Saturday, July 4, 2015


“Safety Not Guaranteed” director Colin Trevorrow’s summer blockbuster “Jurassic World” surpasses director Joe Johnston’s lackluster “Jurassic Park 3” (2001).  Comparatively, however, Steven Spielberg’s infinitely superior “Jurassic Park” (1993) covered most of what occurs in Trevorrow’s new monster-run-amok-in-a-theme-park movie. Despite its attractive cast and scenic jungle locations, “Jurassic World” (*1/2 OUT OF ****) delivers considerably less suspense with its standard-issue shenanigans about juveniles in jeopardy.  If you haven’t seen the first and second entries in the Universal Pictures’ “Jurassic Park” trilogy, this franchise reboot with its polished production values and vigorous 3-D might amaze you, especially if you’re sixteen years old or younger.  Size is the primary factor “Jurassic World” contends with, and Trevorrow shrewdly addresses this issue during the first half-hour. The female protagonist who supervises the daily operations of the dinosaur park concedes, “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore. They need to be bigger, louder and with more teeth!” Indeed, the new hybrid dinosaur that a mad scientist has concocted represents a leap forward.  Nevertheless, this 50 feet long and 18 feet high monster doesn’t really amount to monstrous in the overall Hollywood scheme of things.  The Indominus rex in “Jurassic World” could serve as “Godzilla’s” seeing-eye dog.  Moreover, “Jurassic World” appears to have been designed to sell plastic toy dinosaurs. The dinos themselves display a clean-scrubbed, laminated look. Nothing about them is scary. If you like to see your dinos in the daylight, you’ll get to see every wrinkle and crevice on these dudes.  The one dying dinosaur that our hero and heroine comfort looks so ersatz that you want to howl instead of cry. Actually, the dinosaurs look more frightening at night. When the franchise first rampaged across screens with “Jurassic Park” (1993) and its sequel “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” (1997), nothing looked as realistic and intimidating than those surly dinosaurs, especially those aggressive Raptors.  Unfortunately, the time when “Jurassic Park” established new benchmarks for CGI is long past.  The people who made “Jurassic World” must have overlooked Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” (2005) as well as “Godzilla” (2014).  In an arena with either of those monstrosities, the welterweight Indominus rex in “Jurassic World” wouldn’t last a minute.  In fact, the best looking leviathan in the park is an aquatic behemoth known as a Mosasaurus that chomps on a shark carcass. If there were ever a money shot in a movie, the sight of that huge fish lunging out of the water to snap up that shark is definitely one.  The second shot of it emerging to devour on the Pteranodon looks staggering in 3-D.  The third time is surprising, but—without spoiling your fun—it is kind of a letdown what happens. 

Meantime, scenarists Rick Jaffa &Amanda Silver, who did such a praiseworthy job with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” along with writer Rick Connolly, and Trevorrow, have drummed-up a ‘so-so sauraus’ saga.  The logistics of the plot don’t hold up to scrutiny, and the action is hopelessly outlandish. You’d think that the employees at Jurassic World that work in the dinosaur enclosures would wear safety harasses that would prevent them from accidently falling into the compounds.  At one point, the chief character suspect that a dinosaur has escaped, but they neglect to look for footprints outside the pen.  Later, when they fear that two kids have been eaten, our hero spots their tracks.  Indeed, the holes in “Jurassic Park” are big enough for a dinosaur to barrel through.  More scrupulous plotting could have eliminated these shortcomings.  The biggest offender is the dual deux ex dinosaurs that takes place near the end.  Again, I won’t reveal these two instances, but the first comes out of nowhere while the second is at least foreshadowed.  Anybody who likes to sit around and watch for those post-end credits scenes need no dally.  “Jurassic World” doesn’t tack on anything during or after the end credits.  In fact, I could think of a terrific post-end credits scene, and I was surprised when Trevorrow didn’t ante up with it. Worse, the scripters have created one-dimensional characters who often behave idiotically in formulaic predicaments.  For example, Bryce Dallas Howard, who was such a revelation as a villainess in “The Help,” spends her entire time charging around in high heels whether in the jungle or on asphalt!  Chris Pratt plays a former Navy troubleshooter who doesn’t have a lick of sense.  He brandishes a modern .45-70 lever-action carbine reminiscent of Buffalo Bill, when he should be armed with something more substantial, such as a Kalashnikov AK-101 assault rifle with 40mm GP-30 under-the-barrel grenade launcher.  One Jurassic World security trooper wields a powerful M136 AT4, a Swedish-made single-shot 84mm unguided light anti-tank recoilless rocket launcher.  Naturally, like all incompetent, myopic characters, he fires this fearsome weapon at the genetically modified dinosaur but misses!  Meantime, since the dinosaurs have neither slippery lawyers nor treacherous laboratory employees to gobble, the writers have substituted a different villain: security specialist Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio of “Men In Black”) who dreams about deploying these carnivorous Raptors for military use.  Sadly, Vic is more of an idiot so you are elated when he winds up as a dino snack like the lawyer in the first “Jurassic Park.” Not surprisingly, everything about this lightweight, family-oriented, PG-13 rated epic is immaculate.  Bloodshed is restricted to a drop or two of blood.  Sure, you see the dinosaurs munch on many adults, but the two imperiled children, Gray (Ty Simpkins of “Insidious”) and Zach (Nick Robinson of “Frenemies”), suffer no broken legs, no sprained ankles, or lose any limbs.  Specifically, anonymous bystanders are the only ones scratched, crunched, or traumatized.  So forget about suspense and tension.

Over twenty years ago, in the original “Jurassic Park” (1993) based on Michael Crichton’s imaginative bestseller, genial billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) fantasized about opening a dinosaur park on a remote island near Costa Rica.  Initially, everything went fine, but then some predatory velociraptors and a cantankerous Tyrannosaurus rex ruined everything, and the park never opened.  Now, Indian billionaire Simon Masrani (Irfan Khan of “Life of Pi”) has taken over Hammond’s Jurassic Park, changed the name to Jurassic World, and parlayed it into a billion dollar success story. He sets out to perpetuate Hammond’s dream, and he succeeds on a grand scale.  Masrani is in it for the fun.  He wants both the dinosaurs and the tourists to have a great time. Happily, Jurassic World has thrived for a decade without a single mishap. At the same time, Masrani’s workaholic operations chief, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard of “The Help”), has toiled tirelessly to maintain a narrow profit margin.  This means Jurassic World must constantly add new attractions because new attractions spike attendance. When fiendish but fastidious geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong of “Focus”), devises a new dinosaur, he refuses to share his secret formula with either Masrani or Claire.  (“Jurassic Park” aficionados should appreciate Wong’s appearance since he is the only actor reprising his role from the original.) Predictably, chaos ensues with disastrous consequences.  The Indominus rex is smarter than the average dino, and this wily creature fools everybody, including the impertinent but heroic Owen Grady (Chris Pratt of “Guardians of the Galaxy”), who has been struggling to train a quartet of beady-eyed Velociraptors. However, I’m not so sure that the Indominus is truly that intelligent when you consider how stupid the humans are who let it escape from its 40-foot high enclosure. Meantime, the bond that Grady has developed with these overgrown, kangaroo-like predators is unconvincing.  Using these cold-blooded lizards like bloodhounds is preposterous but amusing nonsense. Inevitably, Claire accompanies Grady on the hunt because she cannot find her two young nephews, Gray and Zach, who have disappeared in the park where the Indominus was last spotted.  Gray and Zach are the characters that every adolescent in the theater will identify with and Trevorrow does put them in danger despite them never being truly endangered.  The gyro-spheres that they roll around in are cool vehicles.  “Jurassic World” has bits and pieces that impress, but altogether these things don’t compensate for slack storytelling and a shortage of suspense. I went into “Jurassic World” with high hopes based primarily on its killer trailers, but I left feeling like the filmmakers simply did not live up to their awesome potential.

Before he helmed “Jurassic World,” Colin Trevorrow directed some Internet shorts, a TV movie, and a superb little 2012 indie flick entitled "Safety Not Guaranteed” with Mark Duplass.  “Safety Not Guaranteed” was an amiable character-driven comedy of errors.  In “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a trio of journalists investigates a lunatic who published a newspaper ad soliciting partners to accompany him on a trip back in time.  These time travel candidates are advised to bring their own weapons.  Reportedly, movie mogul Steven Spielberg liked Trevorrow’s film enough to sign him up to direct “Jurassic World.”  If you’re a parent, “Jurassic World” serves not only as ideal kiddy fare, but also a great way to interest them in dinosaur memorabilia.  Ultimately, as far as adults are concerned, the pedestrian “Jurassic World” exemplifies a case of suspense not guaranteed.


"Piranha 2: The Spawning" director James Cameron scored his first major cinematic success with "The Terminator" (*** OUT OF ****), a gritty, but gripping low-budget science fiction horror actioneer about time travel with a curious twist. Austrian body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger virtually guaranteed that this 107 minute exercise in murder and mayhem would qualify as a blockbuster with his villainous, straight-faced portrayal of a relentless cyborg that allows nothing to stand between it and its programmed objective of executing a woman, Sarah Connor, in the past. The chief science fiction element in Cameron's film is the use of predestination paradox where it appears that history is being altered, when in fact, it is really being fulfilled. Cameron rehashed much of the "Terminator" action in his superior sequel, but he made the Schwarzenegger more sympathetic by having him serve as young John Connor's bodyguard in the follow-up film. Ironically, this $6-million plus movie wasn't that original because cybernetic organisms have been around in fantasy literature as early as Edgar Allan Poe. Nevertheless, "The Terminator" put cyborgs on the map more than "The Six-Million Dollar Man" and eventually inspired the "Robocop" franchise.

"The Terminator" opens in Los Angeles in 2029 A.D., at night while enemy Hunter Killer hovercraft prowl the post-apocalyptic rubble of the city for human prey. Heavy combat vehicles with massive treads crush hundreds of human skulls into powder while human survivors exchange fire with skeletal metal terminators with fiery red eyes. A preamble of sorts comes up and sets the scene: "The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here in our present . . . tonight." The actual story unfolds at 1:52 AM when a garbage truck driver watches crackling blue plasma-type waves envelope him and his vehicle.

A garbage truck operator is emptying trash bins when a plasma-like web of jagged blue lighting bolts envelopes his vehicle and shuts the vehicle down. He flees when the T-101 Terminator assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger of "Conan") appears naked out of nowhere. Skynet has dispatched the T-101 from the future back to the year 1984 to assassinate the mother of resistance leader John Connor. The naked T-101 saunters up to three punks at the Griffith Park Observatory overlooking Los Angeles. An obnoxious, blue-haired punk (Bill Paxton of "Aliens" and "Twister") and his friend (veteran heavy Brian Thompson of "Sudden Impact" and "Cobra") ridicule the T-101. The Terminator kills both of them while the third strips off his clothing. Meanwhile, elsewhere in L.A., another naked man, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn of "The Rock") materializes from the future. He steals a homeless man's pants, evades the L.A.P.D., breaks into a clothing store, steals Nike sneakers and a trench coat. Whereas the T-101 wants to kill Sarah, Kyle sets out to save this damsel-in-distress! Not surprisingly, young Sarah Connor doesn't have a clue that anybody yearns to either murder her or save her.

Sarah works at a fast-food restaurant. The T-101 finds three Sarah Connors in the L.A. phone book and kills the first two and then invades Sarah's apartment and kills her roommate Ginger and Matt (Rick Rossovich of "Top Gun") her boyfriend. Eventually, Sarah discovers what is happening and holes up at the Tech Noir nightclub where the T-101 tracks her down. Kyle Reese rescues Sarah, and they flee, but the L.A.P.D. capture them.  Reese has to cough up his far-fetched story to a by pompous psychologist Dr. Peter Silberman (Earl Boen of "Alien Nation") who doesn't believe a syllable of his saga. Silberman diagnoses Reese as suffering from paranoid delusions and boasts that he make a career out of analyzing the guy's stories. During Reese's interrogation scene at police headquarters with Silberman, Cameron and co-writers Gale Ann Hurd and an uncredited William Wisher, Jr., provide audiences with crucial expository information about Skynet and the war with the cyborgs that seek to annihilate mankind.

The bulk of "The Terminator" concerns the T-101's tireless efforts to kill Sarah while Reese struggles to lead her to safety. During their flight, Reese and Sarah become romantically involved and Reese gets Sarah pregnant with future resistance leader John Connor. Talk about twisted time travel?! Cameron intersperses a flashback to the future where a T-101 (Schwarzenegger's pal Franco Columbu of "Beretta's Island") invades a resistance bunker and goes on a murderous rampage before he is eliminated. Throughout the blazing action sequences, Cameron gradually strips the T-101 down to its alloyed metal endoskeleton. Reese explains to Silberman that a Terminator is a cyborg, half-man, and half-machine that will never stop until it kills Sarah. Everybody at the police station regards Reese as a fruit cake with his unbelievable story until the T-101 shows up with an arsenal of weapons and shoots up the premises, killing at least 17 cops. Reese and Sarah escape, hid out in a motel where they build pipe bombs, but the resourceful T-101 finds Sarah's mother, kills her off-screen, and imitates her so that it can learn Sarah's whereabouts. Another ramped up chase ensues with the T-101 caught in a blazing 18-wheeler. The fire scorches its entire body in the last 15 minutes so that all that remains is the skeleton. Reese dies blowing the skeleton in two. The torso of the T-101 continues to stalk Sarah until she crushes it in a tool manufacturing factory so that only the hand and forearm, which appears in the sequel "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." James Cameron has more road trip action in this thriller than actual science fiction, but the action-packed scenes more than deliver their quota of thrills and chills. One of the earliest scenes in a pawnshop has the T-101 gathering an arsenal of hardware from an unsuspecting clerk (Dick Miller) and then killing him instead of paying for it. The "I'll be back" scene at the police station massacre is probably the best scene in this supercharged little spine-tingler.