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UPDATE: Even Marvel Studios Head Kevin Feige has saluted Jurassic World’s triumph with a gracious tweet that still manages to remind everyone that New Mega Star Chris Pratt got his big action break (and got into shape for the first time) for a MARVEL movie. Well played! Art in the tweet by Ande Parks.

Jurassic World’s ascent to the biggest box office opening of all time has everyone flustered. It’s take of $208.8 million in its first weekend beat even The Avengers which made a mere $207.4 million. (It’s still ahead adjusted for inflation but Gone With the Wind is still the biggest by that metric.) The opening shattered analysts’ projections, leading to a particularly befuddled take by Deadline:

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Tracking typically wears the dunce caps in these off-kilter prediction scenarios. However, distrib chiefs sincerely swear NRG, Screen Engine and Marketcast’s systems aren’t broken, and as one forecasting insider asserts: “We’re not paid to predict box office, rather identify pockets of strength, threats and opportunities in the marketplace for the studio. … It’s a five-week journey with daily phone calls.”

Okay so you had a….threat pocket? This wonk talk is Onion worthy.

So as various execs and and analysts around Hollywood drew their own estimates, what truly happened with Jurassic World is that it became a beast unto itself. That’s when the film started over-indexing and beating everyone’s expectations. And the catalyst for the WOM heatwave can be pinned squarely to social media — which, unlike tracking, captured auds’ need-to-see vibe. Adds another Universal insider: “When you go into the weekend, you are armed with your expectations based on historical data, relying on movies released during the same time period as well as assessing different variables in the marketplace. But when the film gets a chance to be itself and grows through the weekend, you lose your historical data.”

While some are still reeling from the over-indexing, Variety had a more sensible deduction: CHRIS PRATT.

“He’s the modern action hero,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “He’s funny, he’s charming, he’s self-deprecating. I call him Jimmy Stewart in a leather vest. He just has the perfect sensibility for today’s audiences.”

Also…dinosaurs. People like dinosaurs. Bold, I know.

Jurassic World toppling the Avengers is the first blow for a world where superheroes aren’t everything, and makes the generally blah reaction to Avengers 2 look a little more serious. But Jurassic World is still a pretty bland film, as the above still suggests. I know it’s hard to act scared of a screen piece of wall, but look at the kids in that photo. I couldn’t tell if Nick Robinson as the teen heartthrob was supposed to be generally insensate to any outside stimulus, or just no one could take the time to prod him with a stick.

I pretty much agreed with everything that Beat critic Hannah Lodge said about this film. It’s got an awful script, lethargic acting, some nice dinos, and a troubling obsession with running in high heels. Like Lodge, all I could think of during the second half of the movie was whether Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire was STILL running around in high heels. It turns out Howard made a point of learning how to do it and insisted on wearing them while she was running away from dinosaurs. I knows it’s a fantasy.,.but you can’t run away from dinosaurs in high heels. And there was no internal logic. At one point Pratt’s Owen even mocks her shoes, which YOU’D THINK would set up a scene where she ditches them. I kept expecting her to find some running shoes in the old compound from Jurassic Park but no such luck. She just kept running and running. A line without a payoff…that pretty much sums up the entire Jurassic World  script. The one clever thing it did was to combine the predictable roles of Feisty Girl Lead and Annoying Corporate Wonk into one role! Innovative!

Even with that, as a movie, Jurassic World, was on its own fairly low terms, a better film than Avengers 2. I hadn’t memorized the trailer for JW, so when I saw the movie at a screening, I went in thinking “This is going to be a dumb CGI fest but I’m just going to let go, let God, and give in.” I appreciated how the movie had ONE big menace, and all the action was built around a confrontation with that menace, instead of branching off to go to Wakanda to pick up some vibranium and set up three spin-offs—and perhaps audiences did as well. OTOH, if you did memorize the trailer then you pretty much saw everything cool in the movie. But that didn’t stop anyone from going to the theater. It also hit the sweet spot of millennial 90s nostalgia. All we need in the sequel when Dr. Wu pulls out his bag of Indominus Furiosa babys and sets them loose is a cameo for Dr. Ian Malcolm.

