Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration Nighttime Spectacular

Last night saw the first official Cinematic Celebration at Universal Orlando Resort. Although the show has been in technical rehearsals since the beginning of the month, the official debut was Monday evening. Fortunately, the biggest difference between the show in rehearsal and the official opening is the opening narration. An excellent touch! Replacing the previous version of this show, the new iteration focusses on intellectual properties that have a presence in the parks versus a tribute to Universal Pictures’ cinematic legacy. In terms of the show technology, water fountains, and special/pyro effects, the new show is a major win!

From the moment the show begins with an excellent narration setting the context for the show to the breathtaking dancing fountains, you will be awestruck by the sheer spectacle of it all! The combination of water, pyro, laser, and projection effects is outstanding. It truly feels like a cinematic experience! There is something for everyone in this show. My favorite parts were Jurassic World and E.T. the Extraterrestrial. You’ll also find clips and scenes from Trolls, Transformers (which includes scenes from the attraction), Fast and Furious, Despicable MeHarry PotterHow to Train Your Dragon, Sing, Secret Life of Pets, and Kung Fu Panda. In addition to the water screen projections, the buildings on the opposite side of the lagoon are also integrated into the show. Incredibly immersive. My sister was impressed! Which was important to me because we have been going to Universal since the early 90s, and like to experience new attractions and shows together whenever possible. She lives out of state, so we try to time it just right when new offerings open! Helps to create lasting #UniversalMoments.

Beginning with last year’s Magic of Hogwarts Castle show, Universal Orlando has been stepping up its game in the nighttime spectacular competition amongst Florida theme parks. For years, it has largely been thought, and accurately so, that Disney World was the king of nighttime shows. With the introduction of the Hogwarts Castle show and the new Cinematic Celebration, Universal shows that it is a formidable opponent in the arena of nighttime shows. Not only is the show impressive from a technological perspective, the music is fantastic and the combination of water screens, projections, and pyrotechnics is top notch. You will certainly be wowed by the dazzling array of lights, movie clips, water effects, and more. Whereas the previous nighttime show had some water effects (and of course the water screens), this show makes the famous one in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas look like something you put together in your back yard. The water fountains beautifully dance along with the music and accompanying images from the film selections. Whereas some shows with many fantastical effects and elements can feel like many separate parts thrown together in a tossed salad, so to speak, this show seamlessly blends all the elements together to generate one show, one experience. The manner in which the show is designed allows for Universal Orlando to update it with different films as the interests of the park guests change.

Of all that this show has going for it–and it IS a great show–I cannot help but wonder why Universal fails to include any mention of its history, the fact that it essentially birthed the American horror film, and other iconic properties of the entertainment giant. Obviously, the goal was to connect the show to the in-park IPs, but the show like it was nearly all spectacle and little narrative to speak of. Thankfully, the narration at the beginning does help to add context, but the experience of watching the show leaves me wanting more. Leaves me wanting more, in that I was looking for something with more emotion behind it. In my opinion, she shows lacks a strong ability to make an emotional connection with the audience. This is often the result of a themed attraction or show that focuses so much on the spectacle of the show, that it falls short of containing a strong narrative. One of my favorite quotes is, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling” (C.B. DeMille); but unfortunately, the new Cinematic Spectacular does not live up to the art of storytelling, but instead concentrates on the spectacle of show.

Although I have highlighted some elements of the show that I am disappointed in, don’t get me wrong, it is a fun show that is well-worth the time to find a great place from which to watch. You should definitely make the time to see the show during your visit to Universal Orlando. The best place to view the show is from the Central Park area of Universal Studios. I watched it from the waterside behind the big boulders. Presently, the show begins at 9:45 in the evening and guests begin to select viewing locations about 30-45mins before showtime. As the show just officially began, you may want to allow for an hour to find a great spot from which to watch the show. Definitely a show that you don’t want to miss.

For some highlights from the show, please see our video!

Jurassic Park at Universal Parks: A Retrospective

It’s been 25 years since Dr. John Hammond so confidently and proudly stated “Welcome to Jurassic Park.” And in 1996 in California and 1999 in Florida, Universal Studios welcomed the world to visit John Hammond’s resort destination park. With the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park today, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the real Jurassic Park that you can visit as part of your epic adventure at Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) and Islands of Adventure (IoA) in Orlando. As you have heard, the original Jurassic Park the Ride is closing in September in Hollywood to make way for a Jurassic World themed attraction and the one in Orlando will likely be rethemed as well (but we don’t have a date for that closure yet). Although there have been changes to Jurassic Park at IoA over the years, it has largely remained the same as is the case with the location in Hollywood. I was fortunate enough to get to preview IoA before it opened in the Spring of 1999, so I’ve been able to watch as it’s evolved over the years. And I was able to visit the USH location for the first time in 2012. Hoping to make it back before JP the Ride closes in Sept.

