Cool boots, Bryce — oh, I get it. Haha. Wonderful story, and well told.
I don’t even know what to title this entry. To say I’m confused is overstating the intensity, but there’s some kind of elusive feeling, some near existential question of who I was in the movie theatre last Friday. In short, I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
If you’re wondering why I’m being so histrionic about a big blockbuster movie, I thank you. It’s nice to know I can still be overestimated. Jurassic Park has been my number one ever since I could count that high, and so each Jurassic movie is an appointment, as it was so excitingly in 2015. That was fun because I’d just moved to Los Angeles, and when my family visited, we toured the Universal Studios theme park, which was sunny and colorful and sugar — preemptively mirroring the setting for Jurassic World. I suppose that means my shallow consumerist self is being criticized by the film for not respecting Universal’s attractions, but I appreciate the direct escapism nonetheless.
Fast-forward to 2018 and I’ve been at the same humdrum job going on two years. Los Angeles is a sprawling nothing that stinks to high hell despite exhibiting its nothing, and I chose not to hazard the Universal Studios IMAX for Jurassic World 2 this time, remembering how awful the parking was for Ghost in the Shell a year ago, another splinter in the dick. I’m just tired, and I sat down at the Burbank Dolby Cinema tired, but I tried for peppy, popcorn and soda in hand. The guy next to me may have taken off his shoes during the previews, but it’s fine. This theatre is bigger than my parents’ house, so that means the air circulates, or something. Fucking asshole.
Despite some structural twists and one eye-popping reveal, the movie plays out exactly as I’d imagined. Or, I only half-imagined something similar, and didn’t care that it was holding to or deviating. I was entertained, so I can’t say I felt nothing, and I like the movie, so I won’t say I didn’t. I just don’t care, and I’ve never had that before. Perhaps it’s not “I didn’t enjoy this movie,” but “I enjoyed this movie despite that I don’t enjoy movies.” I felt as if I were watching through someone else’s eyes, someone who didn’t take scifi movies as seriously as I do.
And as seriously as I know I do. The movie I saw before this, which also featured a trailer for Mission: Impossible 6, something I’ve seen in theatres more times than I’ve been to the theatre, was Upgrade. Despite scheduling for a select number of movies this summer, I made a point to see Upgrade after a recommendation from William Gibson (caution yourself before defensive defenders of the “underrated”) and a promise of cyberpunk body horror. Cronenberg may have been invoked. Alas, Upgrade, and I sat there the usual media consumer, formulating a review and thinking critically about what I was seeing.
Maybe it’s just that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is so much more obviously geared toward children than most modern blockbusters. Tone plays a part, of course, but I think it’s less the silliness which cranks to 11, and more its lightness. This movie makes a glancing impact, like a frayed car sticker fluttering in the wind, propelled by functional dialogue, and unspooling in real time. Unlike any of its predecessors, and regardless the enormity of its title, “Fallen Kingdom” takes place over the course of a day, with a fraction of the characters we’re used to seeing. (Granted, with the addition of one adorable baby raptor).
The Jurassic movies typically have fluctuating scopes, but this one was heavily minimized. Not only is this contained thriller a two location movie, the action takes place in secret. This makes a difference, especially in comparison to the original World, where thousands of extras evoke this understanding that the public is aware of this movie’s events, that people are watching, bigger things are at work. Fallen Kingdom is a very private affair concerning a handful of people, and the if rest of the world doesn’t care because it doesn’t know, I may subconsciously, unfairly, take that as permission to not care either.
With all moving pieces revealed in what turned out to be a digital clock, I wonder who in this Jurassic world is being affected by these plot points, and literally: who are these people? We’re not given any interiority toward substance, nothing to hinge the action on. This is an old movie criticism of course, and the prophecy of an unenthused movie creating unenthused criticism was fulfilled: the first review I read after the fact complained about this exact thing, and I felt bad the reviewer was assigned this movie.
It’s so odd, because there are appreciable set pieces, like extracting blood from a T-rex without waking it, or even the dopey “Chris Pratt escaping the lava” bit. And I mean “appreciate” very granularly, where movie plotting is an interesting dark art to me. Sometimes you have a situation like John Wick Chapter 2 where the action grinds to a halt in the middle because everything’s been resolved, and it starts up again. It’s awkward, so it’s probably preferable to have something in motion before that point. Fallen Kingdom does that. There’s never a moment where I ask “Well, now what are they gonna do?” and mean that with exasperation.
It’s clearer to me what the fruits of Jurassic are, in contrast to Star Wars. It’s simpler and almost elegant with that simplicity: fucking dinosaurs. I went to the movies that night to see fucking dinosaurs, and I got some beautifully animated cartoon dinosaurs which charged and scampered and jumped. More verticality in this film, with a glass roof providing the split between two dangerous sets. The mythos of Jurassic Park never meaningfully existed to me, despite a small spark with the ill-fated game Trespasser. The story they’re building in the World series is fun enough and more imaginative than I could’ve predicted (without being fully idiotic like Jurassic Park 4), but it’s not what brought me back. And so, this is a movie boiled down to its bare essentials by itself and I in tandem. Let me tell you, those essentials are good, like the in-between parts of a sandwich splat on the table. I just never thought we’d get there, in filmmaking generally, free of the pretense.
I try not to do movie criticism anymore, especially harsh criticism like this, but I only bring up the instance of Fallen Kingdom because it was unique. I’d like to better understand my relationship and reaction to this movie, where I don’t get the feeling of enjoyment during something I enjoy. It’s like a magic trick, and it’s not upsetting or frustrating, just strange as hell. The Indoraptor was a great movie monster, the Carnotaurus was cool, and baby Blue was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
You can pledge your support for “Baby Blue: A Jurassic World Story” here.
Originally published June 25, 2018 to The Utopia Blueprint