Monday, 15 June 2015

Jurassic World

Dinos ‘R’ Us

Jurassic World
2015  USA/China
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
UK cinema release print.

I remember absolutely loving the first Jurassic Park film when I saw it in 1993 (reviewed by me here). That was definitely the year of the dinosaur with every conceivable merchandise item you can think of, officially or not, being turned into some kind of prehistoric monster. It also tapped into a long forgotten and never properly developed passion for paleontology I had as a kid, which kinda kicked off with a knack I seemed to have for finding prehistoric fossils in even the most unlikeliest of places (I once even stumbled on a small ammonite in a stone which had been chopped up for gravel in a car park... something which still blows my mind today). Alas, like the dinosaurs that we all know and love, my enthusiasm for looking at, cleaning and dating bits of animal/vegetable impressed or incarcerating rocks soon became extinct... although I still have a soft spot for movies which feature dinosaurs and such.

That’s why, even though this movie isn’t a shadow of the original Spielberg opus, I still found it to be an entertaining film, to a certain point, although it really does seem a little unnecessary when you compare it to previous installments. As I said, I loved the original movie and even liked the sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which I remember coming in as a bit of a disappointment for a lot of people, although it was in some ways a partial remake using the old King Kong formula... even to the point of composer John Williams kind of referencing just a little of Max Steiner’s original 1933 score in one section. For the record, by the way, I love King Kong movies too... and a lot of the bizarre rip offs that followed in the giant ape’s footsteps over the decades. By the time that Jurassic Park III was upon us, I’d lost a lot of interest in the films and Spielberg was no longer in the director’s seat for this third installment. Still, it was entertaining enough because, even if there was no longer anything really new to show the audience, you really can’t go wrong with a dose of giant dinosaur action and it was still quite watchable.

I think the one thing you can accuse the movies of is that they’re definitely following a standard formula of throwing dinosaurs and humans together into the mix, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s character from the first movie, and seeing who the heck is going to come out better off. The various films all pretty much deal with either kids or teenagers in peril, needing some kind of rescue, thus placing everyone in danger and fair prey to big, scary beasts with ferocious looking teeth. They’re usually a lot of fun with such a simple and robust formula and this latest incarnation, Jurassic World, also follows the same mix of ingredients, reataining that fun factor. It’s definitely a switch your brain’s higher functions off and sit back for the ride kinda movie but, there’s nothing really wrong with that, I think.

It does have it’s problems though.

The main problem with this one is, I’m afraid, that we’ve seen it all before and, really, nothing much has changed... it’s just got bigger and, arguably in some points, better rendered. This kind of gives it a bit of an uninspired feel and I find it interesting that the writers of the movie seem to have identified their own problem and made it a plot point, while still suffering from a lack of coherent solution to the issue. By this I mean that the plot involves a new “super dinosaur predator” which has been cross-bred and genetically enhanced by the only character/actor in the film from any of the original movies (B D Wong as Dr. Henry Wu, from Jurassic Park) because the audience for the theme park requires bigger and better dinosaurs to hold the interest for repeat visits. This, of course, follows the same mentality of a movie which feels it needs a bigger and better dinosaur to gain box office this time around and one wonders if this wasn’t a laconic in-joke snuck in by the writers to the point that it got past the producers of the movie. The thing is, the new dinosaur isn’t really that special in terms of look and so... it’s just really a bit bigger. Chris Pratt’s “velociraptor-whisperer” character Owen comments, “They’re dinosaurs. Wow, enough.” but, alas, my own reaction to these usually terrifying beasts in this movie was more... “They’re dinosaurs. Meh! Enough.”

Actually, although the acting and stereotypical characters by the likes of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard have been fairly heavily criticised (it seems to me), I had absolutely no problems with this reverting to stereotypes business. It’s not any more or less offensive, I feel, than a profusion of violence , for instance... something I can’t condone in real life but am more than happy to enjoy at the level of being entertained by it in the movies. Actually, I thought Howard’s character Claire is actually a stronger person than people are giving her credit for but... I’ll let everybody else make their own judgements on that and am happy to leave my comments on her in the shadows. She did the job just fine, as did Pratt, and I was entertained by them probably more so than the dinosaurs... if truth be told. The two “kids in peril” figures, Gray and Zach, were also brilliantly played by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson so, really, no problem with the performances at all. Or even the script in terms of the dialogue to a large extent. Mostly it’s the story direction and lack of scares from the dinosaurs which was a little disappointing for me this time around. I remember the first time I saw Jurassic Park in 1993 there was a moment where I kicked the back of the seat in front of me inadvertently because my brain was kicking a velociraptor away... this time around that visceral vibe really wasn’t a factor in this, I’m afraid.