As usual the bombastic success of a film with a lackluster storyline has led to lamenting how Hollywood’s hands are tied when it comes to making anything good as Matt Patches writes for Esquire:

This is not just an issue with Trevorrow or his blockbuster. Hollywood’s cynicism is hitting peak levels and continues to trickle into our multiplexes. Movie studio executives would love to greenlight to discover the next Spielberg or nurture a moderately-sized thrill ride into a big-budget classic. But they also want to make money. There are movies that challenge the balancing act with whirlwind intensity; Christopher Nolan’s Inception takes the frustration of imagining and executing action movies and turns it into an action movie. That subtlety is hard to come by. With change and reversion seemingly out of the question, creative types feel compelled to boo and hiss in their movies. Trevorrow employs Jake Johnson to spit his fire. Last month’s Tomorrowland lectured audiences in the dangers of apocalyptic disaster movies. And on the Oscar campaign trail for last year’s Hollywood satire, Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu just came out and say what the film danced around: superhero movies are “cultural genocide.” A few months later, when Birdman won the Academy Award for Best Picture, voters could pat themselves on the back for recognizing great filmmaking. They could make Birdman—isn’t that real cinema? And then the next morning, most of the voters returned to their movie studio jobs and pushed sequels, reboots, and $150 million toy adaptions through the pipeline.

I can’t refrain from adding to the laments however, as I peruse the box office total of Mad Max Fury Road after five weeks: a relatively moderate $138.6 million. It’s made more worldwide, but set against that $200 million budget it’s still not a big moneymaker. HOW! How can this galvanizing, senses-shattering, mind-expanding masterpiece of heart and magic have made only this much when twaddle like Jurassic World is setting records? Why, oh lord, why?

Yes yes, I know, MMFR was R-rated. Meanwhile parents were secretly eager to go see JW with their kids.

Will the religious fervor for the church of George Miller pave the way for an actual sequel? Hard to tell, but I doubt we’ll see Miller allowed to spend money on that level again, alas.

In my previous inquiry into the actual reason that people found the practical effects of Mad Max Fury Road so profoundly affecting compared to CGI spectacle, I didn’t find much from a psychological viewpoint, but several people pointed me towards this Cracked piece from a few months ago, 6 Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy by David Christopher Bell. This piece sums  up  some technical reasons for the affectlessness of CGI, using shots from the Jurassic World trailer as examples. Digital grading, unrealistic camera angles, bad physics, and things our minds just reject. For instance this shot of a helicopter falling into a dinosaur:

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Sure, that looks pretty awesome, but destruction on that scale should blow our fucking minds. The response to dinosaurs wrecking a helicopter should be nothing short of paralysis, but this scene has no sense of gravity or consequence. There’s no scale to it. There’s even going to be a scene where (minor spoilers) a Pteranodon picks up a woman and literally drops her into the mouth of the Mosasaurus. It doesn’t matter how real the CGI looks, because that scene belongs in a fucking Sharknado movie. It’s an absurd cartoon orgy.

There’s some more technical discussion at a site that offers AfterEffects plug ins of all places, 10 Reason Why CGI is Getting Worse Not Better, which lays out most of the same arguments as the Cracked piece, with some more scolding over the orange-and-blue digital grading that every movie is saturated with these days, and also “ratcheting up the sequel-itis:”

The CGI in every sequel has a major goal: it has to be more impressive, complex, and crazier than its predecessor. The stakes have to be higher. Filmmakers try to create engagement with more explosions rather than letting story, plot, and character development produce interest.

Another huge issue is that in a world of endless sequels, we no longer have to worry about our main character’s well-being. We don’t need to be invested in the characters because there’s no chance they’ll die. They aren’t in any real peril. The actors have already signed up for two sequels! James Cameron is working on three Avatar sequels simultaneously! What’s happening now is that filmmakers are making scenes more and more extravagant to offset this sequel fatigue. They keep pushing the limits to keep us saying ‘well surely they can’t survive this’ until it gets utterly ridiculous.

So true. I actually felt that JW was a little moderate in its uses of CGI, but how many big bad dino-hybrids do you think will be in the sequel?

For one little moment, it seemed the rapturous response to Mad Max Fury Road might have Hollywood thinking that more is not better. The unexpected success of Jurassic World has laid that idea to rest, just like you knew it would. It would be nice to think that MMFR might influence some filmmakers to take more chances in that direction, and I don’t doubt that we’ll see endless allusions to it as we did after The Matrix and 300 came out. But given the way Hollywood plucks indie directors out of the schoolyard and gives them huge blockbusters to direct while the SFX unit handles all the action—JW’s Colin Trevorrow had directed one movie previously, and nothing in the film shows the slightest hint of style—it’s not very likely the next generation of action filmmakers will be making waves or demands. These days moviemaking is just too expensive and leviathan to take chances.

