Wednesday, 26 August 2015

REVIEW: Jurassic World (2015)

Part of the fun of watching films is taking the ones that you like with you from childhood into adulthood and seeing how they hold up. You change all the time but they never change and yet they can often seem different each time you go back to them. For me, the film I watched through childhood and the one I have the softest spot and the best memories for is Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park is not, objectively speaking, a great film, but it is a very good one with fantastic suspense sequences, special effects innovations that heighten rather than remove the reality of the film, decent characters, a good story, good performances and a nice little Herzogian strain about how nature is violent, uncompromising and uncontrollable. It is fortunate that Jurassic Park has these qualities as childhood films cannot hold up thanks to nostalgia alone. However, it is also worth noting that nostalgia has nothing to do with why I despise Jurassic World.

Jurassic World has opened up and is a great money-spinner, getting thousands of visitors a year and firmly implanting itself on the public consciousness. However, market forces and visitor boredom forces Hammond replacement Claire (played by Byrce Dallas Howard) to create a new dinosaur, the (bear with me while I look it up) Indominus Rex (played by seriously unconvincing computer imagery), a hybrid dinosaur that is entirely man-made. And, it turns out, uncontainable. The monster escapes and starts eating anything it can find – which the Malcolm replacement Owen (played by Chris Pratt) knew would happen all along. Thrown in are the Lex and Tim replacements Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) who will be in mortal peril for the majority of the film.

Jurassic World loses credibility straight away and its methods of getting around even this immediate problem is emblematic of why it doesn’t work at all. Jurassic World likes to forget about the second and third films (one can sympathize as far as the third goes – though more of this later), but even so, it is clear that a Jurassic World would never open given the amount of disaster and deaths that have ensued since Hammond first had the idea. This film’s carefully thought-out answer is this central inconsistency is to ignore it. Granted that this is not a big problem – there are others infinitely worse – but it shows the lack of thought and effort that went into this instalment. For the rest of the film, when something doesn’t make any sense or if common sense or comprehensibility are sacrificed for another big, unconvincing CGI spectacle, the film plays ignorant. It is from the beginning a very smug film, so smug in its success that it can point to previous instalments as lesser than itself and also offer a satire of ADD audiences and market forces always requiring a bigger bang, failing to notice that Jurassic World’s creation of the Indominus Rex is directly mirrored by the fact that Jurassic World felt the need to create an Indominus Rex. This is a film so badly thought-out that, in its opening thirty minutes will constantly remind you that it shouldn’t exist, that it is uncreative, that it is made by committee, that it is only here to fill pockets – and it doesn’t even seem to realize that it is what it is doing it.

The Indominus Rex escapes with such obvious inevitability that it seems almost unimportant – it even largely occurs off-screen as director Colin Trevorrow’s camera follows Owen underneath a jeep where he covers himself in oil. Compare this to the scene in Jurassic Park (I won’t bother comparing any other scenes in the rest of this review as it is not particularly worthwhile or revealing) in which the Tyrannosaurus Rex escapes – one is long, drawn-out, builds slow and is entirely suspenseful as well as being physically convincing, while the other is quick, nasty and remarkably stupid.

The problem, I feel, with the majority of major Hollywood blockbusters these days is not so much an extreme emphasis on CGI, but an equal lack of emphasis on storytelling and character. Thanks to this lack of thought, the film stumbles into some dodgy, stodgy sexual politics that has been written about elsewhere. It also has so many holes and inconsistencies that the whole thing verges on incomprehensibility. It is also unexpectedly rotten in its core. We have the incredibly intelligent velociraptors (now here was a ridiculous feature of Jurassic Park III that I didn’t expect to see again, much less expanded on) complete with a father complex straight out of a Tom Cruise film from the 1980’s (the place they seem to have got the sexual politics) and a shady secret donor who seems to think that velociraptors could be useful on the War on Terror. It isn’t worth getting into the politics of this utterly stupid film here – the film’s criticism of drone strikes as being not effective enough (which to me sounds like approval for the fact of the drone strikes, if not the suggestion that they are used too sparingly), the film’s tacit approval of racist overarching terms like the ‘terrorists over there’, the frequent use of the military to solve our problems (consider how many Hollywood blockbusters now feature the military where they didn’t before), the fact that the idea of releasing velociraptors into the Middle East (never mentioned by name, but clearly inferred) is criticised for being mad or dangerous for US soldiers on the ground or cruel to the velociraptors but is never criticised for the sheer number of innocents that will surely be killed if such a thing where to happen – suffice to say that this plot strand is somewhat worrying, as well as laughably stupid, and Trevorrow and his writers don’t seem to have anticipated this.

The film climaxes then with the humans and the velociraptors and the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Mososaurus uniting against the insurrectionary Indominus Rex, which could be interpreted as some sort of accidental triumphalism for racial purity – the film doesn’t attempt to address such awkward unintended readings (see also the gender politics and war politics above – I haven’t even found room for the ugliness and tastelessness and cruelty of the death of Zara (Katie McGrath), the one who is tasked with taking care of Zach and Gray). The battle ends with a look of understanding between the winning combatants – particularly a ludicrous ‘meaningful’ look shared between the velociraptor and the Tyrannosaurus – and then a non-ending with the human characters. The film ends with the Tyrannosauras standing over the ruins of Jurassic World, giving one last roar, that famous sound effect that has been so often heard and copied since 1993, cut short by an editor impatient to end the film.

As for the characters, they are so one-note that even using the term ‘note’ would exaggerate the amount of thought that went into such things as characterisation and motivation. The Indominus Rex is the most complete character here, since it, at least, makes sense – up until a fairly dumb twist.

I didn’t feel any anticipation for Jurassic World – even less after the trailer – but I was surprised by how poor it was. There is nothing to the film that actually works – the characters don’t make sense, the story is only there to poke fun at previous bad sequels and the paying audience and then to stitch together big scenes of unconvincing pixels, the direction is so poor that none of the dinosaurs have any sense of place, weight, even noise – the final battle is filmed so tightly and in such a blurred fashion, it is difficult to work out what is happening or get any kind of thrill from it. It is awkward, humourless, unpleasant, socially and politically conservative, stupid and wholly unconvincing and unexciting. It seems as if there was little time or effort made during the production and that the whole enterprise was an (admittedly successful) attempt to reopen yet another tentpole franchise. A big gain for the filmmakers and a big loss for the audience – and, no doubt, more of the same in two or three years’ time.

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