Jurassic World Proves That The Jurassic Park Series Isn’t Extinct

JW poster Jurassic World is what a great summer film should be! After the disappointments of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Tomorrowland, Jurassic World comes roaring along and shows everyone the meaning of the term summer blockbuster. It’s everything that a film of its type is supposed to be: exciting, awe-inspiring, adventurous, and sprinkled enough with messages to go with the popcorn. It’s rather amazing to think that the fourth film in a franchise would reinvigorate it especially when the last film in the franchise, Jurassic Park III, signaled that the film series had run its course. Jurassic World takes place over twenty years after the first Jurassic Park. That failed dinosaur theme park from the first film has been reborn as the mega successful Jurassic World. Yet, despite the park’s popularity, the owners are concerned with keeping the park profitable. To remedy this, some bonehead comes up with the idea of genetically creating new species of dinosaurs as if regular dinosaurs weren’t spectacular enough for the masses. mosasuarActually this train of thought is bored easily. A case in point is when two of the film’s young characters Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) and his older brother Zack (Nick Robinson) visit the park. In one valid in the film. One observation made by the film is that our society is rather fickle and scene they’re at an aquatic stadium similar to what we find in SeaWorld. The star attraction is a huge Mosasaurus , while Gray is excited to see this gigantic leviathan chomping on shark bait, Zack is distracted with his smartphone. That is so true with many people today, they’re only interested in what’s next. And it’s this mentality that leads to disaster in Jurassic World. The two siblings could’ve been your typical annoying kid characters, but they actually work. Through them, we empathize with their wonder and vulnerability. One of the best moments is early in the film when Gray first enters the park. The famous John Williams score adds to the rousing feeling as he takes in sweeping views of the world-class resort. We don’t see any dinosaurs but the scene is supposed to evoke the joy and wonder that a young child has when first panicvisiting a theme park. Think about it, when first entering these parks, a visitor doesn’t automatically see the star attractions, but the visitor is mesmerized by the architecture and the promise of what’s to come. Director Colin Treverrow is able to convey this POV and makes us wish the park actually existed. Later, when the boys are imperiled by rampaging dinosaurs we feel their fear. Some of those tension-soaked moments come close to rivaling what Steven Spielberg accomplished with the early Jurassic Park films. Even though he can’t capture Steven Spielberg’s magic touch with the camera, he gives it his all. irex pteros Anyway, to keep enticing visitors the park’s owners have a new dinosaur created in their labs, the Indominus rex. It’s a mean, pale, towering behemoth that is a Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor mix on steroids. As in the first film, the scientists meddled with nature and in trying to make cooler dinosaurs created a nightmare. The I-rex turns out to be unusually intelligent and lethal. Demonstrating this is how it’s able to use camouflage and trickery to enable an escape from its compound. Once it breaks free, it goes on a sadistic killing spree and murders dinosaurs and humans alike for sport. This isn’t your typical dinosaur running amok. The Indominus rex is one of the best dinosaur creations ever seen on film and is certain to be regarded as a classic monster. By the way it so easily outwitted and outfought humans, it was hard to be certain that the good guys would win. Plus, the film allowed time to have the characters and audience mourn for a dying sauropod, an unfortunate victim of the I-rex. It was a good touch. raptor whisperer However, even though the Indominus rex seems unbeatable, the park’s ace in the hole is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an expert Velociraptor handler. He is hands down the best and most interesting character. Grady is cool, savvy, and of course, no one in charge listens to him. Often, he knocks heads with the park’s operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is the Mitchell boys’ aunt. She is the typical corporate shill that only cares about profits. But she changes her ways as the film progresses and she grady and co.finds out that the new dinosaur is out of control and her lost nephews are in harm’s way. The banter between her and Grady was surprisingly funny in a cornball, cliché-ridden way but it was funny at times. There was this scene where she and Grady are tracking the boys and she’s running around the jungle in a business suit and high heels (and it’s film miracle that she is able to outrun dinosaurs in the heels). To show that she is willing to get rough to find the boys, Dearing hysterically adjusts her suit by rolling up the sleeves and loosening her jacket. Some may find all this eye rolling but it worked. The film is chock full of implausibilities like Dearing’s high-heel jungle sprints. Consider that the park’s owner (Irrfan Khan) is the only person capable of flying a helicopter and as CEO is allowed to take part in an assault of the I-rex. Then there is unbelievable fact that the boys are able to jumpstart a jeep left rotting for twenty years with old gasoline! Or how about cell phones and radios that never work when they’re needed? Adding to this is InGen security expert Josh Hoskin’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) outlandish idea to weaponize Velociraptors. These are not guard dogs but unpredictable wild animals as he soon finds out. Still it was an interesting subplot about the military applications of genetically created dinosaurs. This could be a direction that a sequel can explore. raptor dogs One of Jurassic World’s best features were naturally the Velociraptors that Grady handled. Through hard work, he has limited control over the dinosaurs, but it’s precarious. Nevertheless, one fist-pumping moment is when he takes off in a motorcycle at night to hunt the I-rex and the raptors join him like a pack of dogs. Unfortunately, it all backfired for the humans because being that the Indominus rex was part raptor it was able to assume an alpha role and had the raptors attack the human hunters. But despite their betrayal, the raptors, led by one called Blue, in the end turn on the I-rex in the climax. And boy was that one epic battle, especially when Dearing unleashes a Tyrannosaurus rex to join in the fray. It was a tribute to those epic kaiju films where monsters like Godzilla, teamed up with Rodan and others to fight Ghidorah. That fight had one of the film’s final messages which was by working together two different parties were able to survive. Jurassic World is a great gem of a surprise. It may not be in the same league as the Spielberg films, but it’s a tremendously enjoyable romp that shows that the world of Jurassic Park still has much to offer viewers. José Soto  