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And you know, Chris Pratt on a motorcycle and his henchdinos. That’s one things CGi is good for.

27 COMMENTS

  1. That scene absolutely had consequence. The owner died, it released the dinos who then killed dozens and dozens of people. The very thing I enjoyed about JW is that it DIDN’T try to make it a world-wide calamity. The danger was cramped and stuck to the island.

    It was silly, some dialogue was cheesy, and it was fun. I really enjoyed it. It also captivated the children (14 yrs old) I took to see it. They were enamored by it. Mad Max wasn’t for them. This was.

  2. So the director becomes the second unit?
    “Go film some location shots while we work on the CGI battle sequence.”
    It’s like how the fight choreographer in a kungfu movie gets almost as much credit as the director.

    But once a series is formulaic, it doesn’t matter who the director is.
    Writer? Sure. Get a good script, and the directing and editing becomes a lot easier.
    POP QUIZ: Name TWO directors of the James Bond movies!
    Who directed the Fast and the Furious movies?

    If s/he balks at the salary, you find someone else to direct.

    I don’t know what the term is, but there is a fine line with CGI sequences, similar to the “uncanny valley”. “Blockbustered”?
    I got tired of the blurry, rapid film editing battle sequences of The Transformers. I couldn’t keep track of the choreography, I had no sense of direction or space, or who was beating the sprockets out of whom. Man of Steel has this problem as well.
    But on the other extreme, I was disappointed in both Avengers movies. The threat wasn’t that big, there was little sense of urgency or despair as the heroes have to overcome overwhelming odds to Save The Day. There’s nothing to cheer for. (And if you don’t engage the audience, then where’s the box office? If people don’t rave about this or that, where’s the word of mouth? The repeat viewings? The long tail of ticket sales, which help the theater owners pay the rent?

    Jurassic Park was the Poseidon Adventure with bioengineered rats. Jurassic World seems more like a Godzilla movie (as some of my friends have suggested, and a better movie than the latest GZ). Me? I gave up after Lost World.

    You don’t need a lot of CGI to make great popcorn movies. Wrath of Khan was almost all visual effects (aside from the Genesis briefing). That nebula cloud? Latex rubber and ammonium mixed into a tank of fresh and salt water. Stop motion animation. Giant models.

  3. As the expository dialog went on at the beginning of the film, talking about how the public is no longer excited about mere dinosaurs, and now needs a hybrid dinosaur with mutant powers to sell tickets, I was assured that Hollywood is not only cynical about its audience, it is open about it.

    And apparently correct.

  4. Name 2 Directors of the Bond Films? I can name 5 off the top of my head:
    Terence Hill
    Guy Hamilton
    Martin Campbell
    John Glen
    Sam Mendes

    Each of the directors had their own distinctive style in the franchise, with Mendes at the top of the list for “most artistic”.

  5. I guess I should add:
    John Glen directed all the Bond films of the 80’s. He holds the distinction of directing more Bond films than any other director (the second one being Guy Hamilton). He also directed two different actors in the role of Bond, Moore and Dalton.

  6. Do’h! Where is my edit button when I need it???

    I meant to type Terence YOUNG, not Terence Hill. Terence Hill was the actor in “My Name is Nobody” and “Superfuzz”.

    Terence Young also directed movies such as “Wait Until Dark”.

    (whew!)

  7. Curtis, the Bond franchise is 50 years old and goes back to an older style of moviemaking. And SKYFALL was my favorite movie of the last 10 years up until MAD MAX because so much of it was practical — that mind boggling Shanghai fight scene was done IN CAMERA and it shows.

  8. “Jurassic World” may not arguably be a superhero film, but its certainly a comic book-style film, ala “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or Edgar Rice Burroughs-style book series such as Pellucidar.

    I’ve seen tens of thousands of films over the years and I had few problems with “Jurassic World” as a solid, well-crafted action flick. It met or exceeded most people’s expectations, beat out the first two sequels story and execution-wise, and was arguably better than “Jurassic Park.”

    If they keep it up, further sequels will be like printing money.

  9. Jurassic Park will always be #1. But JW: Lost World? Ugh. Please save us all from Ian Malcom. ;) And while the third one tried to bring back the shine (and was better than #2) Jurassic World officially made itself the second best of the franchise!

