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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…

“Jurassic World” thrills expectations

Jurassic-World-poster-MosasaurusAs the first shot of an egg hatching was shown, I felt “Jurassic World” would be a different movie all together. Compared to the awe of seeing a baby Raptor hatch, the feeling here is more terrifying and unsettling. For those who knew what happened in the first film, we expect chaos and destruction like Pandora’s box opening again to the world. Sure enough, this entry raises the stakes with plenty of action and adventure to keep you on the edge of your seat. However, for every good movie, it has those rough spots.

The first half of the movie focuses on building its main heroes but it feels between rushed and cliched. Brothers Zach and Gary are sent off to visit their aunt who runs the new theme park. Needless to say, I would be thrilled to be going to a place full of extinct creatures but it seems like Writing 101 is taking the old “siblings who want nothing to do with each other” routine. Even more awkward is exposition of a possible divorce that really comes out of nowhere.

Bryce Dallas Howard is their aunt Claire who lets them run almost freely around the park as she makes her usual rounds. In a sense, I should be annoyed how this character acts for the first 20 minutes as they play the workaholic card but at least it doesn’t last too long. But midway, a jarring transition of her character turns into an aunt that cares while trying to one up Chris Pratt in being the dominate action hero.

jurassic-world-pratt-howardBeyond that, everything sails on fine as it builds and builds to a satisfying roller coast ride. First implication is Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, an expert on Velociraptors who trains them to act like dolphins at SeaWorld. He easily commands the screen while trying to show how smart of a character he can get. He’s not just some animal trainer but understands animal instincts enough to know how they work.

Second implication is the new I. Rex who is really a hybrid monster of many “mystery meat” parts. While some of these aspects get revealed in the final act, they mystery of this monster is still intact by never describing what animal genes are in this beast. Needless to say, when ever he is on, you already feel a frightening presence that matches that of the Predator as the creature remains one step ahead. Unlike the first film, when someone gets munched and it looks cool, the body count is so high that it really brings a darker stride which only makes things more complex.

jurassic-world-super-bowl-10Instead of 5 or 8 visitors in the park, we get thousands of theme park customers who only wish to have a good time from seeing predatory attractions being fed to a small petting zoo full of baby dinos. These moments are so good its hard not to laugh and appreciate the creativity. In a sense, this feels more like a commentary on animal amusement parks and less about tampering with science. Yet, its set in a new direction as we question just how much effort does one have to go to bring a dead dream to life and see it all crumble again.

I guess I was easy to forgive the faults of the first third because things get better. As I. Rex stomps around and tears the park a new one, we wonder just what is going to be offered that we haven’t seen in the previous films and no stone is left turned. The problem with the sequels I feel is that they tried to offer something new but either had little characters to care for or a story that didn’t have enough meat on it. Here, we get so many twists and turns that we wonder how it will all end.

Sadly, I wish I could describe the satisfying conclusion that so easily vanquishes the sequels. It doesn’t trump the power of “Jurassic Park” but enough to show the franchise will be in good hands. As we get such an epic display that makes up for the lackluster entries and makes us question why didn’t the writers come up with something like that. It is this reason alone that makes me give it a high recommendation to see.

Jurassic-World-12As I walked out of the theater, I almost felt like a kid again with my love and appreciation for the first move and its creative whim. Here, nearly every thing was satisfying and didn’t miss a beat. Had the first half of “Jurassic World” focus more on developing characters as opposed to the environment they get placed in, it would have been a grand sequel. But still, there’s enough material to at least let me say its an explosive popcorn film that snowballs into an unexpectedly entertaining summer blockbuster. Already this and “Mad Max: Fury Road” are in a good run for its money to who is the better summer film. If you can, I best say do a double feature with both and you will get your ticket money worth. As John Hammond would say, spared no expense.

A Walk In the “Park”: A Look Back at the “Jurassic Park” Franchise – Part II

MV5BMTYxNjY1NjE2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzE0MDc4._V1_SX640_SY720_So now we come to the sequels. First off, The Lost World: Jurassic Park was actually based on a sequel Michael Crichton wrote but bears some heavy differences. I remember seeing this movie and hyped for it after seeing the teaser in a theater. I loved the T. Rex and the park so I had high hopes. One night, it was paired at the local Tri Town Drive-In Theater (which sadly doesn’t exist anymore) along with Warriors of Virtue. Say what you will about both, the fact that I saw movies outdoors from my parent’s car is good enough nostalgia.

