The Meg [shark-pun]ed its way to the top of the Box Office

Commentary pieces are longer, stream-of-consciousness style essays about a particular topic. They can and will take many forms, are randomly organized, and are deeply saturated with personal bias.


Hello, everyone. I hope you’re ready to enjoy some more ironic stock photos of money and finance. I know I am.

After a weekend spent avoiding any and all personal responsibilities, it’s time to take a look at my box office predictions from last week and see how they played out. I didn’t head to the multiplex myself, but apparently attendance was up due to a slate of anticipated new releases. Summer is dying down, kids are getting ready for school, and the remaining films left on the docket are festival favorites, campy horror flicks, and too-earnest family films. We probably won’t get anything meaty until October, but as far as numbers go I doubt we’ll see anything as exciting as Black Panther or Infinity War until next year (if at all). Anyways, let’s recap.

Last week’s predictions:

  • Mission: Impossible – Fallout earns north of $18 million
  • Black Panther disappears from the news
  • Christopher Robin earns $10-12 million in the third or fourth spot
  • The Spy Who Dumped Me stays in the top five, battling neck-in-neck with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
  • The Meg takes number one, debuts with well-north or just-north of $25 million
  • Slender Man has potential to open in top five
  • BlacKkKlansman opens below top five

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s grab some info from our favorite box office reporting website, boxofficemojo.com, and get to work.


The Numbers

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Box Office receipts were up over four percent this past weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. Which is good. July numbers were down compared to last year, but thanks in large part to Disney, Marvel, and Pixar, 2018 has been a record-setting year.

We can get into the ins and outs of whether or not blockbusters are more harmful overall to the film-industry, but so long as the coffers are full and people have movies to see, let’s not grow weary just yet. Epsecially not if A24 continues pumping out crowd-pleasing Best Picture nominees.

As for last weekend, Friday August 10-12, it took a prehistoric monster to distract us all from Tom Cruise’s personal vendetta against self-preservation. I have to say, though, what an ecclectic group of films in the top ten.

In first place, The Meg opened to an impressive $44.5 million dollars domestically. “Shark” has never been much of a genre. Box Office Mojo generously includes Finding Nemo in the category thanks to the Bruce character, but aside from Nemo, Jaws, and Shark Tale, no film starring one of these apex predators has earned over $100 million at the domestic box-office. The fact that Warner Bros. greenlit The Meg with a budget of $130 million would seem a bit risky. Its $44.5 million domestic and $97 million foreign grosses of this past weekend should build some confidence, though – which covers that hefty budget. Director Jon Turteltaub has a habit of siphoning crowd-pleasing fun from okay actors and wacky plots. Hang your hat on that, sir.

In second place is ol’ reliable itself, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, with a third-weekend gross of $20 million. That brings its domestic total up to $161.9 million – or, as I like to think of it, only $55 million away from surpassing Mission: Impossible II’s domestic cume. What’s that? Why do I care that the best film in a long-running franchise surpasses the total gross of the worst? Because I have to, that’s why. I have to. Worldwide the film is sitting pretty at $437.5 million. On a weekly basis it’s tracking closer to Ghost Protocol than to Rogue Nation, which bodes well for Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie.

In third place, Christopher Robin hangs on tightly with $12.4 million, bringing it’s domestic total up to $50 million.

In fourth place, Slender Man opens to $11.3 million. ScreenGems has earned back its production budget in a single weekend.

In fifth place, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman debuted with $10.7 million – only $4 million shy of its budget. Which is impressive considering Legendary Pictures opened the film on a modest 1,500 screens.

In six and seventh places we have The Spy Who Dumped Me and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, respectively. Spy earning $6.6 million to total $24.5 million domestic; Mamma Mia! earning $5.8 million for $103.8 million domestic. People are still turning out to see these movies, as their respctive drops of 45.5% and 35.4% indicate.

In eighth place we have Denzel Washington’s head-cracking The Equalizer 2, which is playing astonishingly close to the first film. It earned $5.5 million over the weekend, dropping just 37.2% for a domestic total of $89.6 million – half a million up from its predesessor in the same timeframe.

Ninth place sees the Adam Sandler spook-toon Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation earning $5.1 million, totaling $146.8 million domestic.

Rounding out the top ten is Ant-Man and the Wasp with $4 million. Which pushes its domestic cume to $203.5 million. So far it’s earned more than $20 million over its predesessor in North America, but still needs a little time to catch Ant-Man‘s worldwide gross of $519.3 million.

