1 1/2 Stars

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

Had I been born approximately two or so years earlier, I would have fond memories of the original Jurassic Park in the theaters during its original release. Alas, I was six, so I had to wait until home video. After the promise of a series revival of sorts with 2015’s highly entertaining Jurassic World, the series was on its last little Dino legs when the highly disappointing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was released in 2018. I hoped life may find a way to bring the series home to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. 

In the third and final installment of the Jurassic World trilogy (and possibly last in the Jurassic saga), Jurassic World: Dominion indeed brings the series home…to extinction.


How Hollywood is Tearing Us Apart

In the history of film, no aspect of the movie making process is easier to see how far we have come than that of special effects. From 1903’s A Trip to the Moon to King Kong to Star Wars to James Cameron to the MCU, it is no secret that CGI is a key factor (if not the key factor) to a box office smash.

Back in 2008, the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button told the story of how the title character (played by Brad Pitt) lives a life in reverse: being born old then gradually getting younger. Since then, we have seen more examples of Hollywood using technology to either bring back actors to life, such as in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with the character of General Tarkin being brought back despite the fact that the actor, Peter Cushing, died in 1994. The same movie used the same trick with Princess Leia, played by the late great Carrie Fisher (from what I have read, this will not be the case for the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker). Actors are also now able to look younger, most recently with Will Smith in Gemini Man and with characters in Martin Scoresese’s newest film, The Irishman (unseen by me at this writing, though I have been waiting for this more than any other 2019 film).

However, this technology has taken a big hit of criticism last week, when it was revealed that a film would be made using this form of CGI to bring back James Dean to star in a movie.

If this is the first time you are hearing about this, I assure you it is not a joke.

James Dean, who died over half a century ago, will be “brought back” to star in a movie. This ranks up with the “colorizing” of old movies (in which Ted Turner made Black and White classics look like trashy coloring books) as the most ludicrous of Hollywood ideas.

Anyone even remotely interested in film history will have heard of James Dean. Born in Indiana in 1931, he starred in only three films: East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause, and Giant (the only one of which I have yet to see).

Though he lived to see East of Eden released, he died in a car crash at the age of 24 nearly a month before the release of Rebel (for which he is probably most famous for). He was the first actor nominated posthumously for an Oscar, then received another posthumous Oscar the next year (for East of Eden and Giant, respectively). The true legend of Dean was now born.

In the 1950s, he grew up when it was cool to rebel, and became one of the symbols of the term (the others would be Elvis Presley and Dean’s own idol, Marlon Brando). Like Brando, he brought a new type of acting to the screen (most commonly known as “the method”), making Dean seem more visceral and raw than others before him. Who knows what kind of career he would have had if it weren’t for his fatal car crash (he was a notorious fan of high speed racing).

His influence is clearly felt to this day (even The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau is a fan, hence “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”), or else directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh would not have had the idea to use him (well, his image) in their upcoming movie Finding Jack. Based off of a book of the same name by author Gareth Crocker, the film is about a Vietnam soldier named Fletcher Carson (Dean) who is recovering from a recent tragedy. Despite wishing to die in the war, he befriends a dog that brings his life new meaning.

According to the filmmakers, they did plenty of auditions for the role of Carson, but decided that Dean would be the only actor who could play him, despite the fact that another actor will have to voice the character.

There are a few instances where this has been used are far back as commercials in the 1990s, such as soda commercials involving Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. During the 84th Academy Awards (the one that was sadly hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway), there was a segment when Billy Crystal came out to talk about the legendary Bob Hope as a projection of Hope was on stage cracking jokes. Though there was no real reason for this other than to show the technology (the image of Hope basically introduced the next presenters), I still found it cool (I mean, Bob Hope was arguably the greatest Oscar host of all time. Even Billy Crystal would say the same.) The difference is that was the performer representing themselves, not used to serve a work of fiction as some sort of puppet.

God gave us Artistic freedom, but I would argue that this is robbing others of their freedom. Not just the living actors who could perform these parts (the filmmakers said they auditioned many before they determined only James Dean could play the part, but since the Screen Actors Guild has roughly 160,000 members, I have some doubts), but also the director. Film director/icon Alfred Hitchcock said, “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director”.

Thankfully, the idea of digitally “reanimating” deceased stars is being shot down in the media. Captain America himself Chris Evans has called it “shameful”, as have others such as Dylan Sprouse and Elijah (“Frodo Baggins”) Wood. Perhaps the biggest opponent of the idea is Zelda Williams, daughter of the late great comic Robin Williams, pointing out how her father would not let anyone use his likeness of this sort for 25 years after his death (and if there is ANYONE you can not replicate, it is Robin Williams).