I was lucky to stay awake for both films. I remember being ok with Warriors but really excited for Lost World. And when the second film finally started, I was hooked from the opening scene after than came eye candy. However, once we drove away as the end credits rolled, I just kept thinking to myself about the dinosaurs in the movie rather than if I enjoyed it or not.

It wasn’t till years later when I was 11 or 12 that I would finally get the first two movies on DVD, as it coincided with the third film. I always made this tradition to watch Lost World on Memorial Day and Jurassic Park on its release day in June as a way to commence summer vacation. I kept doing this until the idea of getting up early in the morning to pop in a movie got old and tiring. But I still remember watching Lost World and admiring the scope while appreciating the action scenes. However, something kept me from saying it was better than the first movie and I didn’t know why.

When I was in high school, I finally got around to reading the original Michael Crichton novels both movies were based on and surprised at the huge differences. While I have nothing against Crichton and will admit he is a unique writer, the only drawback was how the science elements were described like a biology textbook. It seems like in my view he didn’t want too much suspension of disbelief and kept adding explanation after explanation to patch up plot holes.

After examining both, I admitted to appreciating the film adaption of Jurassic Park over its novel for various reasons. The biggest being how Hammond’s character is made out to be a greedy jerk and not the kind man that just wants to create something unique and grand. The Lost World, on the other hand, I found more interesting in its novel than I did with its film. There were certain ideas and aspects I find more unique than what as attempted in the movie and wished it was closer to the source.

With the advent of the Internet, I would later discover just how much hate this sequel gets dumped on. Left and right, there would be a mixed opinion or someone slashing into it. It wasn’t like riding on the bus and talking about it while giving a sigh that the same person appreciates what you like. This was all over the world. So, I decided to re-watch the blockbuster I still had a heart for and see how well it held up. I can confirm that its nowhere near as good as the first but I still can’t find the fire to say its a bad movie like everyone else. However, what I can admit is that after watching it again, my feelings towards Lost World is leaning towards between average and mediocre.

Z3The whole story revolves around another island where Hammond (Richard Attenborough returning for a cameo) bred the dinosaurs free from human interference. Dubbed “Site B,” he hopes to show the good value of preserving the island compared to his greedy nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) who wants to exploit the site for his company’s profit. It’s here we get a bizarre environmental message that doesn’t feel fleshed out. At first, the idea of observing the dinosaurs on the island seems like a good solution but it gets thrown out the window when Ludlow’s group steps foot on the island to capture the prehistoric beasts for a zoo in San Diego.

It already sounds like a promising idea but then we get characters that just feel uninteresting or feel out of place. Jeff Goldblum returns as Ian Malcom and they do something I find weird with his character. Instead of the awkward theorist, they try to make the character some form of action hero and it doesn’t work. I think Jeff is better when he is doing characters with big egos like in David Chronerberg’s The Fly or just basic comedy. Here, he has to sprout one liners and perform these stunts we would see better suited in a Die Hard entry. I can understand the difficulty of jumping through a building or performing in a chase scene, but it feels like Goldblum is having a hard time trying to be the next Bruce Willis than do his own thing. Once in a while, there is a funny line while other times it feels phoned in.

The rest of the characters I could barley remember. Vince Vaughn is in there somewhere, Pete Postlethwaite is very entertaining as a hunter with a character arch that doesn’t pay off as much and everyone else I barley can recall that much. Its a shame because I like the idea and even the novel spent a great deal going over the technical aspects and flaws of Site B. Here, its just a standard jungle adventure film.

JPTLWRexRoarSanDiegoThe positives that hold me back from being mad is the technical work and the action scenes. When watching the scene with the T. Rex couple attacking the van, I flashed back to when I first saw it at the drive-in and thinking how menacing it was seeing two rexes for the price of one. It’s a well shot movie seeing Steven Spielberg returned to the director’s chair but there are moments when he feels uncertain about the direction of the story. One good example is the ending. Originally from what I heard, a Pterodactyl attack at a helicopter was to occur but instead changed to have a T. Rex running down the streets of San Diego. Even today, I will admit its still an epic ending but it feels off with the jungle feel of the movie.

The dinosaurs are back but there isn’t much awe to them. They act like monsters running about and feel more of a danger than a wonder. Every time I think of this movie, I feel it focuses on the predators more than the herbivores. Most of the movie is shot at night and there are these green jungle color palettes throughout the movie that rob the original’s light blockbuster affair. There are times it feels like a 1990s remake of the famed silent film The Lost World where explorers visit a new island, see dinosaurs and bring one back for civilization but runs amok. I feel Spielberg was trying to create an action film along the lines of that but still trying to keep the darker material of the novel. It was a noble attempt but I can’t say its the worst. Bottom line, its a guilty pleasure.

