Jurassic World (2015)
I grew up with an appetite for Empire. Back in those crazy, hazy times before the web your choice for movie news, reviews, gossip and ephemera was delivered by a tactile delivery system, a so-called ‘magazine’ that one would purchase as a physical object in a local newsagent or bazaar. I stopped regularly reading the periodical many years back as I became a little disillusioned with their corporate sympathies, I mean anyone awarding four star reviews to the Star Wars prequels or the Transformers pictures isn’t exactly speaking neutrally or in chime with my sympathies. Still, I always admired their balance of the populist with well produced articles on cinema history, genre and technique, sometimes they even talk about movies made before 1970 (gasp), and as a starter for any primitive cinephile it’s a good primer before you can move on to the rarefied heights of Film Quarterly, Sight & Sound or Film Comment. I am going somewhere with this preamble, honest, but I will also strongly recommend the Empire podcast which is very entertaining for banter and debate, and they get some good guests on as well*. So I picked up a recent copy as part of my lengthy current commute, and the major coverage that month was naturally the imminent blockbuster stalking Jurassic Park IV. The in-depth set report revealed two things which simultaneously raised and lower my mediocre expectations, following those less than electrifying trailers. The in-depth set report revealed two things which simultaneously raised and lower my mediocre expectations, following those less than electrifying trailers. Director Colin Trevorrow (hot off the indie hit Safety Not Guaranteed) singled out two arcs of the script that brought him on board, having gone through a lengthy evolution of a dozen years of reassessment and restructures. Firstly, Spielberg had the notion that the next film would have to begin in a fully functioning, licensed, populated and legally secure facility – a ravenous prospect given the potential for full gimlet-eyed mayhem and scaly catastrophe – a body count befitting the 21st century. The second reveal was a stubborn plot strand from a mid 1990’s John Sayles script, where some of the ancient beasts had been subdued, domesticated and bent to our foolish will, programmed to battle drug running operations and exploited as a military asset. Something about this premise warned immediate alarm klaxons, with the pitfall of schmaltzy opportunities for human and his beasts working in partnership and unison, a story arc that struck me as less Gojira than Godzuki. (mild spoilers follow for plot and content)….
It pains me to say then that despite early indications that Jurassic World was an ‘OK’ fun, dumb popcorn movie – exactly what I was anticipating and wanted to see – my mild antipathy is erring toward the early pangs of hatred, having slept on a woefully underwhelming screening last night. In principle I’m fine with a ‘B’ movie portfolio of character tropes and types: earthy, roguish leading man (Chris Pratt), Corporate orientated female executive who perhaps could lighten up a little (Bryce Dalls Howard), token ethnic leading man’s best mate (Omar Sy), Burke 2.0 from Aliens (Vincent D’Onforio), two instances of geeky comic relief in park mission control (Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson), big-picture Indian entrepreneur (Irrfan Khan) and mysteriously motivated Asian scientist B.D. Wong, the only remnant of the 1993 original. Broadly sketched with whisper thin characterisation the adults chomping fate is inexorably linked to the two younger leads, awkward teenager Nick Robinson (great in The Kings Of Summer, woefully out of his depth here) and his younger brother Ty Simpkins (crying kid from Iron Man 4), bizarrely sent to stay with their aunt Dallas-Howard so that Mummy and Daddy can stay at home and enjoy a divorce. As a cold, corporate type her schedule means she has no capacity to spend time with them, or to pursue an early romantic dalliance with Chris Pratt, although she does have to consult with his ethological expertise due to an imminent unveiling of a high-profile new attraction – the Indominus Rex, a mad confection of cosmopolitan DNA strands to manufacture the ultimate, terrifying uber-predator. With a slowly roasting feast of overweight, slow-moving, dim-witted delicious tourists basting in the Costa Rican sun what could possibly go wrong?
Inevitably everything can and indeed does go wrong, in terms of ham-fisted carnage and nervous direction, of weightless threats and thematic repression. For a film yearning to be so expansive and wonder driven the imprint is cluttered and small, with yawning helicopter shots failing to find any visual purchase on an item or register an inkling of ocular interest, this vast island seemingly swarming with menace which is traversed in roughly ten minutes of screen time. The fumbling for some sort of dramatic purchase is incompetent at best, the kids arc has the divorce subtext awkwardly braided in a futile grasp for pathos or empathy, although they aren’t specifically annoying there are somehow just always there. With all the chemical manipulation darting around this picture you’d think they could have aligned Chris Pratt and Dallas Howard’s charging chromosomes but no, let’s just say that Bogart and Bacall this ain’t, with a wince inducing banter at play in the foliage of this amniotic amusement park. Across the portfolio of identikit characters dialogue is expository and embarrassing in regular bursts, and a lacklustre first act even fails a simple narrative litmus test – How does this park operate and breathe? What are the dimensions? Where is the pressure and tension? Why should we care about anyone? As a B movie these oversights would be tolerable, even preferable to any underserved density should the film deliver the blockbuster blitzkrieg, but even as the inevitable reptilian revolution begins the scale remains timid and turgid, with sequences that emit an exasperated sigh rather than a satisfying scream.
