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“Fallen Kingdom” packs action, lacks in science

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25 years ago, audiences entered Jurassic Park. A wonderful summer blockbuster that pushed the boundaries of special effects and made dinosaur movies worth while. Since then, the park has eroded into Jurassic World, a new attraction that met its end at the guise of not a runaway dinosaur, but mixed reception. For me personally, I didn’t mind Jurassic World considering the amount of destruction and chaos I paid my movie ticket for. This time, the park is completely gone in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and all we are left with is the promise of what’s to come. But is it enough to sustain for popcorn entertainment? Many are going to disagree, but I think it does in some way.

On Isla Nublar, it is revealed the park was built on an active volcano that will cause imminent extinction to all of the dinosaurs on the island (for those questioning Site B, apparently they moved a bunch of them over to Nublar. I question if that was a good idea…) Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) return to the island to rescue a bunch of the prehistoric beasts, despite U.S. Senate ruling in favor of letting the creatures perish. They are grouped with a batch of people set to get the dinosaurs off the island, but things take a turn when our leads find something sinister is at play.

Fallen Kingdom is structured with the park’s demise in the first half while the other half focuses on the fate of the dinosaurs. Viewers going into this might be letdown by the constant claustrophobic feel of the final hour, but oddly, I thought it was fine. It was a nice change of pace from the previous movies where these creatures roam free and cause mayhem. Now, they are out of their primitive habitat where one simple action could unleash them to the entire world to run around in. There is some relevance to Pandora’s Box as these prehistoric monsters are contained in one place with the knowing tension that one loose dinosaur could set forth Ian Malcom’s chaos theory.

Replacing Colin Trevorrow for the director’s chair is J. A. Bayona (A Monster Calls and The Orphanage). Reasonably, he does a good job here as we go from one action set piece to the next. There is a slick pace that never feels slowed down or even too fast. One minute, the island is destroyed in a fury of lava and ash and then we get a dinosaur version of M*A*S*H* as our heroes need to perform a blood transfusion on one of the creatures.  It’s clear Bayona really likes to soak us in the horror with some intense scenes that will keep viewers on the edge. He really knows how to raise the stakes in the visual department, especially during the scenes in a lock-tight mansion.

Those bummed out by the CGI in the first film will be pleased to know there is some use of practical effects at play here. However, it is only when they are usable for certain scenes like when a character needs to interact. The CGI in those scenes are thankfully minimal, save for some extra eye movement and some small color touch-ups. There is better coordination between effect and actor here as the two blend rather well at times.

However, despite Bayona’s directing, there are aspects of Fallen Kingdom that feel weaken and that is mainly in the science. First off, there seems to be a never-ending interest in making more genetic raptors. This leads me to question exactly why chose this species time and time again. Are there any other creatures you could use at all?

Second, and I will be light on this as it is a spoiler, just how far can the cloning techniques really go in this universe? I won’t say too much, but there is a certain twist near the end that shows the science in this movie seems unlimited, or hints at it. Honestly, I felt it was a pointless tidbit that could have been easily removed from the picture and nothing would be lost.

The only element were Fallen Kingdom stands for me is in the entertainment. There are some really cool set-pieces and scary images that will certain leave a bit of an impact. The volcano explosion is clearly the centerpiece of the whole feature and is every second intense as well as fun. The final moments in the mansion are well-done and are packed with a lot of suspense. Then again, I am a sucker for movies like Congo or Waterworld where the enjoyment is in the silly yet action-packed moments.

Not everyone is going to like this one, but I’d say it was worth the admission alone, at least for me. Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it a good sequel? Well, its better than Jurassic World in certain areas. Does it make the power and beauty of Jurassic Park? Not so. Jurassic Park was lightening in a bottle. It can never be duplicated no matter what you. Fallen Kingdom goes in a completely different direction that has its share of good moments and some flaws that almost ruin the fun. However, I feel the thrills and creatures are enough to keep my summer blockbuster thirst full for a little while. Not a perfect movie all around, but certainly NOT the worst. And believe me, I’ve seen Alien: Covenant and Terminator Genisys. I know what true disappointment is like…

“Pete’s” dull and generic “Dragon”

dvnxj5nde6cjj-hzmo4lodtu15ulbzdj-largeThere were many things I questioned when watching the 2016 update of “Pete’s Dragon.” I was well aware director David Lowery wanted this take to be far removed from the 1977 musical. Honestly, I don’t blame him. I have a huge soft spot for the original, but will admit it does have flaws. The 1977 version is bloated and too goofy in certain spots. But perhaps, there is where the entertaining aspect came from. As I tried to accept the new version, I found myself at least appreciating it tried, but found myself hard to be engaged with it. Seeing it did get heavy praise from critics, is there something they missed or is there something wrong with me?

