Friday, July 17, 2009

Jurassic Park Trilogy

Who is Steven Spielberg? And why is he such a great filmmaker? Those are the two questions I always ask myself every time I watch one of his movies because each one of his films is entertaining through and through. Whether it’s his first feature, Duel, or latest collaboration with George Lucas, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, or even the critically scrutinized Hook, there’s not really one of his movies you didn’t walk away from saying that it sucked ass.

Likewise, it was a tough decision going into my DVD collection to pick out one of his movies to watch, but I finally settled on his dinosaur classic, Jurassic Park, as well as the two sequels that followed.

Jurassic Park

I remember venturing out to the movie theater back in 1993 to see this flick, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. See, my knowledge of dinosaur movies before Jurassic Park consisted of crappy stop motion effects or bad puppetry to make the dinosaurs come to life. Not only that, but usually the dinosaurs would get very little screen time which basically ripped off the moviegoer even further.

Needless to say, that was my frame of mind all those years ago when I paid my money to go see this flick.

Well, the movie starts in the jungle where some big crate or cage is being loaded to an adjacent and bigger cage. Now it’s not the type of cage that we can see inside of, but we hear these screeches or loud shrieks that sound reptilian in nature.

Well, of course, something goes wrong while the men all around are trying to cart something in from the small cage to the bigger one and one poor sap falls near the opening when the two pens come apart. Something grabs the unfortunate guy and it’s obviously something big and strong because it lifts this guy like he’s some rag doll.

We don’t see what the thing is and that’s what pulls us into the movie and hooks us for more. Cleverly, Spielberg goes by the unspoken rule that less is definitely more, leaving us to imagine, rather than see, what the creature was. I mean, it’s understandable that the thing was some sort of carnivorous dinosaur—obvious due to word-of-mouth that this film was about dinosaurs—but we don’t exactly see it. And that’s filmmaking at its greatest.

Next, we get character development, introducing us to the players of this film. We’ve got Dr. Alan Grant played by Sam Neill and Dr. Ellie Sattler played by Laura Dern introduced as archeologists digging at a site and shown as experts in the species of dinosaurs. Some rich man, John Hammond played by Richard Attenborough asks them to help out at an amusement park island and pays off their grant to help convince them to do so.

Along for the ride to the island is Dr. Ian Malcolm played by Jeff Goldblum. He provides a lot of funny moments throughout the movie and he was a delight to watch.

It seems that the investors of the Jurassic Park attraction—who are represented by their lawyer—want it checked out and endorsed before they can put more money into it; that’s why Hammond wants these experts to see it and give their opinion on it, obviously confident that they’ll love the place.

Just as everyone is getting ready for the park tour, Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards are introduced as John Hammond’s grandchildren, Tim and Lexi, and they go along for the tour.

As can be expected, all the security measures go haywire thanks to some greedy hi-jinks that Dennis Nedry (played by Wayne Knight from “Seinfeld” fame) pulls in order to try and get some cryogenic dinosaur embryos off the island. To get off the island with the embryos, he disengages all the security measures like the locks and cameras, as well as the electrified fences that are keeping the deadly dinosaurs in their sections, so of course the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex gets loose as well and wreaks havoc on the people left vulnerable in the shut down vehicles.

It was, and still is, a very exciting movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat during all the dino-attacks. Hard to believe, but the movie is over 15 years old and the CGI is top-notch. A lot of films you see during this time have CGI that has aged terribly, but Steven Spielberg knew what he was doing when he made this film.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

The 1997 sequel to Jurassic Park was a no-brainer. Why, when the first film made so much money, wouldn’t you make a sequel? Only problem that remains is what kind of story do you tell? What’s the plot?

Well, the answer to both questions: a very thin one.

The film begins with a yacht parked out in front of an island that is around 80 miles away from the island of the first film. We see a very rich couple with servants running around at their beck and call. They’re just enjoying the peacefulness of the island and allowing their little girl the freedom to roam around.

The girl does, as anybody would, and discovers the teeny tiny little dinosaurs that are the size of chickens and don’t seem very menacing, until we hear the off camera scream that sends her parents running.

We don’t see what actually happened to the little girl as the scene cuts very humorously to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) who’s back as the star of The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Malcolm is visiting John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) at his home as he notices creditors and other people obviously taking assets and whatever else, giving the impression that Hammond’s gone broke after the events of the first film. But it seems he has one last trick up his sleeve as he tells Malcolm that there was a second island where they raised the dinosaurs before bringing them to Jurassic Park and he needs a group to visit the island and bring proof that the animals are able to survive on their own.