Maybe the comparison is unfair but Spielberg’s first splice has evolved into something of a classic, for its epoch it was an amazing blockbuster elevation and global phenomenon, a landslide in effects and mustering movie magic that brought grown men to tears. It seems suicidal foolish then to populate your movie with numerous call-backs which only ape the films inferiority, I’m not simply referring to in-world jokes or references but direct shots and sequences, the comparison checklist which betrays the screenwriters lack of creativity and subjectivity. Attack scene on youngsters in crudely defended vehicle? Check. Gracious and imposing herbivore slowly suffering in noble resplendence? Check. Corporate malevolence illustrating man’s ruthless instincts in the jungles of commerce and alpha level prestige? Check. Final act dino wrestle At a protean level the film retains no sense of menace or peril, partially due to the passable CGI which clutters rather than shudders on-screen and personally I just couldn’t accept Bryce Dallas Howard’s character on any level, with a performance that has all the gumption and charm of a eukaryote amoeba. You all know me, you know I’m the sick minded sort who cheered the Stormtroopers and boos the Ewoks, but even the most grotesque and protracted kill sequence struck me as simply sadistic, occurring to a thoroughly inconsequential character it meant nothing when it should have been reserved for the truly capricious, deserving members of our arrogant species that appear in the movie.
Ultimately the Jurassic Park franchise is an exercise in introspective dreaming of our forebears, on our ancestors on a gargantuan scale, and you can’t underestimate the chiming cultural consensus – across the globe we all find these beasts intrinsically fascinating and that’s why the picture has secured the biggest opening weekend ever with a staggering $511 million global haul. Maybe its Mad M4x refreshing victory of a feminist credo resonating in our ears but in comparison Jurassic Worlds sexual politics are palaeolithic, it was really distasteful to see a focused career woman essentially punished for her ambition, naturally the implication is she’s frigid and fragmented who can only become herself by being forced through circumstance to abandon her career for a nurturing supportive role. Equilibrium is restored with her slow acceptance of her nieces and of course a romance with the leading man, and the film even has a scene where her sister says ‘you’ll understand when you eventually have kids’ because a) all women are incomplete without children and b) you are a less than functioning neurotic with inappropriate goals unless you accept a romantic liaison and confirm to ideology.
Maybe this movie could have just about mustered through if they’d given Pratt one single, solitary decent line or heroic moment, and it’s only a severely underused Lauren Lapkus (I love her on Comedy Bang Bang) who gets one amusing moment that cattle prodded the dormant audience into a reaction. At a push there is one I-Rex monster aligned ‘ooh’ moment with its cool sounding special powers, a function which is immediately dropped and never revisited for the remainder of the tour – that’s just bad direction and writing on a creative, functioning blockbusting level however you slice it. I’ve also only just registered that the I-Rex is probably some clever musing on the corporatisation of the iphone or ipad. How fucking clever (Sighs). Just to align one final level of bile in the finale there are a couple of moments that instructed me to hang my head in shame, muttering ‘you have got to be fucking kidding’, I’ll not allude any further other than to say Dinosaur + Anthropomorphism = stupid, insulting, unforgivable results. Still, all is not completely lost, putting this together did yield this treasure which has put a smirk on my face for the rest of the day, but to close with a rather obvious parallel Jaws is to Jurassic Park what Jurassic World is to Jaws 4, a fathomless plunge into the muddy waters of mediocrity which begs for a mosasaurus mauling;
*One of the funniest moments movie wise for me last year was Nick de Semlyen’s podcast transmitted answer to a readers question ‘What film did you last walk out of?’ His answer for Transformers: Dark Of The Moon I paraphrase here- ‘I left the screening in disgust, grabbing my coat while muttering inaudible threats to execute everyone involved in this insulting, incomprehensible detonation of pixels and misogyny. It was only ten minutes later, storming down the street I suddenly remembered that I’d been watching a screener at home……