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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Blu-ray 3D/2D Review: 'Jurassic World'

Universal's gigantic dinosaur moneymaker arrives at home just in time to bore us.

Review by Matt Cummings

If you had come to me in December of 2014 with news that Jurassic World would be (up to this point) the largest moneymaker of 2015, I would have sicked my rapacious cats on you. Better than Age of Ultron? Furious 7? And what about Mad Max: Fury Road? While all better films, World somehow entered the zietgiest, eventually taking in an astonishing $651.7m domestically and shattering long-held records across the board. With its release onto Blu-ray this week, there's still little reasoning behind such an impressive performance, even with an amazing audio and video transfer.

The Movie - 3.5/5
After the disastrous events of Isla Nubar in Jurassic Park, the island is more like Disneyland now, replete with happy genetically-spliced dinosaurs of every kind, creating a safe (if almost homogeneous) experience, with children riding mini-Triceratops and a Sea World-inspired demonstration of a Mosasaurus. Among its visitors are brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and and the younger Gray (Ty Simpkins), who worries that his parents are getting a divorce. The two are special guests of their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park's coldly-efficient director. She's too busy with meetings and VIP arrivals to spend time with them, causing the boys' mother (Judy Greer) to worry about their safety. Claire's lab has also been busy making a new hybrid called Indominus Rex, which promises to ramp up ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. But that doesn't sit well with former Navy man-turned-raptor-trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), who urges Claire to shut down the program. Unfortunately, the beast gets out, spreading terror across the park and forcing Owen and Claire to work together to rein it in.

I said this before in my theatrical review and I'll say it again: Jurassic's dinosaurs have always ranked middle to low on the destructive creature scale, with Godzilla at the top and Pacific Rim kaijus offering him stiff competition. Godzilla would have taken down Indominus Rex in a heartbeat, making the hybrid beast's actions seem more welterweight than big heavy. Sadly, that's still the sense you get throughout World, that the dinosaurs are either posers or high-class Beverly Hills types that couldn't survive in America's more desperate towns. Director Collin Trevorrow proves he can move from the slow burn comedy of Safety Not Guaranteed to wild action without blinking a green-tinged dinosaur eye. The problem is that he and Writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Connelly don't bring those independent sensibilities of character development with them. Characterization essentially ends after Act 1, replaced with near-deafening dinosaur screaming, running, and bashing. There are guffaws in the story as well, such as the ill-conceived "I think our parents are getting a divorce" subplot that's never addressed after Act 2. Everyone re-gathers at the end to group hugs without ever knowing if the parents were seeking a divorce in the first place. Why even include it if there's never a resolution? Re-watching it just exposes the same problems.

Pratt's Owen comes across as a dinosaur whisperer without really knowing how he got there, short of bonding with his boys at hatching. Baddie Vincent D'Onofrio is nothing more than a one-note military man obsessed with incorporating raptors into the military ranks (huh?), his performance foreshadowing his fate as a tasty treat for Owen's raptor posse. The relationship between Pratt and Howard feels as cold as the dead shark which Mosasaurus feeds on in the first act, their chemistry nearly non-existent. You could see this problem in the trailers, as neither seemed quite right for their roles. There is one funny scene between them, as we learn that the two went on a date once; it still serves as the funniest exchange of the film, and I felt myself wanting more of that.

But we're here to see dinosaurs destroying stuff, and Trevorrow's team is ready to do so. The first assumption they make is that The Lost World and JP II never existed, throwing instead plenty of tips to the original, along with the cautionary argument of playing God, performed well enough by mad scientist Henry Wu (BD Wong) and the charmingly stand-up billionaire owner Masrami (Irrfan Khan), as one tries to convince the other that the key to the park's diminishing profits is to make things bigger. All it apparently proves is that corporate responsibility still gets you dead. Fans didn't seem to have a problem not seeing Indominus for the first 45 minutes, because there were so many CGI monsters running around; but the CGI is good but not spectacular, with Pratt's ride through the jungle looking horrible. The film does benefit from a spot-on score by Composer Michael Giacchino, who borrows many elements from John Williams with near perfect results.

Jurassic World never escapes the self-mockery of corporate sponsorships and white-washed theme parks, settling in on a big loud experience that is the very thing it initially despises. But it's also big fun, so long as you don't care about character development or the mistakes of man (once again) coming back to haunt them. It's just more of the same, and yet less of it.

The Video - 4/5
Jurassic World's 3D presentation is decidedly meh. Like the film, it's neither great nor terrible, offering appreciable moments of depth, but fails to use modern technology to create a great experience. It suffers greatest in the monster shots: I wasn't looking for the old in-your-face style of action, but there's never a feeling that Isla is a dynamic place where anything is possible. That experience just doesn't ripple its way out into the 3D world. Sure, there's debris that waffs around and some wreckage (particularly in more open scenes) enjoys a certain sense of depth, but in general it's not an eye-opening experience. The pinnacle of this disappointment arrives in when the Mosasarus leaps out of the water - it's nowhere near as impressive as I would have hoped.

