Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015) (IMAX 3D)

August 9, 2015 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews


Like for many people who grew up in the 1990s, Jurassic Park was a major cinematic event in my life. It was a movie you heard about and just had to see. It wasn’t the first dinosaur movie, but it was the first that made you feel like the dinosaurs were genuinely real and that it was possible for them to be real. And most importantly, it was actually a great movie full of action, suspense and characters we cared about and could root for.

And so of course I was super excited about Jurassic World, the long-awaited “reboot” that has already become the third-highest grossing film of all time after raking in box office earnings of nearly US$1.55 billion in just six weeks (though it appears unlikely to catch Titanic‘s US$2.19 billion or Avatar‘s US$2.79 billion). I knew it wasn’t going to live up to unrealistic expectations, but I wanted to see an enjoyable blockbuster that would bring back some of the magic of the original while taking the spectacle to a whole new level.

The verdict? Mission accomplished.

Jurassic World cleverly mirrors the idea in the its story that consumers, having gotten used to the idea of “living” dinosaurs, can only be impressed by bigger, badder and scarier. The premise, which essentially ignores Jurassic Park II and III, is set 22 years after the original. Despite the disaster that was Jurassic Park, humans fail to learn their lesson as ambitious billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) decides to give the idea another go by building the massive Jurassic World theme park on the same island. But with kids having grown up in an era where dinosaurs are as real as animals they can see in a zoo, Masrani goes to great lengths to create even more dangerous creatures to draw new visitors.

At a basic level, it’s fundamentally the same film as Jurassic Park in that there’s a theme park of genetically engineered dinosaurs that get loose, a couple of kids who get caught in the middle of the mayhem, and a couple of adults trying to save them. Velociraptors also play a key role again. What it does different is broaden the scale and raise the stakes. This time, the kids are brothers played by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, nephews of park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), more or less the Laura Dern character from the original. The Sam Neill character is replaced by raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who naturally has a romantic dynamic with Claire and is a bit of a swashbuckling hero.

How I feel about Jurassic Park and Jurassic World is analogous to how characters in those movies felt about their respective theme parks. Like it was for the kids in the original, Jurassic Park was for an awe-inspiring experience that completely blew my mind. Jurassic World, on the other hand, no longer has that jaw-droppingly awesomeness to it. Just like it is for the kids in this reboot, dinosaurs just aren’t as big of a deal to me anymore. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still have a bloody good time looking at them chasing people around on a giant screen. They are, after all, still dinosaurs, and dinosaurs will always be cool.

The first half of Jurassic World does an excellent job in bringing the theme park to life. It’s as you would expect if such a park existed in reality, with various different sections, attractions and rides, a petting farm, an interactive museum, shops galore and glaring corporate sponsorship. This was something we didn’t get to see in the original because the park was not fully functioning, and I found it to be a lot of fun, especially as it was presented as though we — the film audience — are also visitors to this eye-opening and wondrous place.

The second half, when the dinosaurs predictably run amok, is also well-executed. Director Colin Trevorrow, previously best known for the Indie flick Safety Not Guaranteed, does a solid job of building tension and creating a sense of chaos and despair. It’s always difficult to find the right balance of frights and humour in a film like this, but I think he gets it for the most part by keeping the focus on the action with only the occasional funny one-liner to give audiences a breather.

There is also apparently a lot of references and homages (or rip-offs, if you are a critic) to the original, which I’m not sure is a good or bad idea, though it didn’t really matter to me as I seriously can’t remember most of them anyway.

On the surface, therefore, Jurassic World is fantastic. From a popcorn movie perspective it won’t be easy to find experiences that are as spectacular and exciting. Where it struggles is all the other stuff that holds good films together — like logic, characters, and surprise.

Having been in development for more than a decade and having gone through numerous pairs of hands, Jurassic World is littered with plot holes and filled with nonsensical things galore. For some, this might kill the movie, but in its defense I think a lot of the problems are mitigated by the fast pace and fun factor. To me, it’s hard to avoid noticing the problems plaguing the plot and the script, though at the same time I found it relatively easy to move on from them without dwelling for too long.

The characters in the film are also not very well developed. Bryce Dallas Howard’s female lead is annoying and not particularly likable, while I feel they criminally underused Chris Pratt’s comedic talents in making him more of a typical action hero. He could have been super funny, charming and memorable like he was in Guardians of the Galaxy, but instead he plays a character a dozen other guys in Hollywood could have pulled off without much of a discernible difference. If he ends up playing the new Indiana Jones, which is rumored and which I can totally see, I hope they let him be all he can be.