One of the reasons for this, I suspect, is the fact that we don’t, in this one, have an opening like the other three... which all begin with quite ferocious dinosaur attacks and which deliberately shock/warn the viewer to be really wary because these things are dangerous. The most successful of these openings, of course, being the Velociraptor attack at the start of the original Jurassic Park. Now I can totally understand the film makers choice not to go with this kind of set up again... especially after doing something similar in each film... but I think they’ve failed to take into account that it’s been 14 years since the majority of their audience have seen one of these things on the big screen and, in the case of some of their potential viewers, this is their first experience of one of these at a cinema... on a giant window into their fantasy land with a soundtrack dominating the experience over all the normal household sounds which can mar any home viewing. I really think the filmmakers missed a trick not giving us a truly terrifying opening to set up just how dangerous these things can be on this one and, for the record, a quite badly CGI’d crow does not provide the kinds of scares you’re looking for... nor does it serve a purpose unless you are going to bring crows back later on in the story. Any inherent metaphor is lost by the time you get to flying reptiles in this one. It just doesn’t really work other than for the laugh factor the director was presumably going for.

Another thing which really doesn’t help this particular film is that the trailers showed so much from it that you can completely piece together what’s going to happen before you even see the movie and... they really didn’t hold anything good back to save for just the main viewing experience, to give it the “wow factor” that the people running the island in the film are so obviously looking for, too. A bigger dinosaur doesn’t really cut it and, though they do tease what it looks like for a little while in the film, when you do see it it’s just... well... it’s just a big dinosaur. What’s next? So I think my personal experience of the movie would have been a little better if they’d have just stuck to more teasery trailers and not given us everything there is in one hit. Not a very smart move, I would have to say.

That being said, though, there are some nice things in it. The references to the first film such as it being set on the original island and a pretty big, not quite logical, reference to that first movie involving the teens that I won’t spoil here, are nice little touches. As is Michael Giacchino’s score which, given his past credentials and services to sequels over the years, I wouldn’t expect to be any less than excellent and that’s exactly what it is... riffing on John Williams’ original themes when required and hitting key points in the film. The score is a definite purchase from me but, honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll be bothering to pick up a home viewing version of the film on Blu Ray for a repeat watch anytime soon.

One of the things the director here has to be applauded for, although I don’t think it’s done all that successfully, is trying to capture some of the "little details leading onto larger revelations" mentality  that Spielberg utilised in his original two movies. In Jurassic Park, for example, we had that lovely moment, pretty much stolen from the scene when the tanks invade in The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, where the vibrations caused by the footsteps of the Tyrannosaurus Rex make visible ripples in a glass of water. Or the lovely moment where the canvass diorama illustration of a velociraptor turns into the visible presence of a real one when you least expect it, heralded by one of the characters shaking in fright so much the jelly on her spoon is wobbling. In The Lost World, we had two nice moments, one involving slowly cracking glass and another of velociraptor’s trails through tall grass. Those sequences really elevated the film from being just another dinosaur movie for this audience member. Jurassic World tries to use the same kind of visual philosophy, most notable when droplets of blood start dripping onto a throwaway character’s hand. Also, it highlights objects in the visual plane, such as a misplaced firearm, to ramp up the suspense and let the audience know, in a shorthand way, that the characters are in more danger than they at first maybe had realised. I actually don’t think any of these things are done that successfully, or with the flair that Spielberg achieved using similar techniques in the first two movies, but a big thank you and well done to Colin Trevorrow here for at least trying to hit the same kind of beats... even if they arent always effective on an adult audience (I’m sure it terrifies the kids though so... that’s two thirds of the job done, surely?).

At the end of the day, Jurassic World is a fairly entertaining movie and a guaranteed okay time at the cinema. It’s not a great movie and I think either something a lot more clever or, possibly, a lot more ‘over the top’ in terms of execution might well have lifted it above the status of being... just another fun watch. However, that being said, since I’m pretty sure that being a fun watch was probably the largest concern of all those behind the camera, I think it certainly succeeds in that. My fourth favourite of the four movies but certainly something which I think will be regularly showing on television screens for the next twenty years or so and, since it’s had a really big opening weekend, I don’t think this will be the last one in the series. If you like big dino movies, then you’re not going to go too far wrong by seeing this one, that’s for sure.

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