Walking out of Jurassic World, I had a thought. Bear with me for a second, for I’m about to go on a minor diatribe. Any of you that has read one of my reviews knows this isn’t too strange for my writing, but what I am about to speak of is something that very few of you may know or care about – not that Harm’s Way’s album Rust was not, but whatever. That something is the fifth Sleepaway Camp film, Return to Sleepaway Camp.
Being the horror movie nut I was growing up, I frequented many horror-themed websites, Bloody-Disgusting more often than not. During my sophomore year of high school, I discovered they started a news podcast, and their latest episode was their end of the year review, going through what each host and guest loved and hated. Co-host Horror Guy Keenan brought up how much of a horrendous disappointment Return to Sleepaway Camp was, and everyone else shared his sentiments. Here is a transcript of the back-and-forth between fellow co-hosts Tex Massacre and David Harley:
DH: I think the thing with that movie is that, if you’ve seen the original Sleepaway Camp, it’s shitty everything. It’s shitty acting, a terrible story, it’s just that ending, and that’s why you like it.
DH: This movie didn’t even have to deliver a lot.
TM: No, no, I agree.
DH: It didn’t need to have good acting.
TM: It doesn’t.
DH: It didn’t need to have good dialogue.
TM: It doesn’t.
DH: All it had to do was be stupid fun, and –
TM: It didn’t.
DH: It didn’t do anything.
What got me thinking about Jurassic World, directed by Colin Trevorrow, was that line from Mr. Harley about Return only needing to be stupid fun in order to be relatively successful. The same can be said about this latest venture to Isla Nublar, and to be honest, that was my expectation heading into the theater. Everyone knows the charm and spectacle the original Spielberg film created, and many know the colossal failures that became of both sequels that followed.
Because of the last two films, Jurassic World found itself in a peculiar position. Because of the first film’s legacy, its inherent identity as a big blockbuster film, and the fact that it would be the first film in the series since Jurassic Park III fourteen years prior, there were enormously high expectations for this film to get the series back on track. On the other hand, because III and Lost World failed so spectacularly, my personal expectations – and I’m sure many others shared the same thoughts – were at a bare minimum.
No sequel could ever live up to the original’s charm, and to be perfectly honest, I think the filmmakers knew that, as well. Even before viewing the film, it seemed fairly evident that the filmmakers decided to go completely all in with creating a film that purely represented a modern blockbuster spectacle, and nothing more. Afterwards, this reviewer believes they barely succeeded.
We return to Isla Nublar twenty-two years after the original, where Alan Hammond’s hopes and dreams have become fully realized in the form of Jurassic World, any remnants of Jurassic Park completely forgotten. While the attraction is wildly successful, like any other business, it must keep adapting in order to stay relevant among consumers and investors alike.
This is where the filmmakers give their first indication at awareness towards the current trends in Hollywood film and some inherent inability to match the wonder of the first. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager, admits that the current park visitor does not feel the thrill of seeing dinosaurs anymore. They have become as commonplace as any animal from the zoo, made ever so apparent by the petting zoo exhibit at the park. The common park visitor wants something bigger, scarier, and flashier, so they use this as their justification for a hybrid dinosaur named ‘Indominus Rex.’
Right off the bat, we see that the filmmakers intentions were never to even attempt at making a film like the first, because its not what attracts the modern viewer. The sole intention was to make a fairly dumbed-down popcorn thriller as simple as the name ‘Indominus Rex.’ While some, including myself, might find such an admission frustrating that the filmmakers didn’t reach for something more, it is fairly admirable that the film tries to be something different, even if that something different doesn’t seem to deviate from the typical Hollywood blockbuster formula.
In many ways, this was meant to introduce the wonder of Jurassic Park to a new generation, something emphasized by the presence of the two kids. Not only are the attractions meant to be awe-inspiring and the special effects unfortunately updated for a modern audience that doesn’t want ‘cheesy’ animatronics, but the park feels like a whole new world. Sweeping master shots depict the park with the utmost grandeur, updating the spectacle for those who grew up with the original while providing something for newer eyes to feast upon.
Make no mistake, the first Jurassic Park was just as much a big blockbuster film as most, if not all, Steven Spielberg films are, but it was equally as thoughtful to its own rhetoric about corporate intrusion and the dangers of man playing God. The film did not once forsake its intelligence for the sake of thrills. While World somewhat continues these messages and shoehorns others of military advancements and needs and animals being kept in captivity, it all feels inconsequential by the time the action gets going. Quite honestly, it has no business being in a film that will push it out the door by the plot’s midpoint.
Before getting into whether or not the action works, I’m sure we could spend all day talking about how poorly conceived and developed the characters in this film are. Most of the characters feel more like caricatures than actual people. Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady, while charismatic in his own right, never feels like more than a remnant of Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy. Vincent D’Onofrio, B.D. Wong, and Irrfan Khan are largely forgettable and archetypal in their respective roles. The only characters that go through any reasonable development are Howard’s and Nick Robinson’s, and even that feels shallow.
But ultimately, we really are not supposed to care about these characters, as they are merely facilitators of action set pieces that define how common denominator the film is. Like I said earlier, the film barely passes as stupid fun, which is largely due to a couple of issues. First of all, many of the action sequences feel run-of-the-mill, at least by Jurassic Park standards. Of course, it is hard to avoid dinosaur chase scenes in these films, but a lot of it feels uninspired. It does not help that the film is quite plodding in moments during its 130-minute runtime. Any film as gleefully brain-dead as this one should not take too much time to slow down, yet the film commits the offense a few times too often.
Aside from these issues, a couple of subplots I could honestly care less about, and one minor character death that only be described as overkill, the film does have a few moments that ultimately prove how irresistible it is. These are the moments when the screenwriters decided to throw all caution and intelligence to the wind, embracing the stupidity of major studio blockbuster films. Though they may seem few and far between in a film that sometimes moves as slowly as a dying brontosaurus, they make up for the film’s inherently flawed nature and give the audience something to smile and/or laugh about.
It seems fairly hard to believe that this is the same Colin Trevorrow who delivered Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), a quirky indie sci-fi comedy about time travel. Regardless, what he and the screenwriters created was new addition to a beloved and maligned franchise that is curiously palatable and offensive to the taste. There is nothing wrong with shutting off your brain in order to watch a film every now and then, but make sure the film doesn’t, at times, leave it to rot.