I can distinctly remember making my way through the IoA Port of Entry down to the lagoon. And there it was. The Jurassic Park Visitors Center across the water proudly standing to welcome you to an island “65 million years in the making.” After spending time with the whimsical characters of the world of Dr. Seuss and exploring the ruins of left behind on the Lost Continent including an AOL Internet Kiosk (no, really, that was a thing), we approached the trademark gateway to Jurassic Park complete with fire and that timeless trumpet fanfare from the Jurassic Park Main Theme written by John Williams. You felt instantly transported to that island off the coast of Costa Rica that Hammond “leased from the government to set up a kind of biological preserve–really spectacular–spared no expense.” And the attractions really did and still do “drive kids out of their minds.” My parents, sister, and I were completely awestruck at just how real everything felt. It was one of our favorite movies, as a family, and to experience the real thing (figuratively anyway), was an incredible feeling. The most noticeable difference between Jurassic Park at USH and IoA is size. Although the Jurassic Park area at USH was the original, it is mostly the ride itself and new Raptor Encounter whereas Jurassic Park is an entire land at IoA boasting more offerings. But there is a magic at USH that doesn’t exist at IoA. When at USH, you feel more of a connection to the film itself because you are mere steps from the sound stages where it came to life.

Before the photo stops were automated, there were Jurassic Park photogs to take your pictures at vignettes from Jurassic Park and The Lost World. So many park vehicles along the park’s pathways. You had the original Jungle Explorer, gas Jeep Wrangler, and customized Mercedes-Benz M320. A side note: I’m such a fan of the franchise that I owned a Ford Explorer and ML320. We never really spend anytime in the park aside from the basic tour, but I imagine the park must’ve looked similar to what we experiences walking through the jungle. Just like in the movie, our first stop was the Visitors Center (“Discovery” Center). So incredibly similar to the one from the film! It was nearly uncanny. Instead of walking into it from the main pathway, my family and I walked down to the lagoon so we could enter in from the front just like in the film. Ascending the stairs, the imposing structure was soon directly in front of us, with only a door left to be opened. Even the entry doors were nearly identical to the ones in the film. Since my parents knew how much I loved the movie, they opened the doors and I walked in!

Everything was there, the murals, giant T-Rex and Brachiosaurus skeletons, staircase, and more. So many educational exhibits around the perimeter of the main gallery. You could watch baby dinosaurs hatch, build your own dino with DNA, climb inside a dinosaur to look out of its eyes, and so much more. Even Mr. DNA was featured at one of the exhibits. The interior reminded me a little of Innoventions at Epcot, in that there were educational exhibits based on various parts of the movie. Not on this trip, but later after I moved to the area and became a passholder. I had the opportunity to adopt a baby raptor from the Visitors Center and I named it Barbra as I’m a fan of Streisand! Back to my first experience. It was lunchtime so we walked up the staircase rounding the trademark skeletons in the center of the gallery and dined at Burger Digs (at lease I think it was called Burger Digs back then–that is a little foggy at this point). On the upper level, I love coming across nods to the film in the paintings, wall art, and murals. Wish the dining room resembled the one from the movie a little more, bur I can understand how that could be problematic logistically with it being a quick service restaurant. Fortunately, there are lots of tables inside and out! Personally, I enjoy dining al fresco.

After we finished our dino-sized burgers at the restaurant, we exited and continued to stroll around the park. To our left was a big fossil of a triceratops at the entrance to the (former) Triceratops Encounter! Located where the Raptor Encounter is today, was an attraction that left a talking impression on me and my family. Unfortunately, the attraction did not last long but the memories are still there. I can still remember meandering the long pathway along the electric fence through the jungle. Through open gates and past open of the gas Jeeps. At the end of the pathway was an unassuming shed. But the magic happened on the inside! On the inside of that shed was a life-sized triceratops who was going into labor. For real! Or for all intents and purposes, real. Remember that scene from the movie where the park gusts stumble upon the sick Tric? That same feeling you got when you saw that majestic creature on screen? You got that same feeling at this attraction. It was so incredibly real–even to the touch. You even got to see the baby! The technology reminded me of how the dinosaur must’ve been built for the movie. I imagine the complex technology is what lead to the closure of the attraction. Once it broke, perhaps it was just not cost effective to repair (i.e. Disco Yeti at Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom).

