Hey Everybody, Jurassic World Sucked (And Here's Why)
We're now entering the mandatory hype period for the Jurassic World sequel -- and for good reason, too. The first one made $1.6 billion at the box office. It's at a solid 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and went on to be the seventh-highest-grossing Blu-ray in the U.S. The film was a shining success by every metric there is.
Well, except mine. I hated Jurassic World like an anal rash. I walked out of it the first time I saw it, because I'd rather be in a porn theater with Brett Ratner than a regular theater playing Jurassic World. To me, this was the Phantom Menace of the Jurassic Park franchise -- a popular film, heavily praised, which would ultimately be considered a baffling cinematic shart once the nostalgia dust cleared.
I know this sounds like the opinion of one angry man with a possible cornhole affliction, but I'd like you to take a second and allow me to calmly explain why I'm objectively correct. This was a visually broken film made by a boardroom of glossed dildos who had no idea why the original movie was so beloved. And I'm going to prove it right now. Calmly and briefly, like some kind of pedantic monk.
The film starts on a meta observation by Bryce Dallas Howard's character, as one of her first lines is "Let's be honest, no one's impressed by a dinosaur anymore." This single bit of dialogue serves as the crutch on which the entire movie slumps, a lazy sentiment I've seen countless times when people defend why they enjoyed this film. "Hey, it was a stupid fun time! You can't expect it to have the same impact as Jurassic Park, a movie made 20 years ago!" Only the truth isn't that moviegoers are no longer impressed by seeing a dinosaur, but that Jurassic World had no goddamn idea how to make a dinosaur impressive. But they choose to neg the audience instead of owning up to it, like biting someone's dick off and then declaring "People just don't like blowjobs anymore."
So let me give you the first of many examples. Please pay close attention to the following expertly made GIFs:
This is the scene wherein the Indominus Rex first escapes from its enclosure and chases our Chris Pratt under the truck. Had we not clearly known he was the star, this could have been a moment of visual suspense. Only it's not quite right.
See, for most of this scene, the camera stays under the truck with Pratt. This creates a feeling of claustrophobia and helplessness, akin to being a trapped animal or a Japanese game show contestant. It makes us equally disoriented as to where the dinosaur is (like the character would be). It's also exactly how Spielberg shot the T-rex escape scene in the original. That entire sequence was mainly seen from inside the cars. And while they try to do the same thing, Jurassic World stupidly cuts to a wide shot, revealing the dinosaur's location and breaking that tension.
This single shot ruins the moment. And watch what happens when I remove it:
Obviously the timing is off because I removed a shot, but staying under the car considerably improves the fear factor of that scene. Could they not take a cue from the classic film they were referencing? I get that Spielberg is, like ... the best living director, but these little tweaks don't require the brain of Orson Welles. You don't have to be Movie-Sherlock to deduce how tense the car scene in Jurassic Park is, and how grandstandingly clown shit this looks in comparison:
I'm legitimately alarmed that anyone watched three turd-colored cartoon dinosaurs Pele a giant hamster ball and thought, "Yeah, this is what I wanted Jurassic World to be." But even if you did enjoy this scene, there's still something not quite right about it. For such a hilariously violent moment, I don't feel like the kids are in an ounce of danger. And that's probably because they don't really show them much, instead cutting to wider shots to boast the batshit action. Much like Pratt under the truck, I would have rather experienced this from the disoriented POV of the characters inside the ball, feeling every slam and spin. But these terrified kids barely look jostled or injured after flying through a forest ... even when this happens:
I've seen enough Russian dashcam videos to know that when a vehicle goes really fast and then suddenly stops, the things inside of it tend to react. These kids get slammed violently into the ground and don't even seem to notice. The one on the right just keeps screaming, while the one on the left doesn't even stop fiddling with the seat while being piledrived into shattering glass. Not even their heads or arms seem affected by the physics of the impact. It's almost as if ... and hear me out ... they filmed this against some kind of green screen, forgot to tell the actors how to react, and then clumsily stuck the footage together in post. And so while the environment and dinosaurs look photoreal, the scene plays out like a shitty cartoon. This is below farm league. Hell, it's below every agricultural coalition of sports players you can imagine.