Incredibles II was finally nudged from the top ten. It still earned $3.5 million, and is sitting on a massive pile of cash. It’s domestic gross is $589.8 million; worldwide it sits at $1.08 billion.

Fun fact: The Dark Knight was the first superhero film to gross over $500 million domestically and over $1 billion worldwide (it was the fourth film to ever do so). It remains the lowest grossing billion-dollar earning movie at $1.008 billion. It has dropped thirty places on the chart of highest-grossing films of all time since it left theaters.

A few other movies are still clanging around theaters out there. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is still making money, somehow. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is still alive. Dwayne Johnson’s Skyscraper sank like a stone – don’t @ me for that – and is circling the drain. Eighth Grade made $1.6 million over the weekend, which is lovely – please see it before it’s nominated for several Oscars.

And that’s just about all I want to talk about. Time to make some predictions.


Speculation

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Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

So how did I stack up? Pretty well, actually. Mission: Impossible – Fallout earned over $18 million, The Meg opened at number one “well-north” of $25 million, Christopher Robin stayed at number three with around $12 million, and Mamma Mia! is duking it out with The Spy Who Dumped Me.

Where I got it wrong? BlacKkKlansman. I didn’t expect people to turn out for this one, not fully. I’m glad it has some attention and good word of mouth, which could result in a few more screens.

Going forward I see The Meg taking a pretty decent hit. Expect a second weekend take of around $20 million. From what I’ve heard, it’s big and dumb, but not enough fun to warrant repeat business.

Mission will fall further from the top, but don’t expect it to fall from the top five. I’m guessing it’ll land around $12-14 million in receipts, maybe at the number three or four spot.

Expect Slender Man to fall below BlacKkKlansman and for Christopher Robin to fall from the top five, as well. I give those $4.5 million, $5.7 million, and $6.3 million respectively. Specifics? I know – ballsy.

I fully expect new releases Mile 22 and Alpha to fight over the first two spots this coming weekend. One has Mark Wahlberg and the other is about dogs – don’t bet against either of those if you don’t have to. I would guess Mile 22 to open similarly to Wahlberg’s other ventures of the last five years sans Transformers – somewhere north of $25 million, maybe even $40-45 million. Alpha looks like a solid family picture, the type that has a decent opening over $30 million and drops like Dwayne Johnson the subsequent weekend.

We have a live-action The Little Mermaid coming out, but not one headlined by Disney, so I don’t expect to hear about it. Other new releases this weekend are the Christian Slater and Glenn Close film The Wife; Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawk vehicle Juliet, Naked; Down a Dark Hall, starring Uma Thurman; two films I’ve never heard of, Blaze and Breaking & Exiting; and an indie movie, We the Animals.

Let’s see if I can get a streak going. Be sure to let me know what you’re excited to see in the comments or on the Facebook and Twitter Pages. In order to stay up to date with everything blog-related, please use the widgets at the bottom of the page to follow along.

I’ll be back next week with more prognostication and all things box office.

BOX OFFICE WEDNESDAY: Aug 8th, 2018

Commentary pieces are longer, stream-of-consciousness style essays about a particular topic. They can and will take many forms, are randomly organized, and are deeply saturated with personal bias.


It’s about time I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes: Examining and extrapolating on the week’s current film box office numbers (and I’m going to get creative with the stock photos I use, so enjoy them ironically.)

History was made and a few other films either debuted or continued box office dominance. I was at the movies this past weekend, so some of my own money is included in the tally – how neat! It may seem strange to some that people like me obsess over a movie’s performance with the public, but those ticket-sales are often indicative of a number of things. Not the least of which is whether or not a movie that you saw and loved, or vehemently disliked, is either finding an audience or repelling the masses – fists clutching their hard earned cash as they flee the repugnant stench emanating from the theater.

The information here is pulled from Box Office Mojo, specifically the weekend recap by Brad Brevet, so be sure to head there for more in-depth information on all things ticket-sales.

Let’s get started with this week’s numbers.


The Numbers

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s no secret that theater-attendance peaks and falls around giant tent-pole features released in the summer. Most people schedule their viewership around them and with ticket-prices being as they are, it comes as no surprise. Most people aren’t going to see the smaller artsy-fartsy type films that garner most of their acclaim and viewership on the festival circuit. That being said, it does look like overall viewership is up fifteen percent this year compared to 2017, when duds the likes of The Dark Tower hit theaters and decidedly snuffed the so-called McConaughey-Renaissance (maybe it was those god-awful Lincoln commercials, but still.)

