or Roberts and Gere in PRETTY WOMAN), writer / director James Cameron does brilliantly use the age old ROMEO & JULIET / WEST SIDE STORY paradigm / structure of a love bridging social / political / economic conventions as the “hook of sub-conscious audience familiarity” which functions as “tour guide” into this “alien” landscape of 1912 - specifically aboard this ship (a microcosm for society at large) wherein the rich and privileged occupy the upper levels, and the poor are relegated to steerage.



Vincent D'Onofrio, Issac Keys, Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus relax between takes



     In the original JURASSIC PARK trilogy, the film narratives are considerably “stripped down” versions of those in the novels, but the movie versions of the characters are more three-dimensionally interesting than their Crichton-penned literary counterparts. For example, in the first novel, JURASSIC PARK, John Hammond comes across more as a rich and arrogant bastard who receives his karmic just deserts when the park goes haywire. Whereas in the film he’s a lifelong showman, and maybe even a lifelong high tech huckster / hack (shades of KING KONG’s Carl Denham) desirous of finally leaving something REAL to posterity. The park becomes that, and we empathize with him considerably more than we do with the original Crichton version.

     Another filmic character addition / arc not in the novels is that of Allan Grant (Sam Neill)’s discomfort around (and possible dislike of) children.  This feeling is supplanted when he, against all desire, becomes protector / surrogate parent (a frequent Spielberg theme, by the way) to Hammond’s grandchildren Lex and Tim.  Is that one of the oldest narrative arcs in the universe? Yup!  It’s probably been around for close to 65 million years. BUT IT WORKS! Without this human element JURASSIC PARK would be far too intense (as many felt JAWS was) for family viewing. All of this “tour guide” and “tropism” is nothing however if the characters don’t live and breathe. And one of the sterling things all of the JURASSIC films have done thus far is to populate themselves with actors who actually make the (admittedly at times thin dialog and interpersonal relationships) much more warm and believable.




     In this respect we recall seeing the second film, THE LOST WORLD, on opening weekend in a huge theater jam packed with over 700 people.  And how, when Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcomb visits an ailing John Hammond, and upon Malcomb’s first sight of the older and now much taller Lex and Tim, how the audience burst into a 700 strong smiling wave of warm feelings and verbal "Ooos" "Ahhs" and "Hey, it's the kids from the first movie!" comments for these characters. They wanted to hug them just as much as Malcomb did. And the same thing four years later in JURASSIC PARK III when Allan Grant turns up at the home of Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler (well, actually now a married “Ellie Degler”).



    
     Maybe not the same theater. But another 700 people, and the same warm reaction and similar verbal responses, because the actors in the JURASSIC series (which over the years have also come to include Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vanessa Lee Chester, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, the aforementioned Vince Vaughn, the late Micheal Jeter and more) have brought not only sterling acting chops, but a depth making them arguably more human, likeable and relatable than the characters on the script pages. Some have speculated that this quality is what separates a good actor from a star. And for this reason any audience enjoyability within JURASSIC WORLD (and it is very enjoyable) is considerably indebted in no small part to Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Vincent D’Onofrio.


     Perhaps the most likable actor working today, Chris Pratt had already charmingly enraptured TV audiences with his portrayal of ne’er-do-well Andy Dwyer on NBC’s PARKS AND RECREATION. But he won the hearts of women and smart-assed men around the world as Peter (“Starlord”) Quill, intergalactic merc turned hero in Marvel’s epic 2014 adventure / satire GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.  Carrying the weight of the entire film on his shoulders, we at first felt Pratt was trying just a tad too hard to be “lovably roguish”. But over time his easy-going demeanor won us over as well. And it’s the same kind of earthy and casual “Guy next door” aplomb he brings to his JURASSIC WORLD role of former Navy man Owen Grady, who now works for the InGen corporation training Velociraptors (hence that earlier WWII “dolphins used for military purposes” reference). And oh yes, Grady is necessarily considerably more intelligent than Quill.  




JURASSIC WORLD clip 3 - Owen and Claire: "Alive"







The chameleon-like Bryce Dallas Howard in (L to R) LADY IN THE WATER (2006),
THE VILLAGE ('04), SPIDER-MAN 3 ('07) and THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE ('10)




     Here’s a nifty bit of trivia.  Many recognize the ethereally beautiful Bryce Dallas Howard as the daughter of actor / director Ron Howard.  But did you know she was also the primary inspiration for his 1989 film PARENTHOOD?  One day, in the midst of a hectic film promotional tour, the young Ms. Howard, being carried by her father through a crowded airport, upchucked, in the best Reagan McNeill / EXORCIST-style, all over daddy’s shirt and chest, an incident which triggered (what some might consider) a minor “life crisis crossroads” in the mind of the film maker - he wondering for a short time along the lines of, “Good Lord, what did I get myself into in trying to balance both a family and a career, and thinking I could justice to either?”. This became the central thematic mid-life conundrum of PARENTHOOD’s Steve Martin character, Gil Buckman - who similarly receives a Pazu-like dousing of not-completely-digested peas and carrots from his child. Anyway …


  Irrfan Khan as CEO Simon Masrani
 
     An actress almost supernaturally capable of pulling a sense of empathy from an audience (this quality making her M. Night Shyamalan’s cinemat
ic muse of sorts in both 2004’s THE VILLAGE, and more impressively in 2006’s LADY IN THE WATER) she’d be one of the shining elements within Sam Raimi’s overly busy SPIDER-MAN 3 as Gwen Stacy. As written in the third Spidey film, it would’ve been very easy for the Stacy character to come off as a vapid, sexy blonde “other woman” cliché.  But Howard brought to her an almost childlike open tenderness which made it easy for audiences to understand how Peter Parker (when not under the influence of that personality altering “symbiote”) might just fall for her, … because we did too! 