It gets even worse. A licensing specialist CMG Worldwide has combined with a creation studio named Observe Media to form Worldwide XR. According to their website, James Dean is just the beginning (they do plan on using his image more, using the shameless phrase “Think of it as James Dean 2.0”). They have plans for other celebrities, not just film stars like James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Dorothy Dandridge, Rock Hudson, and Christopher Reeve. From what I have seen, this would include people such as wrestler Andre the Giant, baseball legends “Shoeless” Joe Jackson & Lou Gehrig, jazz drummer Buddy Rich, and aviation icon Amelia Earhardt.

The idea of this is not only foolish, but borderline dangerous. I don’t just mean from a financial aspect (the cost of The Irishman was mainly related to the technology). It is bringing people back to life who more than likely did not know about this advanced tech in the first place (let alone any tech, for that matter. It is almost like necromancy for the 21st century.

Imagine if Jordan Peterson had his image taken, and someone was able to have him talk (or someone imitate his voice) about the wonders of atheism. It would be like me, someone who is five foot, made to look like I can out dunk Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It is as if the people in charge failed to remember the advice given from Jurassic Park in which Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) argues about why bring dinosaurs back to life is a bad idea.

“Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

1 1/2 Stars Movies

The Lion King (2019)

I have a working theory that everyone has one film that was the staple of their childhood. Sure, a child would have seen many a film in their youth, but there is still one that stands above the rest. For my little siblings, these ranged from Space Jam (1996), Spider-Man (2002), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), and Dolphin Tale (2011). Without a doubt, mine was 1994’s highest grosser, The Lion King. I have seen over a 1000 movies or so, and can safely say that I have seen The Lion King more times that any other (the only possible close second would be the 1980 comedy masterpiece Airplane!). I even knew the struggles of the SNES video game of the film (it took me years to finally beat “I just can’t wait to be king” without using the cheat on the options menu.) In short, my expectations for the live action remake of The Lion King were exceedingly high.

The plot is unchanged (if you have not seen the original, I don’t know what could be holding you back). The kingdom has a new future king born in Simba (JD McCrary), who lionizes (pun intended) his dad Mufasa (James Earl Jones, the only returning actor from the original), unaware of his scheming Uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) planning to reclaim his right to the thrown. After tragedy strikes, Simba runs away, makes friends with Timon (Billy Eichner) and Pumba (Seth Rogen), and realizes he needs to return to take his place in “The Circle of Life”.

As stated before, my expectations were as high as ever. Sadly, they were (for the most part) not met. First the voice acting. It is true you cannot have anyone other than James Earl Jones (owner of one of the most notable voices in history) playing Mufasa, and he is basically as iconic as he was a quarter century ago (though age has made him sound more of a grandfather figure). However, you want to know who also has an iconic voice? The original animated Scar (arguably one of the top five or so best Disney villains), brought impeccably to life by Jeremy Irons (Ejiefor is undoubtedly a talented actor, but he can’t fit in the shoes that Irons left). The same could be said by the animated films’ vocals by Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi), Cheech Marin (Bonzai), Rowan Atkinson (Zazu), Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Young Simba) and Matthew Broderick (Adult Simba).

The new film has (somewhat) notable performances, including the voice of Adult Simba played by the immensely talented Donald Glover and his love interest Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter). John Oliver also does his own unique take on Zazu. There is also some nicely done chemistry between Eichner and Rogen as the duo behind the immortal “Hakuna Matata” (Eichner manages to make the role his own, even after it was played uncannily in the animated film by the great Nathan Lane). Their take on how to create a “distraction” at the end of the film is just as funny and memorable as the one from the animated film.

One thing that I (or anyone) cannot argue about is the visuals. This is as close to a live action retelling of the pride lands as we can ever get, and all the credit goes to director Jon Favreau (who, along with the original Iron Man, also directed the 2016 live action version of The Jungle Book) and his team of technicians. The effects are nothing short of extraordinary (if you think you know what it is like to see a lion eat bugs, think again).

Proverbs 19:21 says that “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails”. After his father’s death (like I said, who did not see the original by now?), Simba runs away from his problems (to be fair, Scar manipulated him to). He tries to take it easy and have “no worries”, but his past does catch up with him. Then (with the help of the ever-wise Rafiki), he sees his true purpose: to take his place as king. It reminds me a bit of Jonah, running away from God, only to realize his fault later on before returning. Something we have all done at one point or another (minus the whole being swallowed by a whale).

Parents, there is nothing new added to the live action that was not in the original. If your kids have seen the original, they can see this film (though the darker moments are still there).

There is a lingering question for The Lion King remake: If the original was not broke, why try to fix it? Undoubtedly, the answer is to make money, but that does not make it any easier to digest. We have many (and I mean many) more remakes of Disney classics on the way (Mulan, The Lady and the Tramp, and The Little Mermaid, just to name a few). It reminds me of a speech from 1993’s Jurassic Park, given by Dr. Malcom (Jeff Goldblum). After viewing the park, he is telling those at the table (as well as the audience) of the dangers of this endeavor. He utters one statement that perfectly sums up my reaction to Disney remakes.

“The were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that the didn’t stop to think if they should.”


Rating: 1.5 out of 5.