Jurassic World: Trying yet again to recapture the magic of Jurassic Park

I’m beginning to think that Jurassic Park was lightning in a bottle.

This weekend, Jurassic World will stomp into theaters like a rampaging T-Rex, the third in a series of heretofore disastrous sequels attempting to recapture the magic of Spielberg’s original dino-masterpiece. But while it comes closer than either of its predecessors to giving me what I wanted in a Jurassic follow-up, it still fell far short of the jaw-dropping wonder of the first film. And after two cringe-worthy sequels and one lukewarm one, I’m starting to wonder if Hollywood should just stop trying.

Lots of Jurassic World winds up feeling like a dull shadow of Jurassic Park, like someone studied the original film, making notes of random plot and character points, and then tweaked them for this movie without considering what purpose they served in the original.

Oil-and-water child siblings shuttled off to spend time with a detached non-parent relative (dressed, inexplicably, all in white) on a remote island filled with dinosaurs? Check.

A rugged, outdoorsy type cautioning the park-runners that they don’t have enough respect for what they’ve created? Check.

A starry-eyed park owner with deep pockets, little sense, and fluffy, sugar-coated idealism? Check.

A dude intent on stealing the dino-technology for his own nefarious and greedy purposes? Check.

A giant, carnivorous dinosaur attacking kids trapped in a vehicle? Check.

A character running from a T-Rex while holding a flare, an oh-crap moment of we’ve-underestimated-the-dinosaurs’-intelligence, a quiet moment with a long-necked herbivore, scientists failing to consider the implications of splicing dinosaur DNA with not-dinosaur DNA, trapped kids being menaced by raptors, an 11th hour out-of-nowhere dino hero moment — check check check check.

And yet, while the Jurassic World filmmakers did not make a bad movie by recycling so much of the original, they really missed the mark on what made it special. Jurassic Park was groundbreaking in its effects, sure, but it was also smart in its storytelling. There were far more forces at work than just Dinos Gone Wild, though that seems to be all the sequels remember.

It had the hubris of man, embodied in John Hammond and Dennis Nedry, trying to force the narrative along according to their will.

It had the pitting of science versus nature, as a paleontologist, a paleobotanist, and a mathematician (chaotician, chaotician) are forced to come face to face with things that, until now, they’ve only been able to study in the abstract.

And underneath it all, chaos. This was the entire point of the Ian Malcolm character — to give voice to the chaos undercutting everything they tried to do. Malcolm was there to point out that no matter how much control humans may think they have, there will always be something they haven’t accounted for, because they can’t. It’s easy to overlook in all the black-leather-Jeff-Goldblum-stuttering-and-swaggering amazingness, but over and over, Malcolm warns the group that the very idea of the park is, in its essence, flawed.

“The kind of control you’re attempting simply is…it’s not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained.”

“The lack of humility before nature that’s being displayed here staggers me.”

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Interestingly, it’s Ellie Sattler, not Ian Malcolm, who sums up the main conflict of the first film toward the end, in a conversation with John Hammond. “When we have control,” Hammond begins emphatically, envisioning how next time, he’ll be able to open the park without problems — then Ellie interrupts, “You never had control, that’s the illusion!”

And it was this thread — this smart, scientific approach to chaos, to humans being forced to admit they could do nothing but watch as things spiraled out of control, and how each time the humans desperately grasped at a way to pull things back together, something else went wrong, to the point where they ultimately had no choice but to admit defeat and flee the island — that made the first movie so thrilling to watch.

In a film that is universally praised for its groundbreaking effects, it’s easy to assume that the spectacle is what made it great — and three times now, sequels have tried to capitalize on bigger spectacle — but without that slow crumbling of control; without the gradual realization of the humans that, no, there is no mastering what’s gone wrong here, there is only, at best, surviving it; without that underlying, razor-edged tension of  watching characters struggle for better circumstances while knowing, deep down, that things will only get worse, you’re left only with special effects and screams. Which may be visually cool, but it isn’t interesting.

