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Old 06-14-2015, 08:30 PM
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Default Movies that aren't really BAD -- but aren't very good, either

It seems to me that we need a thread for movies that aren’t really bad, but that don’t really deserve to be called “good,” either. You know, the kind of movie that you can kind of enjoy if you’re willing to shut off your brain, ignore the stupidities, and enjoy the spectacle.

Tonight’s entry: Jurassic World.

In the Jurassic Park series, there have been three distinct trends that I’ve noted. In each new movie, 1.) the dinosaurs (the Velociraptors, in particular) get smarter, 2.) the humans get dumber, and 3.) the dinosaurs’ behaviors and capabilities get less believable.

Well, Jurassic World follows that proud tradition. When it comes to trend 1.), the Raptors and the Indomitus rex are clearly smarter than are all but a few of the humans depicted in the movie. As for trend 2.), it often seems as if many of the humans in the movie are actively trying to win Darwin Awards. And where trend 3.) is concerned, Jurassic World has jumped headlong into the premise that “Genetically engineered dinosaurs are magic, and can defy the laws of logic and physics whenever they please.”

Before I continue, let’s go back for a bit and look at the previous movies in the series. First, of course, was Jurassic Park. It might as well have been subtitled, This Movie Will Blow Your Mind. Because when it came out, the special effects were simply amazing. Seeing people interacting with photorealistic CG/animatronic dinosaurs really was mind-blowing.

The original was followed by Jurassic Park 2: The Adventures of Sarah Harding, World’s Most Idiotic Paleontologist, and Her Ecoterrorist Buddies. Seriously. For someone who was supposed to be intelligent, the main female protagonist in the movie is a freaking idiot. And after the second or third viewing, you suddenly realize something disturbing: every single person who dies during the course of the movie dies as a result of the actions of the characters who’re supposed to be the Good Guys.

Finally, to round out the original trilogy, we had Jurassic Park 3: Look, We’ve Got CG Dinosaurs Eating People – Who Cares About Plot or Characterization or Believabliity?. Yeah, there was a definite downward trend.

So, what can I say about Jurassic World? Well, let me think. Okay, the CG dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and mosasaur look pretty good. And … uh … some people get eaten. Yeah, there’s that. Otherwise? Well, it’s really a pretty dumb movie. The human characters are, for the most part, either completely uninteresting or downright annoying – to the point that you’re often rooting for the dinosaurs.

But hey, it features photorealistic dinosaurs running around, so I’m in.

According to the press, Jurassic World is supposed to be a direct sequel to the original Jurassic Park. Presumably, that’s why there are so many homages to the original movie. By “homages,” I mean “scenes copied pretty-much shot-for-shot from the first movie.”

Anyway, while it is kind of dated now, I quite liked the original Jurassic Park. A big part of the reason was because they actually went to considerable effort to make the dinosaurs believable.

Are the dinosaurs in Jurassic World believable? Not in the slightest.

Of course, the original Jurassic Park took quite a few liberties here and there. With the Velociraptors, especially.

“Raptors” belonged to the family of theropod dinosaurs known as the dromaeosaurs, as you probably already knew. The real Velociraptor mongoliensis was much smaller than the “Velociraptors” depicted in the movies – a real Velociraptor would have weighed perhaps 30 pounds when fully grown. There were larger dromaeosaurs, to be sure, so I’m not sure why Michael Crichton insisted on calling these critters Velociraptors. Perhaps he just liked the name.

In any event, the “raptors” in the movies are somewhere between the real dromaeosaurs Deinonychus antirrhopus and Utahraptor ostrommaysorum in size. In short, they were much too large to be called “Velociraptors”.

Still, that’s forgivable. Velociraptor sounds impressive, and rolls off the tongue much better than do the names of larger dromaeosaurs like Deinonychus or Austroraptor.

The first movie took quite a few liberties with Tyrannosaurus rex, as well. For instance, multi-ton animals simply do not move and react that quickly – it’s basic physics. As such, it is extremely unlikely that an adult tyrannosaur could have run at speeds of 40+ miles per hour. (According to a biomechanical analysis I once read, for an adult Tyrannosaurus rex to run at speeds anywhere near those depicted in the movie, its leg muscles would’ve had to comprise more than 75% of the animal’s total weight – and its leg bones would almost-certainly have been incapable of handling the stress.)

And if a 12-foot tall, 6-ton biped trips while running, it almost-certainly will not be getting up again, as the fall will shatter bones.

But again, a more realistic tyrannosaur would not have been quite so thrilling, I suppose.

Anyway, despite some forgivable liberties, the first movie went to considerable lengths to make the dinosaurs seem believable. And I quite appreciated that.

Take the way that the tyrannosaur would viciously shake its victims before killing them. That’s actually very common behavior in predators. Viciously shaking captured prey like that disorients it and makes it much less likely to be able to fight back. Sufficiently hard shaking may cause debilitating injury to the Central Nervous System or even break the spine.

