Synopsis: The epic conclusion of the Jurassic era. Release Date: June 10, 2022 Thoughts: I have friendly neighbors who never would have called the police on me today when I screamed watching this new trailer for Jurassic World: Dominion. If the police had arrived, I would have invited them in and brought them to the part of the first full look at the sixth film in the long-running franchise when original stars Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum appeared. Actually, more like when Dern shows up and reunites with Neill in a setting that feels familiar to those that remember how the first movie began.
This lightning bolt of nostalgia is just one of many thrills to be had in this maxed-out ride through the adventure awaiting audiences in the final chapter of a trilogy that began with 2015’s Jurassic World. Though 2018’s sequel Fallen Kingdom didn’t meet the expectations of many, I appreciated its gentle attempt at pivoting. Under the guidance of the first chapter’s director Colin Trevorrow and backed by a humungous production, the series has clearly course-corrected in a significant way. Did I tear up a bit during this trailer? Unashamedly I nod my head yes. Already high on my list of anticipated films of 2022, Jurassic World: Dominion is now in the #1 slot.
Synopsis: After tragically losing their son, a married couple are spending some time isolated at sea when they come across a stranger who has abandoned a sinking ship.
Stars: Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman, Billy Zane
Director: Phillip Noyce
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: When recommending 1989’s Dead Calm, I also wish there was a way I could wave a magic wand and clear your mind of the last thirty years of movies its three stars and director would make. All have gone on to be involved with massive projects (and even win one Oscar) and you can’t help but look at this gripping thriller they made before becoming Hollywood commodities in a different way than you would have back when it was first released. Though the film remains a bona fide nail biter, I think the “before they were stars” wonder of it all could lessen the impact slightly for a viewer in 2021 as opposed to someone that sat down in a theater in April of 1989 when Dead Calm sailed onto U.S. shores and changed many careers.
The history of Dead Calm begins all the way back in 1963 when it was written as a novel by Charles Williams and attracted the attention of legendary director Orson Welles. Welles liked it so much that he began filming the movie soon after but left it unfinished. Years later a copy of the book fell into the hands of Australian director Philip Noyce (Above Suspicion) who got fellow Ozzies George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Terry Hayes (a collaborator with Miller on The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) involved and the rest was, uh, smooth sailing. The cameras rolled in mid-1987 and the shoot took place over six months on the open sea.
Like Jaws, Noyce benefited from the location in giving the audience a sense of isolation for an unlucky couple trying to forget a recent tragedy and the trouble they unknowingly welcome aboard in the from of a stranded stranger. When the stranger turns out to be a psychotic that has sunk his own ship to hide a bloody crime, he manages to get the husband off the boat long enough to take control of the new vessel and the wife. Now the couple must find a way to communicate and independently stay alive from the dangers present on both ships.
While Billy Zane (Ghosts of War) was the true fresh face of the bunch, the Hawaiian-born, Australian-raised Nicole Kidman (Aquaman) was already an established star down under. It was Sam Neill (Peter Rabbit) who was considered the veteran, having played Damien Thorn in a third Omen film and weathered the nightmare horror experience that was Possession. Just coming off A Cry in the Night (aka Evil Angela aka A Dingo Stole My Baby: The Movie) with Meryl Streep, Neill was a considerable “get” for this small-ish picture.
You can see what attracted a filmmaker like Welles to the original story. There’s a tortured soul living in all three main characters and the novel expands on this more, lessening some of the vice grip tension the screenplay from Hayes employs. That’s why the film Noyce has made is so much of a thrill, because you never know quite what’s about to happen or where the characters might be headed next. Kidman’s grief-stricken spouse was involved in a horrific accident that claimed the life of her son and always carries the guilt of that with her, unable to share intimacy with her husband out of shame because of it. Without admitting it, the husband might be directing some of that guilt her way as well, though he makes a good show at hiding it. Zane’s monstrosity picks up on this once he gets them separated and manipulates that…but also misjudges just how deep the earlier life changing event has bonded the couple, preparing them for what is currently taking place.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the overly commercial ending was a studio intervention to add an extra shot of adrenaline, but the movie succeeds just fine without it. Dead Calm had already completed its carefully plotted voyage without capsizing its precious suspense cargo in the process. I wish we had the option of watching Noyce’s original cut instead of the one with the tacked-on joy buzzer of a climax but at least it gives us a few more minutes of the gorgeous cinematography from Dean Semler (Razorback and an Oscar winner for Dances with Wolves) because the work he does is truly magnificent. Surprisingly, this was a bit of dud at the box office but cleaned up nicely on home video and yes, it holds up like a watertight seal all these years later. It all worked out fine for those involved. The next year Kidman would star in Days of Thunder with future husband Tom Cruise and Noyce’s follow-up film would be 1992’s Patriot Games, the sequel to Sam Neill’s next movie, 1990’s The Hunt for Red October. Zane would have to wait through a few years of forgettable films before scoring big time with his next sea faring flick…1997’s Titanic.