From a triceratops encounter to a river adventure, we made our way to the flagship attraction. The Jurassic Park River Adventure. Based on the Jurassic Park the Ride at USH, this attraction began with inspiration from the novel more so than the film. In the novel (and in the Jurassic Park video game in the 90s), there was an entire sequence of events and on the river. So instead of a replica of the basic tour, Spielberg desired to immerse the park guests into the river adventure from the novel because it’s something he wanted in the movie, but just didn’t work out that way. The queue for the attraction takes you through a series of switchbacks with models of the island and other information along the way. Overhead are park broadcasters who inform you about dinosaurs you will see. Just as if you are in THE Jurassic Park about to take a tour. It feels as if you are actually there. Even the park employees are in Jurassic Park uniforms. Eventually you make your way down to the river and board your raft boat.

For the most part, the attractions at USH and IoA are largely the same. There is a notable exception though. The original attraction in USH includes the wrecked Jungle Explorer falling over the retaining wall and crashing below–a crash with a big splash! Otherwise, the ride path is the same. Other minor differences exist as in the placement of dinosaurs in the lagoon and in the command center. Just like in the movie, your river tour is narrated! I remember floating along the river in the boat for the very first time. Amazed at everything! One of the most memorable parts is the beginning as the narrator welcomes you to Jurassic Park as the big gates open to reveal all the dinosaurs in the lagoon! With the growing trend of simulated reality, this attraction is still a testament to physical movement through an attraction that you can “see, feel, and touch.” You cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects and into the human eye. Same can be said the filmmaking. That’s one of the things that I still love about the attraction–is the commitment to truly immersing you into the world of Jurassic Park without use of screens, glasses, or some other type of VR. As a kid, I almost thought the dinosaurs were real–like I was a guest at Jurassic Park taking the tour.

Everything seems to be going according to John Hammond’s plan until the raft is knocked off course–heading for the Raptor containment unit and command center/genetics lab. Something is definitely not right, as evident from the crashed watercraft and compys fighting over a JP uniform with the nametag Mickey on it. Love that touch! The first time we went underneath the raptor transport contained I remember screaming as it came crashing overhead. Nothing beats the first time on Jurassic Park River Adventure or Ride! I wish there was a little more to the command center/genetics lab than there is, but it’s still a lot of fun to go through. The first time has surprises around every corner. As soon as you go inside, you know that you’re about to be in trouble. As a kid, this moment was so incredibly tense. Especially coming face to face with velociraptors and dilophosaurus attacking your raft as it ascends to the top of the lab. I remember heading the iconic stomps of T-Rex and the tears through the walls. One of the scariest moments going up the ramp was the electric fence with the raptor lunging out of it. And just when you think it’s all over, you encounter a fog, and in that thick fog is THE dino herself T-Rex. Before the park operations eased up on the movement and fog, I distinctly recall the mouth of T-Rex coming into close proximity with the raft just before the steep plunge into the watery depths below. What a fall! Definitely steeper than Splash Mountain and Dudly Do Right Falls. Just as the characters in the movie narrowly evade being eaten by the dinosaurs, we too narrowly escape the jaws of T-Rex. When we exited through the gift shop, I recall looking at all the merchandise that you can actually find in the film. During the scene when Hammond and Ellie are debating about control and illusion. Some of that merchandise can still be found today in the shop, but most of it has sense been replaced by Jurassic World merch.

What wonderful memories have been had at Jurassic Park at Universal Parks! I am glad that I have been able to experience both parks but most of my memories are at the IoA location. Although parts of me will be sad to see the Jurassic Park branding and attractions change to Jurassic World, it’s all part of the evolutionary process a theme park goes through. I have hope that there will always be some uniquely Jurassic Park moments or locations because “life cannot be contained…does not adhere to park schedules…life finds a way.”