    My boyfriend’s niece was next to me, and after the movie I asked for a 1-10 rating. She said “7”. I said “7?! Wha?” Then I asked if it was better than the two sequels. A short pause and then a “Yes!” Also, my boyfriend (who was worried the entire movie would be nothing but people running from dinosaurs (uh, uhm, let’s not even) clapped at the end of the movie, which is his true stamp of approval. It was a huge amount of fun! Everyone is SO bitter, and jaded about everything anymore. You will NEVER get back that moment of amazement you had when you saw the first one. It’s just not possible. It’s Jurassic Park. You know what you’re going in there for.

  10. Put me down as one of those who was completely underwhelmed by Jurassic World. Summer popcorn movies have to have a couple of things for me: thrilling action with a few twists I’ve never seen before, a couple of fun, repeatable lines of dialogue, an able, resourceful hero to follow and a single-minded villain you can hiss at. I think of all those things, Chris Pratt came to the party as that type of hero, but no one else showed up ready to play (especially the director and the many screenwriters).

    A couple of things that bugged me:

    – Yes, Bryce Dallas Howard running around in her all-terrain high heels drove me nuts too. In the old days of action films, finally ditching the heels would be an easy metaphor for showing how the uptight heroine was loosening up and growing as a character. Now, fashion sense rules over all?

    – Vincent D’onofrio’s villian wasn’t much of one. All he did was huff and smirk a few times, call in the mercenaries and (SPOILER ALERT) die.

    – Speaking of those mercenaries (ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT), they’re the best soldiers money can buy and that’s the best they could do? They know they’re going up against a super T-rex and no one brings along a couple of super Jack Kirby weapons to blast it? And couldn’t any of them be more then ‘red shirts’? Where’s the Jesse Ventura-like character from Predator when you need him? At least The Lost World had Pete Postlethwaite as a gung-ho hunter to add some spice to the proceedings.

    – And speaking of food additives, what made the original Park so much fun was the Jeff Goldblum character. This film disparately needed his cynical vinegar to add some bite. In the entire cast, there wasn’t a curve ball character in the bunch.

    – Also, please don’t mention Raiders of the Lost Ark in the same breath as this movie. Speilberg knows how to set up an action sequence as an elaborate Rube Goldberg device — with one peril tumbling into the next. And even when we know he won’t kill a kid in a movie, we don’t have time to think about it because we’re watching him juggle so many balls in the air at the same time. Compare the sequence in the original movie where Sam Neil is trying to rescue the kids in the jeep being attacked by the T-rex and compare it to any of the scenes with the imperiled kids in this new film. It’s like comparing a ticking bomb to a cap gun.

    – In fact, I thought the dinosaurs in the first film were much more terrifying! Was there any thing here to equal the menace of the Velociraptors? Or the raptors in the kitchen sequence?

    – And finally, I know I need to suspend disbelief in a film like this (and I’m willing to), but even on it’s own terms it’s difficult to imagine that that raptors could be trained by Chris Pratt’s character in any way, shape or form. That works in The Flintstones, but not here. It reminds me of the documentary about the guy who tried to live in the wild with grizzly bears and be their friend — until the day they ate him.

  11. I think the only thing left for a sequel to Jurassic World is if Dr. Wu engineers himself some Sleestak or Silurians. I’ve been half-expecting to hear about a reference in the film to the hypothetical humanoid saurians that might have evolved if the meteor/comet had never struck the Earth.

  12. I was entertained by “Jurassic World”, liked it better than “Avengers: The Age of Ultron”.

    For me the major plot hole is, even if discounting the two previous sequels as non-canon, after the events of the first film, would’t you implant a micro-explosive in the brain or heart of the predatory dinosaurs just in case of the emergency like they experienced in JW?

    And there’s not more than 1 helicopter pilot on that island?

  13. I had fun watching it, but a few days later can hardly remember anything about it. It was a shallow and forgettable movie, with almost no character development.

    Chris Pratt played a generic macho man. Kept waiting for him to say or do something funny, but aside from his line about being in “the Navy, not the Navajos” (which got the only big laugh at my screening), it was a dull performance. And Bryce Dallas Howard played the stereotyped neurotic, scatterbrained career woman.

    No wonder it’s a huge blockbuster — especially in China, where character development doesn’t seem to matter, as long as the CGI is spectacular enough.

    The Dissolve had an interesting article about JURASSIC WORLD as a “genetically modified blockbuster,” with bits and pieces (and subplots and characters) borrowed from other movies. ALIENS seems to be a favorite target for pilfering.

    http://thedissolve.com/feature

  14. I spent the entire movie thinking Jessica Chastain was the leading lady. Then the credits came up and I discovered I’d been watching Bryce Dallas Howard for 2-plus hours.

