Monday, June 15, 2015

Jurassic World

It's that time of the year again. Summer Sci-Fi block busters and all their intense theoretical systems of post-structural baggage.

This time I watched Jurassic World on Sunday evening. There is something about monster movies that allow them to tap into the world of meta cinema. It starts with Voyage Dans La Lune where the ant-like monsters are able to appear and disappear. The director figured out he could stop the camera and the actors could move off the set then start the camera back up on an empty set. Movie magic reminds us about the literal manipulation of cellulose to create still images that flash before our eyes. Then king kong stunned the world with stop motion animation. The premise of finding a secret lost world that can only be transferred by the cinematic screen means that some monsters only ever exist through the lens of a camera.

Peter Jackson's king kong was even more meta cinema with the director, Jack Black, taking the role of lead supporting actor next to Kong. That was an adventure to make cinema and re-stage scenes of the original film while also re-expanding on that lost world and the magic of CG dinosaurs.

Thus Jurassic World evolves from such a genetic lineage as the fourth installment of the Jurassic Franchise. The plot is that the park is up and running and the wealthy with small children travel across the world to see live dinosaurs. There are ingenious kid-friendly dinosaur experiences like the triceratops petting zoo which made me laugh. Many a dig at the Disney's Amusement emporium. One wonders how the park supports so many side personnel to run the hibachi restaurants, copious gift stores, as well as custodians for the monolithic hotels connected by monorail. There should have been a side story about some cleaning person who tries to escape the chaos of pterosaurs when they descend upon the guests. (That scene also needed a flight of the Valkyries, but I digress) I want more moments of individual bravery, of course the ex-Navy marine will be tough as guts. But everyone else... meh. Otherwise, I can't figure out if these workers also live on the island or if they take the ferry to work every day. The theme park bureaucracy might be the real monster of the film.

No, that's a mistake, Capitalism is the obvious monster. It seeps deep into the fossilized bones of the plot. The move is self-aware that we all go to watch these films with the expectation that a dinosaur will break loose and kill people. The movie is about making a bigger, better, scarier dinosaur through genetic manipulation to attract new audiences. The movie itself hinges on computer graphics artists and focus groups making a bigger, better, scarier dinosaur through digital manipulation. We are the guests of Jurassic World. (On a side note I wonder how Michael Crichton would feel about the continued return to his techno-thriller world?)

The funny thing is that trans genetics of this scale requires more money than the park can generate. They need investors. So Verizon offers to fund the newly created "Indomitus Rex." One of the comic lackeys in the control room starts joking: "what's next, Doritosaurus?" Haha, product placement, the movie seems to sigh sarcastically. But then the monster escapes and everyone seems to be driving everywhere in Mercedes Benz SUVs. Every scene starts with a shot of a car pulling up to a research or containment building. The camera follows the chrome grill, un-bespeckled by Central American mud, and the famous inverted Y symbol shines in our eyes before diegesis continues. Jurassic World needed corporate investors to design it's overthetop dino romp.

I don't mean to be too negative. They needed the money to include both CG and robotic scenes. Yes Robots. It seems to be a badge of honor among the new age of directors to still employ robots in their movies. The common eye doesn't look for these transitions but the two obvious ones were a heart wrenching scene where an apatasaurus dies from blood loss after the frenzied Indomintus Rex slaughters everything in the large herbivore exhibit. The humans hold its head in their lap and the minute twitches and eye blinks where beautiful to behold.

In addition, the velociraptors have great moments of robotic animation. It turns out as a side project the ex-Navy guy is training them like dogs of war. They respond to his commands and he pets them to build affection. But they would still eat them. So they have special walls where the raptors stick in their dino-muzzles and hydraulics lock in their heads. Now just the snout and eyes show while the rest of the dinosaur is behind a steel wall. Really ingenious trickery to use a robot but not have to animate the whole beast. Again, the quiver of lips and flaring nostrils make the proto-birds more engaging than the humans.

When I dump on the human components, I specifically want to call out the railroading of character motivation. Each character archetype needs to exist: the optimistic CEO, the realistic second in command, the greedy pro-military shadow branch of the corporation, the teenage kids getting stuck in wild dinosaur situations, the evil scientist who says he's not evil but just following the money, and the non-scientist who treats dinosaurs like animals that deserve respect. Each of these need to exist to have a full Jurassic experience yet when they reveal themselves individually it is so mind-numbingly obvious who's going to get eaten and who will survive. The genetics of the screenplay feel exposed. These movies cannot escape the original heirloom summer blockbuster established by Spielberg.

In fact, to continue with the meta aspect of the movie, the film digs up its own fossils. As the kids run away from Indomitus rex in the restricted part of the island they run into the old park headquarters. That's right, they rebuild the set of the original movie and cover it with ivy and dust. The movie seems obsessed with discovering its own bones and understanding where it came from.

As you can see I don't quite have a grasp of the meta just yet. It seems too aware that the joke is sickening, but it keeps going and it gets fresh again, but then it gets sickening, but then in the final scene when the realize they need the T. Rex to fight Indomitus Rex the female protagonist runs to the cage entrance and lights a red flare. In that moment they summon the iconic moment in the first movie when the paleontologist guides the T. Rex away from the children in the jeep. That is true American movie bravery. That burning red flare carries so much history and emotion that millions who grew up in the 90s hold the scene dearly in their minds. I fell in love with movies yet again.

Appendix:

If there was ever a small amount of original satire, it is at a moment when the two leads find the smashed gyroball where the kids were last known before the monster tried to eat them. Around the broken glass and metal the woman finds a smashed samsung phone and starts to whimper that her nephews are dead. Then the male lead says, "look foot prints, they escaped." In the instant before, the woman assumed that no teenager would ever go anywhere without their phone and if it was left behind then he must be dead. That's commentary on the state of American youth.

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