Checkout the linked videos to both the attractions at USH and IoA

“Jurassic Park” (1993), Sci-Fi Horror NOT Action-Adventure

In honor of Jurassic Park‘s 25th Anniversary, I want to revisit why the film works so incredibly well, and never gets old. Just like Dr. Alan Grant states at the beginning of the film, “raptors have far more in common with present day birds than they do with reptiles,” that same analogy can be drawn with the original Jurassic Park and its proximity to horror compared to action-adventure. Borrowing from Dr. Grant, the original Jurassic Park has far more in common with scifi-horror than it does with action-adventure, hence why it has held up over the years and continues to be a favorite film for many cinephiles and fans alike. While all the sequels, including Jurassic World are far more action-adventure than the original, Jurassic Park can be likened to Ridley Scott’s Alien. The latter is a quintessential space scifi-horror with action-adventure sequels just like the former. And like Jurassic Park, the original Alien is considered far superior to that of the sequels. But why is this? There are many reasons from script to director to cinematography; but at the end of the day, it’s the fact that both these critically acclaimed and admired films have their respective roots in the American horror film and not action-adventure movies. More so than any other genre, horror is (1) uniquely American and (2) the most time tested, given it can trace its roots back to the 1890s and was perfected by Universal Pictures in the 1920s and 30s.

So what separates Jurassic Park from the sequels? Both have life-threatening dinosaurs, both have action, both have adventure, etc. But, only the original carries with it social commentary, rich subtext, and well-developed themes told through a brilliant combination of horrific frights and believable sciences taking place within a world of fiction grounded in reality. Furthermore, the focus in both Jurassic Park and Alien is largely on the drama between the characters and the oppositional forces in the film. The sequels in both franchises place far less emphasis on well-developed conflict and drama, and instead sacrifice those golden elements of cinematic storytelling for high-concept CGI-filled adventure movies with lots of dinosaurs or aliens. The proliferation of gimmicks and effects is often used to hide a weak story. Fortunately, Jurassic Park provides audiences with a strong plot told through exceptional cinematic storytelling.

Jurassic Park‘s screenplay benefitted from being penned by the award-winning author Michael Crichton who also wrote the novel by the same name. Often times, when the author of the novel also writes the screenplay, the screenplay forms a stronger foundation upon which the technical elements can be build. A more recent example of a brilliant screenplay adaptation of a novel is Gone Girl, the author of the novel was the screenwriter. Although a screenplay is visually driven whereas a novel is internally driven, when a novelist with a penchant for visual storytelling writes the screenplay for the movie adaptation, the screenplay tends to contain better developed characters, strong subtext, effective conflict, and excellent dialogue. Crichton created incredibly memorable characters who each spoke with their own voice. Casting the right actors to portray the characters is obviously important–and the cast for Jurassic Park is exemplary–but even before the actor steps into the character’s shoes, the character has to be created. Each character in Jurassic Park possesses unique traits, strengths, weaknesses, dialect, and behaviors. Instead of the conflict being arbitrary, the conflict develops through the interpersonal relationships between the characters and the relationship between the characters and the opposition–human and nature.

I was in elementary school when the movie hit theatres in the summer of 1993; and although under 13, my parents allowed me to go see the movie. It was my first PG-13 film, and what an experience! Not unlike Dr. Grant’s reaction to his first encounter with a dinosaur in the film, my reaction to Spielberg’s masterpiece was eyes-wide-open, mouth gaping wide, and racing endorphins. And then comes the macabre contrast in Acts II and III. “Ooo, ahh–that’s how it begins, and then there’s running and screaming” (Dr. Ian Malcolm, The Lost World). Aptly stated. The opening scene hooks the audience with a disaster, but does not reveal much about the dinosaur in the secured transport–brilliant. Because this scene did not show a dinosaur, the audience’s curiosity is pricked which creates an eagerness to see a dinosaur and a degree of nervousness or apprehension accompanying that curiosity. We wanted to see more. If you’re familiar with Hitchcock’s bomb theory, he states “you must never let the bomb go off.” More than simply shock audiences with the death of that employee at the beginning of the movie, this scene serves as information more than a glimpse at that which would be horrific in real life. This delay of seeing a dinosaur forces the audiences to pay more attention to the characters, dialogue, and conflict than looking for the next dino. Furthermore, the delay in seeing a dinosaur, perfectly setup audiences for the grand reveal on the way from the helipad to the Visitors Center. Interestingly, if you add up all the screen time that dinosaurs receive in the film, you’ll find that they are only on screen for about 20-minutes. Just like Hitchcock transferred the terror from the screen into the minds of the audience after the Psycho “shower scene,” Crichton and Spielberg did the same with Jurassic Park.