Synopsis: A terminally ill mother invites her family to their country house for one final gathering, but tensions quickly boil over between her two daughters.
Stars: Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, Sam Neill, Rainn Wilson, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Anson Boon, Lindsay Duncan
Director: Roger Michell
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Back in 1995, I remember reading an article where Susan Sarandon was promoting the movie Safe Passage and casually lamenting the fact that she’d been moved into the “mother” category of the casting sheet. Let’s not forget that by then she was a four-time Oscar nominee and had yet to star in Dead Man Walking, the 1996 film that would finally nab her that long-overdue trophy for Best Actress…but she wasn’t that off the mark. Though she’d played mothers onscreen before, Safe Passage represented the first of a number of films over the next two decades where she played a particular kind of movie-mom: the self-sacrificing matriarch that would do pretty much anything for her children. It’s a role that, even though she may have rallied against it internally, she managed to portray with nuance and keep these women interesting and varied in some way from project to project.
Don’t feel bad if you’re unable to place Safe Passage. Apart from Sarandon, despite boasting a notable cast it’s a pretty dreadful drama otherwise. Sold as a possible awards contender, it barely received a release and whatever buzz had preceded it blew away quickly. The same sort of situation has happened with Sarandon’s latest film Blackbird, a remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart that’s been quite faithfully recreated by its original screenwriter Christian Torpe and directed by Roger Michell (Hyde Park on Hudson). Here’s another film that curates a wonderful ensemble cast but actually knows how to use them in a meaningful way, wringing melodrama from such bountiful sources such as suicide (both assisted and self-inflicted), adultery, mental health, substance abuse, and that familiar font of pain…mother-daughter relationships.
Paul (Sam Neill, Peter Rabbit) and Lily (Sarandon, Jeff, Who Lives at Home) have invited their daughters and their respective families to their beach house for the weekend, after which the terminally ill Lily intends to end her life. Lily is nearing the final stages of ALS and while she is still able to walk and present herself as functioning to a degree, it’s becoming evident that her decline is swiftly approaching. Eldest daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet, Wonder Wheel) arrives first, accompanied by her husband Michael (Rainn Wilson, The Meg) and teenage son Jonathan (Anson Boon, Crawl) with younger sibling Anna (Mia Wasikowska, Stoker) and her girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus, Hell Fest) eventually joining once Anna has summoned the strength to face her family. Family friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan, Little Joe) has also been invited, keeping up the long-standing tradition of the older single woman being present at many of the milestone moments throughout the years.
Awkwardly ignoring the elephant in the room, everyone but the gallows-humorous Lily sidesteps the reason for the weekend, preferring to treat the together time as a way to catch-up and eventually air some of the grievances that have been hanging over their heads. This mostly affects Jennifer and Anna who have never truly outgrown their sisterly bickering or issues they faced in their adult years when Jennifer was settling down and Anna was struggling with addiction and depression. Over dinners and an impromptu early Christmas celebration, the group works out more than a few kinks in their dynamics that have been holding them all back from moving forward. Emboldened by Lily’s seemingly fearless way of staring her impending death squarely in the eyes, the quieter family members find their voice to say what’s been on their mind…and register their pain in saying good-bye to their loved one.
It should go without saying that Blackbird is a tough watch but not necessarily a tough sit. It’s runs a relatively brisk 97 minutes and while the situations are grim and the final stretch is particularly hard for the tender-hearted, the experience is preserved by the strong performances from the entire cast. Though I wouldn’t say the roles are a huge stretch for anyone (because they’ve all played variations on these in some way before), all the actors bring an intense sincerity to the work that aligns with the dignity the right to die movement has been fighting for. Those that oppose this choice will likely struggle with the film and its resolution but that shouldn’t deter one from absorbing a rather wonderful film.