In Defense Of The Lost World: Jurassic Park

stegosaurisNow that Jurassic World has been released, there’s been increased interest in the past Jurassic Park films. It’s a common consensus that the first Jurassic Park film is a timeless classic and that Jurassic Park III is an inferior entry in the film franchise. The first sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park is constantly lambasted by many critics and fans as being another disappointing sequel that can’t compare to the original. Personally, I disagree with this common assessment, The Lost World: Jurassic Park was a terrific summer thrill ride that has so much merit.

This doesn’t mean that this film is as good as Jurassic Park. No, the original film is superior because of it explored many themes about man and nature. Then what cemented its status among film classics was its then-groundbreaking fx. The Lost World: Jurassic Park doesn’t have such lofty themes although there are some and its fx may now seem like old hat. But the film delivered the goods in being a grand adventure film with relatable characters and intense action scenes.

Let’s examine that closer. The film, like the Michael Crichton novel it’s based on, focused on Ian Malcolm malcolm and others(Jeff Goldblum), the slightly eccentric scientist who accurately predicted that bringing dinosaurs to life was a bad idea. Malcolm was one of the most endearing characters from the first film thanks to Goldblum’s performance and once again he shines as the scientist. This time, he is asked to go to another dinosaur-infested island off the coast of Costa Rica to rescue his girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore). She was shown to be a very capable scientist who could take care of herself. Other new and memorable characters included photographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn), big game hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite), and Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard). One thing that was interesting is that with Ludlow this film had a true villain that lasted for most of the film. Ludlow was John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) greedy nephew who wanted to exploit the dinosaurs to create his own theme park.

hunting dinos

In light of all the controversy parks like SeaWorld are going through with alleged neglect and abuse charges with their animals, this animal exploitation theme is explored fully in this film. Stressing this point are the distressing moments when herds of frightened dinosaurs are hunted and captured by Ludlow’s team. This animal conservation motif was the overriding message in this film. It may not be as complex or profound as chaos theory, but it is still a valid point.