It’s the soft introduction to the man-made dinosaurs that makes the horror of the dinosaurs feel so much more intense later on in the film–and make you scream! In terms of the type of science-fiction horror film Jurassic Park could be classified as, it shares many commonalities with man vs nature and man vs technology horror films. Crichton is known for his believable science within his works of fiction. It is obvious that genetics and paleontology were researched enough to use real, hard science to inspire a fictional science that feels just out of reach of the current trends in the science, technology, and engineering fields. Pair that with horror, and you have a solid cinematic film. The brilliance of horror films is how they can creatively comment on or provide a different perfective on a anthropological or psychological observation; moreover, it can be helpful when exploring philosophical questions. And these topics are visually explored through the movie and externalize the themes. One area that separates popcorn action-adventure movies from horror films is the cultural significance of the subtext and themes. Typically, action adventure movies do not carry with them social commentary nor significantly pull on our emotions and tap into our most primal fears. Jurassic Park contains all of this. There is something about horror films that beckons the audiences to find enjoyment in, that which in real life, would not be enjoyable—and not only see it once, but repeat it. And furthermore, find the unfamiliar and grotesque fascinating to behold as what should remain hidden comes to light. Certainly the dinosaurs in the movie should have remained “extinct,” but were brought back to life and engaged in violence in which we find enjoyment. 

Some of the themes found in Jurassic Park that are told through the visceral horror and tense dramatic moments are: man vs nature, foolishness and folly, greed, wisdom vs knowledge, man vs technology, and parenting. Why don’t the Jurassic films have the chache that the original does? You try to find to find rich themes such as these in the subsequent films. They don’t exist. Why? Because it is far more difficult to explore what it means to be human and social constructs in a scifi action movie than in scifi horror. An action movie would be ill-equipped to tackle questions of a philosophical nature because the focus is largely on the action itself and not necessarily the characters, and almost never the subtext and theme. For an action film to delve into that which causes the film to take on an intellectual nature, it would lose the attention of those who simply want a good popcorn movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are excellent action-adventure movies that contribute to the world of cinema in exceptional ways. Indiana Jones Raiders, Doom, and Last Crusade do that. Obviously, the inability to reconcile nature’s resistance to control is one of the most important themes of Jurassic Park. Dr. Ian Malcolm tells the group that “life finds a way,” and it immediately becomes the film’s mantra (and a quotable line), true in every demonstrable, measurable way; the dinosaurs survive outside their design and engineering, the lost children survive with the help of a kid-averted paleontologist who discovers his parental side, humanity survives despite meddling in the natural order of things by playing God because that’s what we do–we survive. Every character in the film either understands or is reminded of this–some of them, by force when it’s too late–through the course of events.

Jurassic Park uses horror film techniques in a brilliant fashion to force its audience into considering the larger philosophical questions mentioned in the previous paragraph. It reinforces those questions with clever parallels: Dr Grant’s way of paleontology is about to go “extinct” due to the rise of computer technology (the line “don’t you mean extinct” came from a comment behind-the-scenes regarding CGI encroaching upon animatronics, puppetry, and special effects); the power of the natural world is exponentially magnified when the park’s technology failure is combined with a disastrous tropical storm; money causes literally every ill in the film, even when it is being used for supposedly admirable purposes; and “you were so pre-occupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.” The inability to reconcile nature’s resistance to control is one of the most important themes of the film, of course. Ian Malcolm tells the group that “life finds a way,” and it abruptly becomes the tale’s rallying cry, true in every conceivable way; the dinosaurs survive outside their engineering, the lost children survive with the help of a paleontologist who discovers his paternal side, humanity survives despite its meddling because it’s what we do. Every character in the film either understands this, or is made to by the course of events.

Beyond exploring themes, it’s the intent of the film that determines whether is a thriller (suspense) or horror film. The films speak for themselves. If the intent is to horrify, then it’s a horror film; if the intent is to thrill, then it is a thriller. In all fairness, Jurassic Park is borderline; but it’s the level of shock, fear, and dread that may just be enough to tip the scale toward horror instead of thriller, and certainly evidence enough to prove that it is NOT simply a dark action-adventure movie. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Scott’s Alien, Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is also an intellectual film. Whereas an action-adventure movie would have provided audiences with a few minutes collectively of some surface-level chit-chat above ethics in order to technically give the film a theme, Jurassic Park provides audiences with an entire film about ethics that will have them talking about the various dilemmas and challenges facing the characters throughout the film. It’s brilliant! And quite the rarity these days. The hand of Spielberg’s penchant for horror (Jaws and Poltergeist) is seen in Jurassic Park from requesting that Crichton rewrite the original screenplay to be more cinematic and less internally driven because Spielberg desired to take the novel and adapt it to screen as a Jaws on land. If his intent was to make a sequel to Jaws, then we have to conclude that his intention was to horrify audiences in some measurable amount.

