The Park Is Open
Set twenty two years after the events on Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park, the colossally successful Jurassic World theme park has been open to the public for a decade or so and is the stellar attraction John Hammond had always dreamed it would be. Current park administration is co-overseen by Simon Masrani [Irrfan Khan] the CEO of Masrani Corp as well as owner of the park and Claire Dearing [Howard], the park’s operations manager. Claire’s sister has sent her two sons, Zach [Robinson] and Gray [Simpkins] to visit the park for a week and spend time with their aunt. Being the busy career-driven woman that she is, Claire is unable to really handle the kids and leaves them in the hands of a subordinate; whom they quickly ditch and explore the park on their own terms. Running parallel to this is the story of raptor trainer and ex-serviceman, Owen Grady [Pratt] who is continually hounded by InGen’s head of security operations, Vic Hoskins [D’Onofrio] regarding the dinosaur’s military application. While the day-to-day running of the park is quite interesting (not even being sarcastic here, it’s genuinely interesting) the story quickly gives way to ‘everything goes to hell’, as these films invariably do, when a routine inspection of a new classified dinosaur hybrid called the Indominus Rex leads to its escape. At first the park staff attempt to apprehend the dinosaur alive but as the carnage becomes more uncontrollable, it is agreed that more drastic measures are necessary and keeping the 20,000plus attendants in the dark about the nature of the crisis becomes clearly impossible. To make matters worse, Zach and Gray are unaccounted for and Claire teams up with Owen to enter the restricted area to find them.
What made Jurassic Park a good film? It’s a question that seems to elude several filmmakers. Originality, simplicity, pacing, scale, suspense, clever use of self awareness, a sense of sheer wonderment, mountains of scepticism and cynicism, a stupid ending and a shit-tonne of money all play a large part but it should also be noted that contemporarily speaking there was nothing like it at the time. A lot of the success was down to the novelty of what was being accomplished technologically and the sheer draw of ‘living, breathing’ dinosaurs. Since then we’ve CGI’d the shit out of dinosaurs and put them in next to everything; the SyFy Channel alone has probably knocked out around 30 dinosaur films in the time between Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World. With originality and novelty out the window, there was an attempt to return the series to Crichton’s roots (having scientific minds debating the ethical grounds of unexplored territory and unregulated experimentation) but this quickly boils down to more b-movie tropes of how these creations could be weaponised. Henry Wu’s [B.D. Wong] character, specifically, facilitates much of this with great lines about everything on the island being genetically created monsters and that had they not needed to splice the DNA with other animals, the end results would look very different – finally ending the argument for furry/protofeathered dinosaurs after the palaeontological renaissance and the fact that the velociraptors are basically large deinonychus like the utahraptor ostrommaysorum. But as stated earlier, it’s not enough and mostly gives way to screamed exclamations of “RUN!”
**Unforgivable spoiler midway through this paragraph**
But let’s take a step away from the writing for a second to analyse the technical side of this film. Jurassic Park itself was a unique hybrid of cutting-edge visual effects and awe-inspiring visual puppetry, how does this film compare with the evolutions and strides that technology has undergone these last two decades and what new element does it bring to the medium? The short answer is: badly and fuck all. I know kids will be wowed and the uninitiated will be blown away but as a critic I’ve seen a lot of films and while many of the shots are very impressive there are simply too many that you can tell are obviously fake. It feels as if computer generated effects have reached a bit of a peak in the same way that stop-motion in the 80’s was phenomenal but everyone clearly knew it wasn’t real. Having said that, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes was jaw-dropping so maybe it’s more down to lighting and setting than simple technological skill levels. Which would make sense as the editing and direction didn’t seem to lend any favours to the VFX team. After one of the worst day-suddenly-becomes-night transitions, we get the big epic final showdown between the Indominus Rex, the Tyrannosaurs Rex and a Velociraptor and it’s just laughably dumb. Quite the visual achievement but still very dumb. In amongst all that mess of CGI I saw a raptor riding a t-rex and at that point the 31 year old man that I am told my inner child to shut up because that is flat out stupid. So maybe the CGI could have been utilised better if the script gave the artists more to work with. Which leads me neatly onto the flat, underwhelming score. Michael Giacchino is an exceptional talent but he feels very much wasted here. Every orchestral effort feels big and brassy but wholly forgettable. The only time you know something epic is going to happen or be revealed is when you hear the (relatively) unfamiliar rising horns of the main theme before the all-too-familiar sting comes thundering in, like an over-compensatory mother coaching her child to respond well to a shitty gift: “Oh wow! What a cool pair of trousers! Uncle Joe’s been really good to you this year!” and all you can do is stare back half struck with an expression of “Sure, I guess” and “Are you kidding me? This is bullshit!”
