Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bad Arguments Against "Jurassic World"

A lot of people enjoyed "Jurassic World" and I'm one of them. "Jurassic Park" was one of the first PG-13 movies I was allowed to watch as a kid and I still remember sitting with my family in the car watching the movie at a drive-in theater. I owned a bunch of the toys (the ones with the weird detachable chunks of flesh that they called "battle damage"), I read the original novel (though I was waaaay too young for it, so most of it went over my head), and I think it sparked some of my early interest in science. It's an important movie for me.

"Jurassic World" felt like it was made by and for people like me. It was more or less the kind of movie I would have made if someone asked me to make a sequel. I left the movie feeling completely satisfied and I'd say it's the first film of the Summer to exceed my expectations ("Age of Ultron" fell somewhat short of my high expectations, and "Mad Max" met my high expectations, but did not exceed them).

I can see what some people don't like the movie. The pacing is pretty break-neck, most of the story beats are cliche and predictable, the characters are stock and simple to understand so we don't have to spend too much time on them, and the bad guys are straight out of cheesy 80's action films.

Still, as I've been reading and watching mixed or negative reviews of the movie, I keep hearing arguments that I just... don't think people are thinking through? It feels like they're just pulling arguments that SOUND like they make sense, but don't hold up to any actual scrutiny. So rather than write a loooong review like I usually do, I'd rather just rant about bad arguments people have been making against this movie. Let's do this!

The CGI is Terrible!

This is one of the weirdest arguments I've heard, mostly because I keep hearing some people talk about how "fake" everything looks, while other people (even people who feel generally negative about the movie) say the CGI looks amazing.

I actually wonder if this is because of the format that people choose to watch the movie. I personally saw it in 2D and the CGI never bothered me. I don't know if I'd say it was "amazing", but it never stuck out to me. My guess is that maybe the CGI holds up to less scrutiny in 3D and/or IMAX.

Even so, one argument I've heard a few times to explain WHY the CGI is terrible is because "If you notice it's CGI, it's bad CGI" and that practical effects should have been used more.

I'm going to say, if that's the benchmark for a good special effect, the only time I personally remembered that the dinosaurs weren't real was when they used a practical effect. There was a scene with an apatosaurus and I thought "Wow! That's a really impressive animatronic muppet dinosaur!" and it was, but I still NOTICED that it was a practical effect, and it was the only time I did. So if the benchmark of a good effect is invisibility, I'd say the CGI worked better for me in that regard than the practical effects.

The Romance Subplot Is Pointless

The most common complaint I've heard is that the romance between the characters Owen and Claire is forced and pointless and there because romances are expected in Summer blockbusters.

Well, yeah. Sure. But practically EVERYTHING in these movies are forced. That doesn't make them BAD. It's all about whether or not you can enjoy the movie because of or in spite of those elements.

As for the romance... well, my stance on forced romantic subplots is that I'm OK with it if it follows these criteria:

1) The relationship doesn't define a character. So often romantic subplots are used as the only character trait for a supporting female character in the film. Her only motivation or growth is defined within the constraints of that relationship.
2) The characters in the relationship have good chemistry. If I enjoy watching the actors flirt with one another, then I'll probably enjoy the romantic scenes they share. Bad chemistry is the death-knell for a romantic subplot in a movie like this.
3) The plot isn't slowed down by the romance. If the characters are getting shit done while they flirt and the plot doesn't grind to a halt because they want to talk about their feelings, then the romance doesn't really hurt anyone.

First off, ALL of these rules are broken by the forced romance in the original "Jurassic Park" between Alan and Ellie (which wasn't in the books). Ellie Sattler is unfortunately given very little to do or be as a character in that movie and pretty much the only thing people wondered about her was whether or not she and Alan were an item since the movie left it somewhat ambiguous. Which brings me to my second point. Alan and Ellie had such little chemistry that people couldn't even tell that they were SUPPOSED to be romantically involved. Last, the few scenes that were devoted to Ellie's relationship with Alan could have been cut entirely and it would have sacrificed nothing. This is a case of a romantic subplot existing to the detriment of the movie.