With a film as dynamic as Jurassic Park, it may be nearly impossible to prove that it is a horror film at its roots; but, the body of information provided in this article help to support the thesis that it is a horror film based upon the intention, conflict, themes, and visceral terror. “Well, there is it.”

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Fantastic Beasts: and Where to Find Them” movie review

fantasticbeasts_1Spellbinding! Return to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world in this fantastic film filled with phenomenal cinematic storytelling and mesmerizing magic. Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts boasts incredible talent on and off screen that is sure to strike both a nostalgic cord with audiences as well as renew a sense of wonder in this new epic tale preceding the events of Harry Potter by more than six decades. From the flawless editing to the character dynamics, this film is definitely one to look for in the technical categories during awards season. Fantastic Beasts is also the first time that fans of Rowling’s wizarding world will witness a film based on an original screenplay and not a work of literature. After watching this movie that essentially extends a wildly popular and successful film franchise, it is clear that ‘the magic awakens’ in a manner that is destined to thrill the dedicated fanbase and ignite the passion of new fans. Whereas the last time a franchise was ‘awakened,’ it felt like a mashup of that which had been heard and seen before, Fantastic Beasts provides audiences with completely new characters in a new city facing all new challenges in a world that echoes the past but is clearly a new fantastical frontier.

Many decades before Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort would cross wands, across the pond a whole new world of witches, wizards, and fantastic beasts is beckoning for adventure. While on a rather academic expedition to locate, identify, and protect magical creatures, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City to transport and collect the final creatures he needs to complete his zoologic study and publish his research. Unfortunately, this expedition is all but academic. After bumping into no-mag (no-maj/no magic) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) at the bank, Scamander mistakenly swaps briefcases with Jacob and unwittingly releases the magical creatures to roam about the big apple. With bizarrely unexplained events in the no-mag world causing people to pry into the magical world with risk of fully exposing it, Newt’s creatures become the target of the American magical congress. After bumping into an unlikely nemesis turned ally Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) and her adorable sister Queenie (Fine Frenzy), teaming up with Jacob, Newt and his friends must capture all the magical creatures and solve the mystery of what is actually reeking havoc in both the magical and no-mag worlds.

Before analyzing the film’s content, I think it’s best to step back and look at the larger picture here. This is the first time that one of Rowling’s wizarding movies is not based on one of her novels, plays, etc. Furthermore, this also makes the fourth time, for all intents and purposes, in recent years that a popular film franchise with a highly dedicated fanbase is being extended (on the front and/or backside). The other three being: Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and to a lesser extent Star Trek; yes, there are other popular franchises that are being added to, but they are mostly perpetually continual ones like MarvelDC, or the Scary Movies, etc. Although Fantastic Beasts was highly anticipated upon the initial teaser trailers and social media traffic, the elephant in the room was whether or not it would go by way of The Phantom Menace and Jurassic Park III or The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. Thankfully, this return to the wizarding world appears to be going by way of the latter! Still too early to tell if it will truly reignite a fandom in the way the extensions did for the Star Wars and Jurassic Park franchises respectively, but the storytelling is solid and refreshing. Extending a wildly popular but essentially complete franchise is a dangerous road to go down, but Fantastic Beasts is successful in its endeavor to return audiences and fans to a world of magic and adventure.

The first cinematic element you will notice in the movie is the editing, inclusive of special effects. The prologue sequence was an incredibly brilliant way to reintroduce the audience to the wizarding world. I thoroughly enjoyed the innovative approach to integrating the magical newspapers into the opening sequence following the prologue. Although I am not a fan of 3D movies–ordinarily–I imagine that this sequence would provide quite the high degree of spectacle if watching the 3D version (which I did not do). It would not be surprising if this film gives Rogue One a run for its money in the visual/sound effects, editing, and score categories during award season. One element I was specifically looking for was the use of practical effects, props, and animatronics since it’s a film about magical creatures. I watched an advanced screening of Allied immediately before watching Fantastic Beasts; so, be honest, I need to watch it again to locate and identify uses of practical effects or animatronics. But I believe that, to a small extent, some of the scenes including interactions between the human characters and creatures used animatronics. When animatronics and CGI are used in a film–especially in the fantasy/adventure or sci-fi genres–the result is authenticity and a realness that cannot be achieved otherwise.

