Thursday , 19 July 2018

Dinos Unbound in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – review

One of filmdom’s greatest and biggest franchises is back with a thunderous roar. And that sound isn’t just emanating from the magnificent prehistoric beasts that have fascinated and enthralled humans of all ages ever since the first fossil remains were discovered and identified in Britain over 175 years ago. Having been silenced for 66 million years, thanks to an unfortunately well-aimed asteroid, but brought back from the abyss by visionary industrialist John Hammond, the resurrected dinosaurs now face a new danger, not one from space, but from the very Earth they once again call home. It’ll be up to the people who know them best to save them from another extinction level event in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

When we last left the dinosaurs, in 2015’s Jurassic World, all hell had broken loose when geneticist Dr. Henry Wu’s latest creation, the Indominus Rex, had literally broken loose and wreaked havoc on the park, which had opened to the public, on the island of Isla Nublar. Now, three years later, sauropods, stegosaurs, ptedodactyls, raptors and mosasaurs roam, fly and swim free within the island’s confines. When an imminently erupting volcano threatens to wipe the gargantuan reptiles from existence yet again, Dr. Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and the manager of his estate, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) have hatched a plan to remove as many dinos as they can and move them to a nearby island sanctuary. To do that, they enlist the aide of Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former head of Jurassic World now running the Dinosaur Protection Group, who in turn must try and convince raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to return to the island to help capture its most prized denizen, Blue, the uber-intelligent velociraptor, which he had trained since a hatchling.

Back for more, huh?

Accompanied by fearless paleo-veterinarian (yes, that’s a thing, a mighty cool thing I might add), Zia (Daniela Pineda) and fearful computer technician, Franklin (Justice Smith), the team is joined by a military unit (of course) led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine). As they work to save the dinosaurs from the impending volcanic eruption, it soon becomes evident that not everyone’s motives are altruistic. Eventually, the action moves from the island to an immense mansion where surprising revelations are unveiled. One of them is a newly created hybrid, courtesy once again of Dr. Wu (BD Wong), the dreaded and dread-locked Indoraptor, the most fearsome dino ever developed. Oh, and while all this is going on, a blast from the past, rock star mathematician, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) testifies before a Senate hearing on whether or not these dinosaurs should be saved at all.

Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?

Giant dinosaurs on the big screen have sure come a long way from the days of Willis O’Brien’s and Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations in films from King Kong (1933)  to Valley of Gwangi (1969). While those imaginatively realized behemoths certainly retain their magic and charm still to this day, there is no question that the groundbreaking effects in Steven Spielberg’s massive 1993 box office spectacular, based on the late Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, Jurassic Park, changed the world of film forever. Combining animatronic dinosaurs by the late Stan Winston with computer generated creatures designed by Dennis Muren and Industrial Light & Magic, along with the expertise of stop-motion f/x master, Phil Tippett, these incredible prehistoric beasts were brought to life like never before. Now, what could be shown on screen would only be limited by the filmmakers’ imaginations. In Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, that includes a spectacular volcanic eruption setting off a massive dinosaur stampede to the aforementioned Indoraptor terrorizing Lockwood’s cute granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon).

Serving as master wrangler to this world of dinos is director J.A. Bayona, the Spanish filmmaker who drew attention with his first feature, 2007’s stylish horror film, The Orphanage, and most recently, 2016’s fantasy, A Monster Calls. With Fallen Kingdom, where the stakes are much higher, and bigger, Bayona proves equally adept at handling huge, f/x-filled action setpieces to more intimate, close-quartered sequences. The screenplay by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, who both worked on Jurassic World, the latter having directed it as well, keeps things moving and adds a few twists and turns as well as setting up a Jurassic World 3. The one thing missing is having the dinosaurs interact amongst each other more. Really the only time this does occur is during the impressive stampede sequence. Seeing a carnivore and herbivore clash has often been a staple of dinosaurs films of the past, and when it happens here for short moments it is tremendously thrilling. It would just be cool to see a battle play out longer.

