Saturday, June 18, 2022

Jurassic World: Dominion: A Wonderful Summer Blockbuster


Scott D. Parker

I’m not sure what movie some folks watched but it sure wasn’t the one I saw.

When it comes to movies, I make it point not to read any reviews ahead of seeing a movie I want to see. If the trailer hasn’t grabbed my attention and compelled me to watch—or the pedigree of the actors, writers, and director—then I don’t seek out the Rotten Tomato score to sway me. This is not the same with books in which I will happily read and take into consideration the opinions of dozens of fellow writers when they recommend books.

But once I’ve seen a movie, I am curious to know the general consensus and see if it lines up with my experience. When I saw the 2.5 hours of Jurassic World: Dominion (AKA Jurassic World 3 AKA Jurassic Park 6), I was enthralled, entertained, and emitted more than a few utterances of “Yeah!” and “Cool!” It ended the 6-movie franchise quite well, introducing the original Park actors with the new World actors in a way that felt organic. The music was nicely used throughout, including the elegant main theme from John Williams—both the orchestral as well as the softer piano version. There were dino-on-dino fights, a kick-ass motorcycle/dinosaur chase through a European city, and a dino/airplane chase. There were dinos in the water, dinos in caves, and dinos in snow. All things we’ve not seen before.

Well, I’m pretty sure we haven’t. I’ve pretty much got the first movie memorized. The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, a little. Jurassic World I remember decently and I all but forgot World 2: Fallen Kingdom.

But I remember the closing show of Fallen Kingdom well, accompanied by Jeff Goldblum’s voiceover. Dinosaurs now live among humans and we’re going to have to learn to co-exist as best as possible. And that’s how Dominion starts. It shows us a world like that. Granted, it’s not one I’d prefer to live in—don’t need the possibility of my plane flight being overtaken by a pterodactyl—but it is one original author Michael Crichton envisioned and that Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm keeps talking about in every movie he’s in. So in that respect, Dominion gets it correct.

So imagine my surprise when I hop on over to Rotten Tomatoes on Monday night—after eagerly relating all the fun and cool stuff in the movie to my wife who didn’t go—that the critical consensus was so poor. Again, what movie did these folks watch?

Okay, the plot. There are two threads. The World Plot has Owen and Claire trying to protect Maisie from the rest of the world because she’s a clone. Blue the velociraptor lives nearby and has unexpectedly produced a young raptor called Beta. (It shouldn’t be unexpected because “Life always finds a way.”) Bad guys kidnap both younglings and Owen and Claire follow.

The Park Plot involves our three original cast members and boils down to Laura Dern’s Ellie Sadler researching why formerly extinct massive locusts are eating some crops but not others. If they’re not stopped, there will be a global famine, yet the locusts don’t seem to be eating crops grown from seeds provided by Biosyn, the new bad-guy company a la InGen from the Park movies. She makes the assumption—with an assist from Malcolm—that Biosyn is behind both the seeds and the locusts. She enlists the help of Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and they set off in search of proof at Biosyn’s giant lab/breeding ground/dinosaur habitat in Europe.

Which is exactly where the kidnappers are taking Maisie and Beta. Naturally, the World characters and the Park characters will meet—the selling point of the film—and they’ll battle enemies both dino and human. Along the way, there are wonderful set pieces that are the definition of a summer blockbuster. In fact, as Owen is racing through the streets on his motorcycle, trained raptors on his tail, you see the aforementioned plane start to warm up. I leaned over to my son and said, “I bet he jumps into the open plane in midair.” Viola! That’s exactly what happened.

Yes, that entire sequence felt like an espionage film (Bond, Bourne, Mission Impossible) but who cares? It was thrilling. There were lots of other thrilling moments as our heroes fight to stay alive, but not without some humor along the way.

But there are also some great character moments. Goldblum is having a field day as Malcolm, just chewing scenery left and right and I loved every second of it. The quiet moments are also good, like when it’s just Ellie and Alan seeing each other for the first time in decades, subtly lamenting lost time. Yes, their story line got a little bumbly as they tried to escape from the locust lair but it was minor.

I also liked how certain scenes were set up so that you *think* you know what’s going to happen but then your expectations are subverted. Case in point: Goldblum’s Malcolm is stuck holding a flaming piece of a spear-like metal pole and there’s a dino looking at him. In Park 1, he doesn’t know to throw the light source and freeze. Well, I said to my son, I bet he’s learned now. Nope. Not what happens. But it’s way cooler.

Scott Campbell, as the bad guy, plays Lewis Dodgson oddly. He is all bad at one moment and then weirdly like an absent-minded professor the next. I liked that they used him as a character although in the movie, it isn’t explicitly stated that he was the character in the original Jurassic Park who pays Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry to steal embryos in the Barbasol shaving cream can. But said can is a trinket in Dodgson’s office as he tries to escape. And I won’t even tell you what happens to him, but if you’ve seen Park 1, you have an idea.

