27 Nov 2014

[Analysis] - Jumping The Gun On Jurassic World: Part 1, The Trailer

Much to my relief, earlier this week when the Jurassic World trailer appeared online, it was good. As a 2 minutes and change introduction to what I had previously considered a senseless money grab, it was solid. It was yet another piece of evidence in Colin Trevorrow's growing armada of evidence that suggests that his entry into the franchise won't be pointless after all. Not a complete dissuading of all fears - only the film itself will be able to do that - but as opening arguments go, it was convincing.  Of course, marketing is meant to be manipulative, and I can think of nothing quite as emotionally manipulative as that haunting piano music that ends this trailer. But lets set that aside for a moment and revel in this footage.

Nothing like a good reveling. Of course, while we're doing that, we start to pick up on some things. What exactly this trailer tells us about the film, and what it carefully omits. Many sites have went over the trailer, frame by frame, but I thought I'd go over it a little more analytically. What does this footage, carefully pruned from the final bouquet, reveal? The influences, the foreshadowing, and whether the film really is worth getting excited over.

Hit the jump for a journey into absurd detail.

"Say Goodbye To These, Michael"

Before we begin in earnest, let us establish that Judy Greer's (likely brief) role was the first thing revealed by the trailer. She plays the parent/guardian of Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson. When she was cast, I figured assistant to the corporate mucky-mucky, but this role is more in keeping with the new direction her type-casting has been heading, the plucky mom. She's always a pleasure to see in any film, and she's an excellent way to introduce us to the new film.

She also a terrible parent. But that is actually the point of this establishing shot: Jurassic World is considered so safe, that parents literally make jokes about visitors being terrorized and eaten while sending their unaccompanied minors to an island 190 kms off the coast of Costa Rica. That ain't next door folks. That'd be like, if parents sent their children to Disney World alone, and Disney World were located on Easter Island. Which is completely insane. These parents deserve to have their children be eaten. That'll learn 'em.

"Spend A Little Time With Our Target Audience"

We are introduced to the brothers, but far more attention is paid to Ty Simpkins' Gray than to Nick Robinson's Zach. Is this because Zach, with his hoodie and headphones, is meant to represent the disillusioned, jaded and feckless youth that has forced the Jurassic World scientists to create their newest genetic monstrosity? Or is it because Gray is meant to be the audience surrogate, the character who introduces the audience to all the wonder and terror of this new park, in much the way that Grant was in the original (Grant, in the original, was the role traditionally held by a child in Steven Spielberg films; the children were merely annoying)? I suspect that the film will be largely split between the perspectives of Gray and Chris Pratt's Owen, thus providing the audience with the split dynamic of an emotional core and the action.

"What Have They Got In There, King Kong (2005)?"

What's most interesting about this shot isn't what it is, it's what it isn't: in the film. Responding to questions on Twitter, Trevorrow revealed that "The gate is practical, the environment isn't. That shot was made specifically for the trailer. The film will be different." Likely the studio wanted a shot reminiscent of the scene from the original in which to "open" the trailer, and give the audience a nostalgic bump (not the last time in these two minutes), and that such a shot does not exist within the finished film. Thus, the creation of what is essentially a promotional image.

We also begin to get the first hints of not all being right with this picture. This is part a sizable sequence in the trailer meant to introduce the audience to the sheer size of the fully armed and operational batt..., um, park. And it's all done in copious, overly distracting CGI. A lot of people online these last couple days have become unofficial apologists for this, saying it's still six months until the film opens, plenty of time for them to get things looking better. My problem isn't the quality of the CG, it is as it always will be: the amount of CG. The defenders will retort that all movies nowadays are littered with CGI, that it is the standard operating procedure for filmmakers, especially big summer blockbuster franchises. All of which is true, and has been for the past ten years, and that the original Jurassic Park helped usher in that new paradigm.

But, it doesn't have to be that way. CGI is a crutch that far too many filmmakers are leaning on to avoid having to think truly creatively about how to achieve something fantastic. Movies made before Lord of the Rings popularized CGI content were able to be magnificent without, or with very little animated alteration. Jurassic Park is phenomenal because of the creativity and technology employed to bring dinosaurs to life. The total 6 minutes of CG used were done so to render scenes that could not have been accomplished any other way to that level of quality. It was not used, as it so often is now, just because its the cheaper option. That is a form of creative laziness that makes films less amazing to watch, not more. Trevorrow's insistence that the gate will be practical seems like a small battle won in a lost war, as the practical reality of a fence makes little difference when that fence is standing in front of a green screen.

"I'm Not Just Talking About Rides, You Know? Everybody Has Rides."

