June 21, 2015

jurassic world Greetings again from the darkness. I’m guessing that most anyone who enjoys movies and is at least 30 years old, has vivid recollections of Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park from1993 (based on the Michael Crichton novel). The iconic theme from John Williams, that initial awe-inspiring look at the dinosaurs grazing in the valley, the reminder that “objects are closer than they appear” in side mirrors, and the late Sir Richard Attenborough stating that he “spared no expense” in creating the park … all merged to became part of an incredibly moving and huge new movie theatre experience.  This latest (and fourth in the franchise) offers us “big”, but very little “new”, and unfortunately nothing very “moving” in its presentation.

Set two decades after the tragic and messy park trial run of that original movie, we find Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help) managing the financially-challenged theme park owned by Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi). Chris Pratt is training Velociraptors, while BD Wong is cooking up hybrid and genetically modified monsters such as Indominus Rex – designed to excite the audiences who have become bored with an old-fashioned T-Rex.

Even though this is technically a sequel, there are numerous similarities to the original film, and a fun parlor game consists of spotting all the homage’s and tributes sprinkled throughout. Two of my favorites are the “Winston’s” shop in the park, and the ViewMaster shot early on. These two are tips of the cap to Stan Winston and Ray Harryhausen … two giants in the world of special effects.

In what has become the Hollywood “go to” for evil-doers, the secret plan to militarize the dinosaurs is being carried out by Vincent D’Onofrio. Of course, this clashes with Pratt’s ideal life for “his” trainees. The mandatory kids-in-peril are played by Ty Simpkins (Insidious) and Nick Robinson. Much has been made of the absurdity of Ms. Howard’s numerous scenes of sprinting in high heels, and I found her overall demeanor to be every bit as exaggerated and unbelievable as her actions in heels. Jake Johnson (TV’s “New Girl) and Omar Sy (so wonderful in The Intouchables) were the most “real” characters, though neither was given much to do.

Much of what is written here is “in comparison” to the original. While this may not be fair, it is inescapable when dealing with such a respected and iconic film. Youngsters unfamiliar with the original film, are likely to find this one exciting – even terrifying at times – and that’s an important distinction to make. The Mosasaurus alone is worth the price of admission … and good for a few nightmares!  And who among us wouldn’t pay up for a Baby Triceratops ride in the Petting Zoo?

For the Jurassic Park stalwarts, the inconsistent (sometimes great, sometimes fake-looking) CGI will be as tough to overlook as Ms. Howard’s cartoon character. And yes, composer Michael Giacchino is new to the Jurassic series, and he is wise enough to work in the terrific and familiar John Williams theme in more than one scene.  However, none of the downsides will keep the true fans away, and there is an entire generation of kids who should have the chance to marvel at lifelike dinosaurs on the big screen courtesy of director Colin Trevorrow (previously known for his work on the indie gem Safety Not Guaranteed).

watch the trailer:





May 7, 2013

harryhausen Ray Harryhausen has passed away at age 92.  When someone from the movie-making world dies, we often talk about how their work influenced others or had an impact on the industry. It’s difficult to name any single person who influenced more filmmakers and movie lovers than Ray Harryhausen.  As for impact on the industry, we continue to enjoy not just his work, but the work of those he inspired … Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick (and MANY more!) … in genres such as Sci-Fi, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror and Monsters.

If you don’t recognize his name, it’s because he was a humble man who enjoyed his craft, but avoided the spotlight. His life-changing event occurred when he watched King Kong (1933). The visual effects ignited a passion and a lifelong pursuit of improving visual effects in movies. He tutored under pioneer George Pal and worked with Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young (1949).  He then began his own work, including his most famous films The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1968), One Million Years, B.C. (1966) and his final film Clash of the Titans (1981).

His most famous effects include the sword-fighting skeletons, the cyclops, the cobra woman, Medusa and the magnificent flying horse of “Titans”.  And this doesn’t even include Raquel Welch in One Million Years, B.C.  Yes, I know Mr. Harryhausen did not create Ms. Welch, but she exemplifies just how difficult it was for actors to get attention in a scene with his creatures!

While I am certainly not unique in this, Mr. Harryhausen’s creatures dazzled me as a youngster who was just starting to get a feel for the power of cinema. His innovative special effects led to a well-deserved Honarary Oscar in 1992.  If your boss is ever unhappy with your production level at work, just remind him that the great Ray Harryhausen often had work days where he finished but one-half second of filmed effects.  That’s what I call dedication to the cause!

**NOTE: Harryhausen made a few cameos/limited appearances in films, and is the voice of the Polar Bear Cub in Elf (2003)

The best video I could find for a tribute is below.  It presents the Harryhausen creatures in order … with the great Tito Puente providing the background music.  There is also a terrific documentary called Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011) that I highly recommend.