However, this film didn’t get bogged down and or come off as too preachy with its message about leaving nature alone. That was because the film was adorned with exciting sequences where humans are threatened by dinosaurs. trailer attackChiefly, a couple of Tyrannosaurus rexes who hunt the humans after Ludlow has their infant T-rex captured. There’s this chilling and captivating moment when Malcolm and his companions are trapped in a trailer that the t-rexes attack. It was just as terrifying as when the Tyrannosaurus first appeared in the foreboding rain in the original Jurassic Park. Another scene worth mentioning is when the same dinosaurs creep up on Ludlow’s camp at night and the frantic fleeing of the humans that followed. It was very gripping and full of dark humor. A case in point is when a T-rex steps on a hunter and the squashed human is stuck on the animal’s paw as it pursues other humans. This chase scene led to a return appearance of the dangerous Velociraptors that made their mark in the original. The followup scenes where the raptors use the tall grass to close in on the hunters evoked the terror that director Steven Spielberg so expertly showed in Jaws.

trex attack bus

But the big highlight for me with this film had to do with its last act. Many people deride the moment when a captured Tyrannosaurus rex escapes into the streets of San Diego, but it was great! It was a clear tribute to the old Willis O’Brien classic The Lost World and more recent kaiju films. The images of the T-rex rampaging through a crowded street, attacking a city bus and eating hapless people still bring a smile to my face. Spielberg knew what would please fans and their inner youth who would revel in the spectacle of rampaging dinosaurs in our cities. It may be a tacked-on final act, but it was downright entertaining!

Putting aside these compliments, The Lost World: Jurassic Park does have its faults, which I won’t go into here. It’s worth noting that while it’s not as good as the original this sequel had many features that improved upon the first Jurassic Park. It was more thrilling, had more dinosaurs and naturally had better fx. Maybe it’s time everyone gave this film a second look and see why it’s a fun film.

Lewis T. Grove



The Wonder Of Jurassic Park

JP logoWith the re-release of Jurassic Park in theaters, renewed interest in the twenty-year-old film has arisen. Putting aside all the raves about the 3D conversion process used in Jurassic Park’s re-release, many have come to realize or remember how monumental it was when during its initial release.

During the summer of 1993, one couldn’t go anywhere without seeing that iconic logo with the t-rex skeleton. The film was a marketing dream with its realistic dinosaurs that were instant hits and helped sell dinosaur-related merchandise. The previous three films that had similar cultural impacts were Jaws, Star Wars and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Many of its delightful and revolutionary aspects are taken for granted nowadays, notably the extensive use of CGI (computer generated imagery) that brought the dinosaurs in the film to life. The visual effects process had been around for a few years and came to public awareness with films like TRON, The Last Starfighter, The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But the effects wizards working on Jurassic Park went the extra mile at the behest of its director Steven Spielberg.

Originally, the dinosaurs were to be a mix of animatronics (done by Stan Winston) and the offspring of stop motion animation, go motion animation (to be done by Phil Tippet). However, Spielberg wasn’t quite satisfied with the limited scope of go motion. The dinosaurs in screen tests didn’t look convincing enough. Animators Mark Dippe and Steve Williams presented to Spielberg a test reel featuring the famous t-rex in Jurassic Park for the first time as a CGI. That was all Spielberg needed to see. Tippet quickly adapted, and he and his team of animators re-trained to become CG animators.

The impact of seeing those realistic dinosaurs in the big screen cannot be overstated. Audiences were floored when brachthe first full shot of the brachiosaurus in the park was unveiled. Probably the closest experience from seeing dinosaurs recreated on the silver screen that compares to it is way back in the 1920s when the dinosaurs in The Lost World  terrorized audiences. With Jurassic Park, while more educated audiences knew that dinosaurs sadly no longer existed, they found themselves wishing they did and this was the closest they would get to witnessing realistic recreations.