The big thing that makes this movie a must in my book is to witness once again why Sarandon is one of the best actresses of her generation. Though she’s become a bit of a Hollywood outsider for her outspoken participation in politics that some see as divisive, I had to put my own feelings aside and let her performance speak for itself. I’ve seen some reviews from Blackbird’s early release at festival screenings rather lazily compare the role as bracingly similar to 1998’s Stepmom and while certain dots can be connected there’s a different light shining behind Sarandon’s eyes in this part. Watch the entire movie that can be viewed on her face when her character drops a glass in front of her family and has to rely on someone else to pick up her mess. Her struggle to maintain her composure is masked well…but not well enough for the audience to miss a crack of fear slip through.
If the film has a drawback, it’s that it’s one location setting lends a feeling of staginess that makes you feel often like you’re watching a filmed version of a play. I had forgotten while watching the movie that it was a remake of a foreign film and spent much of the time convinced it was an adaptation of a stage piece. I know there are certain limitations based on the scenario Torpe has created for this family but Michell is usually a more creative director with a better eye for movement than this. I wished he’d have let the film feel less cramped and more free to move around, though perhaps that claustrophobia was intended as a way to put audiences in the same emotional pressure-cooker as the family.
Made several years ago and receiving a small release in the festival circuit in 2019 , Blackbird is just now getting a tiny official theatrical release during this pandemic. Most people will thankfully discover this one in the comfort of their own homes, though, where they can take the time to go through this emotional journey with the family. Overall, I think Blackbird works particularly well as an at-home watch more than as a theatrical endeavor because at least in my house it seemed to inspire some good conversation after the fact on Lily’s choice. The movie, and Sarandon’s performance, are still on my mind several days later.
Synopsis: Feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of a rebellious rabbit trying to sneak into a farmer’s vegetable garden.
Stars: James Corden, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Sam Neill, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie
Director: Will Gluck
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: As I hunkered down on a chilly Saturday for an early morning screening of Peter Rabbit there were a few thoughts going through my head. The first was a silent prayer that Hollywood didn’t take Beatrix Potter’s beloved characters and turn them into grating kooky animations. The second musing I found myself pondering was what took so long for Potter’s creations to make their way to the screen in the first place? Plenty of small screen animation adaptions featuring Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Squirrel Nutkin, and more have popped up throughout the decades and a fond memory of my youth was going to see Beatrix Potter’s Christmas (think The Avengers, just with Potter’s most famous critters) over several years at MN’s Children’s Theater Company. Yet aside from a Potter biopic (the largely forgotten Mrs. Potter), there’s been little love for the woodland creatures themselves.
What a pleasure it was, then, to find that Peter Rabbit is a real delight, a rare family film that’s truly something the whole family can get something out of. For kids there’s plenty of slapstick comedy that doesn’t involve farts or other rude nonsense and for adults there are a bevy of laughs that will easily sail over the heads of tykes too young to get the humor.
In the English countryside, Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden, Into the Woods) is fond of making his way into the garden of Old Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) and filling up on his plump vegetables. Pulling his cousin Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody) in on his schemes and being cheered on by rabbit triplets Flopsy (Margot Robbie, I, Tonya), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby), and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express), days are just a series of adventures that usually end with Peter being chased by the annoyed farmer into the loving arms of his caretaker Bea (Rose Byrne, Insidious). One day, the antics go too far and Old Mr. McGregor has himself a heart attack leaving his garden and home to be overrun by animals.
In London, tightly-wound Thomas McGregor’s (Domhnall Gleeson, Goodbye Christopher Robin) OCD ways have gotten him the heave-ho from his job at Harrod’s department store. Informed of his inheritance of a house from an uncle he’s never met and without much to keep him in the city, he treks out to see his new property in the country. Once he arrives and cleans up the place, he sets his sights on ridding himself of the vermin problem…but also starts to fall in love with Bea. The latter half of the film focuses on Thomas and Peter’s escalating war, fighting for their territory and over the lovely woman that cares for both of them.
Director and co-screenwriter Will Gluck (Annie) has crafted a film that’s quite charming from the get-go. There’s sentiment for the origin of the stories (Bea is a painter that creates bizarre modern art but sketches her forest friends in intricate details, ala Beatrix Potter) but keeps enough pep in its step to not feel like a staid transfer of the books to the screen. The humor is broad and fast-paced but with a sly wink to always let the audience in on the joke. Sure, there’s a few questionable bits of mayhem (such as one moment where Peter briefly considers sticking a carrot into Old Mr. McGregor’s plumber butt crack) but the overall joy the film brings outweighs a few of these catering to the masses missteps.