Flaws notwithstanding, Jurassic World is a rewarding summer blockbuster experience. While it fails to capture the magic of the original from more than two decades ago, as expected, it’s still a highly entertaining film packed with spectacular visuals and plenty of fun, thrills and excitement. It’s certainly a worthy reboot if you can try and ignore all the things that don’t work and just go along for the ride.

4 stars out of 5

PS: I did not want to see Jurassic World in IMAX 3D. It’s super expensive and 3D, as I have said many times before, absolutely sucks balls. But due to timing, it was the only session I could see, and while I enjoyed seeing it all on a massive screen, the 3D did annoy me to no end. The uncomfortable glasses (that kept fogging up), the added shade of darkness and the lacklustre 3D effects all contributed to a lesser experience.

PPS: The only returning character and actor is BD Wong, aka Dr Henry Wu, who doesn’t appear to have aged much over the last 20 years. Maybe he had been injecting dinosaur DNA in himself.

PPPS: Not sure how they will one-up this in the planned sequel, scheduled for release on June 22, 2018. That said, they have clearly and intentionally left a few things open ended, and I can see a few ways in which the story might go.

Movie Review: Life of Pie (3D IMAX) (2012)

November 27, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

Yann Martel’s Man Booker-winning Life of Pi is one of my favourite novels of all-time, and so I was both excited and apprehensive when I heard that it was finally released as a movie more than 10 years after it was originally published.

One of the reasons why the film took so long to adapt from the 2001 novel is because filmmakers deemed it unadaptable and unfilmable, which was certainly the way I felt when I finished reading it. But if anyone could pull it off, it would be Oscar winner Ang Lee, one of the most skilled directors of his generation.

And so I’m glad to say that the film version of Life of Pi is a huge success. While it doesn’t quite make me believe in God, as the story’s protagonist suggests, it is probably as good as it could have ever been given the inherent difficulties in bringing this wonderful tale to life.

The adapted screenplay by Oscar nominee David Magee (Finding Neverland) turned out to be surprisingly faithful to the novel (as far as I can remember anyway). Told through the voice of the titular character, it tells the story of a young Indian boy who becomes stranded on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger.

The first problem, of course, is making the situation believable within its own context. The second is employing special effects that support authenticity. And the third, and possibly biggest obstacle, is to make a 2-hour film interesting when most of it is dominated by a single human character and a mostly-CGI animal incapable of dialogue.

To Lee’s credit, he overcomes all three problems with ease, or at least it feels that way. Lee’s Life of Pi comes across as a kind of surreal fable recounted by a skilled storyteller, enabling it to feel both genuine and fantastical. The special effects are seamless (Lee says his experience on the underrated Hulk made it possible) and I certainly could not tell when the tiger was real or animated. As for keeping the story interesting, Lee does so by lengthening the on-land introduction (though not unnecessarily so — it sets up the characters and the remainder of the film nicely) and by changing things up constantly so there is not a lot of repetition when they are at sea.

The performance of Suraj Sharma as the teenage Pi is remarkable, especially considering that it’s the teenage student’s first film. He didn’t have to do it alone but he carries the film through its toughest stretches and remained convincing all the way until the very end.

Some have criticised the film’s preachiness about god/religion and its ending, but both of these things come straight from the novel. Personally, the ending was one thing about the novel that I truly loved, and I’m glad Lee decided to keep it in, though I question his decision to rely on strictly verbal storytelling as opposed to utilizing the visual. I can’t say much more without giving things away so I’ll stop there.

Granted, there are times when the film felt a little like a prettier version of Castaway (the one with a skinny Tom Hanks and “Wilsoooooon!”) and the story occasionally felt trapped in that little lifeboat, but on the whole Life of Pi is an enchanting, poetic and visually stunning experience that’s also unexpectedly moving and thought-provoking — even for someone who has read the book. Going in, I thought I’d appreciate the film’s aesthetics and technical achievements more than anything else, but I was pleasantly surprised by the emotive storytelling and engrossing drama.

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: That said, I’m still not sold on the 3D, which despite my numerous vows I ended up paying extra for again — I thought only the introductory sequence with the animals, and maybe a few of the underwater scenes, were really enhanced by the 3D; the rest seemed perfectly fine in 2D to me. The extra large screen and superior sound from IMAX, on the other hand, was probably worth it.

PPS: I wonder what kind of film it would have been had M Night Shyamalan adapted and directed it, as rumoured earlier. That’s not bagging Mr Airbender — I’m genuinely wondering.

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