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June 11, 2015

RE: Jurassic World

I have a confession to make: I’m VERY worried about this movie.

Hey, I didn’t say it would be a surprising confession.

It’s pretty likely that I’m going to be dragged kicking and screaming to see this movie.  My brother is on record of saying (in the past and semi-recently) that Jurassic Park is one of his favorite movies, and he has the dinosaur appreciation to prove it.  But even if he wasn’t a die-hard fan, he’d still be a human being -- which means that he’d want to go see the next entry in the famous franchise, revived anew with modern-day technology and conceits.  Also, there are dinosaurs in it.

I’m not even going to try and pretend like I don’t have any biases.  I’ve already talked extensively about how nostalgia isn’t the be-all and end-all, and across plenty of posts I’ve implied (if not said upfront) that the past isn’t sacrosanct.  So I hope you don’t mind me mirroring a lot of sentiments scattered across the net, or at least make my own sentiment clear: I think this movie is a terrible idea.  Okay, sure, it can be good -- and I’m hoping that it is -- but even then, its mere existence makes me grind my teeth.  Like, why would anyone try to bring the franchise back again when the general consensus is that the two sequels that tried to bring it back were not what anyone would consider conventionally good?  Which is just a polite way of saying they were awful?

I guess the moviemakers are willing to pretend that those two sequels didn’t count (except they kinda do, via the story), but from what I’ve heard, Jurassic World seems to put its theoretical futility on full display.  Oh, people don’t care about dinosaurs anymore!  The bigwigs are struggling to keep interest going, and money flowing!  They dish out the spectacle to win back the crowd!  It’s time to bank on the past, because as you know, the things from the past are always better than things from the present!

And then there’s some noise about a genetically-engineered T-rex -- or I-rex, apparently -- which, until proven otherwise by a viewing of the movie, actually breaks the movie for me.  So in order to win back fans who have gotten bored with dinosaurs, the guys behind the park decide to bring in…a slightly different dinosaur?  And this dinosaur is bred specifically to be a killing machine so that it can…kill other dinosaurs, which is apparently exciting for some reason?  If these guys have full access to genetic engineering, why are they even bothering with dinosaurs?  Do they have the ability to mess with genes at their leisure?  If so, why don’t they make whatever they want and win people over with entirely new creations?

This movie needed to justify its existence from the get-go, and the fact that there are still people (myself included, if not chief among them) that have their doubts isn’t a good sign.  Or, alternatively, I’m concerned that what’s been shown off in commercials and trailers -- people riding around in balls, people running away from dinosaurs, Chris Pratt riding with raptors, a slow piano rendition of one of the classic themes, dinosaurs doing other dinosaur things -- is their idea of justifying its existence. 

And that’s not enough.  Granted, I’m of the opinion that most trailers are complete junk anyway (see: more video game trailers than there are stars in the universe), but still.  There’s been no hook besides the name -- besides the now-typical carrot on a stick.  “Hey, that movie has a recognizable name!  It reminds me of a movie I saw once!  But this one has modern technology behind it!  Therefore, I absolutely must see this movie for some reason!”  That’s the same mentality that allowed garbage like RoboCop ’14 to be made -- and if at all possible, I’d prefer to avoid another miserable experience like that.  But I’m worried I’ll experience it all over again if/when I see Jurassic World.

And we all have Jurassic Park to blame for it -- because apparently a bunch of channels decided to show that movie to hype people up for the new one.  Great plan.  Greatest plan, even.

I recently heard that there were only 22 minutes’ worth of dinosaurs in the entirety of the first movie…only to find out via IMDB that there were really only 15 minutes’ worth of dinosaurs.  For a movie built on the terrible lizards stomping all over the island, that seems baffling.  But the movie works because A) it made those appearances count, and B) the characters were interesting enough to draw, if not demand, focus.  Is the movie perfect?  No.  But it’s still a movie bursting with charm and charisma, quality and quintessence -- the sort of thing that makes you overlook those flaws because of its strengths.  It doesn’t matter if the T-rex’s pen turns into a steep drop between scenes; the audience is still reeling from the T-rex’s appearance, and Dr. Grant’s rescue of Tim.