This is Jurassic World‘s main misstep. All throughout, despite the glossy effects and big-budget action, it feels too controlled. Both the park itself, and the structure of the film surrounding it. Even though you have Chris Pratt’s character, Owen, darkly warning Bryce Dallas Howard that they shouldn’t be cooking up their own dinosaurs, it turns out to be a bad idea not because the dinosaur is a dinosaur, and thus unpredictable, but because the dinosaur is smart. And while yes, the raptors in the first film proved to be smarter than the humans thought, it wasn’t their intelligence that made the first film terrifying; it was the idea that the humans have no idea what they’ll do next.

All throughout Jurassic World, the dinosaurs are predictable and controllable. Yes, their Frankensteinian creation winds up getting loose and chomping up people and other dinosaurs left and right, but they can see where it’s going, they can shuttle park attendees around to keep them (mostly) out of harm’s way, and throughout the film they never doubt that if they can just subdue that one dinosaur, everything will be fine again.

As for the other dinosaurs — the ones whose survival instincts trumped every effort of man to control them in the first movie, and became exaggerated monstrous versions of themselves in the second and third — they remained either docile in their cages, or were let out only to do exactly what humans wanted them to do. Sometimes they get a bit out of line (the scamps), but even then, they were really only a threat to people who didn’t take the effort to truly understand them.

If Ian Malcolm had died in the first movie the way he did in the book, Jurassic World would have him rolling over in his grave.

Chris Pratt’s Raptor Gang, while a cool action sequence, totally undercut the entire point of the first movie, which was that no matter how much humans might think they’ve mastered nature, they haven’t. Instead of being unwieldy instruments of chaos, the Jurassic World dinosaurs are tools: pets and weapons and rides and blunt objects. The humans are caricatures of the characters in the first film, and as such, it was hard to invest in any of them outside the main quartet, who — though they spent much of the movie’s 2-hour run time cowering and running and screaming — never felt like they were in any real peril.

Jurassic World is not without its good points. Unlike the last two sequels, there are no cringe-worthy, eye-rolling moments of pure inanity. There are snippets of humor, mostly courtesy of Chris Pratt, who can’t help but have great comedic timing even with a mostly wooden script. There are some amazing effects, and as far as shot-for-shot beauty goes, this is probably the most visually stunning of the bunch. There are some sweet moments between the two kid brothers, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire goes from being stiff and distant to genuinely root-worthy. And though the movie’s spectacular, dino-violence-filled climax is not necessarily shocking, it is still pretty darn fun to watch.

But while the original Jurassic Park felt like intelligent, taut, truly frightening science fiction, Jurassic World is simply a summer popcorn flick, with dinosaurs. It won’t make you think, it won’t scare you, it probably won’t even get your pulse up, aside from a few jump scares. It won’t give you any great one-liners to quote over and over for the next two decades, or any characters who will stick with you like friends. But it will entertain, and make you smile, and give you ample amounts of gorgeous CGI and thrilling action sequences.

And maybe, if the original is lightning in a bottle, that’s the most we can ask of a sequel.

Here’s my Drive Through Movie Review of Jurassic World that we filmed right after seeing the movie, in which I couldn’t quite pull all my thoughts into coherent words yet, but I did try to imagine what a Goldblum-T-Rex hybrid might look like.

Film Review: The Bourne Legacy

I’ll be honest. In a year of amazingly awesome movies, this was one of the ones I was looking forward to the most. Which is kind of ridiculous since this year also includes The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserablesand The Hobbit. It is a GOOD YEAR for movies, folks.

So why was I looking forward to The Bourne Legacy so much? There’s a few reasons.

1) I love The Bourne Identity with great massive chunks of love. I enjoyed the other two as well, but that first one holds a special place in my heart for sheer awesomeness.

2) I also love Jeremy Renner with great massive chunks of love, the kind I do not have for Matt Damon. Don’t get me wrong. Matt Damon is great. I have seen and enjoyed many a Matt Damon movie, and Identity is probably my favorite of his movies. But I love Jeremy Renner more.