That last point got a little ranty, so let's shift gears for a moment. The trailer goes to considerable lengths to include scenes that directly invoke scenes from the original. The opening of the gates to allow the pensive visitors entrance, a later shot of a victim running while the camera dodges between the predator's legs. And the above shot, reducing a scene from the original, a scene bulging with a combination of awe and terror, into a ride. It is hard to tell, considering how very much Universal wants this trailer to remind the audience of the first film (and not the other two) if these homage shots  were skillfully excised from footage, or if Trevorrow's overall style if heavily indicative (or worse, derivative) of Spielberg's.

This scene,, if nothing else, is yet another example of the transformation in-universe of the mind set the public has underwent. Suddenly, taking part in the migration of a flock of Gallimimus is just another photo opportunity. If Ellie's claim that "we didn't have enough respect for that power and it's out now" is the theme of the original film as well as the cause of it's plot points, than this film seems to be suggesting that the cultural liaise will be the catalyst for this film. These people know what they have, they just don't care enough to worry about it.

There is a series of shots, including a gyrosphere through a Brachiosaurus herd, and another along a riverbank frequented by peaceful herbivores, that are meant to drive home the notion of the scale, success and comfort of a popular park. The kayak river cruise is a direct reference to an unused sequence from the original novel, which was reassembled in the third film to be the Spinosaurus and Pteradon attacks on the barge.

"I Don't Remember Seeing That On InGen's List"

OK, two things. First, when Jurassic World was first announced, I made a list of 16 dinosaurs I thought might fit technical adviser Jack Horner's claim of  "You’ll want to keep the lights on after you see this movie." My top pick, and preference wasn't for a dinosaur at all, but for an aquatic reptile, considering that underwater prehistoric life was the one avenue that the film hadn't explored yet. I guessed Kronosaurus. According to a prop park pamphlet that fans have gotten their hands on, the animal above is a Mosasaurus. Without seeing the pamphlet, I was inclined towards Hainosaurus myself, though a lot of others seemed to favour Liopleurodon. Whatever it is, it is a horrendously big creature, plucking a shark out of the air.

And here is my second point. As I've pointed out already, the general apathy of the park's visitors will be a big part of the motivation in the film. But I think the apathy of us, the audience, needs to be examined as well. Look at the original trailer for the original film: the dinosaurs are no where to be seen. Only snatches of them, hints, in order to preserve the full effect of the audience seeing them for the first time on the big screen. In this day and age, we need them all over the place, and we need to have the big reveal of a major new addition put right there, first thing. This is a spoiler. Not half-guessed hints about character fates and industry gossip about how the film ends. This is a moment that should be part of the experience of seeing the film, and that experience has been spoiled (in the truest definition of the word) for the sake of getting our attention. If the monster of this film is a genetic monstrosity, it is one made necessary by our apparent inability not to have every edition ramped up to the next level, like a junkie acclimating to smack.

"What John Hammond And InGen Did... Is Create Genetically Engineered Theme Park Monsters."

There seems to be some discontent online about the central premise the trailer proposes for the film: that the new company in charge of Jurassic World and John Hammond's legacy is use genetic engineering to create a new dinosaur hybrid. That claim is utterly ridiculous, considering that the entire original film is based on that very premise. Wu and his team not only spliced Dino DNA fragments with that of a frog, thus making a hybrid, but also used genetic engineering to make the animals all female (which the hybridization then reversed). The animals in the original park were no more true dinosaurs than this new beastie. That very fact closes a few of the biological plot holes that have emerged since the film's release, like the absence of feathers of the theropods: they are simply taking after the amphibian DNA rather than the Dino. Or, when the dinosaurs came out feathery, and not conforming to expectations, Wu and his lot designed it out of them.

The book even goes one further, with Wu making a passionate pitch to Hammond that the geneticists should be making the animals more docile, or more likely to conform with expectations, even to breed dwarf animals that an be sold as pets. Trevorrow recognized the spark in furthering that idea, likely why Wu will be returning in this film (though he fails to appear in this trailer, along with several other prominent cast members). So I have no problem that, rather than nature and man's attempts to control it being the opponent this time, it is man's manipulation of nature that will be his undoing. I've liked that idea from the day Trevorrow revealed it.

"You Wield It Like A Kid That's Found His Dad's Gun"

Perhaps the most surprising thing for me in this entire trailer was the lack of comedy coming from Chris Pratt. While it seems unlikely that they'd hire an actor so adept at comedy without giving him a few choice one-liners, I was very appreciative of how his character is played up as the only sane man in this footage. Considering he just made Marvel even more rich off the back of his comedy, it might have been easy for Universal to sell this film on that same concept. Or maybe this was a specific decision to make sure the film was taken seriously, by showing the comedy actor being serious.