Sprinkled with a soundtrack of familiar songs reimagined not to mention a few tunes Gluck penned himself and using Australia’s picturesque countryside as a stand-in for the English village of Windermere, this is a valuable film for parents to keep in their back pocket. I found the 90 minute run time flew by and there are some nice touches from Gluck and company, such as having the live-action leads also provide voices for a few of the animals. Along with Paddington 2, it represents a step above the usual family fare that blends live-action with animation (the result is dazzlingly seamless) and offers sure-fire matinee potential for the whole gang.
Synopsis: A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.
Stars: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Banks, Andy Nyman, Florence Pugh
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Running Length: 104 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review: Bless Liam Neeson, that Irish Energizer Bunny. For the last decade or so he’s perfected starring as the everyman that takes a licking but keeps on ticking. In movies like Taken and its two sequels, Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night, Neeson has been a dependable action hero that manages to make tired premises seem like new ideas, even if they just magically vanish from your memory the moment the lights come up in the theater. Teaming up for the fourth time with director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows), Neeson and his frequent collaborator aren’t navigating to any new destinations in The Commuter but instead are focused solely on the ride.
Michael MacCauley (Neeson, The Grey) is having a bad day. He’s just been let go from his job in life insurance and isn’t sure how he’s going tell his wife (Elizabeth McGovern, Ordinary People, in a glorified cameo) that their already hand-to-mouth life is going to get that much more difficult. A former cop that had Patrick Wilson (Insidious) as a partner and Sam Neil (Jurassic Park III) as his boss, MacCauley is pondering his next move when a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring) approaches him on his commute home from NYC to the outer suburbs. She poses an interesting proposition to him, identify the one person on the train that “doesn’t belong” and he will be rewarded with a $100K payday. Of course, this being a thriller desperate to be called Hitchcock-ian, there’s a deadly twist to taking the money. As soon as MacCauley pockets ¼ of the cash he’s thrust into making good on his promise to locate a material witness or suffer increasingly dangerous consequences.
So begins a game of Neeson trekking back and forth through the train, eliminating suspects with each stop before gathering the remaining passengers in one car in an Agatha Christie-esque wrap-up. While you may feel the movie is constructing a bit of skilled puzzle, I’d advise you to trust your instincts for the identity of the witness nicknamed Prynne isn’t that hard to decipher. The movie throws in enough red herrings to nearly make a trip to the dining car a necessity but anyone familiar with these types of films will catch the subtle clues that point to the solution rather quickly.
Like the previous Neeson/Collet-Serra vehice, Non-Stop, the set-up rather amiably carries the film for the first 50 minutes or so but the more the movie shifts from its early mystery intrigue to more action based sequences the less engaging it becomes. While Neeson looks game but gaunt, the most interesting character is Farmigia and (slight spoiler) she’s not on screen for the majority of the film. Shoddy CGI effects and some pretty lousy acting by a bunch of Brits desperately trying to disguise their accents aids in the film running of a steam long before a protracted finale and lame epilogue completely derails it.
No doubt about it, this is slick entertainment but largely a hollow experience. Typical for a January release after the big holiday push of new releases, The Commuter offers no real challenges but is a decent bit of counter-programming to the Oscar-bait entries filling most theaters right now.
Synopsis: Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Sam Neill, Benedict Cumberbatch
Review: Let’s be real here…you didn’t like those first two Thor movies either, did you? I knew it. Seemingly out of place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, likely because they were the only films that took place largely in literally their own universe, Thor and it’s sequel Thor: The Dark World were what comic book movies should never, ever be: boring. It was only when Thor joined up with his friends in The Avengers and Avengers: The Age of Ultron that the Norse god felt energized and alive. Well after Thor: Ragnarok there is enough electricity generated by director Taika Waititi to power several more sequels. It puts the other two films to shame and bests several other Marvel outings at the same time.
As the film opens, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Rush) is in a bit of a bind as he finds himself in the clutches of the fire demon Surtur. Surthur lets Thor know that a great battle known as Ragnarok is about to unfold, a battle that will see Surtur lay waste to Thor’s Asgardian home and all its peoples. Since this is the prologue and we have a couple of hours left, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Thor makes it out of his prison and finds his way back to Asgard. Arriving unannounced only to run into his mischief making adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island) masquerading as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs). Unaware that Loki imprisoned his father on Earth, Thor meets up with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, August: Osage County) who points him in the right direction of where his father may be.
