Friday, 12 June 2015

Jurassic World

How do you write a new Jurassic Park movie? Before the series was barely two films old, the formula of this sub-sub-genre was patented, packaged and slapped on a plastic lunchbox: people run away from dinosaurs; C-listers and greedy / stupid characters die in 12A-friendly fashion, topline cast survive. All you can do is add new dinosaurs, new actors for them to chomp on, a new kind of greed / stupidity and take advantage of the advances in CGI to produce more convincing effects. It's an odd situation for a franchise to find itself in, and a robust argument that some sequels just aren't necessary. Director Colin Trevorrow and his co-writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly have clearly had a long hard think about this, before coming to the conclusion that since the first film can never be topped, they may as well just make it again. Welcome... to Jurassic Park.
Sorry! Sorry, I meant: Welcome... to Jurassic World.
In fairness, Jurassic World knows full well the details of its own provenance, and its deliberate callbacks to Steven Spielberg's groundshaking original are knowing winks to anyone for whom Jurassic Park is a personal cinemagoing touchstone: a character picks up a dusty but familiar piece of headgear; those driverless jeeps are rusting away in a garage (the batteries dead after 22 years, but the tyres miraculously intact and full of air) and Mr DNA pops up to say hi, voiced by Trevorrow himself. But knowing winks aren't enough for modern audiences: "consumers want them bigger, louder, more teeth," comments one character early on. And sure enough in Jurassic World the film, as in Jurassic World the theme park, everything is bigger, louder and toothier than before, while still managing to appear strangely familiar.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: two children, young relatives of someone high up in the management of a dinosaur theme park, visit the park and embark on an awe-inspiring ride. Meanwhile, due to human stupidity, the biggest, scariest dinosaur escapes from its paddock, going on to terrorise the kids and others. The management enlists the help of a rugged dinosaur expert (an authority on velociraptors who's in the middle of assessing the park's ability to host dinosaurs) to rescue the children. There's a pause to acknowledge that these monsters are also living, breathing creatures when the two leads tend to a sick dinosaur. The children briefly take refuge in the visitor centre. One selfish character puts everyone in danger with his own personal agenda. It all builds to a thrilling finale, and in the end... well, you get the idea. Jurassic World doesn't just nod to Jurassic Park, it gets down on its knees and prostrates itself, then steals its shoes.
All of which is disappointing and somewhat depressing, but if you're going to stand on the shoulders of geniuses you may as well do it with a tall hat on, and by crikey Jurassic World's hat is very tall. [note to self: hat metaphor needs work before publishing] The opening shot of a baby dinosaur breaking out of its egg may be yet another echo from the past, but as a visual effect it's 65 million times more impressive than in 1993. It nicely sets up every subsequent appearance of the scaly bastards, which mark high-points in V- and SFX, the line between CGI and autoerotica blurred to the point of invisibility; the velociraptors in particular are more incredibly realised than ever. And the scene in which we're introduced to Chris Pratt's raptor-training hero Owen Grady is genuinely tense: we don't know if he's got them fully under control yet, and although we do know he isn't likely to get his head bitten off in the first reel, the fear is palpable.

Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays corporate drone Claire Dearing, do adequate work with flat, lazily-drawn characters (Owen is cartoonishly macho and proactive, while Claire wears impractically high heels and a pristine white suit destined for punishment), but puny humans are rarely the stars of these movies. Jurassic World's monster roster is extensive, including, among others: a leviathanic Mosasaurus; a T-Rex-dwarfing man-made hybridino called Indominus Rex, and Dimorphodons, which look like Pteranodons with little T-Rex heads. Each performs a specific role in the set-pieces which, while lacking the Spielberg touch that made even The Lost World worth watching, are enormous fun, confidently directed and skilfully edited. And while actual gags are thin on the ground, comic relief is expertly delivered by New Girl's Jake Johnson in a role which requires the poor bugger to stay in the same chair for almost the whole film.
Jurassic World slickly delivers on its promise to offer up two solid hours of dino-based entertainment, and for many, that's fine. But it's laced with plot holes and contrivances (Vincent D'Onofrio's warmonger has one of the dumbest plans ever committed to film; gigantic, clumsy dinosaurs can still sneak into shot undetected when the story demands it, and I counted at least three instances of conveniently inconvenient mobile phone / walkie-talkie reception failure), and it appears that nobody has learned anything whatsoever from the previous three films about man's inability to control nature or the inadvisability of splicing dino DNA with that of other animals which may aid the dinosaurs' evolutionary superiority.

A remake in all but name, Jurassic World - like its two immediate predecessors - would be a tremendous and admirable achievement in blockbuster filmmaking if only Jurassic Park hadn't got there first. Rejecting Darwinism like a particularly obstinate creationist, the series' survival appears to depend on a stubborn refusal to evolve, locking itself instead in a loop of eternal unoriginality. But that isn't really good enough, and while this entry makes a cursory attempt at relevance with a smattering of self-referential commentary on audiences' indifference to spectacle and their desire for "more teeth", it fails to capitalise on that idea and soon slips back into the comfort of familiarity. It's fun while it lasts, but it might be time to close the park for good.

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