A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow, 2015)

It doesn't take long for déjà vu (not to say ennui) to set in when you're watching this movie. If the title alone doesn't incite it, the use of John Williams's theme for Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) will certainly do it. (The movie's main score is by Michael Giacchino.) So what are we dealing with here: a sequel, a reboot, or a remake? And does it really matter? There is a deep cynicism underlying this movie, made manifest even in the dialogue: Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the theme park's operations manager, says, "We've been pre-booking tickets for months. The park needs a new attraction every few years in order to reinvigorate the public's interest. Kind of like the space program. Corporate felt genetic modification would up the wow factor." Not once does Jurassic World question the plausibility of opening a new dinosaur theme park 20 years after the disasters depicted in the original film and its 1997 and 2001 sequels. (Although 32 years have passed between the original and this sequel/reboot/remake, the new film seems to assume that the first one took place in 2003.) All that matters is the wow factor. The trouble is that the 1993 film has a bit more than just wow: It had genuine awe, not only at the film technology but in the imaginative evocation of what it would really be like to encounter living dinosaurs. It had plausible characters, embodied by Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Attenborough. In their place, Jurassic World has a hunky motorcycle-riding velociraptor-whisperer (Chris Pratt), a slightly ditzy spouter of corporate-speak in heels (Howard), and a hissable villain who wants to militarize genetically engineered saurians (Vincent D'Onofrio). Fortunately, all three actors are more than capable of making the most of their stock characters, particularly Pratt, who seems to be emerging as the new Harrison Ford. And fortunately, everyone concerned with making the film knows how to hype up the action. Which is necessary, because whenever the film slows for something resembling thought or human behavior -- as when the two young brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), are left alone to reflect on whether their parents are getting divorced -- the film stagnates. At those moments, we can only reflect on how much better the original film was at making you believe in its humans. Why, for example, does this one have two boys as its juvenile protagonists when the original had a boy and a girl? And why has Laura Dern's capable paleobotanist been replaced by Howard's MBA type? Not to mention that the women in the film, Claire and her assistant, Zara (Katie McGrath), who is entrusted with looking after the boys, and the boys' mother, Karen (Judy Greer), are depicted as women whose focus on their careers put others in danger. There is fun to be had in the movie, but only if you're willing to overlook what its subtext tells us about how things have changed, and not for the better, in 30 years.

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