Of course Malcolm, after undergoing the near-death experience and knowing how dangerous it is, he firmly says that there’s no way that he’d ever go through that again. Until he finds out that his girlfriend, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), is already there and he then finds himself going to get her out of there.

We see much of the same things as we did in the first film, so we know what to expect. But some of the plot was interesting, albeit kind of a rip-off of the King Kong story. And speaking of that part of the story, I felt that if that’s where they were going with this, they might’ve maybe spent a little less time on the island and a little more time in San Diego with the T-Rex running amuck.

But aside from any criticisms I may have, the film as a whole is very entertaining and had a stellar cast.

However, I DO have one criticism.

The introduction of Ian Malcolm’s daughter, Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), was a little off-putting. Now, it’s not to say she’s a bad actress or that there shouldn’t be any African-American characters in the film, it’s just that it was such a big contrast between Malcolm and her. I believe it was explained that she’s not supposed to be his biological daughter, but it was a little disconcerting nonetheless.

It’s no surprise, and I don’t think it really gives anything away, but the pterodactyl that is shown flying and landing on the tree right before the credits rolled, why weren’t they flying around during the movie? How come they only appear at the very end? Were they on another island? Were they hiding out somewhere? Maybe sticking to the other side of the island and away from the other dinosaurs?

All kidding aside, this film is very entertaining and shouldn’t be missed if you’re a fan of the first film.

Jurassic Park III

Pretty interesting how Sam Neill didn’t return for part 2, but here he is for the third installment of Steven Spielberg’s classic, Jurassic Park.

This time around we have Joe Johnston taking the director’s reigns left behind by Spielberg and joining the cast with Sam Neill is William H. Macy and Tea Leoni.

At the beginning of the film, much like the beginning of the second film, something bad happens to civilians getting close to the dinosaur island. A man and a boy are parasailing near a tropical island and it looks like a lot of fun as they said high above the ocean and near the lush tropical island, video camera in hand and filming everything they see from up in the clouds. It’s pretty evident that the island they’re near is one of the dinosaur islands we’ve seen in the previous films. The man is uncle to the boy and is telling him he paid the guys on the boat to get as close as they can to the island so they can get some good shots with their video camera.

Well, things go bad as they usually do in these flicks and something happens as the uncle and his nephew feel the boat is going too fast. They’re being whipped up and down a little but can’t see what’s going on with the boat as they went through a fog bank. When the fog clears, to their horror, they see the boat is thrashed and no one on board. Adding to that, they also see up ahead that the boat is about to crash into a huge rock. Well, they undo the rope that’s attached to them from the boat and they parachute down towards the island below.

Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) is giving lectures at colleges and trying to stick to the archeology aspects of dinosaurs, but of course everybody wants to ask him about the live dinosaurs he ran into at Jurassic Park. Also, for some reason, he never hooked up with Ellie because she’s now married to someone else with a two or three year old son, but he’s still good friends with her.

Anyway, Dr. Grant and his assistant, Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola), are approached by a couple, Paul and Amanda Kirby, that want him to act as a tour guide for them as they fly over the island where the Jurassic Park site is abandoned. Dr. Grant, at first, declines as he remembers the disaster back when he first visited that island. But the couple promises that all they need him to do is to point out certain areas and dinosaurs as they fly from up above. Mr. Kirby brings out his checkbook and begins filling out a check, telling Dr. Grant that he’ll pay whatever the cost.

Of course, Dr. Grant agrees and they all set out to fly over the island.

But the Kirbys aren’t what they seem and it turns out that they land on the island much to Dr. Grant’s dismay. The Kirbys are actually the parents of the boy, Erik, who was parasailing with his uncle when he went missing and they want Dr. Grant to help them locate him.

Of course, things go wrong—if it didn’t, this wouldn’t be a very good Jurassic Park movie—and they need to find a way to get off the island.

The film brings forth a new dinosaur, one even deadlier than the Tyrannusaurus Rex—the Spinosaurus. One cool scene from this film is the first battle we see between the two and the Spinosaurus wins dramatically by snapping the neck of the T-Rex.

Also in the mix is the addition of the Pteranodons, or Pterodactyls as I’ve learned from the Flintstones. It was pretty cool to have these guys in the movie after we saw one of them landing at the end of the first sequel.