"Jurassic World", on the other hand, does not suffer this problem. Owen and Claire are both interesting and distinct characters. They both develop (well, Claire does at least) and have traits outside of their relationship. The flirty scenes they share usually involve also moving the plot forward, either to reveal more about the characters or to get them to involve each other in different aspects of the plot (when the kids meet Owen for the first time, they see him kissing Claire, so rather than having to explain to the kids who Owen is and that he's trustworthy, the movie just tells them "He's your aunt Claire's boyfriend" and they move right along). And most importantly, I think Owen and Claire have enjoyable chemistry. On a scale of Neo/Trinity to Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, the chemistry between them lands somewhere in the above-average section with Indiana Jones/Marion Ravenwood.  I enjoyed watching them flirt.

The romantic subplot doesn't NEED to be there, fine, but it doesn't hurt anything. At least not as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and there's a great scene where another romantic subplot is teased but then rug-pulled away at the last minute.

The Divorce Subplot Is Pointless

The other thing people complain about in terms of pointless character subplots is regarding the fact that the two brothers in the film are there specifically because their parents are trying to get them away so they can sort out some divorce proceedings stuff without their kids finding out. The mother's sister (Claire) works there and Zach (the younger sibling) loves dinosaurs (of course he does) so a weekend at Jurassic World makes perfect sense.

The divorce subplot doesn't really go anywhere explicit. There's a scene where their mother cries on the phone when talking to Claire, upset that the kids aren't spending time with her, and there's a scene where Zach cries because he knows why they're really there.

A lot of people think this subplot serves no purpose and just gets in the way.

First of all, again, this subplot was already used in "Jurassic Park" with the Murphy siblings, and that subplot was also forced and pointless. It existed for pretty much no reason other than to give Alan a reason to bond with them.

In fact, Zach is pretty much a carbon copy of Tim in pretty much every way (though I found Tim to be much more annoying).

However, in "Jurassic World", the divorce subplot does have ONE purpose. Why ELSE would two parents send their kids ALONE to an amusement park?

OK, so then why not bring the parents along?


This is basic wish-fulfillment fantasy 101 for kids! You get to go to Sea World but with DINOSAURS and NO PARENTS! WHEE!!!

The divorce subplot exists solely to facilitate that. And to the movie's credit, it spends VERY little time dealing with it, and the only time they address it, it's done to give Zach's brother a reason to bond a little with him. It's not like they force in a moment at the very end where the parents decide to stick together or whatever, as if trauma inspires that kind of thing. It's just a shitty thing that's happening to these kids and the plot device to get them there without their parents.

Now, here's the thing. A lot of people who argue against this subplot (and the romance subplot) seem to be coming from a place that suggests that these subplots could have been scrubbed entirely and the movie would have been better for it.

I don't agree.

Without the romance subplot, the kids have no reason to trust Owen in a scene where they need to trust him very quickly in order to not slow down the third act, which then means that the characters would need to meet Owen in the first act, which would have meant contriving a reason for them to go see the top-secret velociraptor training facility, which would have required MORE pointless scenes than the romance subplot required.

Without the divorce subplot, we have no reason for the parents to not be there, so they seem grossly negligent, making it hard to sympathize with the mother when she gives Claire shit for abandoning them. It also means having to contrive a reason for the brothers to relate to each other out of nowhere. The divorce allows these things to happen expediently.

You need to be able to care about these characters or the action scenes involving them carry no weight.

OK, so then maybe we should just get rid of the brothers completely! Oops, then you don't have a POV character for the younger audience or a reason to be introduced to the park from the perspective of an outsider.

These subplots are not original, I get that. But they take up very little time, they allow the plot to chug along through the first act without wasting too much time on humans, and if you ignore the fact that they're unoriginal, they work. The actors sell them believably, and they're written passably well.

I think that these are load-bearing subplots. They may not look nice, but they're essential. I'd like to see how the critics would suggest removing them without damaging the parts of the film that work exceptionally well.

Why Would They Rebuild the Park!?

People seem to think that it's ridiculous that anyone would try to re-create this park after what happened the first time. That the premise for this movie is, on its face, ludicrous.

If you're saying this, I highly recommend you watch the movie "Blackfish". I have a lot of problems with the overall conclusions of that movie, but it does a great job at showing you just how BAD we were at building amusement parks around aquariums. It was inhumane. People died. Animals died. But we just kept doing it.

