NEWS: An interesting week for Marvel

Well, it’s been an interesting week to say the least. Ignoring the incessant death throes of our democracy, let’s instead turn to acknowledge another of our great American pastimes: Pop escapism!

This week saw the release of two new trailers for Marvel properties. Sony’s Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse and Netflix’s Daredevil series both unleashed onto an unsuspecting, though willing, audience. One is bright and colorful, inviting, while the other is dark and foreboding of the kind of pulpy dread we series-bingers yearn for.

The Spider-Verse trailer looks fun, and funny. The animation is reminiscent of Insomniac Games’ recent Spiderman PS4 exclusive, with warm lighting and playful, Disney-Marvel banter.  Full of homages and references to the web-slinger’s other on-screen outings, this looks like the type of kid-friendly, light-hearted fare that could finally win Sony some much-needed love from fans.

As for the Daredevil season three trailer? God, it’s so good to see Wilson Fisk again. His presence was deeply missed in season two, especially after being (arguably) the greatest aspect of the first season. How he and Matt Murdock do battle remains to be seen, but expect psychological manipulation and long-take tracking-shots of martial arts in the many hallways of Hell’s Kitchen.

No word yet on whether one of these Marvel shows will be able to match the potency of its first season. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage each had fairly solid first outings. The Punisher felt a bit redundant by its eighth episode, and Iron Fist has been a raging dumpster fire from the jump. As far as overall quality, I’d say Jessica Jones’ first season is the high-mark for the Netflix Defenders universe. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Next comes the totally unexpected, couldn’t-have-been-predicted, out of left field realization that Sony’s Venom received poor review scores from critics. Holy shit. Unbelievable. A movie whose protagonist likened his existence to a turd in the wind – IN THE PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL – met a poor critical response. I stand by my box-office prediction from earlier this week – A Star is Born is charming literally everyone, and buzz for Venom never felt more fervent than lukewarm apprehension. We’ll see, I suppose.

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Lastly, Chris Evans took to Twitter to announce that he has wrapped filming for the upcoming Avengers movie. He provided a heartfelt farewell to the character of Captain America, a role he’s played dutifully for the last eight years. One can only assume that he will go back to his day job of being a golden retriever. Oh, and him signing off definitely means he’s going to die. Just saying.

That’s it for Marvel news. At least what I care to talk about.

Stay tuned for more.

Until next time.

 

Review: Orange is the New Black: Season 6 – Part 4

This is the conclusion of a review in-progress of Netflix’s prison dramedy, Orange is the New Black. This review covers episodes twelve and thirteen.

*Some Spoilers Ahead*

“Double Trouble”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 59m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Clark Johnson

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Tensions are coming to a head, and while they are we become acutely aware that this season might not end the way we want it to. Taystee is dealing with a stacked trial, and her lawyer sheds pretense when speaking with a frazzled Caputo: she has a fifty-fifty shot of winning or losing. We’re meant to understand that as a positive note, but the show’s allusions here are clear – the best someone like Taystee (read: black in America) could ever hope for is a coin-toss’s odds.

It doesn’t matter if Caputo has fulfilled his redemption-arc and is slowly yanking Fig along with him. Good intentions don’t change shit.

Elsewhere we have characters trying to take a stand. Vause is risking everything to keep Badison away from Piper – the former wishing to add prison time for the latter. This puts Vause dead smack in the middle of the upcoming block war/kickball match. Vause still has time to serve, and she may be throwing in the towel. That theme becomes apparent now – not that it’s been especially absent – that people are tired of trying so hard and not going anywhere, conceding to the system.

Speaking of, MCC has rebranded itself as PolyCon as a PR move. Fig is unimpressed, but has to submit to the wishes of her superiors and implement a new, laughably malleable inmate ranking system that weighs demerits against their original defense, or…something, I don’t know.

Regardless, a few times around the halfway point of the episode there are some key exchanges about personhood and volition. One CO asks another about the data-entry inmate ranking system, isn’t it hard turning people into numbers? No, he replies, not once you’re used to it. He should be used to it, as the COs have been ranking the inmates the whole season without corporate mandate.

All of the prisoners are numbers, pawns, what have you. Pieces to be moved around a chessboard to progress someone else’s motives – at least that’s what I’m taking from the show at this point. I don’t see Caputo or Fig making a dent against PolyCon/MCC, and I don’t have high hopes for Taystee or any of the other inmates subscribing to Barb and Carol’s war. Things feel too orchestrated, to precarious. Everyone speaking out against it is being locked up in SHU.

