Jurassic World: Bringing Life Back to the Movies (and also some Dinosaurs)

I lived on Nellis Airforce Base in the mid-Eighties and because I was a young kid at the time, my family only visited the strip once. On that single trip the only thing I cared about was visiting a museum made from a converted casino (complete with red velvet carpet and brass foyer railing) that had an amazing display of animatronic dinosaurs. For most of my life I’ve been dino-obsessed and I never saw anything as amazing at that point in my life as full-sized, moving, roaring dinosaurs. That feeling of amazed and that feeling of being completely engaged in the entertainment experience is what I felt for the first time in a long time while watching Jurassic World.

Admittedly I had high hopes. 1993’s Jurassic Park is the movie I’ve seen the most in theaters and being, self-admittedly “dino-obsessed,” seeing all-new dinosaurs in an all-new Jurassic Park story was more than exciting. There was a slight worry of disappointment that was blown away by what appeared on screen.

I’ve seen loads of cynical hipsters commenting that “it was just ok” or “wasn’t very deep” or “was just a popcorn movie.” I think, rather than do a straight review I’ll explain why it was more than “just ok.”

  • Progression: This movie took what the first (and some of the second and third) did and moved the story forward in a logical and effective way. The dilemma of cloning is still an intense one, but it is one that has been covered already and one that, at its simplest root, doesn’t illicit the same conversation it did in the early Nineties. Genetic manipulation and gen-hanced organisms is something that is topical now. Furthermore the uses of this science beyond the exploratory and into the military applications is more than topical. It wasn’t just a “oh look more dinos” movie. It was a “look at what genetics misused run amok can cause.”
  • Pacing: Jurassic World introduces the world and its characters relatively quickly but effectively without a lot of explicit backstory. Yes there is a bit of expositionary dialogue, but no flashbacks (thank f*ck…) and no original Star Trek style over-simplification. The world is bright and controlled, until control is lost. The Jurassic World park is deep and realistic and we are lulled into the comfort of the world despite knowing what is coming. Because of this the scene (this is NOT a spoiler) where the Indominus Rex escapes is one of the most tense scenes I’ve seen in a film in YEARS. From there on it is a race to stop the super-saurus rex as plans are tried and it gets closer and closer to the safe zone. Plot devices are introduced and recur seamlessly without being obvious of shoehorned in. Take note film makers on how some of that can work.
  • The Horror: I don’t get scared in movies, but there are scenes in this film that are more effective at horror than most horror movies have been in recent years. Particularly dinos hunting soldiers in the jungle. It was reminiscent of the Alien franchise in its execution. The Indominus herself is like the villain in a slasher movie. Killing characters (in this case dinos we all love ‘caus their dinos) for fun and stalking our leads through an enclosed environment. She’s vicious and relentless with the “it will not die” special rule and has a bit of Godzilla thrown in. The raptors (Misty, my local princess, is an even bigger JP fanatic than I and she was afraid they’d be like domestic dogs) are more intimidating and frightening than ever. Even while being trained! The released dino rampages, as they off characters we know and tear through unsuspecting extras, make a more effectively scary bodycount than anything I’ve seen in a so-called “straight up” horror movie in probably a couple of decades.
  • The Joy: This is a movie that loves its history, its subject matter, and more than anything ADORES its fans and audience. The filmmakers knew what we wanted out of a Jurassic movie. They knew what we liked about the original series, what we were kind of “eh” about, and what we expected out of a continuation. Audiences in modern movies don’t applaud (though I did see an audience inexplicably applaud when “Lucasfilm” showed up on screen during Revenge of the Sith). During my first viewing of Jurassic World the audience applauded twice at the end of the film. Once after the climax (after everyone gasped) then in the final scene before the credits rolled. This movie reminded me WHY I go to the movies. So much so I saw it twice in IMAX 3D in three days.

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In a world dominated by superheroes and teen entertainment it made me supremely happy that Jurassic World broke box office records. A lot of people believe that Star Wars later this year will do it again. That remains to be seen, but for now I’ll rejoice that once again…Dinosaurs rule the earth.

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Story of the Month: My Date with Sue the T-Rex

StoryoftheMonthIn September of 2013, I had the good fortune of getting to go to Schaumburg, Illinois, on business.  I’d never been to Illinois before and being so close to Chicago was a great opportunity.