Either way, I think it shows a maturity having him pointing out the reasonable and obvious rather than yucking things up. Much like Malcolm in the original, he was a funny guy, but he also said the smartest things in the film. I'm suddenly hoping for more of the same from Owen. Though, the "cooked up line" is completely terrible. Here's hoping the rest of the dialogue fairs better than that groaner.

"Oooh, Ahhh, That's How It Starts. Then Later There's Running And Screaming."

Another shot that calls to mind the original, this time calling on the trashed car after the T-rex attack (I would point out that, at no point in this trailer do we see the T-rex, who has been to this point the star of the franchise). The trashed gyrosphere and the montage of damaged equipment, people running in terror and bloody omens moves us into stage two of a Jurassic Park film: the bloody bits. And I think it's important to reflect how bloodless the first and third films actually are. In the original, only five people die. In Jurassic Park III, only three, and all within the first act. Only the second film has any sort of traditional horror movie structure, with a progressive number of character being killed as the film develops, and we can probably chalk that up to Spielberg's boredom.

A lot of people have said they aren't interested in another movie where people just run away from dinosaurs and get eaten for two hours, two which I say these things. One, you and I are very different people. And two, the first film doesn't actually have a lot of that. There are well timed, well spaced attack scenes, but only the raptor's hunt in the third act could be considered to conform to that. Unfortunately, it's that aspect of the film that the sequels dwell on, and that accounts for the sharp drop off in quality in those films. Will Trevorrow avoid that? Well, judging from the crowds running in terror from some unseen monster, it's doubtful. But hopefully some time will be left for contemplative ideas.

"Get Away From Her, You Bitch"

Nothing really to say about this, other than Bryce Dallas Howard is doing a fair job of resembling both Jeff Goldblum and Ellen Ripley in this shot.

"It's Visual Acuity Is Based On Movement"

The only fleeting shot we have of the modified animal that will serve as the presumptive adversary for the film, and happily it remains unseen. Teased, but not spoiled. Recently, the Lego toy manufacturer in Asia released some pictures of what is thought to be it's Legofied version, and if you want to see them, you are free to do so, but I won't spoil that here. In the mean time, while it seems that Trevorrow is finding old comfort in a bipedal theropod being the centerpiece of the film, it also seems that he's constructed an original idea around it, so that it won't seem like too much of the same thing again. I hope.

"They Show Extreme Intelligence, Even Problem-Solving Intelligence."

Gif from Zimbio
Bet you thought I was going to go with the other Muldoon raptor quote, didn't ya? Before we get to this shot, can I have a moment to discuss a paleontological matter? When the book was released, the animals called "raptors" were identified as Velociraptors, which stood about two feet tall. In fact, Crichton was writing about Deinonychus, which stand about three and half feet tall, and were at the time being considered for renaming as a subspecies of Velociraptor. When Speilberg made the film, he wanted the raptors to look Grant in the eye, so he made them six feet tall, something unheard of in nature. The experts disagreed and tried to persuade the director to change his mind, but his artisitc license won out over scientific realism. They had already misidentified the animal, making it bigger wasn't keeping anyone up at night. Shortly before the release of the film, Utahraptor was discovered, and much was made about it being nature's answer to the film's raptors. Except, wrong again. Utahraptor was considerably bulkier and stood closer to eight and half feet tall. Too big.

In 1989, in Mongolia, a Russian team discovered bones that went unidentified until 1999. The animal, Achillobator, fits the film's depiction of a dromaeosaurid better than anything else in the fossil record. Standing about six feet tall, with all the tell-tale signs of being a raptor. Problem is, it might not exist. There is much in the way of disagreement as to whether or not the holotype bones of the single Achillobator specimen actually belong to two different animals. For now, the species stands, until more fossil evidence proves or disproves it's existence. Until then, it is as near to Spielberg's dinosaur as we know of.

Now, back to the film. A motorcycle chase was going to be in the film, no matter what. It has been the single, unaltered element in every variation of a Jurassic Park 4 going back to the release of JP3. It was going to happen one way or another. And I like the look of this scene. And I believe it. The raptors have been consistently shown in the films to be above average intelligence animals. The first film showed their problem solving, the third their social structure, the second their hatred of subjective sporting events. The notion that they would be trainable is no different than the notion of being able to train dolphins, which is done all the time. That Owen, who has likely been a constant in their lives since birth, would feel as comfortable around them as a pack of dogs, does not strain my sense of disbelief. And frankly, what I didn't want was another Jurassic Park film where the raptors are the third act bad guys. That Trevorrow seems to have found something else to do with them is perhaps the most encouraging thing about this trailer.

Next week, I'll predict which of this film's scenes will be translated into the previously announced and much anticipated Lego sets.

Screenshots all via /Film.

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