Was "Jurassic Park" THAT big a catastrophe? How many people ACTUALLY die in that movie? Maybe a dozen? Probably about the same number of people have died from captive whale attacks. Has that stopped Sea World? Has that stopped people from GOING to Sea World? And that's just ONE kind of park designed around wild animals. Even parks with NO animals have human casualties.

Or hey, did the Titanic stop people from going on cruise ships? Did Apollo I stop Apollo XI?

The fact is, "Jurassic Park" didn't fail because dinosaurs were beyond the human ability to control them. It failed because the original creators underestimated them. They tried to turn them into an attraction before they even fully understood them (not unlike the original Sea World-type attractions). It bit them in the ass.

The thing is, the genie was out of the bottle. The dinosaurs were set loose and they started breeding. Can't turn back now.

So OF COURSE someone decided to go back and get them under control. They probably studied them, carefully planned ways to corral them and restrain them, and took every necessary precaution.

And it worked! The park we see in this movie is fully-functional and has been for years. It's clearly safe.

I will say that they probably could have done MORE. Since Joe Badguy implies at one point that these animals have no environmental protection because they're technically classified as extinct, they don't have to be humane with these animals. Any they're already giving them tracking implants. Why not also implant tiny detonation devices that would destroy their brains at the push of a button?

Obviously something would have to go haywire with that for the movie to work, but it would have been nice to see that kind of forethought. I wanted to believe that this crew was competent.

And they were! Not only is the park being handled well by intelligent people, they've even got a guy who's learned how to train the raptors (sort of). The movie reminds us that dinosaurs aren't mystical beings beyond our understanding. They're animals. We've been training animals and putting them in attractions for years. Even predators. It's not that crazy.

The problems don't start until they idiotically create a new dinosaur that's bigger and badder and OF COURSE they aren't told everything they need to know about her by the people who created her before they decide to turn her into a star attraction. And of course it's what screws everything up.

The park itself wasn't a bad idea. They clearly made it work. The bad idea was deciding that that wasn't good enough.

Why Are People Bored With Dinosaurs? That's Preposterous!

The main reason they create the new super-dinosaur is because the tourists have gotten bored with dinosaurs and they think they can reinvigorate their audience by manufacturing a bad-ass new dinosaur that will wet pants and loosen bowels aplenty.

A lot of people seem to find that premise ridiculous. Why would people find DINOSAURS to be BORING!?

These people seem to completely miss the fact that this is a freaking meta-narrative.

The audience in the movie is getting bored with dinosaurs because THE AUDIENCE WATCHING THE MOVIE IS BORED WITH DINOSAURS!

If the movie didn't have this new dinosaur teased in the trailer, audiences would have said "Whatever, been there, done that, who needs to see the same old dinosaurs again?" So of course the studio executives told them to put in a new dinosaur to get butts in seats.

The genius was that it was written into the script to have the same reason for being created WITHIN the universe. It's believable that they would create a big scary new dinosaur because THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED IN REAL LIFE.

I know not EVERYONE is bored with dinosaurs, so if you're a dino-lover, that plot-point must seem ridiculous, but I guarantee you, if that new dinosaur wasn't in the trailer, the box office numbers probably would have been WAY lower because mass audiences are stupid.

I actually loved the speech from the scientist who created the new dinosaur as he is clearly frustrated with the CEO's flippant attitude towards the fact that they created a killing machine. OF COURSE she's a killing machine! He asked for something big and scary! He treated cloning like a toy factory!

I also love that speech for throwing in a line to explain why the dinosaurs don't have feathers, particularly since it was ALREADY explained in the first movie when they said they filled in gaps of the DNA with reptile DNA. And I love that the REASON why they STILL look like that is implied to be because it sells better. WHICH IS THE SAME REASON WHY THEY LOOK THAT WAY IN A META-NARRATIVE SENSE.

It's all a meditation on the commercialization of living creatures. That's what sets this movie apart from "Jurassic Park". JP1 was about the ethical dilemma of bringing back an extinct species without fully understanding the potential consequences. Typical "ME GO TOO FAR" storyline.