    Apparently I’m not the only one who has trouble telling them apart. Film critic Sam Adams jokingly twittered: “Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard are different people, but they fill in for each other at social occasions.”

  15. “POP QUIZ: Name TWO directors of the James Bond movies!”

    Off the top of my head: Terence Young, Guy Hamilton, Lewis Gilbert, Peter Hunt, Irvin Kershner, Sam Mendes. That’s’ five. I’m sure there are others.

    “Who directed the Fast and the Furious movies?”

    Rob Cohen, Justin Lin, James Wan.

    All these directors have more style than Colin Trevorrow. But his first film, the low-budget indie SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, showed some promise.

  16. Heidi MacDonald said: “These days moviemaking is just too expensive and leviathan to take chances.”

    It depends on what kind of movie you’re making and what kind of audience you’re going after. When you’re making a CGI-packed superhero or other franchise movie that costs $200M to make and another $100M to market, you’re not going to take chances. The only way the movie can make a profit is to play everywhere in the world (especially Asia) and appeal to “everyone.”

    The escalating cost of moviemaking at the major-studio level is a big reason why Steven Soderbergh abandoned movies for TV. He recalled that just lighting the casino set in OCEAN’S 13 cost $30,000 a day.

    Also: Soderbergh says the studios are now run by people who don’t like movies and don’t watch them for entertainment. They’re run by people like Kevin Feige: people who know nothing about movies but everything about branding, marketing and merchandising.

  17. My neighbor, 8 years old, told me he is going to see it this weekend because he loves the dinosaurs. He was going with his 2 buddies and their parents. It is rated pg. He has seen the others before it on TV and cant wait. He has no clue who the actors are or anything about the story. All he knows is the commercial and dinosaurs. THIS is why it is a blockbuster. People giving credit to actors, directors and such need to understand that every single theatre was filled with kids this past weekend that could care less about those things.

  18. Steve sounds like one bitter person. Also, he’s the executive producer on Magic Mike XXL so let’s not act like he’s some big fucking auteur.

  19. “Chris Pratt got his big action break (and got into shape for the first time) for a MARVEL movie”

    Point of order: Chris Pratt got into shape for Zero Dark Thirty. You might also argue that was his big action break, as well. They actually had to explain his physical transformation on “Parks and Recreation.”

  20. Geesh. A bunch of no fun whiners. ;)

    “– And speaking of food additives, what made the original Park so much fun was the Jeff Goldblum character…”
    No, NO, he wasn’t. He was one of the most annoying characters in the entire franchise. He was mildly funny in the first one, and by the second one I was praying he would just get eaten.

    “…it’s difficult to imagine that that raptors could be trained by Chris Pratt’s character in any way, shape or form. It reminds me of the documentary about the guy who tried to live in the wild with grizzly bears and be their friend — until the day they ate him.”
    Uhm (SPOILERS!) He was working on training them, during that first big moment they literally attempted to attack/eat him (but luckily he escaped), and they only worked with him in the motorcycle scene because they were tracking something else (the big bad) and the minute they found him, they turned traitor on Chris’ character. So I think it was pretty realistic (and matches the bear story well.)

  21. have to agree with nathan’s comment of everybody being so bitter about the success of what is essentially a kid’s movie featuring dinosaurs. the mad max flick is not a kid’s movie and considering all the east village types hanging around in it, it’s a pretty safe bet mom and dad are not gonna take little billy and susie to a movie like that. also have to agree with chris, since when is a movie considered a failure (avengers 2) when it fuckin’ makes 1.35 billion world wide. did the movie drop off after the third or fourth week in theaters? sure , but did anyone think it was gonna be around for the entire summer? you may or may not like the movie , but you can’t argue with success. maybe this thread should have been titled “jurassic snark”.

  22. Chris: “Steve sounds like one bitter person. Also, he’s the executive producer on Magic Mike XXL so let’s not act like he’s some big fucking auteur.”

    Who’s your idea of an auteur, Chris? Considering your lowbrow comment, I’d guess you love anything from Zack Snyder or Michael Bay.

  23. Actually, Fury Road made over $350 million worldwide, once you count places that aren’t America. It more than made its money back, thank goodness. A mega-hit? Not by Jurassic World standards, but it definitely has brought in a nine digit profit on top of expenses, which is not to be sneezed at.

    Now, if Jurassic World had a half-decent script on top of dinosaurs and Chris Pratt, I can only imagine the even more massive “Let’s see it again!” ticket sales…

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