The use of CGI is commonplace today and has been since the 1990s, which can lead to an unjust dismissal of the film. Jurassic Park also masterfully blended that process with Winston’s animatronics (as seen when the t-rex first appeared in the rain) and CG was also used in subtle ways. For instance, there was a scene where a female stunt double for actress Ariana Richards has her face replaced by an image of the young actress.

trex rules

There have been many attempts to recreate that phenomenal film in the way that left people speechless as to what was possible to do on film. None, not even Jurassic Park’s sequels, were able to do that, though there were many admirable attempts. Part of the reason is that people have come to anticipate CG marvels when seeing a film. It’s when a CG is done poorly that it registers and believe it or not there are tons of films that come out today with CG effects that are inarguably inferior to what was accomplished with this twenty-year-old film.

raptorsBut it would be a mistake to celebrate Jurassic Park just for its ground-breaking effects and topnotch marketing. It took a genius of a filmmaker to bring Michael Crichton’s epic novel of the same name to the silver screen. There are many divergences from the novel, but if it were to be filmed as it was written, the producers might’ve had an R-rated film on their hands with many unlikable characters. Spielberg and the writers were able to soften the story, while still keeping the book’s thrills and scientific curiosity, and injected a sense of wonder and fleshed out the characters. It was their efforts that made sure that the film wasn’t just an effects extravaganza. The story and characters mattered and that is one of the main reasons why the film still endures today.

 Lewis T. Grove

Potential Star Wars Directors

star wars logo

Ever since George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and the Star Wars property to the Walt Disney Company, there has been a barrage of speculation over who will direct the films in a newly announced Star Wars trilogy.

Recent reports have it that J.J. Abrams and Guillermo Del Toro allegedly turned down offers to meet with Disney to discuss directing the new films. There have been other reports of directors who either are or aren’t interested in helming a new Star Wars film. Meanwhile, actor Jason Flemyng blurted recently that his friend and noted genre director Matthew Vaughn (the director of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class) was picked to direct Star Wars: Episode VII.

Whether or not that is true, there are other notable directors that are well suited for the gig. Aside from current rumored frontrunners like Jon Favreau, Joe Johnston and Brad Bird, it’s time to point out some candidates that haven’t been mentioned but are worthwhile contenders.

Alonso Cuarón would be a solid choice. His resume include three genre films (Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Children Of Men and the forthcoming Gravity) and the first two show a distinct, engrossing and moody style that would fit in nicely with an Empire Strikes Back-style Star Wars film. Cuarón should definitely be considered for a darker themed film.

Kenneth Branagh, who directed Thor, Mary branaughShelly’s Frankenstein, and several Shakespearean dramas, is a worthy candidate. His films have gravitas but more importantly are generally entertaining. This was best shown with Thor and Branagh has the skills to do a big-budget sci-fi spectacular with heart and emotion.

raimiSam Raimi could shoot up to the top of the list if his Disney film Oz, The Great And Powerful becomes a hit. He also has a terrific lineup of popular genre films under his belt like the Evil Dead and Spider-Man trilogies. Most likely a Star Wars film directed by Raimi would be very humorous, full of frantic energy and could be just the thing to help boost the Star Wars franchise.

Neil Blomkamp should be tossed into the list because ever since his film District 9 was released and received so much acclaim, geeks all over the Internet keep touting him for every potential genre film. So why not here? Besides his background as a 3D animator and his talent as a director should put him on the short list. BTW that prawn mechanical battle suit in District 9 looks like it would blend in well in a Star Wars film.


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Falling Skies Ahead

Last month, TNT premiered Falling Skies,  the new Dreamworks sci-fi series executive produced by Steven Spielberg about survivors of a modern-day alien invasion.