So you combine a franchise I love with an actor I love, and you get this movie. Hence my fevered anticipation.

After watching, I have mixed feelings. Many of them are good feelings. But not all. So let’s get into it. I’ll try to be as non-spoilery as I can.

The Plot

The plot for The Bourne Legacy was absurd, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Here it is in a nutshell:

Aaron Cross (Renner) is an agent that has been enhanced, both physically and mentally, by a secret branch of the government known as Outcome. Due to a leaked YouTube video (yes I’m serious), the government decides the only way to cope is to kill everyone associated with Outcome. But, through pure luck, Cross survives the missile intended to kill him. HOWEVER, he runs out of his special performance-enhancing drugs, and without them, he will become too stupid to function. Again, yes, I’m serious.

So Cross goes to kidnap one of the scientists working on Outcome, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), also a survivor of an attempt to wipe out everyone associated with Outcome, because he thinks she may be able to get him more drugs. And then the rest of the movie is Cross and Shearing running from assassins/unfortunate cops and security guards all in a race to get Cross more drugs before he turns stupid, as Edward Norton, a.k.a. Evil Government, tries to find and kill them.

As I said, the plot is absurd. (And as an interesting tidbit, all those parts in the trailer where Ed Norton et al seem to be discussing how Aaron Cross is some sort of stunning new scientific marvel, even more amazing than Bourne? Yeah…they’re pretty much always talking about someone else. Sneaky trailer.)

Oh, and meanwhile, The Bourne Ultimatum is happening. Sometimes the movie reminds us of this. I watched the Bourne trilogy this week in preparation for Legacy, and while it enhanced my understanding of the plot a tiny bit, it probably wasn’t necessary. Most of the Ultimatum tie-in is superfluous, and even though they really try to make it relevant, it doesn’t actually have a ton to do with the get-him-drugs-before-he-turns-stupid-and-they-kill-him plot.

As a side note, since most of The Bourne Ultimatum takes place between the last two scenes of The Bourne Supremacy, we now have three movies covering the same 6-week time frame in this universe. Since they all end around the same time, I’m hoping that if we get another one (oh please oh please), Cross and Bourne can join forces to do…something. The whole movie felt like a setup for that to happen, even though from what I’ve heard, nothing is in the works.

The Acting

The acting in this movie was so good you kind of want to forget that the plot is terrible. Renner is fabulous. They should hire him to make ALL THE ACTION MOVIES. (Oh wait. I think they already did that.) But he’s also good at making you sympathize with him and cheer for him, even when he’s asking EVERYONE where he can get some more not-stupid drugs. He even injects a bit of humor into mostly humorless dialogue.

Weisz is actually more than just a damsel in distress (and I love her leagues more than the snooze-fest of a character that was Nicky Parsons [Julia Stiles]. Someone explain to me why Nicky Parsons was ever a character I was supposed to care about, because I think I missed the memo). She does useful things. She actually saves Aaron once in a crucial moment.

Edward Norton is, as always, spot-on. He does well as the “bad” guy who’s convinced he’s doing the right thing. He almost made me believe that killing important government assets was a reasonable response to a somewhat awkward YouTube video.

I could have used more of Joan Allen and David Strathairn’s characters, who were mostly there just to remind us that Yes! The Bourne Ultimatum is happening RIGHT NOW! Again, if there could be another movie where this story all comes together (the government conspiracy assassin story, not the give-me-drugs-or-give-me-stupid story), I would be a fan of that.

And then we had lots of sinister old men played by awesome actors like Scott Glenn and Albert Finney, who were mostly wasted as they just sat around being sinister and threatening Edward Norton.

The Action

As with all the Bourne films, this one is chock-full of action. Lots of fights, running, chasing, and gunplay. Oh, and there’s one part where he wrestles a wolf. YES. That happens.

I have to admit, out of the four Bourne films, I liked the action in Identity best because you could actually see what was going on. The use of extreme zoom + shaky cam makes it a little hard to follow in the sequels. Plus, it’s hard to top the fight where Bourne stabs the guy with the pen. I mean, it’s a pen.