So the writing is average and the technical aspects are acceptable, the only thing left for this film is the acting and really that boils down to four people. First we have Chris Pratt. I, like many, warm to Pratt immediately. Whenever he turns up in a film with his raised eyebrows and general naivety he always appears like he’s slightly surprised but very grateful to be there. The man’s a genuine talent and a mass of charisma without resorting to being a woman-shaking douche (Harrison Ford, I’m looking at you buddy) but much like everyone else present, he’s a bit two dimensional. Second is the villain of the piece, D’Onofrio’s Hoskins. After seeing him portray a truly exceptional and layered villain so well in Netflix’s Daredevil this effort ends up obvious and cliché without ever exploring any form of motivational reasoning – aside from a brief mention of a crazy wife and a wolf he raised. The two kids I’ve bundled together because they’re effectively one character. There’s a few moments of sibling head-butting but it again lacks the memorability and entertainment levels of Lex and Tim in the original. Having said that, Zach and Gray make more sense and feel much more credible than those shoe-horned into the last two instalments, so we’ll move on. Finally Claire. I don’t mind Bryce Dallas Howard. I think she’s a very competent actress but I hate the roles she ends up in. She’s not so Amy Adams that she’ll irritate me throughout a feature but there’s something so unpleasantly antiquated about her character. From her in-charge attitude, to her unbreakable heels, to her John McClane style evolving hair and wardrobe to her terrible relationship with Owen; it’s all dated crud. To top it off, Claire falls into the typical cliché tropes of the on-screen working woman, specifically, ‘I have no life outside of this job’, ‘I have no maternal instincts because of my job’, ‘I have no lasting relationship with men because of my job’ and the most important one, ‘I’m not very good at my job’. I swear to God if her character was male, three quarters of that shit wouldn’t have even been mentioned; the only prevailing question would be, is this person good at their job? If you don’t believe me, just look at Pratt, D’Onofrio, Wong or Khan’s characters, we know next to nothing about their personal lives other than they are arguably confident/successful at what they do.
Elements of the story are very interesting and for a franchise about an animal/theme park this really feels like the most obvious sequel. Things like corporate sponsorship, the desensitisation of consumers, celebrity endorsements, product placement, hiked prices, unnecessarily inflated attractions, these are all reflective of the current state of resorts and what we have come to expect in an affluent society. In a way this transcends physical attractions and bleeds into the boundaries of entertainment in general; the notion that the Indominus Rex is a monster that is created to wow audiences but ends up destroying the industry could say a lot about the notion of blockbusters.. but by that logic, the film’s answer is to battle contemporary blockbusters with nostalgia.. which is kind of happening anyway.. and it’s not working. But I digress. Jurassic World lacks the necessary components to really astound and amaze audiences but it is well paced and as such maintains thrills from start to finish. Base sequels will always repeat the original while clever ones move the story along and develop the characters. It could be said that this film is trying something new but in its way, it is still heavily resorting to imitation and homage. With so many crappy low-budget dinosaur flicks, it could have been much worse but when you have $150 million to play with, that’s really not good enough.
12th June 2015
The Scene To Look Out For:
Of all the scenes in the film, this is a really dumb one for me to highlight but here it is. After the Indominus Rex breaks loose and goes on its mighty rampage, it breaks into a bio-dome/aviary and unleashes all the pterosaurs (flying shit). This action necessitates the arrival of a ruthless containment unit; all beards, sunglasses and sneers. As the helicopter flies toward the island, one of the mercs spies a rogue pterosaur and guns it down, smirking at his comrades. I have a lot of problems with this tiny scene. Firstly, where the fuck are they flying from that they arrived that quickly after being summoned? Second, why can’t these guys look normal? Why do they have to look like they’re thoroughly unscrupulous murder-happy arsehats? And thirdly, once the dinosaur is shot, we learn that the chopper is flying toward the island. Which means the winged dinosaur was also flying toward the island. Again, from where? Did it just fly out to sea before suddenly thinking, “fuck this, too far” and headed back? It’s bullshit. It’s crap writers come up with to immediately illustrate that a.) these guys mean business and b.) they don’t mess around, so when they get completely whomped later (as was oh so very predictable) you’ll know the stakes are really high! This shit right here is infused throughout the entire script and it’s weak. It’s akin to a child handing in a two page story which is 40 percent tribute, 15 percent original story and 45 percent ‘and then it was really cool because.’
I really liked the return of Henry Wu. Not only because he was the only character from the predecessors to return but because he represented the arguments and discussions that would have been at the very forefront of Crichton-penned story. More of this would have been greatly appreciated and with every studio looking for growing franchises, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wu will return yet again in another sequel to continue his crazy work. But if they don’t get decent writers I bet you it’ll be humans augmented with dino DNA or dinosaurs communicating telepathically or dinosaurs with guns or some other grindhouse schlock nonsense.
“Monster is a relative term; to a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat”
In A Few Words:
“I rate all the Jurassic Park sequels on par – completely – same score across the board. None even come close to the original but are all entertaining enough in their own right”