But, if there’s two things you can count on to get people’s butts in the movie theater, it’s Disney and Tom Cruise putting his life in danger.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout won Friday to Sunday viewership with a second-weekend pull of around $35 million, earning its second number one spot on the charts. As of today, Wednesday August 8th, it’s tracking above its predecessor Rogue Nation at the eleven-day mark, having earned an estimated $129 million domestically; $334 million worldwide. This is still a hair below the fourth entry in the franchise, Ghost Protocol, during the same frame, but Protocol had a limited release before going wide. Still, with a production budget of $178 million, don’t expect to hear any complaints when its domestic haul alone earns back its cost.

I’m really hoping that Fallout stays at number one for long enough to beat out the current top-earner in the franchise, M:I:II, which has a domestic total of $215 million. Tom Cruise can’t have broken his ankle for nothing, people. Should this latest outing fall short, I hesitate to imagine what will happen to him while shooting the next one. It has yet to release in China or Italy, so we’ll see if it can match Rogue Nation‘s $682 million worldwide by the end of its run.

[Fun Fact: As of this writing, the entirety of the decades-long Mission: Impossible franchise has earned, domestically, a bit over $1 billion. Star Wars: The Force Awakens alone earned $936 million domestically in 24 weeks. Crazy town.]

Speaking of crazy domestic hauls, Disney and Marvel’s Black Panther finally squeaked into the $700 million domestic-earner club. Disney managed to strong-arm enough theaters into keeping it open, long past home-release, and now it joins the ranks of The Force Awakens and Avatar as the third film to ever gross this insane amount of cash domestically. It’s the only film of 2018 to remain in theaters for 25 weeks, and there might not be another, as films continue to land on streaming services and BluRay more quickly. Still, mighty impressive. Wakanda Forever.

In second place, Disney’s Christopher Robin debuted short of expectations, earning around $25 million – below expectations. I honestly couldn’t be less interested in Disney’s mission to regurgitate all of its existing intellectual property into live-action remakes. As charming as Pooh is, and as much as I love Ewan McGregor, I’m not at all surprised to hear that the film is underperforming. Part of the charm of cartoons is the fact that they’re, well, cartoons.

In third place is the Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon spy-comedy, The Spy Who Dumped Me, which delivered a little over $12 million. There’s been a deluge of R-rated buddy-style comedy actioners the last few years. There’s an audience for them, yes, but without much innovation (at least with the advertising) I don’t know if this brand of filmmaking can avoid the same diminishing returns that Apatow’s suffered. At one time it was easy to chuck together a couple of SNL-alumni and a known star turning a new comedic leaf and expect to earn your budget back. We’ll see.

The sequel to Mamma Mia!, the aptly titled Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, landed in fourth place with $9 million. It’s domestic is nearing $100 million total, proving yet again that long awaited sequels to passably entertaining movies is a sure-bet in today’s Hollywood. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m still waiting on a sequel to Jingle All the Way. Someone pull Jake Lloyd out of retirement.

The Equalizer 2 came in fifth place, dropping just 37% to earn around $8.8 million. It, too, may eventually break $100 million should Sony decide to keep it in theaters.

In sixth was Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation with $8 million, bringing its total to around $135 million.

Seventh: Ant-Man and the Wasp with $6.3 million, totaling $195 million.

Eighth: Fox’s The Darkest Minds with a $5.8 million debut.

Ninth: The charming Incredibles 2 with $4.9 million, totaling an insane $583 million.

And rounding out the top ten is Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, with $4.7 million, totaling a modest-but-profitable $20 million.

Some other highlights include my least favorite movie of the year, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom earning $3.9 million, bringing its total to about $405 million domestic. I’m literally jumping for joy that such a heaping shit-pile of a movie is earning so much money.

Bo Burnham’s A24-produced Eighth Grade has expanded nationwide and earned $2.8 million. Its domestic total sits just shy of $7 million and god damnit please go see that movie you won’t regret it, I promise.

There are some other, smaller releases piddling around in a handful of theaters out there, but I’ve never heard of them. You have a Dinesh D’Souza documentary out there, and if you’re familiar with his work I’d suggest forgetting you ever heard the name Dinesh D’Souza.