A lot of people had advice on what I should do when I get there.  I should go to the Navy Pier, go to a ball game, or definitely try the food.  The only thing I wanted to do in Chicago, since I had only a short window of time, was see Sue the Tyrannosaurus at the Field Museum — one of the most complete T-Rex skeletons ever found.  Being a lifelong fan of dinosaurs and a fan of the Dresden Files, it was the one thing I had to see.

The work-related training course I attended in Schaumburg ended early on the last day, and I set off to the city.  My hotel had no courtesy van, so I called a taxi and paid the 20 bucks (yeah) to get to the nearest train station.  When I got there, I found the station itself was closed but a woman I met there said, “Don’t worry you can buy tickets on the train.”  When the train showed up I got on, got my card ready, and told the ticket guy I needed one to Chicago.  He took one look and said, “We don’t take cards.”  I explained I didn’t know and the station was closed, he didn’t seem perturbed, but said, “Well, you’ll know for next time.”  It didn’t help too much and I felt like I’d stolen a ride, but the fact that it was a cash-only enterprise and used hole-punchers like the Wetzel’s Pretzels discount card I got at the Woodfield Mall was a little unusual and very different from my last experience with mass transit in Washington DC!  I was lucky the ticket guy was nice; it must happen a lot.

I rode into town with my head down (since I was a ride-moocher) knowing essentially where I had to go.  Walk east from the station and I’m not too far from the Field.  It would be a good walk, but I had all day, and how often am I in Chicago?

Once I got to the station in the city, I got out the GPS on my cellphone and started walking.  Trusting my GPS, I immediately turned a couple times and traveled along a road for which I couldn’t find a street sign to name it.  I passed some interesting city blocks and traveled a bit before I saw something that was awry.  I passed small coffee shops and a place that packed eggs…it didn’t look like I thought it would.  I saw a few buildings in the distance that I thought might be the outskirts of the town and thought, “I was further out than I thought.”  I kept walking, then took a right, and out of the corner of my right eye, I saw the city…

Now I should mention I live in Nashville, which I always describe as a medium-sized city with a small-town mentality and big-city problems.  Chicago as it turns out is a MASSIVE urban center.  The kind that you really can’t miss…unless you start walking WEST on Randolph Street from Ogilvie Station and take a right on Aberdeen.  In my narcissistic mind I had been walking a certain direction…so I just assumed it HAD to be correct!  Finally spotting one of America’s hardest-to-miss cities, I headed east on until I hit a dead end then snaked around until I got to Fulton and headed North on Desplaines.  Once I got to Grand Avenue, I stuck to it like glue and headed east all the way to Lake Michigan.

Once I saw the Navy Pier I knew I was golden…however I also knew the Navy Pier was north of the Field.  I turned south and started walking, keeping the lake to my left.  I added the sounds of sea gull caws and rigging clattering to my audio repertoire and spotted the Field in the far distance.  I admit I was getting tired, but the idea of seeing Sue kept me going.

I finally got to the large, well-kept park outside the museum and headed up the cleanly cut hills to the Field steps.  Once I got to the museum, I saw a sign that said “The Field will close at 4pm, last admittance will be at 330” for an apparent event.  It was 3:27…I had JUST made it.

When I got in the woman at the desk said to someone, “There are more coming in. I’m taking this one and the next one and that’s it.”  She told me the museum was only going to be open til 4, I said that was fine, and she let me in and the person who came in behind me.

But there was Sue, standing tall in the center of the museum.  There were tables and serving areas being set up everywhere, but I didn’t mind.  I took pic after pic to make sure I had all the angles.  I visited the gift shop, got an “I saw Sue” pin and a T-shirt…and left, all in under the 30 minutes I had until the museum closed.

I then walked back (went to the wrong station, I ended up at AmTrak instead of Ogilvie…it was at that point I decided I’d get a MAP instead of a GPS next time…) and got back to Schaumburg around 6.

I’m looking forward to going back to Chicago to see all the things I walked by at a good clip to get to the museum or to the train station home.  I know how to get train tickets and what it costs to get from point A to point B (and generally how to get there) so it’ll be MUCH better next time.

I learned a lot from this trip, which turned a less-than 3-mile walk into an 8-10 mile adventure of narcissism, faulty technology, and idiocy.

In the end, Sue was very worth it…but I had to leave her in Chicago, probably for the best.  It wouldn’t have worked out anyway, long distance isn’t good for any relationship.  Plus, I think she may be a little too big bone-ded for me anyway 😉

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