And the failure of bare bones filmmaking ranges everywhere from making a scene exciting to simply trying to make it effective. If several people are eagerly looking into the cage of a fierce goat-destroyer, and that creature isn't showing up, you should show a shot of the empty cage, right? Like this:
This scene goes silently back and forth between the looks of anticipation and the creepily deserted cage, the camera never crossing over the fence so as to give the T-rex paddock a feeling of danger. Again, that's basic day one filmmaking. Shot, reverse shot.
And Jurassic World couldn't even manage that.
No shitting, this sequence in which Pratt and Howard look into the Indominus cage and realize it's empty never cuts to a shot looking into the empty cage. They tap on the glass and exclaim that it's missing, but we the audience are never shown that. We're not experiencing the tension through their eyes, and in fact become totally removed when the film pulls out to a wide shot from inside the barrier.
I know that sounds like a really minor issue, but it's the root of the problem with the film's visuals: At no point does the camera know who the main characters are, or how to show us what they are feeling. There's no perspective. I could spend pages pointing out each shitty little problem, but I want to focus on the ones that clearly undermine the emotional impact of the dinosaurs, which are often shot in the least awe-inspiring ways possible.
Take the first mosasaurus scene. It shouldn't be hard to film a 55-foot aquatic swallow-beast performing Shamu tricks, right? The point of the moment is how excited our characters are to see this massive creature burst from the water. So it would make sense to film its entrance from an angle that shows off its size -- preferably through the eyes of the audience.
Nope. Jurassic World decided to shoot it from the dead shark's perspective, which happens to be the only angle that makes the mosasaurus look small. Sure, it's a neat-looking shot, but not the most impactful in terms of believability or scale. Like the cinematography equivalent of shutter shades, this film has a terrible habit of trading effective framing for looking "cool." The camera has no discernible limitations to where it might suddenly be, forcing us to constantly remember that what we're seeing is fake.
Remember the ending grapple between the Indominus Rex and Tyrannosaurus? No doubt you were reminded of the much less complicated battle at the end of Jurassic Park.
Notice how the camera stays at human eye-level and starts from behind the shoulders of the fleeing characters? That's because we're watching this through their pants-shitting POV. It's a rather simple camera move, which is why it feels like a real thing that's happening.
Now let's look at the moment of battle from Jurassic World:
Whose eyes are we watching this with? Is someone flying a drone around the dinosaurs as they fight? Are we in the Matrix? That would certainly explain why, when the dinosaur's tail violently swings over our actress, she doesn't even flinch. This movie made a billion dollars.
See -- this sequence certainly looks neat, but it totally fails to portray any emotional weight or even a human perspective. Instead of filming this like a real thing happening to real people, the filmmakers wanted to show off how cool their CGI dinosaurs looked from every angle, swinging the camera high in the air like they were tiny children toys. Only no one is scared of tiny children's toys, you assholes.
Look, I know I said this was gonna be calm, but the mediocrity feeds my rage-blood like sweet gamma rays. They miss every obvious opportunity to scare us. One of the first things established about the Indominus Rex is that it can camouflage, and they use this exactly once. Remember how the shark in Jaws was scary because you couldn't see it for most of the film? Well, Mr. Moviepants, you have a movie monster that literally turns invisible, and you never use that to conceal it from the audience? You opt to spoil any mystery 30 minutes in? You pricks. You dirty Moviepants pricks. But imagine how much freakier that Chris Pratt truck scene would have been with a giant goddamn predatorsaur. Why can't I see your fucking predatorsaur, Jurassic World?
I need a moment. This was supposed to be like 600 words long, and I feel like I may have overextended that. Let's all walk away and come back in 15. OK? OK.