Thor does find his pops but the reunion is short-lived as his long-lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, having the absolute best time ever) arrives with her eyes on Odin’s throne. Sending her siblings into another galaxy to get them out of her villainous way, she starts to wreak havoc in her homeland and Thor and Loki make their way through a new world ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park). With Loki avoiding a life of servitude on the junk planet, that leaves Thor fighting for his freedom, gladiator-style, against his old friend the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher). Assisted by fellow Asgardian in exile Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Creed) and loyal Heimdall (Idris Elba, Prometheus), all make their way back to Asgard to face off with Hela to save their world.
There’s a lot that happens in Thor: Ragnarok and it’s almost universally entertaining. Waititi (who also plays a dryly-hilarious alien made up of rocks) brings such interesting ideas to the table along with a sense of humor and fun that has been missing from not only Thor’s previous outings but from Marvel at large. With its fun cameos (not only from Marvel characters), it’s wacky and colorful and I enjoyed every minute of it. Mark Mothersbaugh’s (The LEGO Movie) score is a real tip and while they curiously use Immigrant Song twice, it makes sense and gives key battle sequences a rock concert vibe. I normally recoil at movies that are so CGI heavy but the visuals are gorgeously rendered here, making for truly exciting viewing.
While it does help to have a working knowledge of the other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this one may be a good entry point for newbies…but then someone will have to explain to them why the other two movies are so dull. Here’s hoping Marvel retains Waititi because he’s the reason why this works so very well.
Synopsis: Thor must face the Hulk in a gladiator match and save his people from the ruthless Hela.
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Thoughts: At the end of this first teaser trailer for November’s third Thor film the only word I could think of was ‘finally’. Finally, after two solo films and appearances in several other Marvel releases, the God of Thunder might just get his own adventure that’s worth a second viewing. I wasn’t any kind of fan of the original Thor or its sequel Thor: The Dark World, finding them turgid treks through standard action franchise portals. This one, however, just feels like it has a pulse and personality to go with it. From the inspired casting of Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) to a genuinely exciting surprise finale right on down to the ‘80s reminiscent title cards…I’m actually looking forward to this one.
Synopsis: A decidedly odd couple with ulterior motives convince Dr. Alan Grant to go to Isla Sorna (the second InGen dinosaur lab.), resulting in an unexpected landing…and unexpected new inhabitants on the island.
Stars: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, Laura Dern
Director: Joe Johnston
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: It took four years for Steven Spielberg to direct a sequel to 1993’s Jurassic Park and with the problematic reception of The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997, the award-winning director was understandably cool to the thought about returning behind the camera for the third entry in 2011. Instead, Spielberg gave his old pal Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger) the chance to direct and while the end result was a marked improvement over his lugubrious sequel, Jurassic Park III has its own set of problems to contend with.
Paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neil, The Vow, making a welcome return to the series) is facing budget cuts and a scientific community more interested in his adventures at Jurassic Park than the research he’s devoted his life too. When a wealthy couple want to hire him and his assistant (Alessandro Nivola, American Hustle) to guide them on a sight-seeing trip over Isla Sorna (Site B featured in The Lost World: Jurassic Park), he reluctantly agrees as a way to make ends meet. Nevermind that series fans will know that Grant never set foot on Isla Sorna (Jurassic Park took place on Isla Nublar)…it’s a detail explained later but not very well. A crash landing is only the start to the bad luck Grant and company encounter as they try to survive an island with dinosaurs that have run amok and double-crossing members of their party.
At a trim 92 minutes (including credits) the film doesn’t take much time to breathe (or to think) and it’s probably best if you follow suit. Between some fairly terrible CGI dinosaurs and animatronic models that look like they were plucked out of your local science museum, the quality of the effects took a tumble here. Odd colored dinosaurs look like they have graffiti on them and the raptors have mohawks…punk rock raptors? A big bad dino has a head that looks so fake you wonder if Johnston wasn’t making a spoof of the original film instead of a continuation of that story.
Performance-wise, only Neil (and a brief cameo from Laura Dern, The Master) have any real sense of urgency. Everyone else seems to be present to chew the scenery or be chewed on. Particularly bad is Téa Leoni who takes one too many pratfalls and apparently gets several haircuts during the 24 hours they are stranded on the island. Leoni also has an annoying way of running through the forest screaming and waving her arms and legs like she’s on fire, leading me to wonder if someone ever bothered to tell her she wasn’t in a comedy.