And Red, poor vengeful Red. She almost saw her grandchildren. It’s as if the show is subtly reminding us that hey, these guys are criminals and are still susceptible to their baser instincts – but so is everyone else.

Anyways, the stage is set for the finale. Tensions are very, very high, though the episode doesn’t do much more than advance a good plot. It’s got a pretty interesting ending, though.

4/5


“Be Free”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h 24m; Created by Jenji KohanDirected by Nick Sandow

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All the planning, all the tested loyalties and alliances formed, they all come to this. Though this season hasn’t made the actual kickball match feel particularly threatening, there’s been more than adequate portent. From the jump we see that things aren’t going as planned, a theme coursing through this episode’s feature-length runtime. We have to expect, as the audience, that we aren’t getting what we want. At all. Same deal with our characters.

Turns out Vause isn’t going to school. Turns out that maybe Fig and Caputo aren’t compatible. Turns out Piper isn’t going to get to spend another few months with Vause.

That’s right, she’s being sprung. Due to the aforementioned easily-manipulated inmate-scoring software that PolyCon instituted, and Piper’s ignorance about the drug-economy of the prison, she’s being released. It’s wholly, incredibly convenient. Piper’s smart enough not to question a good thing too vocally, though, as a person with her background tends to behave.

Aleida wants to get her kids back, but that might mean losing Daya. Taystee just wanted justice for Poussey, but it might cost her the rest of her life. Morello just wants a baby, and Nichols just wants an easy ride through the end of her sentence. Barb and Carol? I’ll get to that.

We’re allowed some tender moments between long-running characters at Vause and Piper’s spontaneous prison-wedding, but aren’t allowed to savor it because the kickball match approaches.

Some thoughts on that.

This never felt like the big, burgeoning battle sequence as it was imagined by the inmates of Litchfield. As one of the COs mentions, it’s just kickball. And that may have been the point the whole time. Nichols, when she corners Morello over her shifted alliances, points out that the only reason anyone is doing anything is because of Carol and Barb. The powers that be, manipulating and corralling the lesser-thans into violent opposition.

Though it wears it on its sleeve, this show has some decent subtext.

There’s a big twist regarding Carol and Barb and the show earns it, I think. I was frustrated a few episodes back about a series of flashbacks showing how they killed their younger sister together, about how proficiently manipulative they were together, and I bear no qualms about eating my own words. The flashback was relevant. I was wrong.

Still, this last episode needed thirty extra minutes to tell a full story. Just saying.

Moving on, the major conflicts are put to rest here, but nothing has changed and it’s wonderful. Why? Because that’s the whole point. OITNB has outdone itself with this ending. It feels like the writers, in their dimly-lit windowless room in some office-building in L.A., just sat at a table and never once denied a good idea because it might not market well. They approached a moment of severe tension and had it result in a way that is both unsurprising and well-earned.

They stuck to their guts here. Though our characters may not be in a better place because of it, it makes for much better television. Everyone you might expect to walk away from that prison, does so. Everyone else? Not so lucky. I watched the ending, searching for some consolation, but as with the inmates left in Litchfield, there isn’t much to find.

Again, that’s the point.

Well done.

4.5/5


So that’s it!

Season six is in the books. I wouldn’t brand this a hard reboot, that was season five, this season has been an enthralling return to form for the series. They sat down and thought hard about how to tell a good story using all the tools at their disposal, and it works very well.

There are pacing issues, sure, as well as the normal structural problems present with such a large ensemble cast, but they do this better than most productions.

We get meaningful, impactful arcs for almost every character. Things happen and they mean something this season. Which can’t be said for several of the others. That small actions precipitated larger conflicts, broadly and specifically, feels great and watches better.

Though I will say this: I’m done.

Yes, done. I don’t really want another season of this show. The narrative of season six was so effused with the series’ overarching themes and said so much with them, arguably what it’s been trying to say this whole time. I don’t need anything else. Netflix has already ordered season seven, so I may be ranting at a wall here, but I think they tied everything up nicely.

Taystee didn’t get justice, because it’s so infrequent that black men and women ever do in a system biased against them. Piper gets out no strings attached, and many of the immigrant detainees are sent to ICE-compounds after thinking they were being released. It’s heartbreaking, but an accurately assembled tableau of racial and economic biases and segregation within our criminal justice system. And those powers that be? They stay in power.

They do it all without saying a word, either. Our characters exchange worried glances far more often than they monologue or address these issues through dialogue. That’s what sets this season apart for me. It shows more often that it tells – you can never go wrong there.