Okay, on to this coming weekend.


Speculation

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I fully expect Mission: Impossible – Fallout to earn over $215 million by the end of its run – the word of mouth is just too good and the movie too well made to fade from the public’s attention. Going into Friday it’ll be knocking on $150 million’s door. It’s feasible that it earns north of $18 million this weekend, all things considered.

Now that Black Panther has passed $700 million domestic, I don’t expect to see or hear of it again until the teaser for the sequel shows up.

Christopher Robin will probably drop a few spots. I won’t be surprised to see this at number three or four, earning around $10-$12 million. It could have legs, but a disappointing opening almost never suggests that.

The Spy Who Dumped Me looks forgettable, but Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon are both well known enough to recoup the film’s budget. Expect this to stay in the top five with $5-8 million for the weekend, but it’s going to be fighting neck and neck with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which definitely has legs.

New releases are Warner Bros.’ The Meg, a late-summer shark-picture with one differentiating hook – the shark is the size of a small airplane. I won’t lie, I’m eager to see how critics and audiences respond to this. I read the book it’s inspired by, which is good fun. Expect this to land at number one if Fallout wanes. I’m guessing somewhere either well-north or just-north of $25 million.

We also have Slender Man hitting theaters. It’s a horror movie based on a nearly-forgotten cult-status horror video game. Who knows, it could land in the top five. Screen Gems has it on over 2,000 screens and we’re entering the year’s second wave of spooky movies. It could surprise us.

Focus is releasing the latest Spike Lee joint, BlacKkKlansman on 1,500 screens. I don’t expect this to break into the top five. It’s R-rated, a bit political, but that’s been performing well most of the year, so we’ll see. Late-season race-centric films have had a solid track record over the last decade.


Well, that’s it for Box Office Wednesday. Keep an eye out next week for more number-crunching, sarcasm, and speculation. Be sure to check out the blog’s Facebook and Twitter pages to stay up to date with the latest posts, or subscribe via email using the widget at the bottom of this page. Like, share, comment; let me know what you think of everything I do here.

Until next time.

Commentary: The Lost World is not the worst in the JP franchise.

Commentary pieces are longer, stream-of-consciousness style essays about a particular topic. They can and will take many forms, are randomly organized, and are deeply saturated with personal bias. Photos featured here are screenshots from both YouTube and IMDb.

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I’m on Netflix, and seeing as I’ve finished The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, I have nothing to do. The Last Jedi is available to watch, but I’m still traumatized – it’ll be a long time before I write about that one. I scroll down the page and under “Because you watched: Jurassic Park” is a film I haven’t seen in at least half a decade: The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Oh, yeah, baby. Here we go.

I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opening night and still can’t sleep soundly knowing the piss-poor condition Colin Trevorrow has plunged the franchise into. Seriously, he made Safety Not Guaranteed (which was charming) and suddenly he’s got the green-light to write and direct two-thirds of the Jurassic Park revival trilogy? Ick.

I’m nostalgic for Jurassic Park in a way that Universal Studios can’t monetize. I want the OG-movies back. The blue-steel, smart-phone, and concrete aesthetic of Jurassic World and its sequel isn’t working for me. Give me the jagged, jungle-infused primary colors of Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Blacks and reds and yellows, musky thickets of dense tropical plants, and tiki-themed huts. Isla Nublar is supposedly 100 miles from Costa Rica, and the closest Jurassic World came to that aesthetic was a damn Margaritaville.

Sorry. We aren’t here to trash the other movies, we’re here to defend The Lost World against the other movies.

I’m typing this up as I watch it, so let’s get to it.


Welcome, to the sequel to Jurassic Park

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Can you imagine the hype surrounding this movie? Back in ’97, before Titanic released, Jurassic Park was literally the highest-earning movie ever made. People busted blocks for that movie, and Spielberg grabs Michael Crichton to again help screenwriter David Koepp pen the script for its follow-up. The old team was getting back together. I was a little over four-years-old at the time and I can still remember seeing the rubber r.c. controlled t-rex toys and the lunch boxes and the sit-and-shoot video games at every arcade. Of course, that happens every summer nowadays. Tent-pole blockbusters are everywhere, synonymous with summer movie-going.