This movie was less about that and more about the ethical dilemma of commodifying a species. Even when they try to pull that "YOU GO TOO FAR" crap on the scientist, he turns it back around and says that HE wasn't the one responsible, it was the people who treated the dinosaurs like a product that they could rebrand.

JP1 was about the dangers of science without ethics. JW is about the dangers of capitalism without ethics.

The character who develops the most (Claire) has an arc where she goes from treating the dinosaurs like things to understanding that they are living creatures. The aforementioned scene with her and the apatosaurus is great.

And I think this all makes sense. If someone did successfully create a theme park with dinosaurs, after a few years, people WOULD start to get bored. Just like how you can't recreate the awe of the first "Jurassic Park" movie, once a person has seen a real-life dinosaur for the first time, they'll probably just get bored with it, just like they would with ANY cool animal. And obviously corporate interests would use whatever mechanisms they have at their disposal to reinvigorate their audiences.

This Movie Is Basically Just a Rehash of the First Movie

The last argument I want to refute is that "Jurassic World" is just reusing the same story elements from "Jurassic Park", but with different set-pieces.

I won't deny that there are a lot of throw-backs to the original movie here. The music, the stock character archetypes, some of the props and sets... there's obviously a lot of reverence for the first film here.

And some characters are very familiar. As mentioned, Zack and Gray are basically just the Murphy siblings again. Simon Masrani is a lot like John Hammond, at least in spirit and motivation. Owen shares Alan Grant's love of the dinosaurs while also exhibiting Ian Malcolm's smart-ass nature and constant disapproval of man's disrespect for nature. Like Alan, Claire has a subplot where she has to bond with children. 

But the characters also have a lot of differences. Claire as a character is very different from any other character in "Jurassic Park" because she pretty much starts out as the kind of character that would have been a bad guy in the first film. Owen, despite his misgivings, doesn't constantly spout out moralistic stump speeches or collapse in awe of dinosaurs. He has a different kind of understanding of dinosaurs that is less scientific or deifying and much closer to the way that actual zoologists interact with animals. He respects them and has a relationship with them. He understands them in a much deeper way than other characters have. He understands them in a way that is only possible in a world where dinosaurs have been around for a while. He's had the time that they lacked in the first movie.

And sure, Zack and Gray are shameless rehashes, but I'd also say they're subtle improvements on the Murphy siblings. The Murphy kids were supposed to be my POV characters when I saw JP1 as a kid, but I really couldn't have cared less about them. They were annoying, clingy, over-emotional, and I definitely wouldn't have wanted to hang out with them. Gray is still annoying, but he's the older brother, so of course he's insufferable (hi Tom!). Zack, on the other hand, is basically Tim Murphy, but he doesn't spend the entire movie sucking up to one of the adult main characters, He's there to see the dinosaurs, not someone who studies them. He acts the way I would have acted if I could have gone to that park. Hell, he acts the way I probably DID act when I went to Disney World for the first time. He's a much better POV character and I think kids will probably have an easier time relating to him than I did with Tim Murphy.

As for the story beats, while they're certainly predictable, I don't think they're just carbon copies of JP1. JP1 had a much longer first act, and when things went bad, they went bad ALL AT ONCE. ALL of the dinosaurs broke out simultaneously and everything went crazy from there. "Jurassic World" makes it more of a situation that starts out with just ONE thing going wrong pretty early on, and over time, it causes more and more things to go wrong. Godzilla breaks out, kills their first-responding dino-hunting team, the park security has its hands full corralling the park attendants, and so the CEO has to fly a helicopter, bad things happen, he dies, and accidentally lets out a bunch of pteranodons in the process, which then attack the park attendants, making things worse. From there, more dinosaurs are only released in order to try and take down Godzilla. It's a chain-reaction.

The reason I'm making this distinction is because it reflects what's different about this movie. Everything bad that happens, happens because of human decisions. Humans decided to create Godzilla. A human decided to fly a helicopter and it freed pteranodons. Humans decided to release the velociraptors.

In JP1, the disaster happens because of forces beyond human control, and that was the point. The point of that movie was about meddling in forces beyond our control.