Speaking of that, I like the little subtle Easter eggs like when Ellie takes off her sunglasses in a manner almost identically to Alan from Park 1. Nice touch.

The nostalgic part of me would have liked one last shot of all the Park characters together. Sadly we don’t get that, but we do get some resolution for everyone. And character growth. And bad guys getting what’s coming to them. And dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs.

Again, I’m just not understanding why the dislike for the film. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 79% so clearly it’s resonating with folks. It resonated with me quite well and I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Perfectly Timed Gunshots

I've been doing some reading on the old Hollywood director William Wellman in preparation for the first of the film talks I'll be hosting this year for the Reel Talks series I'm part of every year in New York City.  That talk will be about Wellman's westerns, in particular the great 1943 film The Ox-Bow Incident.  But on casually reading up about his career and his 1939 movie called The Light That Failed, adapted from a Rudyard Kipling novel, I came across a peculiar murder story connected to this film, a story I'd never heard of before.  It's a murder story that sounds like something out of an old Columbo episode.  You can just see Columbo on a case like this, investigating in the movie theater where the crime occurred, watching the film to study the exact moment when, in the theater and as the film played, the killing took place.

But let me explain:

On May 29, 1946, in Bristol England, during a showing of Wellman's film at the Bristol Odean, the manager of the theater was shot in his office there.  About 2,000 people were watching the movie at the time, but nobody in attendance did a thing in reaction to the gunshots -- there were two -- and continued to watch the movie as though nothing had happened.  The reason for their apparent nonchalance about the gunshots: nobody heard them because they had been timed to coincide with gunshots fired onscreen.  The film started at 6:25pm that evening, and the gunshots in the movie occur early, shots that blind the story's main character.  It was just then, according to the story, that the real-life murderer struck. The theater manager was Robert Parrington Jackson, father of a four-year-old son.  The theater's cafe supervisor walked into Parrington Jackson's office between 6:40pm and 6:45 pm and found him lying on the floor, bleeding from a head wound and moaning.  Alerted by the cafe supervisor, detectives from a nearby station rushed over to the theater on foot, and though they began right away to investigate, with two uniformed officers guarding the office, the screening continued without interruption.  I don't think Alamo cinemas of today, with their stated devotion to creating an undisturbed viewing experience for their patrons, would go so far in film viewing dedication.  Reports from the time do say, however, that a message flashed up on the screen asking whether a doctor was in the house. 

That's the Columbo part, though unlike in the tv series, there's no person in the story who clearly, from the get-go, is the culprit.

There are theories as to who killed Parrington Jackson, of course.  One at the time said he'd been shot by a man who thought the theater manager had been flirting with his girlfriend.  Another said that Parrington Jackson had gotten an usherette pregnant and that the usherette's boyfriend did it.  Year later, in 1989, a small-time Welsh crook on his deathbed confessed to the crime, telling his son, who relayed his story to the police.  The claim here was that the crook, with an accomplice, had gone to the theater to rob its office safe, but that the pair of thieves had panicked and shot Parrington Jackson when he walked in on them. In fact, just before he was shot, Parrington Jackson had put the night's take away in the safe and it was a substantial amount.  But the keys to the safe were found in his pocket and the money he'd locked away was untouched.  Whoever shot him, Parrington Jackson died a short time afterward at the nearby hospital.  

Police kept poking around and they interviewed a number of suspects, but their inquiries led nowhere.  They found the murder weapon a few months later, in a water-tank left over from World War II and then used by firefighters, but no new leads came from this either.  Eventually, the police shut down their investigation, and despite the death bed confession just mentioned, they consider the case still unsolved.  They did, not too long ago, reopen the investigation as part of a review looking at a number of unsolved cases dating back decades. They have not given up looking into who killed Robert Parrington Jackson.  But so far, the killing in the Bristol movie theater, where the gunshots, either on purpose or inadvertently, were timed to the exact moment gunshots were fired in the film showing in that theater, remains the coldest of cold cases.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

It Is (Not) A Gas

By Claire Booth 

We’ve been over five bucks a gallon for a while now here in California. Then the other day I pulled into a gas station for this.

A few thoughts flitted through my head as I inhaled the fumes and emptied my bank account.

- Insane.

- Exorbitant.

- Am I going to be able to get out of here for under a hundred bucks?

- Dear God, I’m old enough to remember paying 99 cents a gallon. (It was decades ago during college in the much cheaper Midwest, but still …)

- I’m now nostalgic for five dollars a gallon. There’s a sentence I never imagined I’d say.

- And, just to make myself feel better—it's still not as high as in L.A.

How much is it where you are?