Back then, however, fan-boys were either in their infancy or lurking in secluded basements, away from the public eye, so the average movie-going public was allowed to vent their frustration with The Lost World when it didn’t live up to their expectations. Of course, this was back when people were allowed to be disappointed by sequels for sake of the film *glares at The Last Jedi and the ongoing internet-war over the soul of Star Wars*.

I remember liking this as a kid for the same reasons I’m liking it right now. The action is lively, the CGI well-utilized, and the dinosaurs more numerous and with greater variety. You could say the same thing of Jurassic World, but here comes the crucial difference.

Characters.

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We get twenty-some seconds in the beginning of Lost World to introduce this little girl and her rich family, picnicking on the beach of some uninhabited Island (as you do), and every bit of dialogue between them occurs in a real space, playing out as the camera observes the scene from a distance, panning back and forth or rolling up the sand away from them. We don’t have actors spouting decades-old lines of dialogue at the screen in that over-the-shoulder, crisscrossing television-style bullshit way of filming a conversation. We don’t have a back-and-forth here, we have people moving and things being done and characters moving around them. The sets are part of the conversation because people have to move to keep up with their counterpart in order to talk to them.

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Damn near every scene of dialogue in Jurassic World is over-the-shoulder, back-and-forth garbage on a set far removed from any of the action. Spielberg introduces his characters as part of a world, and his worlds as part of his plot. He does all of this simultaneously. Lost World may be a monster-flick, undeniably, but it’s still a Spielberg film.

Things are developing around our characters constantly. You know the plot already, Ian Malcolm (played by the endlessly enjoyable Jeff Goldblum) is coerced into an expedition to Isla Sorna, dinosaur Site B, by Richard Hammond, who is no longer in control of the dinosaur-genetics company, InGen. In fact, Peter Ludlow, Hammond’s nephew, has taken control of the company and hopes to finally turn a profit by exploiting the dinosaurs (BOY I WONDER IF THE SEQUELS WILL LATCH ONTO THAT IDEA).

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Jesus, this movie moves, though. Within twenty-five minutes we have the reason Hammond loses control of InGen (the little girl getting attacked on the beach), Malcolm is shown to be the victim of a smear campaign by InGen and Ludlow to discredit his criticisms of the theme park of the previous film, and then we have to get ready to go to the island so Malcolm can “save” his girlfriend, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore).

Can we actually stop for a second and appreciate Julianne Moore’s screen presence? She owned every scene in which she appeared in The Big Lebowski and Children of Men, and does so here. She’s also a stoic and unsettling figure in the two Mockingjay movies. In Lost World she’s clearly the only one in control of the situation; having studied the dinosaurs for a few days before Malcolm, Eddie, and Nick van Owen arrive, she’s technically more qualified to speak of them than Malcolm is.

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So, I don’t think pacing is too much of an issue yet. They get to the island and we see Stegosaurus within the first half-hour. Spielberg doesn’t linger too long before throwing our characters into some kind of danger – those spiked tails! – but moviegoers aren’t going to be as impressed at the mere sight of dinosaurs now, so let’s just get on with the show. Either by necessity or principle, effects are a blend of CGI and practical animatronics. The dinosaurs, more than any of the sequels, are technically right there in-camera. It feels good. It still looks good.

And look at this! Characters walking and talking! Talking about scientific stuff! Our protagonists are still interested in proving some theory about dinosaurs, studying them with extended research as the goal. Where the hell did that go?

I know people don’t like Malcolm’s daughter here. She isn’t a great addition, but at least it’s easy to understand why she’s here. In that lengthy prelude to the expedition’s departure we get plenty of information thrown at us economically. We learn that Malcolm isn’t exactly a doting husband, but has fathered a few children (in keeping with his character from JP), and that his daughter wants to come along. We’re shown what all of their vehicles look like, included the RV home-base. We know that she knows where it is and can presume she hid inside of it, considering the dialogue even earlier that it isn’t a long trip to get to the island and seeing that none of the main characters were inside the RV on the journey there.

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Can we also talk about that? That Spielberg and Co decided to introduce aspects of the narrative long-before they became useful? It’s Chekov’s Gun – level storytelling basics, here. We get the RV, the High-Hide, the tranquilizer gun, the wonky satellite phone, the lucky-pack, and plenty more within the first half-hour of the film. All of it pays off or at least becomes relevant later in the film. Compare that to the fan-favorite Indominus Rex in Jurassic World. It’s understood that we, the audience, aren’t to know much about its abilities due to the genetic-splicing that brought it to life, but come on. It’s a walking plot-mcguffin. Whatever the narrative needs at any given moment, the I-Rex can be, and it’s either explained away with a throwaway line just before it happens – “IT CAN CAMOUFLAGE” – or it’s chalked up to mad-science. Lazy.