Unlike what its teaser commercials suggested, Falling Skies’ pilot did not feature the typical initial alien arrival, contact and pyrotechnic invasion scenario. Rather it begins several months after the aliens (called “skitters”) have wiped out the world’s armies and have laid waste everywhere. This is clearly not Independence Day  or even Battlestar Galactica in terms of big budget effects scenes. This can be disappointing for some but it’s a different take and risky, while also being budget conscious. And it largely works.

Why? It’s a good hook for audiences who have to be able to catch up with what is going on. Here’s the skinny, the show takes place in and around Boston and focuses on the efforts of a ragtag group of civilians, soldiers and recruits who form a militia group called the Second Massachusetts to fight back against the aliens. Apparently the humans in the show are just as much in the dark as the viewer is when it comes to knowing who the aliens are or why they came to Earth. To its credit the show gives out adequate morsels of information about the situation and characters to keep you interested.

Jumping into the middle of the premise helped draw me into the characters’ storyline since everything wasn’t laid out. Unfortunately, this approach was used to a much greater effect in AMC’s excellent series The Walking Dead.  That show had more engaging and memorable characters. Also, at times Falling Skies gets a little too preachy or sentimental. Additionally, some of the military stuff seems far-fetched specifically when it comes to logistics (having soldiers sleep indoors but not civilians? Nice way to sow resentment, plus doesn’t that leave civilians more vulnerable to the aliens?).

As the main character of the show, it falls on Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a widowed history professor and second in command of the militia group,  to be the reason why audiences tune in. He’s got an interesting story, his wife was killed recently by aliens and one of his three sons has been kidnapped and turned into a zombified slave for the aliens through a horrifying biomechanical device attached to his back (in the show, children are being taken by the aliens and turned into a labor force through these devices). So his driving focus is to rescue his son. Yet it can be a challenge to be invested in Mason. I think it’s because sometimes he comes off as too moral, too optimistic while everyone around him is all doom and gloom. He spouts off analogies about history showing that invading forces are always repelled by indigenous populations but no one seems to take him seriously when he does that, not even histwo other sons. This doesn’t quite gel with the survivor mentality that pervades many of the show’s characters.

But in Falling Skies’ defense the characters are already becoming more fleshed out. Mason has shown a grittier side, and it appears that he probably projects this image for his children’s sake (though being that his youngest son already wants to join him on missions makes me wonder how successful Mason is, but I get the feeling that will be explored). Also, some of the other characters are beginning to stand out. Chiefly Moon Bloodgood’s Anne Glass, a pediatrician who becomes the group’s chief doctor and moral compass, Will Patton’s Captain Weaver, the no-nonsense commanding officer of the group who struggles to keep his people (and especially Mason) focused on the larger goal of winning the war, and Colin Cunningham’s John Pope, an ex-convict and former gang leader who was captured in the pilot for kidnapping Mason and others in exchange for weapons. In lots of ways, Pope comes off as a loose but effective cannon in the same vein as was Michael Ironside’s Ham Tyler in V.

The production values are remarkably good, effectively conveying a destroyed landscape that just barely resembles towns and cities. I also like the attention to local detail in regards to Boston’s geography which adds authenticity. The special effects are top notch and a blessing considering how poor they were in some recent TV shows.

It’s really great that the skitters are shown to be non-bipedal creatures, a rarity for TV shows, and are an excellent special effect. However, the mechanical soldiers that the skitters use look more like obvious CGI. Many scenes are too dark and sometimes hard to follow. But it does add to the tension that’s sometimes felt in those scenes. Perhaps it’s to hide the budgetary constrictions but hopefully this will change in the future.

On the whole, I think Falling Skies is a good, entertaining show with potential. The growing pains are obvious.  It doesn’t hit the ball out of the ballpark like The Walking Dead did but it feels like a solid score. At this point early into the series, making a final judgment is premature however I’m devoting time to keep watching and see how it plays out, and that’s a good sign.

J.L. Soto

Images courtesy of TNT, cast photo by Frank Ockenfels