However, I did think this one did a better job of filming the fights than Supremacy and Ultimatum. In those movies, I had a hard time figuring out who was getting punched in the face. In this one, I could follow the face-punching pretty well. And it was some pretty excellent face-punching.

And it wouldn’t be a Bourne film without a crazy chase scene, although this one is on a motorcycle to prove how hard core Aaron Cross is. Yes, even more hard core than Jason Bourne, as evidenced by the fact that Cross kills a lot more people and sports facial hair and wears sunglasses and goes shirtless for a good portion of the movie.

The motorcycle chase is fun, because high speed chases are awesome. Which is why every Bourne movie has at least one.

The Verdict

Much as I really wanted this one to be my favorite of the Bourne films, it wasn’t. Identity still holds that honor. However, even though the plots for Supremacy and Ultimatum are much tighter and smarter, I think Legacy is my second-favorite on the basis of sheer enjoyability. Yes, the plot is terrible and it is riddled with head-scratching inconsistencies, but honestly, I didn’t care. I loved the characters and the action, enough that I could forgive the plot.

That said, I really hope that if there’s a fifth Bourne film (and again I reiterate, oh please oh please), they put a little more thought into the story and motivations of the characters. Up until this movie, Bourne was one of the smartest action franchises out there, and I’d hate to see the intelligence factor thrown out the window in the hopes that the action will carry it. For this movie, it did, but I’m not sure if that tactic will work more than once.

Grade: B+

The Bourne Legacy is rated PG-13 for violence and action sequences.

Book to Film: The Hunger Games

A lot of the books I read eventually become movies. Sometimes I read the book first, sometimes I see the movie first. Sometimes I see the movie because I read the book, and vice versa. So I thought it may be fun to talk about the film adaptations of the books I’ve read.

And what better film to kick it off than the one currently dominating the box office, The Hunger Games?

If you want to brush up on the basic plot, you can read my review. But if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you probably don’t want to keep going. Because I’m about to get into spoiler territory, which means you’re about to get either lost or annoyed.


For the most part, I thought the casting was spot-on. Jennifer Lawrence was a perfect Katniss, Josh Hutcherson was a charming and empathetic Peeta, Amandla Stenberg broke my heart as Rue, Lenny Kravitz was a cool and composed Cinna.

It probably helps that I read the books after the movie had been principally cast, so even though I wasn’t very familiar with a lot of the actors portraying the leads, I at least had their images in my mind when reading. And because I was aware of who was cast when I was reading, I can honestly say that for the most part, the casting, makeup, and wardrobe department did an excellent job of making the actors look the way Suzanne Collins describes the characters.

There were only a few characters where the casting surprised me. None of the actors were bad (Wes Bentley in particular was pretty impressive) — just not what I pictured from reading the book. These included:

Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith. (Couldn’t find a picture of him in character – sorry). I pictured someone boisterous and imposing, to go with his big, booming voice. I’m not actually sure if he’s given a physical description in the book. I just pictured him having a very dominating physical presence. But they reduced Claudius’ character to a very minor one in the film (I think mostly to bolster the role of Seneca Crane, which is a creative decision I agree with), and Toby Jones did a fine job with what he was given.


Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane. You have to understand, Seneca Crane is barely even a character in the first book. He’s not even given a name until the second book, and he has very little written about him. I’m nearly positive there is no physical description given. So for some reason, I pictured him as middle-aged and portly. No idea why. However, probably to give the events of the second book/film more weight, the filmmakers expanded the role of Seneca Crane in the film, and Wes Bentley was excellent in the role. He had very few lines, but conveyed quite a bit with his eyes and expressions.