The Lost World, whether it works for you or not, is far from lazy.

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Look at this Safari-vibe we have going on here. John Williams has returned for the score, and rather than trumpet that old theme-song, he provides a thumping and suspenseful band of music to underscore the darker overall tone of the film. This is far from stock string-pieces that appear at emotional cues; we have melodies and themes for the heroes and villains, key-strikes and percussion for rampaging dinosaurs. It feels tailored to the experience, rather than assembled from a pre-recorded suite of genre-music.

And here comes Roland Tembo and his merry-brigade of profiteers. What a fun character, played with expert pragmatism by the late Pete Posthwaite. These are Ludlow’s guys, under the new InGen, trying to capture these dinosaurs for transport back to the mainland. It’s pretty stupid, but the film realizes this, making the case for saving the animals from people – rather than a fucking volcano. At least here, in Lost World, we have characters with motivations stemming from either a previous film or deeply understood character archetypes. The big-game hunter wants to hunt, the capitalist wants money, the scientists want to science. Spielberg isn’t forcing anything here (not until the fourth act). These are evident in the later films, but…they were derivative to begin with.

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If anything, this is where we can cry foul for pacing. Once the second expedition shows up, all hell breaks loose and it’s a race to the end of the film. They set up camp, the original expedition opens some dino-cages, and things literally burst into flames. Moments later we have the bleating baby T-Rex and the beginning of a ninety-minutes chase-scene.

And honestly? That’s where this film commits its resources, which is fine. It does it magnificently. We have numerous peaks and valleys, setting tension and paying it off. The most impressive of which being the RV tumbling over the edge of a cliff. It isn’t just monsters and mayhem, because we wouldn’t give a damn about the stakes if we didn’t care about the characters.

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And this movie might have the last moment I’ve felt tension for the approach of a T-Rex. Their presence here is incredible. The camera stays on the fucking ground, leaving the audience to feel as vulnerable as our characters. And I’m beginning to think it might actually give the execs over at Universal an aneurism to invest in animatronics again.

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Oh, hold on. Eddie’s about to bite it – or be bitten. What a shame Trevorrow felt compelled to top this unearned character-death with one far more grotesquely-realized in his film if you remember the poor babysitter being dunked to death by flying dinosaurs until the Mosasaur ate her in Jurassic World. Eddie at least dies quickly. Same can’t be said for this unfortunate franchise.


The Moveable Feast

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Well, all the characters are together. And it’s good. We get brief interactions to play these archetypes against one another. The environmentalist vs the hunter, the chaotician vs the capitalist. That the movie is plunging us into Malcolm’s chaos and still stops to remind us of the central arguments forming the narrative is smart. It’s smart, mainly because it works so well. It’s due to that competence that every sequel, save for JPIII, has aped those themes outright and offered no new insight.

Fallen Kingdom wants us to care about these dinosaurs and hope to preserve them, while The Lost World has already exhausted both sides of the debate. This wasn’t some cautionary preamble, this was closing the book. Spielberg’s departure from a directorial role in the franchise should be evidence enough of that. “But he’s stayed on as producer!” Yes, but as with the Transformers franchise, that doesn’t amount to much of substance outside of his bank-account, does it?

Digressions, my apologies.

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Our characters are bickering, and that makes it interesting. They aren’t just screaming into the camera – not yet anyway. Spielberg is embarking on a journey across the island, and we have to follow. Again the pacing is wonky, like Spielberg is anxiously hustling through these bits to show off the next bloody rampage by the T-Rexes. And that’s just what we get. They lose their luster after a while, I’ll admit. This doesn’t operate on the restraint seen in the original film, but we’re a far cry from the wobbly, weightless CGI of the Jurassic World sequels. We’ve got actual actors, awarded actors, playing bit parts to lend some depth to every encounter – selling those archetypical monologues with flair and conviction.

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And let’s take a closer look at those action scenes. After a few more brushes with the T-Rex and some Compies, the “moveable feast” is fractured and leaving the island in their respective groups. The dinosaurs are still cleverly concealed, behind waterfalls or by shadows in the darkness outside a tent.