"Jurassic World" isn't about that because we HAVE control. This was about assuming that control means understanding. That because we've figured out how to make this work, OBVIOUSLY we know what we're doing. Everything could have been avoided if humans just accepted that they no longer had control and stopped trying to regain control. If they evacuated the island from the beginning, it would have been a PR nightmare, but they probably wouldn't have lost their CEO or needed to release any other dinosaurs. But because they thought they could contain the situation without anyone finding out (which, sadly, actually happens during disasters at amusement parks), they just kept making things worse.

This story shares a lot of elements from the first movie, don't get me wrong, but it's not just the same movie over again. It has different characters with different problems and motivations. It has different themes and messages. It stands on its own.

The Decent Arguments Against This Movie

I did want to spend a little time acknowledging some acceptable criticisms. First of all, as much fun as Vincent D'Onofrio's character is, he's the most trope-ridden bad guy I've seen in years. And even that would be acceptable (he IS fun to watch) if his character had any reason to exist. He doesn't. The movie didn't need him. The well-intentioned idiots running the park were doing fine mucking everything up without him. All he does is let the raptors loose, and honestly, that's a decision Owen could have made. It would have meant shifting his character slightly, but it also would have given Owen a flaw, which the movie kind of forgot to do. If he maybe had a little more pride in his raptor crew and maybe even a tiny bit of arrogance, it might have made him a little more believable as a character and it would have made the bad guy completely unnecessary.

And the whole "dinosaurs as weapons" subplot is dumb. They spend a LOT of time trying to make it seem plausible, but honestly, I don't buy it. The fact is, InGen is clearly already flush with cash. They don't need government military funding for Jurassic World. The idea that they would want to try and court the Department of Defense with barely-trained velociraptors and freakin' GODZILLA is so stupid that I actually wish they got someone from the DoD to show up just so he could tell Vincent D'Onofrio how crazy he was. "Drones are hackable? Yeah, well dinosaurs are breedable and I don't want terrorists sending their own mini-Godzillas after our troops." If you want to talk about something to cut from the film, THIS is what should have been chopped out.

Next, as I said, this movie is generally very predictable. You can imagine pretty much every single story beat from the end of the first act. That said, the movie does throw a few satisfying curve-balls, but one of them depends on something that's really hard to excuse.

The scientists keep Godzilla's genetic parts a mystery for most of the movie. This is pointless and stupid, especially when not having that information leads to the dinosaur's escape AND it causes one of their plans to fail completely and utterly in a way that I won't spoil.

I get that corporations like to keep secrets when it comes to their intellectual property, and that's fine, but when you aren't telling the people who are supposed to be designing mechanisms to keep them secure, or when you aren't giving full-disclosure TO THE CEO AFTER THE DINOSAUR IS ALREADY RUNNING AMOK? You are officially a moron. It's a cheap and contrived plot device to increase tension and make the dinosaur less predictable. It works in that regard, but it's a lazy way to make it work, and it FEELS lazy. Surprises should never feel cheap.

That said, there is ONE surprise that is set up and earned and ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL, so this isn't a problem that the movie suffers chronically, but that one aspect really bothered me.

Lastly, this movie feels like sequel-baiting. The scientist gets away with a bunch of eggs and DNA samples and stuff and we don't hear from him again, so he probably got away just to set things up for a sequel. I don't think that's a good idea. I really don't think you could do much more after this, unless they plan to go all-out with the dinosaurs-as-weapons idea, unless they plan to turn it into basically live-action Dino-Riders. Anything short of that will probably be a waste of time.


Overall, while I understand that not everyone will like this movie, I would appreciate it if the people who didn't put a little more thought into articulating why they didn't like it. Otherwise, it just feels like they went into the movie EXPECTING to dislike it.

I would say that if you thought the trailer looked cool, you'll probably like the movie. If you thought the trailer looked stupid, you MIGHT still like the movie, but this really is the sort of movie you have to open yourself up to in order to fully enjoy. Some movies are good at getting you to open up even if you aren't initially interested. This movie isn't one of them. It moves forward assuming the audience is already interested. If you aren't it will just leave you behind.

So if you're not all that interested, maybe just skip it. But I don't think this movie will DISAPPOINT anyone. It's very fun and very satisfying and I was very glad they finally gave "Jurassic Park" a worthy sequel.