You know what, though?  I watched parts of that movie recently thanks to those re-airings, and I realized something.  Even if there are all these famous lines and infamous story beats, those aren’t what drew me in.  It wasn’t the tense moments, the thoughtful discussions, or even the characters.  It was the spirit of the movie -- a reminder of what I’ve been missing from a lot of things recently.  In the opening hour or so, we don’t just get to see CG dinosaurs; we feel them.  We sense them.  We know them, and understand just why Grant and Sattler would be bowled over.

That sense of discovery, of the power of science and willpower combined, of experiencing so much bigger than oneself, is overwhelming.  It’s a moment that feeds into the rest of the movie, even if it’s used to show the dark side of man’s manipulation of the world, and the unknowable power of nature.  It’s a scene that, even now in 2015, put a huge-ass smile on my face -- left me breathless, and even made my eyes well up. 

So my question is this: what the hell does Jurassic World have so that it can even try to match it?

Thinking back, it seems like a misguided attempt at best (and an insult at worst) to take a piano remix of that theme and superimpose it atop scenes of impending dino-violence.  It’s like the guys behind the movie -- or the marketing, at least -- didn’t understand what the hell they were doing.  Will that carry over into the movie?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  But I have my doubts.  My biggest concern, if not fear, is that even if Jurassic World is a good action movie, it will only be a good action movie.  Nothing more.  And people will like it because it’s just “a popcorn flick”.  They’ll accept it because, hey, cool stuff is happening.  That’s not what we need out of movies these days; we can get it, sure, but we can get more.

In a world where the Marvel movies exist (among plenty of others -- some good, some bad), pure spectacle isn’t enough.  That’s especially the case if this movie is going to devolve into “people run away from dinosaurs for an hour and a half”.  So what’s this movie going to offer to justify its existence?  Can it even do such a thing?  Honestly, in spite of my fears and complaints, I do think it’s possible.  The average Joe hasn’t seen a lot of the content the movie has to offer, its climax well among them (just to start).  There could be plenty tucked away in its runtime that sates an audience’s tastes*, be it good characters, good plots, good ideas, or even good action.  The potential is there, even if the movie’s mere existence is a terrible idea.

If it doesn’t capitalize on that potential, then the worst will come to pass: it’ll prove the first movie right.

I “joked” about this on Twitter, but it’s absolutely horrifying just how easy it is to take some of those famous dialogues about mankind overstepping its bounds via genetic tomfoolery and re-contextualize them so that they become dialogues about the moviemakers overstepping their bounds via the infernal Hollywood engine.  Or to put it a different way, Jurassic Park argued 22 years in advance that Jurassic World is the product of poor decision-making and short-sightedness.  I’m not even joking.  Just look at it.  Listen.  Like, really listen.

I think it’s a fool’s errand to assume that JW is going to match JP point-for-point.  But then again, it doesn’t have to.  If it can assert its own identity, justify its existence (let alone its price/run time), or simply offer up a quality cinematic experience, then it’ll be fine.  I want this movie to be good because it’s, you know, good.  Even if it’s part of the brand, it can be more than just part of the brand.  It can prove all those jackass science nerds wrong.

But if it can’t?  Jeez.  That’s going to be embarrassing on so many levels.  The good movie will have taught these lessons decades in advance, only to be promptly ignored by its own successor just ‘cause.  Or ‘cause money, I suppose.  And again, I’m not asking JW to be JP, or to do everything that it did in terms of big ideas.  But is it so much to ask -- if not hope -- that it offers up something?  Am I crazy for begging for more out of media, especially when it’s getting increasingly common for tens and hundreds of millions of dollars to be pumped into them?  And you can unravel the entire premise of some of them with a couple of questions that should have been ironed out on day one?

And that’s about where I stand.  If I end up seeing JW, you’ll probably end up seeing a post on it.  Here’s hoping it goes well.  If it does, I’ll be happy, and this’ll be a waste of a night.  If it doesn’t, then I imagine I’ll be in a very foul mood.  For now, though?  Consider this as a rumination -- and potentially, in a few weeks’ time, an oracle that foresaw the coming of the storm.

Till next time, then.  Take care.  And…please, don’t let this movie suck.  I kinda like dinosaurs, too.

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