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They are monsters, but as hunting animals it makes sense as well. The raptors are pack-hunting and hyper-intelligent. We see that in their apparent behaviour. Spielberg isn’t going to waste time explaining them to you all over again, we know they aren’t going to be tricked so easily. So the humans have to evade and fight them using their intellect. Or some form of it. Yeah, the gymnastics shit is strange, but at least they set it up earlier in the film.

Nothing is so outlandish here as using live-animals in the military, or having them appear in dreams.

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If anything, the film does a pretty good job wrapping up what it lays out on the table. Roland gets his prize T-Rex, but loses quite a bit in the process. Sarah and Ian are finally heading off the island in what can ostensibly be seen as a familial-unit. Ludlow should have learned his lesson, but…no. That pesky greed, it corrupts absolutely.

I can give Spielberg a pass for the idea of the San Diego breakout. It’s a lot of fun and has a plethora of memorable moments. It’s tough to ignore, though, that it throws a wrench in the conclusion of the film and all of a sudden we have a fourth act. It wouldn’t have been enough to keep the action on the island and use the data Hammond’s team collected to change public perception of the dinosaurs living on Sorna.

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No. In a silly bit of showmanship, we have a boat with a T-Rex crashing onto American shores. How did the crew of the boat die? Doesn’t matter now, they cut it in post. Boy, Mr. Hammond, this should work well toward changing public opinion of your dinosaurs. The San Diego-scene is where you’re either torn from or galvanized in your support for this film. I can appreciate it for the entertainment that it is, but it undermines so much of…whatever this film was getting at. It never really gets the chance to elaborate aside from a quick bit on CNN by Hammond about the need to leave these creatures alone.

But the T-Rex breaks loose on a major city with a devastating resentment of infrastructure: Take that traffic-signal!

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And you, public transportation!

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How on earth is the Coast Guard just letting that thing sail back home? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and in a movie that seemed so adamant in justifying its existence with some kind of forethought, this ending is disappointing.


So…

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I can understand when people suggest that this is the worst of the JP films, and then say the end is too nonsensical. Those sentiments, I feel, are mutually exclusive, however. You can’t insist that it’s bad because of its ending and also suggest that it’s the worst of the franchise. The entirety of the drama surrounding the newer films has been pilfered from the two original films. Jurassic World is a soft reboot of Jurassic Park, but with a seriously dumb “use them as dino-soldiers” plot-line. Fallen Kingdom boils Lost World down to its most basic elements: save the dinos, capture dinos, capitalism, greed. Fallen Kingdom, however, insists on a very strange and self-defeating location for two-thirds of the movie – the fucking basement of a really big house – then tosses the dinos out into the real world just like The Lost World did.

How is that better? If anything, it’s exactly the same.

The common argument is that we aren’t meant to analyze these movies, that they are big dumb action-adventure flicks with broad-chested men and women running stupidly from bloodthirsty monsters. Which is fine. It’s disappointing, but it’s fine. The movies can be that way, but don’t ape the imagery and plots from better movies in your own franchise.

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For all of the pacing and tonal shifting in Lost World, it’s certainly closer in feel to the newer films than to the original, it still offers dialogue and story-beats worth paying attention to. There are arguments to be had about dinosaur behavior and of observing them as elements of nature rather than theme-park exhibits. We have glimpses of that in Jurassic World, but Chris Pratt’s smoldering at the camera and pinching insects out of the air distracts from anything he’s trying to say about animal behavior.

And Spielberg is just a better filmmaker than Trevorrow. There’s careful attention to detail in sets and in movement. Things are arranged to follow the natural path of curiosity within the audience. We are shown something and it is elaborated on until its function becomes apparent. Action scenes develop as part of an ongoing conflict, and resolve themselves before they wear out their welcome. Dinosaurs are heard approaching, or conflicts with technology are hinted at hours before they become a problem. Dinosaurs don’t just appear in fucking tubes while volcanos are erupting and lava is spewing everywhere. It also doesn’t having a dino-showdown by the ocean as if the dinosaurs carry personal vendettas. Fan-service alone is not good moviemaking.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park is not a great movie, but it’s above and beyond the films that followed. It’s shlocky, but tastefully done. Its humor in balance with its mayhem.

In the race for second-place, which is all a sequel in this franchise can hope for, it’s won handily.

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