The 2D experience is far superior. MPEG-4/AVC transfer is more impressive in every way, balancing the organic with the digital quite well. World was shot on film and then transferred to digital, and that process really comes through in the grain. We're there yet with digital, so seeing it like this feels a lot like going back to the original. The print is crisp and colors work very well. Hair, sweat, and blood look real, and complexions reveal individual pores in some cases. Equipment and other props show off fine detail. The digital world too benefits from Trevorrow's and Cinematographer John Schwartzman's acumen, revealing individual leaves and broken branches. Greens look outstanding, and there's a general warmness in those outdoor scenes. Interior shots of the lab and comms center give off a more robotic feel, demonstrating that Universal understands how to change things up in their transfers. Shadows and blacks never collide, but work together to create real depth. Any 'washy' issues you might see in the comms center are most like due to poor set lighting than a flaw in the transfer. Finally, there's no evidence banding or aliasing of any kind. Had the 3D been a better experience - or not offered at all - my score would have been a perfect one. The 2D is really that good.

The Audio - 5/5
Ever since I began to review Blu-ray, Universal has held the crown for best audio transfers. With Jurassic World they continue with that dominance, turning in one of the best audio experiences of the year. Bashing us with a flawless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack, it feels like we're there experiencing the chaos which Indominus Rex eventually brings. The center channel has been scrubbed of everything except dialogue, which is Universal's trademark; there we get no interruptions or murmuring, which makes the rather chintzy dialogue that much worse. But we're not here to witness Shakespeare (although that would be interesting), and so the sound effects and music consistently deliver a powerful experience. Left and right forward channels deliver a 7.1 downmixed to my 5.1 setup, almost shuddering with an overabundance of quality. Composer Giacchino's score echoes wonderfully here, treating the audience to a symphony wrapped in the chaos of the moment. We also get precise handling of explosions, gunshots, snarls, and crashes. But it's the LFE and rears that complete this experience. In the surrounds, we hear an almost consistent river of crowd chatter, lab sounds, and nature sounds like wind and flowing water. And then there's the LFE, ready to pounce, claw, and rip the audience to shreds. It's constantly moving, whether it's adding an emphasis to the score or assisting the dinosaurs with their particular brand of moving. Footfalls thunder and felt like they were shaking my windows, and the roars feel like you're actually there. It would be difficult to award a clear winner for 2015 (see Mad Max: Fury Road), but World makes a very strong case for its inclusion.

The Supplements - 3.5/5
Jurassic World's compendium is a mixed bag. Missing an audio commentary, the experience is definintely minimized. It may seem like a lot to demand, but a commentary gets you inside the director's head, giving them a forum to discuss what they think are moments that audiences might appreciate or even miss about their film. Therefore, I've marked it down 1 star before even getting to the other items. The 3D disc does not contain any supplements, but the 2D disc does, which are all presented in HD:
  • Deleted Scenes (6:08): Sadly this is one giant reel, and you cannot click between each.
  • Chris & Colin Take on the World (8:57): Pratt and Trevorrow spend time asking each other a variety of questions, share their memories about Jurassic Park, discuss creating suspense in a film like this, and a variety of other topics.
  • Welcome to Jurassic World (29:52): An overreaching, well done piece about several aspects of the film. We learn about the cast/crew, the film's themes, shooting the film, designing the world, using animatronic dinosaur props, etc.
  • Dinosaurs Roam Once Again (16:29): This feature breaks down the importance of CGI working within the human world. It discusses the importance of the actors in selling the digital illusions, and how that technology is changing the way directors shoot their films.
  • Jurassic World: All-Access Pass (10:11): Pratt and Trevorrow return to look at several key points of the film, as well as how some of them were crafted.
  • Innovation Center Tour with Chris Pratt (2:01): A featurette tour of the set, which include some tips-of-the-hat to previous films in the series.
  • Jurassic's Closest Shaves - Presented by Barbasol (3:00): Serving as nothing more than a commercial, this is a montage featuring some of the most dangerous moments from the series.

    Our evaluation copy arrived as 3D/2D/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The slipcase is very attractive. At the time of this post, packaging options for the film were available, including a Walmart lunch pail, a Target tin with additional features, and a collector's set with two dinosaurs and the tin.

    The Bottom Line - 4/5
    While Jurassic World satisfies in the simplest way possible, its story gaps, good (not great) CGI, and decent performances keep it from wiping off the mud of its shunned brethren. The home release is better in 2D than 3D, with the 2D making a strong case for best audio and video transfers of 2015. This is a must-have if you like kaiju or big loud experiences on your home set.

    Jurassic World is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril and has a runtime of 124 minutes.

    Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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