Isabelle Fuhrman as Clove. This is the only bit of casting that I’m positive went completely against the physical description given in the book. In the book, Clove has an imposing physical presence, and is much bigger than Katniss. There’s a scene in the book where Katniss climbs a tree, and Clove can’t follow her because she’s so much larger than Katniss. Isabelle is noticeably smaller than Jennifer Lawrence. That said, Isabelle Fuhrman had every bit of the character’s personality spot on, and delivered all her lines and actions exactly how I imagined Clove would. She just didn’t look like her. But I’m not a stickler for actors having to exactly match physical descriptions in books. I’d much rather they act like the characters than look like them. So I was totally fine with this change.


As far as book-to-movie adaptations go, The Hunger Games was one of the most faithful ones I’ve ever seen. All the main plot points were there. There were some omissions and alterations from the book, obviously. It’s necessary when condensing an almost-400-page book down to a 2.5 hour movie.

Some of the changes didn’t bother me – the elimination of the characters of Madge and the Avox girl; the shortening of the Games themselves; the addition of the scenes with President Snow, Seneca Crane, and the Gamemakers; the lack of mention of the eyes of the mutts at the end; the fact that Peeta (it would seem) doesn’t have his leg amputated after the conclusion of the Games. I thought those changes helped make the story watchable and understandable, especially for people who hadn’t read the books.

Others irked me just a tad. [Major spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Twice.]

There’s a scene in the book where the Career tributes leave a girl for dead in the woods, but a cannon (signaling her death) never sounds. Peeta volunteers to go check and finish her off. He’s gone an unusually long time. Finally, he returns and then the cannon sounds. The Careers (and Katniss, who is observing it all from her hiding place) all assume Peeta killed her. But this is also when they’re all assuming that Peeta is helping them hunt down Katniss, when in fact, he’s trying to protect her.

I’ve always been curious what actually happened between Peeta and that girl. It doesn’t seem to be in his character to go and kill a wounded girl. Did he simply wait with her until she died? Did he try to help her? It’s never explained in the books. Since Suzanne Collins collaborated on the screenplay, I was hoping it would be addressed in the movie. But the whole scene is omitted.

The other scene that was left out of the movie that really irked me was the exchange between Katniss and Peeta at the very end of the book. That conversation is the catalyst for some major developments between them in Catching Fire. It changes their entire relationship. And they left it out of the movie.

There is conversation, and the gist of the original conversation is kind of maybe implied. But in the book, they both state their feelings quite bluntly, and in the movie, it’s all subtlety. I wish it had been blunt.

Other than those two notable exceptions, I thought the adaptation was extremely well done. It was obvious that Gary Ross, the actors, and the crew were trying their best to respect the books and their message.


I’ll be honest – there was a lot of shaky cam. It kind of irked me at first.


The more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was adding to the sense of unease, of wrongness, of the feeling that this world was not good, pretty, or comfortable. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel.

It didn’t feel like a big, glossy action movie where the bad guys blow things up and the attractive hero always escapes by the skin of her teeth. It felt gritty and dirty and upsetting.

Speaking of dirt, I know there are some nay-sayers out there that think it wasn’t gritty and dirty and upsetting enough. But just because people are poor and in a desperate situation doesn’t automatically turn them into cavemen. They can still practice basic hygiene and grooming habits. They can still clean their small, ill-equipped houses. So I was totally okay with the overall look of the movie.

The violence was a big concern for a lot of movie-goers. After all, it’s kids killing kids. How on earth would anyone want to watch that? But much like in the book, where Katniss is observing the violence in bits and pieces as she focuses on trying to keep herself alive, a lot of the violence takes place in quick snippets or off-camera. It’s not downplayed. You definitely feel that these events are not right. But it’s also not gratuitous. It’s not glorifying violence. I thought it was handled well.


If I had to pick one, I’d still say I enjoyed the book more than the film. But this is definitely one of my favorite book-to-film adaptations, especially in the Young Adult genre. I thought the story came across loud and clear. The sets, costumes, and makeup were perfect. The acting was fantastic. If I had my druthers, it would have been about 30 minutes longer, but I know that a 3-hour film based on a book directed at teenagers is just not something studios are interested in doing. All in all, it was great to see a book I love brought to life so faithfully in the theater.

Grade: A

The Hunger Games is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens.