22 June 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Trousers

I really like that name for a porn parody. We used to always comment on Porn Parody names around here, the apex of that, as well as all human life on earth being Hairy Pothead and the Breastly Swallows: Fart Poo (2011). Anyway, let's preview Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018).

Now, we already got Revenge of the Fallen (2009), but still, I'm just amazed we didn't get Dark Kingdom or something. That's only been taken by Thor: The Dark World (2013), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Dark Shadows (2012), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), The Dark Knight (2008), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) (and its parody, Zero Dark Flirty - you know where I'm going with that one!), Monsters: Dark Continent (2015), so much more. This is a diversion, but I'm curious if "Fallen" replaces "Dark."

"Welcome to my Hall of Boners" lol
At this moment I'd really like to get into a complete cultural history of Jurassic Park (1993). It's easy to forget that Jurassic Park was a game changer on every possible level of cinema. It exhibited a monumental leap forward in special effects, had a startlingly innovative plot structure for an adventure film, made a ton of money, and became the perfect Summer Blockbuster movie. It also really made strides towards Spielberg's Legacy, and perhaps most significantly, actually shifted public perception of Dinosaurs quite a bit. Let's break all this down.

Jurassic Park still looks good. This is is actually a fallacy. The CGI seems better because it's so mixed in against practical effects that our brains sort of gloss it all together. It also works because the beasts generally obey some pretty strict physics. The craziest thing anything does is probably a raptor jumping on a table. There's no huge explosions, floppiness, blurriness, or frankly, interaction with the human actors that seems impossible. Ahem. We see reactions more than interactions, and this puts us in the moment, altogether tricking us into thinking this this is all real. Somehow in the past 25 years Spielberg went from being a master of this to Ready Player One (2018)'s CGI regurgitation overload, which he can kind of get away with since it's all a computer game, but that's a cop out to disguise a crummy experience.

Most importantly, though, Jurassic Park proved this shit was possible. We had had some pretty cool little CGI moments before this, from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) to The Abyss (1989), Death Becomes Her (1992), and perhaps most notably, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), but this was the first fully textured rendering of living, breathing, fleshy creatures. Everything done since owes a debt to Jurassic Park.

For a blockbuster action movie it's bizarre that its main protagonist is a child-hating nerd in the most platonic relationship with a woman in cinematic history. Yes, there is no boning in Jurassic Park. I mean, we'd all pay for a deleted Malcolm / Sattler hook-up scene, but instead Laura Dern played Ellie as one of the strongest independent women in any movie like this before or frankly, since. In addition to gender politics, the plot is constantly surprising, with different levels of systems failing, all matter of chaos unfolding, from tropical storms to Sam Jackson's arm, it's wild. More importantly, though, it all connects to a greater theme of Man vs. Nature, Man's attempt at bringing order to a chaotic realm, which is simultaneously embodied in each character's personal struggle. It's a supreme feat.

This came out really at a perfect time, the mega-event blockbuster wasn't quite a thing yet, at least not a weekly thing. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) came out two weeks after Jurassic Park and was fifth for the year. To be fair, Last Action Hero (1993) came out the week after and really really tried. The point is that Jurassic Park felt like a really big thing. To some extent Jurassic World (2015) hit that, although half of the point of Jurassic World is saying "We're never going to see these days again, but this is the best we got."

Let's get to Steven. While he had E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) and the Indiana Jones movies in the 1980s, he really spent most of his time in this decade spinning somber contemplative drama films. Hell, Schindler's List (1993) came out the same year as Jurassic Park. I already covered a lot of Spielberg when I rambled about Ready Player One, but this film really cemented his Legacy, as if it needed cementing. Hook (1991) made okay money, but was kind of forgotten in its year of release, and also slaughtered by critics. Spielberg needed a win, and Jurassic Park could easily be the second coming of JAWS (1975), and for my money, it is.

Finally, let's talk about what Jurassic Park actually did for us as a nation. Now, the first instance of really cool cinematic dinosaurs may very well be a little Sharptooth action from The Land Before Time (1988), but in the realm of live action cinema, Dinosaurs were more regulated to campy B-Movies. They largely still are, as a matter of fact. No movie outside of the Jurassic series has really gotten dinosaurs right. And by right I mean, not as a total joke or novelty. Maybe King Kong (2005). We still tend towards Triassic Attack (2010) and Raptor Ranch (2012). See, you don't know these movies. Even in 1993 the very year Jurassic Park came out we also got Carnosaur, which looked stunning.

The additional point is that Jurassic Park put a lot of ideas into our heads. Just as the discovery of Deinonychus first gave paleontologists the idea that these animals must have been fast and scary rather than slow and dumb, Jurassic Park really livened up Dinosaurs for a mainstream audience. It popularized the idea that Dinosaurs evolved into birds (there is even some debate now whether or not T-Rex had feathers). It also paved way for a lot more of that corny crap, some featuring Whoopi Goldberg and others just...how was this ever a mainstream show? Being a kid in this 90s era was incredible. So many Dinosaurs to gaze in awe at. Anyone have these Dinosaurs Attack! cards? Now that deserves its own blog post.

For some reason or another Dinosaurs were always in the realm of juvenile campy ridiculousness. Jurassic Park brought them into grounded, intelligent adult cinema. Okay, well, sort of, but it's better than Planet of the Dinosaurs (1977). It's an incredible feat to achieve.

So yeah, then we hat The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), which actually has a lot of decent moments, but like all sequels, more feels like adding to the zeitgeist rather than driving it. By that time we had had a lot of Jurassic-ness and the Dino fad was more cresting than beefing up. It is notable for featuring Vince Vaughn, along with a fairly underrecognized cast. They barely returned anyone from the first film, although Hammond and his grandkids show up looking slightly older, which always freaked me out because I watched the first one 40,000 times and the second only once or twice. Of course Goldblum's back as Ian Malcolm, but I thought he always worked better as a bit of a selfish side character rather than an action hero. Shirtlessness aside, he never really fits that role as the anchor of this film.

Still, that caravan ledge scene, the T-Rex stomping through San Diego, and the High Grass are all pretty incredible. I always think of Velociraptors when I venture into High Grass. Every. Single. Time.

The less said about Jurassic Park III (2001) the better. I saw this in theaters while still forming my critical eye and I remember it being a strange feeling...I was excited going in...but very disappointed coming out. What's most notable is that at age 14 I actively recognized this as a bad movie - not a campy jokey of course it's bad movie, but a terribly written film that wanted to be good so damn bad. Every character sucks. The ending is a horrible deus ex machina (worse than the...original film's also deus ex machina), and the Raptor scenes are just so damn weird. At least we got this meme out of it. Then this. Even LEGO knows this is moronic.

So we cool for a while then flash forward to 2015 and Jurassic World trades on nostalgia and admiration for spectacle and sets a new standard for the mega-blockbuster of the current age. It's amazing that it would eventually appear as a template for other fan course corrections like The Force Awakens (2015) which just re-make the original with enough shiny new shit to make it seem new. This is a bit different than the gritty reboot era, and definitely past the late 90s / early 2000s turn everything into a sequel era. I have of course talked about this film at length already.

As you can read, I actually really liked this when it came out. I think that appreciation has decreased over time as I've reflected how at best a lot of it is dumb and at worst pretty problematic when it comes to those Ellie Sattler gender roles Laura Dern nailed so well 25 years ago. It at least seems self-aware of all its bluster sating a fan's appetite that will never full or get over nostalgia, which elevates it thematically, but it still never quite innovates.

Why would you do this again? That's like buidling
another Death Star. No one's THAT dumb!
What's more amazing is that Fallen Kingdom is actually only the fifth film in this series. That sounds like an insane thing to say, but we've had five Pirates of the Caribbean films and five Transformers films in half the time. Somehow Jurassic Park as a franchise just nosedived with the third installment, fell into that B-movie zone and never recovered. These films are all about spectacle and deserve being events. Jurassic World has even taken somewhat of a step behind Star Wars, the Avengers, and other franchise that have since greatly outshined it. It may not even finish as Chris Pratt's most successful movie this year.

And if you're looking at the marketing material for Fallen Kingdom, I certainly feel a great deal of who cares. Like, why are they back on the island? And it's exploding?! Volcanoes are certainly very Dinosaur-y and it's amazing it took them this long to insert one, but that also pushes that concept into the novelty zone and outside of the genuine discussion about universal themes through a familial lens that Spielberg did so well. Evidently this movie is half volcano adventure and half haunted house movie, which does sound interesting, but that's again camp and novelty over story and character. I'm wary. We're away from a beautiful Furious 7 (2015) world and into a shitty Fast 8 (2017) world. Also, there's been eight Fast & Furious movies since Jurassic Park III. What happened, guys?

Reviews are...good? It seems we can't quite tell. Better than Jurassic World but still shit? Well, what if I liked it the first time? I think it's important to remember that even if cinephiles and hardcore fans are disappointed there are plenty of casual fans who dig this shit. Name recognition alone will earn a lot of dollars, but I highly doubt it'll reach the heights Jurassic World did. It kind of just feels like any other movie sequel, and that's always something that doesn't work with this franchise.

What do you think? Did you prefer the Mars Attacks trading cards?

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