The plot for this new version takes the spine of the original and adds more meat to it. Pete (Oakes Fegley) is now a feral child that lost his family and seeks refuge with the green dragon. I give credit due to Fegley’s acting. His performance is going for a wild child take and it does work. But there was something problematic about it to me. For a kid that is lost in the woods for six years and goes “Tarzan,” chances are his vocabulary will either be limited or his speech will be underdeveloped. Having taken up psychology in college, I read up on cases where kids would be treated and lived like animals to the point they act like primitive; most notable is Victor of Aveyron. For if a child like Pete can’t understand what a balloon is or even the purpose of a sandwich, then why have him speak at all?

The reason for his survival is under the wing of a giant dragon he names Elliot. Much like the original, Elliot is big, green and the ability to turn invisible. What’s different this time around is that he’s all CGI and covered in fur. I guess someone had Falkor from NeverEnding Story in mind when designing him, but it goes against the idea of Elliot’s original design. Not only did Don Bluth animate the 1977 version, but he was also modeled after a Chinese dragon in respect for how good they are. There’s a sense of innocence and mischievous personality that feels lost in the new take. Despite the good efforts of WETA Digital, this new Elliot doesn’t have much personality and takes on the feel of a big dog. Again, I know the intent was to make this akin to being cute, but this Elliot was anything but interesting as the story expects us to know his relationship with Pete and not see it develop. I think it would have been wiser to see their relationship much like how Tarzan grew with the apes in 1984’s “Greystoke” instead of just expecting us to accept it.

The new incarnation is also treated to an array of new elements that are either there to distinguish itself or try and improve things. Gone is the fishing town Passamaquoddy, and we get an unnamed town with a logging industry. Bryce Dallas Howard replaces the character of the lighthouse keeper with a forest ranger that takes Pete in and tries to understand his survival. Robert Redford is underused as a man who claims to have seen the same dragon in comparison to the overzealous town drunk Mickey Rooney played. A scheming medicine doctor is replaced with a hunter (Karl Urban) that seeks to capture the dragon. And the list goes on.

As I watched this new version, I kept wondering just how these different elements work or even pay off in this version. Some of it does have a sense of good set up like a subtle environmental message which disappears once it gets introduced. Even character motives are lost in the group showing perhaps this version should have been thought out more. Once Urban’s character captures the dragon, he claims to have big plans when he honestly just spitballs a few ideas and claims to own the dragon. There is no real motive outside of just existing for the sake of being a conflict here. I even hoped there would be more purpose to things added in like the logging company playing a part or even Redford’s character. But most of is minimally used or gets abandoned upon first sight.

In a nutshell, “Pete’s Dragon” tries to be more like the typical fantasy family film without a drop of edge, but falls into an unfortunate trap. Instead of giving characters with interesting motives and despite doing different things, it falls into the category of boy or family gets a unique creature and does something with it. I can’t tell you how many variations I have seen of this story line ranging from “Harry and the Hendersons” to “*batteries not included” to even “D.A.R.Y.L.” It’s hard to tell if director Lowery’s intentions were to pay homage to these kind of movies, but I can say what sets itself apart from those is a lack of darkness. “Pete’s Dragon” plays itself so safe, that you can very much predict what will happen before the end credits roll. And even then, the samples I just mentioned are FAR more creditable than this one.

This one is certainly harder to recommend simply because it feels more like an outline for a “Pete’s Dragon” reboot and less like an actual fleshed out story. I found myself nearly nodding off at times due to the slow pace and had a hard time trying to keep focus for what was meant to be a simple story. I guess kids might be ok with this movie. And yet after the theatrical experience I had, my thoughts are starting to question that. Midway through the movie, a family actually walked out of the theater as wrapped in their arms was a sleeping kid. Even near the trash cans, a little girl was more fascinated with the garbage instead of the “wonder” on the screen. And she was gone right before the end credits even began. I argue that little kids might be bored or even grow tiresome about midway after how slow and plodding things are. If I walked out on this movie, I wouldn’t have regretted it. But my honest regret about this new “Pete’s Dragon” was not walking out on it.