Monday, June 25, 2018

Review: JURASSIC WORLD: THE LOST KINGDOM

by Mark Ahn
What happened to the dinosaurs?

The Plot in 150 characters (in honor of the domestic millions of dollars made opening weekend): Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard try to figure out what to do with the leftover dinosaurs from the previous movie. Save them? Kill them? Sell them?
I don’t want to get into the dangers and pitfalls of making sequels; that’s already been covered in other places. What’s more interesting is how this particular installment tries to push forward in new ways. Whatever one’s complaints about Jurassic World might be, it did try to push off into new directions with enough tether to the previous stories, and for the most part, was successful in delivering something entertaining. Where would director J. A. Bayona (The Impossible) and co-writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly take us now?

Fallen Kingdom moves in the direction of pushing humans and dinosaurs even closer together, but the novelty of seeing a dinosaur stalking around in a human environment was already explored in The Lost World and in Jurassic World. For the collision of human and dinosaur to be compelling, then we have to empathize with both the humans and the dinosaurs, and Fallen Kingdom tries but doesn’t reach that point.

One of the obstacles to that empathy is that it’s hard to care about the human characters. Our protagonists are Claire (Howard), the cutthroat executive from the previous film, and Owen (Pratt), who is likable but more of a catch-all hero who can rescue humans in danger. Claire’s character was the least sympathetic from the prior movie, so to make her relationship with Owen be the foundation of empathy for the humans doesn’t totally work, nor is there enough time to develop chemistry to manufacture any more. We’re not immediately rooting for them to be rescued or saved, despite our nominal familiarity with them.
Strangely enough, the dinosaurs suffer the same lack of empathy, because their portrayal continues along the contradictory lines of making them more terrifying AND intelligent. Fallen Kingdom continues the plotline from Jurassic World of genetically enhancing the dinosaurs for maximum effect, whatever humans deem that effect might be. Although intelligence and ferocity are mutually exclusive, the dinosaurs are made intelligent only to enhance their fearsome qualities, which reduces this down to Universal Soldier territory. And there isn’t anything wrong with Universal Soldier: Dinosaur Edition, or with a genetic manipulation storyline, but Fallen Kingdom doesn’t have the depth to integrate those ideas into its story other than mentioning them. When a major revelation concerning the genetic manipulation is revealed later in the movie, the story strangely doesn’t take the proper moment to stop and consider the ramifications of it, but barrels onward.

What Universal Soldier tries to do and what the original Jurassic Park definitely does is to make the artificially created thing worthy of our empathy. We like the T. Rex because it’s terrifying AND we’re simultaneously in awe of what it is. Even if we don’t want it to eat the heroes, we understand exactly why the T. Rex acts the way it does; it’s within the nature of the thing, and it’s the fault of the heroes for not understanding that. In Fallen Kingdom, by making the dinosaurs a product of overt human manipulation, the stakes are lower because bad people are in trouble from the bad monsters they’ve created; there’s no sense of respect for the things they’ve created. Fallen Kingdom takes away the awe of the dinosaurs and doubles down on the terror, and there’s something we lose because of that. Making a dinosaur into just a monster reduces it to something less.
Not that the terrifying parts are useless, because it gives the movie room to maneuver into some beautiful images and ideas. Even though we’ve had dinosaurs in modern human settings before in this franchise, it’s still thrilling to see one silently stalking its prey in a Gothic style mansion later on in the movie, like a reptilian serial killer opening doors and windows to sneak into your bedroom to get you. Some truly spectacular scenes happen in the front third of the film, when our heroes venture back to the island to locate the surviving dinosaurs; we get glimpses of what an extinction level disaster could look like from the ground. The movie is a brisk two hours and ten minutes, quickly moving from one set piece to the next. The idea of reducing dinosaurs into genetic building blocks to be designed whichever way we please fits this new trilogy’s premise of exploiting the awe of the original into something financially lucrative, and is a perfect fit for Junesploitation! It is more of a sci-fi direction for future sequels, which I think is preferable to the horror or disaster movie directions this franchise could go. It’s just too bad that the dinosaurs, which are the defining thing that makes these movies different than others, are becoming more a part of the background and less a part of the story.

3 comments:

  1. great article, as usual.

    for me, what i got from it is yet another genetically modified being that (evil) corporation/billionaire tries to manipulate. what could go wrong. i checked out after that became clear.

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  2. I know that, objectively, this movie has some major problems, but for whatever reason it just WORKED for me and I enjoyed it a lot. I love that Bayona doubled down on the horror element; I loved his direction. He's so much better at using these dinos than Trevorrow. I'm actually bummed that Trevorrow's coming back for the third instead of Bayona.

    To be honest all of the sequels have paled in comparison to the original by constructing new ways to just give us more of the same. I appreciated that this film actually tried a different approach. I still don't care at all about the humans and yes, the genetically engineered dinos just don't hold a candle to the "pure" ones, but it's a fun time at the movies all the same.

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  3. my favortie column is back on Gizmodo: Spoilers FAQ. this time about the latest jurassic world

    https://io9.gizmodo.com/jurassic-world-fallen-kingdom-the-spoiler-faq-1827136902

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