I’m curious to see where this goes. But, and I can’t understate this, season seven should be the show’s final season. Show Piper writing her book, or whatever; make it a prolonged post-series “where they are now” segment. Just don’t counteract the statements made in this season. Please.

Final score: 4/5 – Well above average.

An excellent return to form for the series. It’s found its teeth again and bites hard when it has to. Binge it.

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Review: Orange is the New Black: Season 6 – Part 3

This is Part Three of a review in-progress for the sixth season of Netflix’s prison dramedy, Orange is the New Black. This review covers episodes eight through eleven.

*Some Spoilers Ahead*

“Gordons”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 58m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Sian Heder

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Relationships are changing in Litchfield, and it’s fun to watch. Vause doesn’t want to be a…phone-mule? She wants to keep to herself, while Piper wants to make a difference – it’s good they’ve developed so much over the series. There’s some drama regarding the blocks, Red is getting in over her head with Carol, Nichols gets to artificially inseminate Flores (fucking hilarious), and a whole litany of other shenanigans that might break wide into more substantial plot-threads. Importantly, though, and much to my relief, this episode decides to shift focus away from some of the block-drama back onto Taystee and the riot-trial.

Taystee knows one of the COs, who delivers to her all of her mail. This is fleshed out with a flashback about their time working the overnight drive-thru window together at a burger joint. Prisoner and CO, both from the same walk of life, very obviously went in different directions – both of which were deemed the only course of action by either character.

This is interesting stuff, especially once Taystee does her interview and lambastes the COs for their treatment of the prisoners, which has been observably poor. Here comes some drama, furthering the divide between the guards and prisoners. I like this stuff, why doesn’t it linger on it a little more? Make a point about the nature of this trial in relation to the guards, what are the consequences should they be exposed for their behavior? The show doesn’t really need to spell it out for us, far from it, but tossing characters against one another and playing their differences on their similarities is what has given this series so many memorable moments. These are the things we tune in for.

I can do without the final scene of them literally walking two separate ways at an intersection. It’s not awful, but we get it.

Going forward the show would do wise to keep us invested in this trial. The prison-block drama is juicy and fun, but the politics surrounding the inmates and the officers outside their cell-doors is a foundational pillar to the show.

3.5/5


“Break the String”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Nick Sandow

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It’s fitting that so much of the season up to this point has been about establishing where our characters’ loyalties lie. Following their incarceration in max, each one of them has had to develop a plan that ensures their own survival within the system. These plans, much to the benefit of the show itself, often run incongruous or in direct opposition to one another. This episode starts a pattern which will hopefully play out to the season’s ending. Cindy, Flaka, Piper, Carol, Barb, Frieda, Caputo, Linda, Fig, Badison, Morello, Mendoza, Ruiz, Daya, Daddy, Aleida, even Suzanne – each of them have an endgame, and a course of action going forward that could potentially bear enormous consequences.

Be it Piper trying to reinstate kickball during recreational hours, or Daddy forcing Barb to OD in order to buy herself some time setting up another drug-racket. Both of these plans have to juggle the intentions of multiple characters. That the show has managed to weave a web of motivation and consequence this tightly is what’s moving everything along at this point, as the tension over the trial has long since devolved into no more than back-pain for Cindy – literally.

But that’s okay, because these are lovely characters and we don’t want them to feel pain anywhere, and the idea that some of our beloveds may inflict damage to one another, rather than do the right thing, is unerring entertainment. What’s more, the show continues to experiment with the tools at its disposal. Flaka and Cindy are fun together, and the budding “romance” between Aleida and a guard is actually illuminating – Aleida has for so long-held a high guard, but her need of others in a moment of genuine weakness is a challenge her character alone would find so difficult overcoming.

Caputo is finally coming around it seems, as his moral objections to MCC might be boiling over. That Fig is there to offer him advice, and further invest in her own vulnerability, feels right. It’s important to offer developments like this six seasons along. But this season is loyalty, respect, and playing the long game: Plans.

This late in the season, well over half-way, the show is dishing out a bit more than we bargained for. It isn’t a problem that it’s so densely plotted, especially when compared to earlier seasons, but I’m worried as to whether or not the show can pull off a resolution to so much with the amount of time it has left. Everyone in Litchfield is committing to their game plan, we just have to wait and see what happens. There’s certainly the potential for a stellar ending here.