So here's a scene in Jurassic World that I actually liked. Remember when they stick cameras on all the raptors?
That was a neat scene! One of the few times the movie made me feel tension was when we realize the Indominus Rex is part raptor and it becomes their alpha, turning them on their human handlers.
This shot of them all slowly turning around was chilling. I was certain the very next thing we were gonna see was a slaughter, ironically shown from the perspective of those cameras they attached to the raptor's heads. Wonderf-
-uck. Instead of paying off the cameras, the film suddenly switches tones into action mode, breaking all the tension it earned a second ago. And while we eventually do see a few cutaway shots from the raptor-cams, that should have been exclusively what we saw. This entire scene should have taken place in the control room, playing out on a sea of horrified faces. But again, this movie has no idea what perspective to show us, opting to fly in every possible direction like a drunk goose. What a piece of shit, that goose.
But that's not the only issue. While the score often invokes John Williams, the movie's visuals and writing have no idea what to do with that. Remember the helicopter landing scene in Jurassic Park, and that infamous Williams score? Of course you do. You're getting aroused even thinking about it.
That was the "call to adventure" moment for the heroes, the journey into Act Two as a group of excited strangers arrive at the island for the first time. This music is also used in a helicopter scene Jurassic World, the one tiny difference being that it's insanely inappropriate for what's happening ...
The characters are in a helicopter, sure. And that helicopter is flying shakily like in the original, yes. And they even fly by the same waterfall from the original scene this song played during ...
But these characters aren't on their "call to adventure." They're three business associates going on a casual ride to review a new attraction. The point of the scene is that they are ridiculously blase about their dinosaur jobs.
So why is this exciting music playing? Why are they showing us the waterfall? Are they being ironic? Are you trying to be fucking ironic, Jurassic World? A better guess is that they needed to shove those elements in there to spark our nostalgia, the result being the equivalent of playing the Jaws theme over a guy eating toast.
And this sums up the film for me: nostalgic callbacks lacking any understanding of what they are referencing. The result is a "pretty fun" film we hurled money-bergs at because it triggered our childhood memories. I mean, try to watch this moment from the original film without getting wistful for the days of light-up sneakers ...
It's so awe-inspiring and emotional. Alan Grant spent his entire khaki-smothered life studying dinosaurs, and he just turned to see a fucking gaggle of them for the first time. The classic theme swells as the camera pushes in on his face before cutting to a wide shot from the group's perspective, then back to everyone's reaction. The scene continues to cut from amazed face to amazed face as John Williams musically fucks all our mothers. Because this moment, and the iconic theme song, is not about the dinosaurs. It's about the characters' emotional reaction to them. That's why when the film eventually closes on Grant smiling out at the dinosaur-like birds, the theme returns once again. Because even though his weekend on dinosaur island killed a lot of people, it didn't kill his giddy passion for digging up their monster bones. Good for him!
Jurassic World also uses the theme in a similar moment. Our lead child has been established as a dinosaur geek who's overjoyed about visiting the park. We follow him as he excitedly bursts into his hotel room, runs to the balcony, and (as the classic theme swells) opens it to see the park for the first time ...
... and the camera blows right past him, never thinking to show us his face or even stay in the same proximity. Instead of cutting back to the amazed look in his eyes or establishing any kind of emotional connection with our protagonist, the filmmakers get distracted by zooming in on the visitor's center ... for some reason. Why the hell are they showing us this? What narrative purpose does this CGI pyramid butt plug serve? The kid burst through a window to the Jurassic Park theme, and the next thing you show isn't a goddamn dinosaur? This isn't called Visitor's Center World, you movie-ruining goblins. And this movie made 1.6 billion dollars.
David hated Jurassic World, and so can you! Just talk to him on Twitter to find out how!
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Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. A young woman from the trailer park and her very smelly cat. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, a new novel about futuristic shit, by David Wong.