That’s why you can kill a young child by shaking it too much.

I once read an account of a professional lion-tamer who was grabbed by one of his lions and given a good shake. He claimed that it basically rendered him paralyzed. Fortunately, his assistants forced the lion to let him go almost immediately, but he said that if they hadn’t been there, there’s no way he would have been able to fight back against the lion, because even after he was rescued, it was several minutes before he could form a coherent thought or even make any coordinated movements.

Along the same lines, I liked the behavior of the Gallimimus in the first movie, when they were being chased by the tyrannosaur. The way that flocking animals often seem to move as one, turning and wheeling in a seemingly-random yet apparently-coordinated manner to evade a predator is sometimes called the “chorus girl effect.” And it was nicely illustrated by how the Gallimimus responded to the pursuing tyrannosaur.

And did you notice how, once the tyrannosaur caught one of them, the rest of the Gallimimus stopped running? That was a nice bit of realistic animal behavior that showed the movie-makers were making a real effort. In the real world (as opposed to the movies), predators seldom go after prey when they aren’t hungry. If you watch the behavior of gazelles on the plains of Africa, for instance, when lions or cheetahs take down a member of the herd, the remaining gazelles typically will stop running.

Why? Because the predators aren’t going to waste time and energy chasing gazelles when they’ve already captured one. So it’s similarly a waste of energy for the remaining gazelles to keep running.

In fact, you often see something seemingly bizarre: the prey animals will keep a respectable distance, but they’ll often follow the predators if they drag their catch off to eat it. Or if the predators eat their catch right there, the prey animals will often stick around – at a respectable distance, of course. Why? It’s thought that one reason for this behavior is that it’s safer for the prey animals to stay close to predators that are eating or that have recently eaten – and are thus not inclined to chase them – than to wander off, possibly right into the territory of a predator that hasn’t eaten recently.

Anyway, thought they took some perhaps-understandable liberties, the original Jurassic Park went to some effort to make the behavior of its dinosaurs fairly realistic. And the physical aspects of the dinosaurs were – again, for the most part – pretty realistic, too.

I happened to be in grad school when the original came out, and I saw it in the theater with one of my professors. We were geeking out throughout the movie. “Look,” we cried as the Tyrannosaurus rex walked across the screen, “you can see how the tibiotarsal muscles work!”. There were probably a few people in the theater who were giving us dirty looks.

But Jurassic World? There were so many times when I found myself wanting to shout at the screen.

“No! Chromatophores do not work that way!”

“No! A six-ton animal can not alter its body temperature at will, much less in the span of just a few seconds!”

“Mosasaurs were not the size of Trident submarines!”

“No! Pterosaurs did not have that kind of lifting power!”

“Do the movie-makers have no understanding of the square-cube law?”

Nobody cares about those stupid, annoying kids!

Ahem. Anyway, one thing that bugged me about the movie is that it doesn’t incorporate anything that we’ve learned about dinosaurs since the original was made. For instance, it’s now well-established that most (and probably all) of the smaller dinosaur species were feathered. Even fully-grown specimens of larger dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex probably retained some feathers. The “raptors” would almost-certainly have been feathered.

The thing is, the movie had the perfect opportunity to justify why the dinosaurs in Jurassic World looked a bit different from those in the previous movies. Henry Wu (who you may remember from the first movie; he’s back in this one, and has gone straight into mad scientist territory) explicitly stated that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park/World are made from incomplete genomes, and so they’ve had to fill in the missing DNA here and there – and as such, a “pure” Velociraptor, for instance, would look noticeably different from the “Velociraptors” in the park.

Perfect! Give the dinosaurs of Jurassic World feathers and more realistic postures, and so forth – and simply have one of the characters mention that the JP/JW bioengineers have “upgraded” their dinosaurs in the light of modern paleontological findings, in order to make them more realistic.

Anyway, I don’t want to get into too many details, in order to avoid giving away too much of the plot. So, what did I think of it? Well, if you can ignore the fact that most of the humans in the movie are annoying and/or idiots, not to mention ridiculously incompetent; the really bad science; and the really bad logic – it’s enjoyable enough. Just sit back, turn off your brain, and enjoy the spectacle.

Chris Platt plays one of the two more or less interesting human characters; here, he’s playing a slightly calmer, slightly more intelligent version of Starlord. So he can be fun to watch. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the other more or less interesting human character. They really should have given him a Snidely Whiplash-type mustache to twirl, though.

Oh, and did I mention that there are CG dinosaurs (and pterosaurs, and a mosasaur) running around and occasionally eating people? There’s always that to keep your interest up.

Just don't expect much in the way of a plot, interesting or well-developed characters, or remotely-realistic dinosaurs/remotely-plausible dinosaur behavior.
“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”
-- Socrates
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