The world has changed since 1993 when Steven Spielberg brought Jurassic Park to the big screen.
The Ford Explorer, which played a key role in the first movie, is no longer the vehicle of the moment, replaced by so many Mercedes in the new Jurassic World that the film can feel like a visit to an auto show. Product placement, a minor part of movies in the 1990s, now appears a higher priority than authentic dialogue or developed characters. And special effects, limited in 1993 to the computer capabilities of the time, now can make dinosaurs seem more like humans than some humans.
As the advertisements promise, Jurassic World takes us to a new amusement park that sells chills and thrills, but finds itself concerned about how to keep the offerings fresh. The driven boss pushes her staff to invent new ways to make people scream including experiments to splice genes from various creatures to develop a hybrid dinosaur beyond description. Meanwhile, she faces challenges of corporate threats and family pressures, as well as confusion over a romance gone wrong (that comes in handy later).
When Steven Spielberg created the first installment of this story, he introduced a collection of personal conflicts to frame the thrills. Always a master storyteller, Spielberg never let the backstory get in the way of the narrative. And, because he can make it all look natural, he disguises the craft behind the clarity. But Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow doesn’t know how to handle the subtleties. Granted, the dialogue is “disaster movie silly” but he fails to embrace the obvious opportunities to make the characters or situations feel real. Or as real as an artificial adventure can be.
What hasn’t changed in the 22 years since Jurassic Park is the importance of suspense to a movie thriller. There’s not much of that in the new film aside from wondering when a new Mercedes will appear, what the next product placement will be, and which film the creators will refer to next. While Trevorrow and his four screenwriters freely borrow from The Birds and Jaws — as well as Jurassic Park — they fail to make us care for the characters, tease us about who may be threatened next, or create anxiety about the fate of the world. While they stage the requisite chases and attacks, we never doubt that the main characters will survive. After all, since the first film, we’ve learned that continuity matters to a movie franchise.
Fortunately, for the audience, the actors never get in the way of the dinosaurs. Dallas Bryce Howard is appropriately bland as the out-of-touch corporate hack and Chris Pratt is deliberately remote as her necessary hero with a romantic past. But we don’t go to these movies for performances. We go for thrills. And while Jurassic World may not deliver the excitement of the original — because it fails to develop the characters and forgets to add suspense to the recipe — watching the movie is a lot of fun. It may not frighten. But Jurassic World does reveal what’s scary about movies today.
Film Nutritional Value
* Content: Medium. The return visit to a dinosaur-filled amusement park may not deliver anything new but it does manage to entertain.
* Entertainment: Medium. Thanks to the advances in special effects, the dinsosaurs can seem more human than some of the humans.
* Message: Low. While the film tries to introduce themes of corporate evil, its parade of product placements can get in the way of the story.
* Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to have fun at the movies is worth the trip. Just don’t expect this film to recapture the magic of the original Jurassic Park.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. While there’s enough about the film to fill a short discussion, you’ll be talking about other things by the time you get home.
(Jurassic World is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.” The film runs 124 minutes.)
3 Popcorn Buckets
Behind the Screen: Reel Moments With Movie Dads
While the father has only a couple of scenes in Jurassic World, a dad’s presence can make a difference to many a film. As we get ready to celebrate Father’s Day let’s look at some of the most meaningful portrayals on screen of what it takes to be a dad.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). As children we look to our parents for security, direction and answers to questions we can’t figure out. For a young girl named Scout, her father becomes a beacon of truth as he struggles with legal justice in a small Southern town. Through his eyes, Scout sees what the world can be, and what people should be, and how to reconcile the difference. And while fathers don’t always have the answers they are, many times, just trying to figure things out for themselves.
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1980). Dustin Hoffman reveals the challenges that any father can experience when trying to connect with a child. That this father tries to maintain the connection through a divorce makes his situation more touching. Hoffman reminds us that there’s no course to take, or guide book to read, to learn how to become a dad. It’s a lifetime of trial and error.
Mary Poppins (1964). Yes, this is the movie that made Julie Andrews a star, won her an Oscar, and made “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” a must for any vocabulary. And at it’s heart the film is as much a story about father coming to his senses as it celebrates a nanny’s magic. David Tomlinson makes us believe that a father can care and disconnect at the same time. Good intentions are sometimes difficult for children to recognize.
The Descendants (2011). George Clooney tries to balance personal grief, anger and responsibility in this touching tale of a family adjusting to a parent’s inevitable death. While Clooney can’t help but make this man a good guy, he doesn’t hesitate to reveal the character’s bitterness as the man struggles with the reasons behind his wife’s behavior. And, as much as he loves his family, he wonders how selfish behavior could feel.
Father of the Bride (1950). As a recent “father of the groom” at my son’s wedding, I appreciate the comic struggles that Spencer Tracy brings to life in this classic comedy. This great actor has a field day, opposite the lovely Elizabeth Taylor, articulating the fears that any parent can bring to this special experience. He never lets us forget that, behind the flowers and champagne, parents simply hope their children experience the best that life can deliver.
The Sound of Music (1965). For years, Christopher Plummer tried to downplay the impact of his performance in this classic film. After countless viewings, however, his Captain von Trapp remains an integral component of the film’s magic. If we do not believe how this father truly loves his children – but lets life get in the way – we might not hope so dearly for a happy ending to the story.
The Godfather (1972). Some families kill together to stay together. After first experiencing The Godfather in 1972, I wanted to become a Corleone. The film reminds us – in his crime-filled and violent way – about the importance of family. These folks can hug their children goodbye, and go off to commit a crime, and return home for dinner, never giving a second thought about what they do. Family comes first and, in this film, family is everything.
Life is Beautiful (1997). As adults, we never forget the essential experiences we shared with our parents. And, if we have children, we hope to create experiences they will savor. At its heart, this film offers a meaningful view of one father’s love for his son. It’s less an examination of the tragic situation that leads to a father’s choices than a celebration of the sacrifice any parent is willing to make. We experience first hand just how much joy a father can bring to so much sadness.
Finding Nemo (2003) As children, we never think we can be hurt. We believe we are invincible, that no degree of risk reaches beyond common sense. This animated classic about a fish that dares to be human helps us see, again, how scary it can be to face danger, how much we would miss home if we feared we might never see it again, and how there may be something to the potential dangers that parents try to warn us about. And, at its heart, it’s all about how much a father loves his son.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012). In this funny and touching exploration of how people try to change, Robert De Niro creates an indelible portrait of a father rooted in his routine who wants to be the flexible guy his son needs. But it’s just not a natural part of his chemistry. De Niro walks the tight rope of making this father likable and frustrating at the same time. We get to see him just as his son does.
Yes, Hollywood loves dads. And, as we celebrate their day, let’s remember they make great movie characters, too.