Jurassic_Park_III_PosterJurassic Park III is the one I don’t have too much to say one because I never saw it in theaters. So my nostalgic view is from when I got the DVD as a Christmas gift. Keep in mind, 2001 was not a good year for blockbusters and it shows from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. But, it was our first DVD player and it was nice to have a few new movies about for our first foray into digital home video.

As for JP III itself, there’s aspects of it that just don’t work for me. I’m glad they got Sam Neil back to repirse his role as Alan Grant but his excuse to return to the island doesn’t work. He’s tricked into helping a divorced couple find their lost son who apparently found himself on the island after a parasailing incident. William H. Macy and Tea Loni play the separated parents and their chemistry didn’t gel for me. They just argue most of the time and show little romance between the two. I understand they are supposed to be divorced but you could at least do something interesting with it.

It also doesn’t help they are stuck on Site B which frustrates Alan seeing he’s never been there. Even more, they load more dinosaurs along with a Spinosaurus to replace the T. Rex (literally) and raptor with feathers on his head. Compared to the previous movies, nothing really stood out to me. It was the same old thing as these creatures get treated like something out of a B movie and less like animals acting on instinct.
While it has a shorter running time, Jurassic Park III just doesn’t have a reason to exist and its obvious throughout the whole movie. But I can’t say its a complete lost. Once in a while, there can be a cool scene like with the Pteranodon cage but others just build without pay off like the first Spinosarus chase. It tries to be heavy and big but comes off as stale and anti-climatic by the end. I remember thinking how much they couldn’t end this series with an entry like this coming off as lazy than passable.

JP-WhenDinosaursRuledAs I write this, the new Jurassic World is already out and I’m sure people have a lot to say about it. If some say it will save the franchise or be another dumb entry, I’m still hyped to take another venture into the park. At the moment, I would like to give out my thoughts on what I expect from this entry considering how dear this franchise is to me. I hope we get dinosaurs that are awesome but awe-inspiring at the same time. Characters that are fun and have a great amount of development packed into them. And of course, chaos. Pure crazy chaos. If it doesn’t live up to my expectations, I’ll still appreciate the experience. Because that’s what going to the movies is all about. Being with a great audience and sharing what you remember the most. I think that is what I take away from this franchise the most. As skippable as the sequels are (with the exception of Lost World being ok in my books), I will never forget my first venture to the park and how grand of a roller coast ride it was remembering a simple time in my childhood when dinosaurs really ruled the world…

A Walk In the “Park”: A Look Back at Jurassic Park (and its sequels) – Part I

1.-Jurassic-Park-OriginalSummer of 1993 was a big year for cinema history. It was a turning point for moviegoers when film could push further boundaries with the available technology and transport them to new worlds. From into an action movie or deep into an alternate universe, audiences were given a great opportunity no matter how good or bad these movies got. And then Jurassic Park happened and changed everything.

Now you can have a smart blockbuster and still cram as many action scenes as you wish. The ability to blend practical effects with digital work seamlessly. While smart and unique characters along with a solid story is a constant issue, we still get a rare gem once in a while like last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and my personal favorite Guardians of the Galaxy. But when you really think back, a lot is owed to Jurassic Park for pushing that momentum. Sure, a lot of summer movies before the dino-flick where big hits, but when you really think about it, this Steven Spielberg classic perfected it.

To understand how much this franchise means to me, let me take you back to a time when I was young and into dinosaurs. Everyone at that time was just insane for these prehistoric creatures and we didn’t know why. Some say it was the leftover B-movies of the 1980s, many could point to Don Bluth’s Land Before Time as sparking interest while others say it was the ABC sitcom Dinosaurs. Regardless, I remember being curious about these extinct monsters and wondering how they would have lived back then.

My only view to this was in children’s movies like Land Before Time and We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story. There were cartoony with the exception of Land Before Time skewing for drama. But most of what I saw had walking and talking dinosaurs as opposed to the beastly beings I was eager to see. It wasn’t until I was 5 years old that I finally would see the popular dinosaur blockbuster and my mind was blown.

At last, I could finally view these long gone creatures in their primal view and marvel at them. True, it was no kid’s film but I knew at the time it was only a movie considering what I watched for a while. It was a huge change of pace and I always wondered how they were able to use animals that don’t walk the Earth. Well, as I got older and began to appreciate movies, I was amazed to see the technical craft they put into making the film. Keep in mind, CGI was new at the time and the never ending possibilities were growing. In my teen years, I began to appreciate the effort more than the movie and just how the blend between an anamatronic T.Rex and a digital one were edited so seamlessly.

Well, 20 years after seeing this movie for the first time and after a revisit, I can proudly say this is my “Star Wars.” Of course, the space epic holds a place in my heart as much as everyone, but Jurassic Park is to me a movie that really grows with you. As a kid, you wonder at the magic and question how it was done. As a teen, you start to see behind the curtain and appreciate the craft. As an adult, you marvel at not just how well done the special effects hold up but also the characters and story.

Helicopter-Ride-to-Jurassic-ParkI think my favorite character has to be John Hammond played by Richard Attenborough, the elderly tycoon who put together the idea of creating a theme park island full of dinosaurs. Many could argue he is a Scottish Walt Disney that is chasing the dream and even point to Frankenstein as a person who wishes to bring something back to life. Today, I actually see him more as a sane Dr. Moreau. Really think about! A man who crafts these creatures on an island for all to see, he has a set hosts that question the morals of what he is doing and still believes in the idea even his guests think otherwise.

The biggest difference here is that Hammond is not trying to break new ground or is even greedy. My favorite scene I always point to for evidence is when he talks to one of the paleontologists about his feelings for the park and how he once had a fake flea circus in the past. He goes on to explain how his flea circus was mechanical and fooled the kid’s into thinking it was real. It shows a sympathetic side but even a tragic one. No matter how much he wants to give back with something believable, he doesn’t realize the damage in front of his eyes. From extinct creatures in a new world to even placing people in harm’s way, he chases a dream that keeps getting hampered by reality.

Jurassic-Park_Kitchen2Two paleontologists, Alan Grant and Ellen Sattler  (Sam Neil and Laura Dern) act as our focus of reality. Like the viewer, we delight in seeing these creatures in awe as much as they convince us the power of seeing a brachiosauraus in front of our eyes. But when we learn how the dinosaurs are crafted thanks to cloning and using frog DNA for missing spots, we start to question John Hammond’s morals along with the disadvantages of dinosaurs in a zoo. And surprisingly, we see all these elements play out from not knowing what type of plants are safe to even understanding the animistic instinct of a T. rex. Even before things get out of control, we already see that things are from a sick Triceratops and worker casualties trying to get the Velociraptors in containment.

The rest of the characters hold up as well with some exceptions. Jeff Goldblum plays a mathematician named Ian Malcolm whose theories range between interesting to questionable when going on about chaos theories. The only thing that makes him entertaining enough is Jeff’s awkward performance as he proposes on theory after another and either laugh how ridiculous they are or at the skeptical nature of the character.

Then, we have Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex and Tim. Yes, I am aware they were in the Michael Chrichton novel this is based from, but both characters are ok. I don’t have a huge qualm with child acting as long as it’s done right. These two have quirks that get used later on from a dinosaur expert and a computer whizz. Though at times, I feel like they are there to attract the kid audience but it still works. Some viewers might be bothered to see two youngsters in danger but they make up for it by having them be smart and not dumb cliches like in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Honestly, there is so much to talk about this movie that even this blog post can’t do much justice. The dinosaur effects are incredible and still hold up to this day along with key set pieces. The T. Rex attack is classic but my personal favorite has to be when the Velociraptors chase the heroes around the main building. It starts off intense and just builds and builds as we change from one room to another as our leads try to outsmart these clever predators. Bottom line, this movie really knows how to put you on the edge of your seat and engaged at the screen.

jurassicpark_BIGJurassic Park meant a lot to me as a kid and still does as an adult but in a different light. Back then, it was the first movie I can think of that realistically portrayed dinosaurs in their own habitat. No cheesy monster movies and no cartoons. I didn’t care much for the story and plot but found myself enjoying everything around it. A smart decision was having the T. Rex attack and Dennis’ encounter with the Dilaphosaurus play without background musical score. It really adds to the awe factor as we don’t know if we should take this is a mesmerizing moment or quiver with fear on the sofa.

As an adult, it’s almost like returning to your favorite amusement park and reminiscing about the rides you went on while discovering something new. There’s really no reason to keep explaining why I hold this movie so dear to me and is one of my top favorites. We get likable characters, amazing monsters and a unique premise that is cheesy but plausible on the big screen. I loved it as a kid and will cherish more as I grow older. But little did I know…there was more to come…

TO BE CONTINUED!