Eddie Redmayne delivers an outstanding performance as Newt Scamander. Absolutely flawless. From the lack of eye contact to the facial twitches to the over-all manner in which he carried himself, Redmayne does an exceptional job of bringing this character to life. Not having any books to base his characteristics off of, it was important to provide audiences with a protagonist who was both entertaining to watch and find a place in the hearts of fans in two hours. Both were definitely accomplished. Joined by an amazing cast of chief and secondary supporting players, the brilliant direction of David Yates is seen in all the character dynamics throughout the movie. I greatly appreciate the lack of developed physical romance or attraction between Newt and Porpentina and instead the mild romantic subplot involve the sexy Queenie and lovable Jacob. The villains are nicely developed as well. Of course, the best part is not quite knowing who the villains are. Going into that in more detail will give away too much; however, there are many options for villains, anti-heroes, and allies so sometimes you will not be certain who’s an ally, villain, or anti-hero or someone who was thought to be a villain turn out to be a possible ally. Although there are definitely some predictable elements in the movie, there is sufficient enough unpredictability that it will keep you guessing and engrossed in the storytelling.

Prepare to be whisked away to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world! I cannot wait to see how Universal Orlando/Hollywood will integrate this new series into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter into their parks and resorts. The famous Harry Potter Studio Tour in England may have some new additions as well. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a delight for the whole family and is sure to generate new fans while appealing to and satisfying legacy ones.

Review of “Jurassic World”

JurassicWorldBack with a roar! The Jurassic Park franchise returns from the dead with a vengeance in the newest and highly anticipated installment since the original back in 1993, and certainly since The Lost World in 1997 and Jurassic Park 3 in 2001. Jurassic World will take you back to the island that started it all and deliver the same WOW factor as the original beloved favorite. Return to Isla Nublar to experience the park John Hammond envisioned but could never have dreamed would become a reality. “The park is open!” Enjoy the adventure, pseudo-science, character development, plot, the acting, and the music that you loved about Jurassic Park (1993) in a film that holds true to the very essence of what made the original such a great film but adds in the visual storytelling technology we enjoy today. For lovers of the ride at Universal Studios (FL/CA), you will enjoy experiencing the park in ways you may have only dreamed of, and for lovers of the franchise, despite the poorly produced past sequels (even though they are still fun to watch), prepare for your expectations to be greatly surpassed as you return to your childhood and experience Jurassic World.

Jurassic World takes us back to Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica. Just south of the original park, a new theme park has been opened and is bustling with park guests and dinosaurs alike. The luxury theme park and resort is jointly ran by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and of course the once chapter 11 InGen BioEngineering company founded by John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough). For the last few years, the guest satisfaction ratings have plateaued at Jurassic World and Claire has worked with InGen’s Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) to develop a genetically modified hybrid to wow the guests and increase profits. But as Ian Malcolm once so eloquently put it “life will find a way,” the attempts to control the park’s “assets,” will not go as planned. After the newly minted genetically modified hybrid Indominous Rex cleverly escapes the paddock, it is up to Claire and her unconventional Navy veteran turned dinosaur control/safety expert Owen (Chris Pratt) to save Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) as well as the over 20K park guests from the jaws of history’s top notch predators.

Where to begin? It seems so much easier to write a critique for movies that are just okay or even terrible. When working with such an incredible movie, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin and even harder to know when to stop. Going into the movie, I had my reservations-especially after seeing what I thought was a ridiculous scene from the trailer of Owen facing off and talking with the raptors–but I can honestly say that is this movie that I, as well as millions of others in their mid-to-late 20s and early 30s, have been waiting for since we saw the original as kids in theaters. It truly embodies everything that made the original great and capitalizes on it by adding in the digital effects and visual storytelling techniques we enjoy as part of modern cinema. The best movies are those that simultaneously embrace current technologies whilst remaining grounded in the very essence of what a movie should be: exceptional visual storytelling in terms of the art and science of filmmaking. This truly is the sequel we have been waiting for since the helicopter left Nublar 22 years ago.