     This natural sense of empathy and likability is soooo important to her role as Jurassic World park director, Claire Dearing, because in lesser hands the character could come off as little more than the proverbially cold ice queen bitch.  The manner in which Howard breathes life into the (somewhat thinly written) part however makes Claire more understandably “misguided” and caught up in the heat of success, rather than being a bean counting corporate lackey. ALTHOUGH (and we couldn't get around this one), is it just us, or did anyone else notice how the film kinda sorta seems to paint the concept of the driven unmarried career woman as perhaps more sexually repressed, “ethically challenged” and all around less complete than their child-rearing counterparts? Hmmm?  Very uncool guys. Very!

                                                                                                                                                                                                         



Vincent D'Onofrio as InGen Security Chief Vic Hoskins



     And hey, if you can get Vincent D’Onofrio in your movie, you’d damned well better, because … well, because he’s Vincent D’Onofrio.  Perhaps the most underrated of American acting treasures, everyone seems to forget that the same actor who memorably portrayed Pvt. Lawrence (“Pyle”) in FULL METAL JACKET, is the same fellow who created one of the most hilarious villains in cinema history as Edgar in MEN IN BLACK, and is also currently tearing up Marvel / Netflix’s DAREDEVIL as “The Kingpin” - Wilson Fiske.  All of this notwithstanding, we think D’Onofrio will never have a role as juicy as that of (emotionally troubled?) CONAN THE BARBARIAN creator Robert E. Howard in the 1996 doomed-love story THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, opposite Renee’ Zellweger.  Not unlike Bryce Dallas Howard, in JURASSIC WORLD, D’Onofrio brings to his role of InGen security chief Vic Hoskins a little more than we believe was maybe on the script page.


Raptor keepers Barry (Omar Sy) and Owen (Pratt) draw down on the Indominus





   



 "Nine To Survival Job" (Giacchino) -
 JURASSIC WORLD score

 



     You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see, at the beginning of the film, where the Hoskins character will take things by the third act. As Chevy Chase’s Fletch once said, “Larry Holmes can figure that one out”.  And Hoskins doesn’t disappoint. Midway through however there’s a brief scene where Hoskins relates his past experience of “connecting on a personal level” with a (so-called) wild animal. And for a split second he’s a sympathetic human with a past, and not just the barrel-chested, mustache twirling bad guy.  That is, if the Hoskins character had a ’stache, … which he doesn’t.


     This is so important, because by the time we get to Hoskins’ third act rationale “soliloquy”, we for all the world couldn’t help but be reminded of Joe Seneca as Dr. Meddows in that 1988 remake of THE BLOB, where he starts spouting about “the balance of power” and all the other.  Back then we laughed our asses off, that speech was sooo hammy. But with D’Onofrio’s rendition we don’t. We still recognize it as the worst of Creature Double Feature character cliché, and maybe we knowingly grin. But we don’t laugh. And sometimes it takes more acting chops to prevent an audience response than it does to incite one. We'd give anything to have been a fly on the wall at the first JURASSIC WORLD cast table read when that part came up for the first time.  At any rate …


     When all is said and done, Colin Trevorrow (and Steven Spielberg)’s JURASSIC WORLD is a whale of a good time at the movies.  Perhaps we would’ve preferred a bit more witty commentary on today’s rush to  immediately dry  hump corporate sponsorship onto the latest craze.  Kind of like Jeff Goldblum’s pointed observation in the original JURASSIC PARK about how Hammond, as soon as his scientist had a breakthrough, “… Slapped it on a plastic lunch box, and now you’re selling it”.


     There are kernels of that in JURASSIC WORLD. That little joke about “The Verizon / Indominus Rex Paddock” was a nugget of a satirical idea far too good to not similarly pursue elsewhere. But the film makers chose not to. Oh well.  


      In the end, a true film fan (oh hell, straight-up film geeks) know some movies can be worth seeing for not only one good scene, but sometimes just for one great freakin’ shot which will be forever burned onto your mental photo-card.  And in JURASSIC WORLD, as a good friend emailed us the other night …


     “And not even Steve McQueen, the King of Cool, came close to riding a motorcycle with a gang of f**king velociraptors.





     It’s more than a few faults notwithstanding, for that alone the phrases “JURASSIC WORLD” and “enjoyably bad-assed” deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence.   Nuff said.

                                                                                                                                                    CEJ




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