It’s not as boring as The Lost World; Jurassic Park but it’s far sillier. Depending on your mood, that could be either a good thing or a very bad thing. Watching it again recently I rolled my eyes a lot but didn’t have the outright disdain for it that I had when it was originally released. The script (with a contribution from Alexander Payne, Nebraska) feels like a tired third entry in a successful franchise, nothing more and nothing less. Its lackluster performance at the box office signaled the closing of this beleaguered park, a wise move if nothing of substance could be produced.
I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately. It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.
In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Here’s my favorite kind of teaser: one that shows no actual footage from the movie itself. I had all but forgotten this ad for 1993’s Jurassic Park, a clever intro to audiences not only that the movie was coming their way but in how the dinosaurs would be coming back to life in the first place. Though the movie did take ample time to explain the process, having the teaser give some info up front that there was some science behind it all couldn’t have hurt.
Now that the movie has spawned two (inferior) sequels, had an IMAX 3D re-release of its own, and is readying for an all-new adventure (Jurassic World) in 2015 it’s nice to be able to look back and see how Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking adventure first caught the eye of moviegoers.
Synopsis: During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
Stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Length: 127 minutes
TMMM Score: (9.5/10)
Review: It’s hard to believe that Jurassic Park is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year – I still remember like it was yesterday seeing one of the first showings at the Edina Theater and going back a few more times that weekend to see the dino action, bringing my friends along to see their reaction. I saw the film a total of 10 times that summer and have revisited it dozens in the years since but I still was a little leery of the movie being re-released in 3D and IMAX to celebrate two decades of T-Rex and Raptor filled scares. The film was so entertaining to begin with; did it really need 3D/IMAX to increase the entertainment value?
The answer is “no” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t greatly enjoy seeing the film digitally restored with booming sound and a carefully thought out 3D conversion overseen by its director. You see, Jurassic Park is such an old-fashioned thrill ride of a film that it could be played backwards and still give you a big bang for your buck…though the term “popcorn film” was coined years before it’s one of the best ways to describe the experience.
Most people are probably already familiar with the plot involving a theme park in the South Pacific home to cloned dinosaurs. What looks to be a huge advancement in science and consumer marketing turns deadly as the aggressive dinos break free during a tropical storm…much to the terror of a small group of men, women, and children that have stopped in for a visit.
What works about the film (wide-eyed wonder, excellent action sequences, state-of-the-art visuals) still works and what was once iffy (the film has a tendency to feel overwhelming in its scope) feels corrected by seeing the movie again on the big screen. Though I still feel that the movie is less concerned with its calculated leaps in narrative than it is about dropping the jaws of their audience, there’s no denying that the movie has lost little even after countless viewings.
I was struck at how solid Neill was in his lead role as conflicted Paleontologist Dr Alan Grant. Though the role could have gone to a real name star (Harrison Ford), Spielberg made the right choice by choosing the understated Neill to really ground the film. While I’ve grown to like Dern (check her out in The Masterand especially Smooth Talk), I do still cringe a bit at her overzealous line readings delivered with a lilt that sends a shiver up my spine. Goldblum’s kooky theorist goes down easier than it did back in the day thanks to our exposure to similar actors like Johnny Depp who have probably would have played the role if it were made today. Oscar winning director Attenborough (A Chorus Line) hits the right notes as the man behind the park, wisely toned down by screenwriter David Koepp from his evil genius characterization in Michal Crichton’s source novel. Mazzalo and Richards performances have retained their mostly pleasant early 90’s feel though the efforts of both feel a bit light when surrounded by such impressive special effects. Jackson, Wong, Peck, and Ferrero are nice supporting players while Knight’s performance feels the most stuck in the past.
The Oscar winning effects still look incredible and the various thrill sequences that had you on the edge of your seat will make you climb right over it as you witness a T-Rex attack that feels more up close and personal than ever. The 3D is used sparingly but to great effect as the textures and depth of the park are increased, giving the film some needed strength in its slightly slower middle third.
Looking back it’s amazing to think that Spielberg directed Jurassic Park and his Oscar winning Schindler’s List in the same year…two enormously popular films for very different reasons. It only speaks to his talents as a director that he could produce such tonally different movies yet keep the undeniable Spielberg touch intact.
Only in theaters for a few weeks, there’s every reason to get your tickets to Jurassic Park whether it’s your first or thirty-first time you’ve seen it. The surprises are still there, the unexpected scares are present, and you may even find yourself getting that warm fuzzy feeling of retuning to something that reminds you of one great summer and one great film.