I was watching Jurassic Park 3 with a friend in order to finish the first three movies prior to seeing Jurassic World last night, and I asked him and myself  “what was it about the first one that makes it such a great film and in the top 20 grossing movies of all time (and that’s even when adjusted for inflation)? We talked a little, and both decided that is was the dynamic plot, clever writing, memorable characters, and that wow factor of seeing dinosaurs like never before on the big screen that made the first movie not just a successful movie but a GREAT movie. That same dynamic plot filled with subplots and subtext, memorable characters, and more is captured by the current installment. Yes, this movie is high concept as summer blockbusters usually are; but just because it’s high concept doesn’t mean that we cannot experience character development, subtext, exceptional writing, and great visual storytelling. From the moment that I heard the all-too-familiar music and returned to Isla Nublar, I knew then that this was going to be one of the most exciting and phenomenal movie-going experiences of my life. And you know what? It was as exciting as seeing the original for the first time. Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and Legendary Pictures harnessed the power of what made the first movie great and brought a nearly extinct franchise back from the dead.

Just like the characters from Jurassic Park (1993) helped to make the movie what it was, so do the characters of Jurassic World. You have Claire who, much like Hammond, is a dreamer. Although, she is definitely more concerned with money than Hammond ever was. Witness as she goes from a cold shrew business woman to a courageous and loving aunt to her two nephews. Speaking of whom, witness the transition of Zach as the older mean brother who couldn’t be bothered with his sibling to risking his life to save his brother Gray’s. Dr. Henry Wu reprises his role as the genius behind the science that made Jurassic Park and now Jurassic World work. Every movie needs that hero who is unconventional and has subtle sexual tension with the strong female lead, and we get that, in spades, with Owen. There is the chief financier Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) who is concurrently overly concerned with making a profit but still genuinely concerned that his park guests are having fun. And finally, we have Lowery (Jake M. Johnson) who sports an original Jurassic Park t-shirt and has rubber dinosaurs on his desk because he loves the original park and is thrilled to work at the new one. Each of the characters has very unique personalities and traits that are meticulously woven into the plot in order to continually advance the story.

I also wanted to touch on the references to the previous films in the franchise. Early on, it was made known that the old Visitors Center would make a cameo appearance, but I did not expect the extent to which the old compound plays an intricate part in Jurassic World‘s diegesis (narrative). Claire is even dressed in all white like Hammond. Not only is the music powerful–almost to the point of tears–and harkens back to the first time you heard it, but the movie helps to make Jurassic Park feel like a real place because of Lowery’s t-shirt he bought off eBay and the banner of “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” now covered in dirt and mold that fell from the ceiling at the close of the first movie. Although not formerly acknowledged, there are many references to not only the first movie but also 2 and 3, and even the Jurassic Park Ride. From lines of dialog to easter egg camera shots and even to the Jurassic Park 1992 Jeep Wrangler, Jurassic World uses material from its storied past to support the current narrative and evoke fond memories. Interestingly, the movie also deals with the element of third party companies grossly sponsoring attractions and exhibits in theme parks. Just like even Disney’s Magic Kingdom is now sporting a Starbucks on Main Street, the same can be seen in many theme parks. Sometimes it seems like theme parks are sacrificing storytelling and creative theming for the almighty dollar. Perhaps this movie shows us what happens when greed overpowers creativity.

I feel that Universal Pictures (a Comcast Company) has been searching for its cash cow franchise like Disney’s Pirates, Avengers, and now Star Wars or like Warner Bros. Harry Potter (even though Universal rakes in the dough from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at it’s Florida and soon California parks), like MGM’s James Bond, or 20th Century Fox’s Avatar or X-Men, but after the two failed sequels to Jurassic Park, all seemed lost. Until now. This installment in the 22 year-old franchise has been successfully resurrected and could quite possibly be a contender and a worthy opponent in the franchise competition. The way the final shots of the island were in the movie, I have a feeling that this was the official goodbye to this chapter in the Jurassic Park novel and the opening of the floodgates for followups to this movie that will hopefully continue the embrace of the essence of the original whilst continuing to advance the story of what happens when man creates and manipulates dinosaurs.

I don’t know what you have planned this weekend, but you NEED to get to the theatre to see this movie. I am even planning to see it again this weekend myself. But, I need to find an IMAX that is showing it in 2D (yes, that is correct 2D). Prepare to be taken back to your childhood and relive the experience all over again in the newest chapter of Jurassic Park.

As always, if you liked this review, please follow or subscribe or at least share the link on social media.

For my review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom click here.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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