One of the underrated impacts of technological change is how it alters the very way we understand reality. Back in the day when you had to use carbon paper or more primitive methods to copy documents, the more you copied something the more degraded the copies became. That played into an understanding that imitation inevitably decays into parody. If all you’re doing is repeating what someone else does, eventually all you are doing is making a joke of the original. Now, you can make a thousand pristine copies of a document from 1847 with the click of a button and I wonder if it hasn’t changed people’s appreciation that repetition is different from creation.
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That’s what this edition of KIMT’s Weekend Throwdown will consider as we examine one of the mileposts in the evolution of the big screen blockbuster and its descendent a quarter-century later. It’s “Jurassic Park” (1993) vs. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (2018) in a dino-slugfest where a generation of CGI advances runs smack into a degeneration of storytelling.
Conclusive proof you don’t need freakishly good young actors to have likable child characters. THEY JUST HAVE TO ACT LIKE ACTUAL KIDS!
Based on a book by Michael Crichton, “Jurassic Park” tells the tale of an island where dinosaurs have been brought back to life to serve as the centerpiece of a theme park and the people who get caught in the middle when everything that can go wrong does. The investors in the project, rightfully concerned about safety in a petting zoo of giant monsters who can eat people, insist that scientific experts sign off on the park before it opens. Through their wonderfully and believably weasely lawyer (Martin Ferrero), the investors recruit wild card mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) while charismatic developer John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) brings in child-averse paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his spunky paleobotanist girlfriend Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern).
Hammond also brings to the park, in one of those horrible lapses in judgment we forgive in movie characters, his grandchildren Tim and Lex (Joseph Mazzello and Arian Richards) as a focus group of the park’s target audience. But when underpaid computer technician Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) shuts down the park’s internal security so he can steal some dino-embryos for an competing corporation, he sets the dinosaurs loose and launches a race for survival that all of the main characters survive because the early 1990s were a far less bloodthirsty era.
How much water can you get in a canteen this way?
Michael Crichton was a hell of a writer and Steven Spielberg was a hell of a director back when he could be bothered to direct instead of just produce, so it’s not a surprise that “Jurassic Park” is a hell of a movie. It’s tremendously entertaining, which is even more impressive when you consider the expositional heavy lifting required and the budgetary limitations of the time. The film not only had to explain the theoretical science of dinosaur cloning, establish the premise of the film, introduce all of the characters and their motivations, highlight a subplot that leads to everything going wrong, pontificate about the morality of the whole project, and put the main characters through a series of dangerous situations leading to an emotionally satisfying conclusion, “Jurassic Park” had to do all of that for less inflation-adjusted money than it cost to make “Ant-Man” (2015). I mean, the dinosaurs we all remember from the movie (velociraptors) don’t make an appearance until the last 20 minutes of the movie and they are as much animatronic puppets as computer-generated wonders!
The screenplay gives us legitimately human characters with both strengths and weaknesses that affect the story, which are then excellently brought to life by a talented cast, and Spielberg takes the lessons he learned on Jaws, when he had crude special effects that hardly ever worked, and combines them with effects so well-designed and executed they’ve barely been improved upon over two decades later. There are a couple of moments when a 2018 viewer can see the CGI seams on the dinosaurs but the bulk of the film looks as good or better than anything made since it came out.
“Do you want to come back to my room and look at my etchings?”
Without the then-amazement of seeing realistically life-life dinosaurs on screen for perhaps the first time ever, I’m not sure “Jurassic Park” has the deeper meaning or emotional resonance that has sustained other blockbuster classics through the years. It’s really just a solid and engaging adventure tale that happened to have revolutionary special effects, like “Avatar” (2009) but with a better plot and no political correctness.
“Jurassic Park” spawned two inferior sequels and a buttload of crappy CGI monster movies on cable TV and then the franchise essentially went away for over a decade. Remember what that was like? When Hollywood would just stop making certain movies, even when there was still more blood to be gotten out of the stone? Good times.