As for the cast, Chris Pratt has perfected his roguish charm from travelling the cosmos in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers films, which, along with the first Jurassic World, have made the Parks and Rec co-star a major big screen presence. Bryce Dallas Howard , with those gorgeous, big, expressive eyes, sees her character, Claire, grow from someone who saw dinosaurs purely as a means of luring visitors and their dollars, to one of their staunchest allies. And as if to answer those who criticized her running around in heels during the previous Jurassic film, we are first introduced to her Claire from the toes up, showing her wearing much more practical footwear. Justice Smith’s Franklin is along for the ride mainly to get the tech stuff done while adding some comic relief by being terrified of his own shadow, let alone those of prehistoric giants. Daniela Pineda’s spunky Zia, however, isn’t afraid of the most vicious dinosaur or mercenary, and one hopes her lively character returns in the next installment. Where the film is clearly lacking is in its portrayal of all its one-note villains, from the sniveling, weaselly uber-rich snobs to the heartless, dim-witted military men. They exist merely to illicit disdain from the audience and to serve as eventual victims to raptors and rexes. Hey, dinos gotta eat, right? Also, have to knock the Universal promotions department for featuring a couple of visually impressive scenes in their TV spots and trailers that would lead one to believe they would amount to more in the actual movie where they do not.

Clever girl.

A delightful addition to the world of Jurassic is spry, resourceful little Maisie Lockwood, portrayed by Isabella Sermon, in her first and only screen role. With her cute British accent, she’s a real charmer. She also possesses one hell of an ear-piercing scream, the likes of which only seem to emerge from pre-teenage girls. For fans excited about the return of Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, while it is great to see him again, he’s around primarily for exposition and to once again warn of the perils of bringing these extinct creatures back to life. For those who want to bring religion into all of this, Malcolm, a man of science, declares, “with all due respect, God’s not part of the equation.” Now, the question becomes whether or not to save these mega-beasts once their existence is put into jeopardy. These are now endangered animals just as so many are, unfortunately, for real in today’s world. From rhinos to dinos, they need our intervention and protection if they are to survive. Another point brought up is the creation of entirely new dinosaur hybrids. These are animals that never occurred in the natural world, so their very existence becomes even murkier. That’s where Dr. Wu comes into play. There from the first Jurassic Park, BD Wong’s character is a bit murky himself, apparently evil scientist on the surface, but perhaps not 100% villain. If he can avoid the dino dinner plate, maybe we’ll get a further examination of how his DNA makes him tick in the future.

While Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom may not be quite the crowd-pleasing extravaganza that its predecessor or the original Jurassic Park were, as this film is a bit darker (though not Alien 3 dark), credit must be given to the filmmakers for taking the franchise in a new direction and not just have dinosaurs running amok chasing people (although that in and of itself would still enthrall this reviewer). There are some clever homages to Spielberg’s original, like some seeing a dino in the flesh for the first time, or Claire wide-eyed not over the size of a dino but rather the Lockwood  estate. The film veers from  wild, open island adventure to a claustrophobic house of horrors. It’s interesting that the dino-villains of the first Jurassic Park, the velociraptors and T-Rex, have gone through a Terminator 2 reversal and have now become the heroes in the franchise. This is especially true of Blue, the raptor with a special bond with Owen. Blue possesses a unique and advanced intelligence, showing interest, concern and empathy towards others (traits, alas, which unfortunately cannot be attributed to certain people in power). Animals don’t exist on this planet solely to be exploited by man. They nurture their young, feel pain, show devotion and have the right to live their lives just as humans do. It is up to us to ensure that they do. Though the privileged elite may feel they are above such concerns (income inequality and class divisions are dealt with in the movie, from the ultra-rich seeing dinos only in dollar terms to someone like Zia not able to afford to visit a Jurassic Park), they are not, as every living thing is connected in one way or another. We all share the planet, and we can all suffer the consequences when nature decides to fight back, via a volcano, whether it’s the one in the movie, or the one that recently erupted for real in Hawaii. Even though we may never develop the science to successfully bring back dinosaurs (a Woolly Mammoth, however, that’s another story), let’s try and save the animals we do have on this planet for countless generations and, hopefully, centuries to come.

— review by Brian de Castro

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