Pretty much, this film is a rehash from the first two films, just the same plot of people being stuck on an island with man-eating dinosaurs on the loose and they need to find a way to save themselves. But don’t get me wrong, the film is very entertaining and keeps you on the edge of your seat and the cast is very likable as was in the two films previous. I actually wish they’d keep making sequels, maybe taking the dinosaurs to America once again, but this time on a much grander scale.

Anyway, the Jurassic Park trilogy makes for a great six hours of a movie watching experience. It’s magical, entertaining, fun for the whole family and I recommend it to anybody who likes to watch an action film with a little bit of science fiction to boot. It’s definitely the best group of dinosaur movies ever made…no doubt about that.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

À L'intérieur

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve talked about my favorite genre and I think it’s high time that I did. Horror, for me, is the best thing in my life and it’s not because it’s something that I want happening to other people or myself for that matter. I just enjoy the creativity of it and how the special effects work to make the scenes look authentic and genuine.

Now, a while back I wrote out a list of twenty horror movies that I feel are the best I’ve seen. But, of course, there’s a lot more horror movies out there that I enjoy just as much as the list I made. If I really put my mind to it, I probably could’ve made a top 100 list, but that would’ve been a long read.

Anyway, one of the podcasts I listen to and enjoy is Horror Etc. and not too long ago they discussed at length how much they enjoyed the movie, À L'intérieur, which translated in French means, Inside.

À L'intérieur is a foreign film directed by Alexandre Bustillo, complete with subtitles, but please do not let that scare you off if you’re the type who doesn’t like to read while watching a film. I, myself, usually don’t like subtitled movies, but this one really held my attention throughout.

The film opens with the aftermath of a car accident and we see two people inside, a man and a woman. The woman, played by Alysson Paradis, is coming out of the haze and we gather that she’s going to be all right. But the man doesn’t move—apparently dead.

We then see the young woman at a hospital some time after the accident as she’s pregnant and probably just having a routine appointment. She appears to be at full term and very sad, visibly upset about the loss of her husband. But before you can really feel completely compassionate for her, the young lady basically tells a nurse to buzz off in a very offending way when all the nurse was trying to do was to have a conversation with her.

The main story starts when the young lady stays the night in her house by herself and what starts as some simple stalking turns into something very bad until it concludes with the most horrible scene I’ve ever witnessed in a horror movie.

Yes, this film has a lot of gore and guts and mutilation and blood and stabbing and shooting and everything you can think of to kill someone disgustingly and horribly. At times, I was very uncomfortable with the way people were getting killed and I haven’t felt that way in a long time when watching a horror movie. It just goes to show you that while these foreign horror movies have been going to the next level with their shock value, American movies have just been running in place, making remakes and clichéd stories with clean and tired visuals.

Even though the main character sort of acted like a spoiled brat at the beginning and seemed like she didn’t care whether she had this baby or not, by the time the movie gets moving you really feel bad for her and pull for her against her terrorizer.

About this villain…when we first see the antagonist’s shadowed form at the windows or doors, it makes us want to get up and make sure all the doors and windows are locked and fastened (at least that’s what it made me want to do). When this character is finally revealed, it’s someone who looks mysterious and foreboding…someone you really want to steer clear of if you saw them walking at night towards you.

Anyway, after viewing this work, I immediately thought of people who shouldn’t see this movie.

In two words: pregnant women.

For someone who’s pregnant, you do NOT want to see this film. Actually, anybody who’s pregnant, has a pregnant wife, or has a new born baby should stay away from this.

Most of the film has practical effects, meaning the effects were mainly done without computer graphic imagery. All the effects were done with make-up or prosthetics and it worked excellently in this flick. The only CGI used in À L'intérieur was when they showed what the baby was doing inside the woman as she was becoming stressed or frightened, and in some instances as she was being attacked. It was clever and added a lot to the film.

I recommend À L'intérieur to anybody who wants to watch a suspenseful and violent story unfold. As I’ve said, this film is not for the faint of heart or someone with kids or expecting.

And, of course, I wouldn’t watch this while eating a meal.

My final “bit” on À L'intérieur? A flowing story that hooks you in for a very terrifying ride that’ll leave you shocked and alarmed. Being the biggest opposer of subtitled movies, I found myself not minding the words at the bottom. At certain lengths of the film, there’s no dialogue so it really isn’t an issue. The French really know what they’re doing with the horror genre and it makes me want to go out and buy a French to English dictionary.

Yeah, I know…bad joke.