4/5


“Chocolate Chip Nookie”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Ludovic Littee

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This is a good episode, flat-out, but it has some problems. To set the scene, everyone’s plans are underway. Daddy, Daya, and Aleida are smuggling drugs into the prison using the guard/boyfriend and his protein-shake tubs – props for making that relevant – and Barb is finally sober thanks to some time spent with Nicky in the infirmary. Piper’s got C-Block running drills to get ready for kickball, which was reinstated, but Badison’s a control-freak so you know where that’s headed. Caputo and Fig are starting to invest some energy against MCC, Red is cozying up with Carol in the hopes of getting at Frieda, who is still in Florida with Suzanne and Doggett trying not to get murdered. None of that is to mention the continued conflict between Mendoza and the other women of C-Block and Luschek and the cell-phone smuggling business. Shew.

This show’s layers are tangling up very quickly, and with only a handful more episodes left on the roster we need as much screen time reserved for relevant material as possible.

Right?

I guess not, because in the middle of all of that interesting shit, we get another glimpse into Carol and Barb’s back story. My question: Why? What do we learn? Nothing of value. I’d rather be following Caputo on his crusade against his former employer, with a reformed Fig backing him up, or the changing politics of the old alliances between characters that are being challenged in max.

What we get in this lengthy set of flashbacks is what Frieda describes as the “Little Debbie Killings.” Barb and Carol, while teenagers, murder their younger sister by locking her in a car and pushing it into a lake. And? They bicker a lot once they’re in prison together. It’s rushed, it’s a severe strain on the suspension of disbelief, and it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about the warring tribes of Lichfield in the present. Their characterization in Frieda’s flashback was enough. They’re bickering sisters who went to prison and, over their long incarceration, grew to hate each other. What’s to elaborate on?

Consider it this way: All Frieda had to do in a brief conversation with Suzanne was hint at the notoriety of the “Little Debbie Killings” and that Little Debbie was Barb and Carol’s little sister. It should go without saying that only a depraved individual would murder their little sister. Did we need to see it play out? I’d argue that the handful of flashbacks did very little to justify, in any frame of mind, why the two sisters offed their younger sibling. There’s hardly enough time to present anything nuanced about these brand spanking new characters. And with everything else going on, it’s a distraction.

Let’s hope the next episode keeps its focus on the present day, because OITNB‘s recurring plot-device is becoming a hindrance. The show will get better going forward, not by continuously peeking backward.

3/5


“Well This Took a Dark Turn”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Laura Prepon

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Maybe Laura Prepon should spend more time behind the camera, because she delivers a pretty tight episode here. Not a single flashback in sight as we focus on how dangerously all of the old alliances have shifted, and the new dramas that envelope our characters. Every meaningful arc gets some time here. Piper and Badison butt heads, Nichols is trapped between old friends and D-Block’s blood lust, MCC is maneuvering around Caputo’s campaign for the truth, and the riot-trial is officially underway. Those plans, the ones I’ve been yammering on about for the last few reviews, are in action. As they put it in the show – it’s time to go all-in, and I am. I really am.

Leading up to this episode we’ve had a mess of plot-lines entangle, to see them tugging and yanking all over is rewarding. There’s no near-miss with Aleida’s drug-tubs of protein powder, her boyfriend confronts her instantly. We have immediate consequences and action. Everything Piper does to help herself gets her in deeper trouble with Badison, regardless of what she wants, and she finally comes face to face with the realization we’ve all been yearning for over the last few years: The other prisoners fuck with her because of her privilege, because she’s in there with them despite having every opportunity they could only dream of having. That Taystee is the one to offer this revelation makes it all the more sweet.

Side note: It’s really nice to see Burset here, I wish this season would bring back some of our old favorites more frequently. Her situation is sad, but her decision at the end of the episode is in-keeping with the mantra this season has touted from the jump – it’s every woman for herself. She commits to her own survival, as does every other character.

Piper goes all in on her status as kickball captain, Vause goes all-in on a college course, Cindy goes all-in on her testimony, the Litchfield campers go all-in on their allegiances to their new blocks, and the guards go all-in on fixing their fantasy draft dry spell in what is a genuinely surprising way to end the episode.

Nothing distracts from the drama here. There’s levity, sure, but everyone has to make a choice, and those choices get made, galvanizing or undoing their relationships or their security.

Great episode; the kind you clench you jaw and raise your eyebrows at.

4.5/5


Two to go

I’m excited to see where this ends. The upcoming kickball game has some stakes riding on it, that’s for sure. This season has done well to unshackle itself from the sentimental-oozing of earlier episodes. It feels more akin to seasons one and two, where there’s danger behind every sign of relief.

I don’t want to see this kickball crap outshine the trial, however. For as prevalent a role that played in the first half of the season, I want it to finish strong.

We’ll see.

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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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