Well, they hauled the dinosaurs out of mothballs in 2015 for “Jurassic World,” which was basically the sequel we should have gotten to the original. It took the same premise of the 1993 film and…wait for it…actually added something new to the equation! They actually sat down and thought about what would happen in the real world if cloned dinosaurs really could be brought to life and then built another solid adventure plot on those new ideas. Does that continue in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom?”
He stepped on a Legosaurus.
Several years after the dinos ran wild and destroyed the theme park (Spoiler Alert!), the volcano on the island has become active and is going to eventually explode and kill every remaining dinosaur. A never-before-mentioned old partner of John Hammond (James Cromwell) recruits the theme park’s former director now turned dinosaur activist, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), and her now-former boyfriend and embittered dinosaur behaviorist, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to return to the island and help rescue whatever dinos they can. They particularly need Claire and Owen to locate and capture Blue, the velociraptor Owen raised from a baby into the most well-behaved dinosaur ever.
Now, you’d think that would be enough of a movie right there, wouldn’t it? It would have been a fun two hours capturing dinos, debating the morality of capturing dinos, and watching things go horribly wrong while Claire and Owen flirt/bicker through the movie. That’s not what we get, though.
And this is a real spoiler alert so stop now if you don’t want an early but significant plot point ruined.
“Don’t make me use my Kung-Fu on you, man!”
It turns out an evil business manager has perverted the plan to rescue the dinos into capturing them for sale to the highest bidder, with the money going toward creating newer and better dinosaurs that can be marketed and sold as military weapons and they need Blue so she can help train new generations of genetically-modified raptors to be controllable.
I’ll give the makers of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” credit for not just repeating the same “dinos run wild and everyone runs” dynamic of the first four films. They also further explore the concept introduced in “Jurassic Kingdom” (2015) that the dinosaurs are just an example of the destructive and destabilizing power inherent in such mastery of genetic engineering. But I’ve also got to criticize them for marrying both of those things to a story that gets progressively dumber as it goes along.
This fivequel certainly isn’t aggressively stupid by modern Hollywood standards but there is a bunch of times where stuff happens only because the movie needs them to happen. Like Owen turning into some kind of badass commando who can beat up half a dozen guys, or the villains caring a great deal about keeping Blue alive and then not caring at all, or a string of instances during the climax where somebody shows up at the exact right place at the exact right time for absolutely no reason whatsoever. As I mentioned, it’s not shockingly bad cinema storytelling compared to what we’ve gotten used to in the second decade of the 20th century but it is startling when you compare and realize how much more sense everything made in the original.
How does the same gene pool that produced Clint Howard result in this?
And the problem extends to the look of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” Even all these years later, anyone who saw it can probably remember a bunch of individual images from “Jurassic Park” for how cool they were. But as talented and skilled as Steven Spielberg was, I would bet there are dozens of directors now who are as good or better at image-making. The difference is that Spielberg knew how to connect an incredible visual to a meaningful moment in the story, a moment where the fear or joy or tension had been built to and earned by what came before. Today’s director throw these spectacular images on the screen without the same narrative foundation underneath. So as good as things can look in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the images are just soap bubbles that appear and then vanish from memory.
Though it may be slightly showing its age, “Jurassic Park” takes this Throwdown by a clear and convincing margin. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is certainly better and more fun that a lot of recent blockbusters but that bar has been set so low a paralyzed earthworm could vault over it. But what makes it better are all the times it isn’t simply recycling stuff we’ve seen before, both from this franchise and Hollywood in general. That’s what we need. That’s what we want. Something new.
It shouldn’t be that hard, should it?
The Lord works in mysterious ways, my friend.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp.
Directed by Seven Spielberg.
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, BD Wong, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Gerald R. Molen, Miguel Sandoval, and Cameron Thor.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Writen by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow.
Directed by J.A. Bayona.
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Isabella Sermon, and Peter Jason.