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-[Film Reviews]-, Hollywood, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

The Bad ‘Jurassic Park’ Movies (The Lost World [1997], Jurassic Park III [2001], Fallen Kingdom [2018]): Triple Review

Directed by: Steven Spielberg [LW], Joe Johnston [JP3], J. A. Bayona [FK] || Produced by: Gerald R. Molen, Collin Wilson [LW], Kathleen Kennedy, Larry Franco [JP3], Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Belen Atienza [FK]

Screenplay by: David Koepp [LW], Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor [JP3], Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow [FK] || Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard [LW], Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter [JP3], Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, Jeff Goldblum [FK]

Music by: John Williams [LW], Don Davis [JP3] Michael Giacchino [FK] || Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski [LW], Shelly Johnson [JP3], Oscar Faura [FK] || Edited by: Michael Kahn [LW], Robert Dalva [JP3], Bernat Vilaplana [FK] || Country: United States || Language: English

Running Time: 129 minutes [LW], 92 minutes [JP3], 128 minutes [FK]

Though it may be superfluous to title a film review — or series of reviews — with one’s recommendation of those films, in this case I’d argue most viewers have seen all the Jurassic Park movies (1993, 1997, 2001, 2015, 2018). Everyone is familiar with the Jurassic Park/World franchise, and most everybody’s opinions of them are baked in. People either seem to (A) love all the films, (B) dismiss all the films as generic, albeit effective Hollywood spectacle mixed with Spielbergian schmaltz, or (C) regard the original with immense respect, while dismissing the sequels as sloppy cash-grabs. All these points of views are accurate.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom looks great (left), but is hamstrung by lame human villains and a terrible second half (right).

There’s no disputing that the Jurassic Park/World series (henceforth, JPW) is an iconic brand that holds an affectionate place in most viewers’ hearts, whether they were born in 1970 or 2000. The original is credited with popularizing dinosaurs’ ancestral relationship with modern birds (aka “avian dinosaurs”), the proliferation of computer generated imagery (CGI) in mainstream filmmaking, and even the name brand recognition of its source material’s author, Michael Crichton.

The franchise, including the first film, are also fairly criticized for emphasizing special FX, both CGI and practical, over its inconsistent characterizations (the good: Sam Neill’s Alan Grant, Jeff Goldbum’s Ian Malcolm, Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond, Samuel L. Jackson’s Ray Arnold; the bad: Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler, Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richard’s Lex and Tim Murphy, respectively, and Martin Ferrero’s Donald Gennaro) and truncated story, the latter a true departure from the edgier, darker novel. All the JPW sequels are considered lesser than the classic original and have made less money when adjusted for inflation, though that doesn’t stop fans from arguing which sequels are worse than others for no reason at all.

Since I have already argued in support of Jurassic World as an effective throwback meta-commentary on the original’s success, not to mention 2000-2010s soft reboots in general, I will focus on the JPW films whose negative feedback has been more universal than divisive. The “original sequels,” The Lost World (LW) and Jurassic Park III (JP3), are often summarized as a bunch of side characters wandering around the woods (re: Hawaii) for a couple hours with occasional interruptions by dinosaurs. Every now and then, a telegraphed dino attack is capped by the original attacker being eaten by a bigger dinosaur. That’s about as diverse and complex as we get as far as set-pieces go, save for baffling sequences like Kelly Curtis (Vanessa Lee Chester) kicking a velociraptor out a window with gymnastics and a tyrannosaurus rampaging through downtown San Diego, King Kong (2005)-style.

Aren’t we clever? — screenwriter David Koepp and director Steven Spielberg

Other than the first two sequels’ repetitive, lackadaisical narrative structure and bland pacing, their main problems have to do with tonal whiplash. Well choreographed, intense set-pieces are interrupted by bad jokes, inappropriate quips, or characters that feel like they walked out of a different movie (e.g. Vince Vaughn, who disappears from LW’s final act and is singlehandedly responsible for every death in that film, William H. Macy and Tea Leoni as irritating suburban divorcees in JP3). Furthermore, both films’ near constant sense of survivalist dread clashes with hamfisted “life finds a way”-sequences appreciating the dinosaurs’ supposed majesty in lame, misguided attempts to recall the original’s naturalist themes. Natural though their behavior may be, it’s weird to juxtapose “wonder” of this prehistoric ecosystem with a pair of tyrannosaurs gratuitously tearing a heroic — not villainous — supporting character in half before devouring him.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the latest sequel as of this writing, is a different beast, though no less pointless than either Steven Spielberg’s (LW) or Joe Johnston’s (JP3) films. Directed by J. A. Bayona, the film sports notable cinematographic flair, including a subtle long-take from inside a drowning gyrosphere with Bryce Dallas Howard, a terrific nighttime opening sequence where an underwater mosasaurus stalking a submarine intercuts with a T-rex chasing a redshirt character as he leaps onto a helicopter’s ladder, and a fun comedy sequence in which Howard and Chris Pratt draw blood from the same Rex trapped inside a cramped trailer. Fallen Kingdom is perhaps more frustrating than LW or JP3 because Bayona’s direction is better than either of those films’ — it’s a great-looking film — but its screenplay is just as bad. While it avoids the pointless, plodding lost-in-the-woods non-plots of LW and JP3, Fallen Kingdom’s mustache-twirling villains (Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Ted Levine), cartoonish supporting characters (Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith), and hamfisted environmentalist themes are insufferable. Fallen Kingdom doubles-down on the worst aspects of 2015’s Jurassic World, Vincent D’Onofrio’s military industrialist villain, as its primary conflict, and that dooms the movie.

The main problem with all the JPW sequels is that they’re unsure how to handle the original’s ambitious premise and inconsistent plot. The only good story in the Jurassic Park cannon is Crichton’s novel, which has more in common with the recent Planet of the Apes (2011, 2014, 2017) revival or Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2017) than any of its cinematic adaptations, while Jurassic World (2015) skirted around this problem with insightful, self-aware meta-analysis — even satire — a la Deadpool (2016). Every other JPW film doesn’t know how much to push the saccharine environmentalist themes versus the action-adventure elements versus the Jeff Goldblume-inspired humor. It’s all a big tonal mess intermixed with increasingly lazy digital FX and either (A) non-existent plots of people wandering through the woods for 90 minutes or (B) military industrialist villains so caricatured they make Alien’s (1979-2017) Weyland-Yutani corporate antagonists feel complex.

In theory, I don’t have a problem with a bigger, “badder” dinosaur beating the fabled T-Rex (the face of the franchise), unceremoniously, even; what’s more telling is just how “edgy” director Joe Johnston thinks he is by doing so.

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SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Though Jurassic Park’s “original” sequels are infamous for their boring, unstructured plots, bizarre set-pieces, and unnecessary dream sequences, they’re perhaps most notable for their wavering tone and baffling use of humor. The former is a result of classical big-budget studio cynicism appealing to their audiences’ lowest common denominator, while the latter may have been an interesting precursor to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (2008-present) inappropriate quips undercutting every otherwise serious Hollywood franchise.

J. A. Bayona’s Fallen Kingdom is the best directed film in the series since Spielberg’s original, but its story is even more tiresome than unlikable characters wandering in the woods for two hours; instead, it hits you over the head with two hours’ worth of cringe-inducing animal rights’ activism that would make PETA proud. *Sigh*…

However… all three film’s showcase multiple impressive action set-pieces, Fallen Kingdom most of all. Some humor is effective. Perhaps the best that can be said of these lesser JPW films is how entertaining they are despite their lame stories and/or characters.

–> NOT RECOMMENDED

? The school cut you from the team?

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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