If you saw the 1993 movie, Jurassic Park, or read the 1990 novel of the same name, you remember that birds of today descended from the dinosaurs roaming our planet hundreds of millions of years ago. The geese nibbling at the pond’s edge, the hawks hunting field mice and the chickens pecking away in the yard all have distant cousins in their family trees a lot bigger and just as hungry, all looking up one day, saying, “Hey, check out that asteroid!”
We’re reminded of this fact moments into the newest installment in the Jurassic Park film franchise as what looks like a giant T-Rex foot stomps on the ground until the camera pans back to show a harmless sparrow looking for lunch. If only it had been a bloodthirsty carnivore hungry for the family we meet in the opening minutes, we could have avoided this entire mess. It’s not that Jurassic World is terrible– it’s just not very good.
This movie, the fourth in the series, has the ingredients of a winner – the dinosaurs are fun to watch, the action sequences are exciting, the mysterious tropical island holds intrigue and the characters are not completely uninteresting. But just like mixing heaps of buttered popcorn, a pound of Milk Duds and a wastebasket-sized orange soda seems like a winning plan, Jurassic World’s celluloid recipe left me gassy, sad and wishing I’d napped instead.
Jurassic World’s plot includes the key elements in a disappointing summer blockbuster – genetically modified beasts on the loose, career-minded single women learning how to love while sprinting through the jungle in high heels, and former military men who are both sensitive and smart or off-kilter lunatics hell-bent on turning dinosaurs into SEAL Team 7. Along the way we see nitwit nephews escape from certain death, Jimmy Fallon appears and the requisite IT nerd with facial hair saves the day. We’re taught important lessons, like “Don’t be greedy,” “Don’t be overweight,” and “Always buy vacation insurance.” Based on the park’s security procedures on display in the film’s second half, the next installment should be, Jurassic Park 5 – The Lawsuits. Apparently creating a theme park where ferocious pterodactyls might escape and attack from the sky created zero concern for duck and cover drills.
Over the course of two hours, good people live, bad people die, and we gird ourselves for the inevitable bloated semi-avian carcass of another sequel in three summers.
In far fewer theaters the same week Jurassic World deposited its steaming pile of brontosaurus turds on the world was another bird movie of sorts. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is a documentary chronicling the life and work of famed puppeteer Caroll Spinney, the man who created the characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for the PBS series Sesame Street, growing both into worldwide loveable icons. Released in a handful of theaters for a short time, I Am Big Bird shares moments from Spinney’s entire career and tells us, in his own words, how he came to shape an 8-foot yellow feathered puppet into an international symbol of a happy childhood, recognized from Bangor to Beijing and parts in between.
Spinney is a fascinating character. Bullied by his domineering father and cruel classmates, he found his calling in puppetry, the film taking us through his start in the ‘60s, from Big Bird’s rise to global recognition and a trip with Bob Hope to the Great Wall of China for a first-of-its-kind TV special. We learn about Spinney’s love-filled marriage, his professional challenges and see how Big Bird became an unwitting prompt in the 2012 Presidential election. Spinney tells us how he and his Big Bird costume were invited to join the 1986 Challenger space shuttle crew on its fateful flight as a way to get kids excited about the space program. A last-minute change grounded the large, flightless bird and his puppet master, saving Spinney from that disaster. One can only imagine.
Other than the creepy interlude of clips from The Bozo Show in the early ‘60s where Spinney got his start, the film is everything that Jurassic World isn’t – honest, simple and endearing. Spinney, in Big Bird’s character, singing a tribute to his friend and mentor Jim Henson at Henson’s funeral is sweet and touching, making me weep like a man who’s afraid of clowns. In contrast, I shed no tears during Jurassic World, although I did get choked up realizing I spent $11 on this when I could have waited eighteen months for it to flutter onto my cable TV screen for a lot less.
As Jurassic World’s box office take reaches into the hundreds of millions, I Am Big Bird might bring in a few million dollars when all’s said and done. Both films teach lessons about the pursuit of perfection, whether it be building the perfect dinosaur or puppet, both rely on healthy doses of suspended disbelief and both place imaginary bird-like creatures at their center, except one wants to hug you and the other wants to eat you. I prefer hugs any day.
(Jurassic World is rated PG-13 for dino-on-dino violence, dino-on-human violence and questionable decision making by most characters; in theaters in wide distribution for the foreseeable future.)