Director: Colin Trevorrow / Script: John Connolly / Editing: Kevin Stitt / DP: John Schwartzman / Music: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pratt / Bryce Dallas Howard / Irrfan Khan / Vincent D’Onofrio / BD Wong / Jake Johnson / Ty Simpkins / Nick Robinson
Everybody Walk The Dinosaur…
Imagine you’re a ‘suit’ at Universal Studios. You’re on your third skinny-latte of the morning and have been staring at your sun-bleached (though framed) Jurassic Park poster, when the idea strikes… Or maybe it was during your last cardio workout on the treadmill desk? Whatever the trigger, the idea is so baller, that before you even know it, you’ve managed to call a meeting of your peers…
There now follows a Dramatic Reconstruction.
Suit One: How about we build up our own fictional universe with those classic ‘creature features’ we used to do so well back in the Thirties? Eighty-years on, they’d still be relevant… Wouldn’t they?
Suit Two: And great! Jeepers, don’t forget that!
Suit One: Let’s kick things off with, I dunno… The Mummy?
Suit Two: Hey, great idea! We could get Tom Cruise on-board: right there, is our licence to print money!
Suit One: Talk of rebooting franchises has got me thinking… Jurassic Park, anyone?
Suit Three: Meh. Sooo Nineties. And that third one was Godawful; killed the franchise.
Suit One: Hmm. But the Universal Studios Theme Park needs new rides. We could do it with a cheaper cast of B-Listers. Lots of CGI, instead of (expensive) animatronics… It’d cost peanuts.
Suit Two: Hundred and fifty mil sounds about right. Besides, The Mummy’s gonna make us so much, we can afford to dabble. Doesn’t matter if it tanks, right?
Suit One: So what if we can’t afford Spielberg’s fee? Just means we can get in a new director and ‘shower him with oversight’.
Suit Three: He’ll thank us later.
Which is where I begin this review of Jurassic World. Cards on the table: it’s not a BAD film; then again, it ain’t very good either. Think of it as a Siamese twin of JP#3 and you’d be in the same paddock.
Director Colin Trevorrow had only made a single feature (Safety Not Guaranteed) when he and writing partner Derek Connolly were brought-in (or invited to have a crack at) rebooting this classic franchise. In hindsight, their take on the opportunity was the most obvious: imagine if the original owners had gotten their act together and Finished The Park… Now open for business and thriving on its unique appeal, how would things go down NOW? Jurassic World is that movie.
Spielberg may only have been executive producing this one, but the opening is cribbed from his playbook: our way in, is viewed through the eyes of a couple of brattish brothers (who might end-up achieving likeability by the end, ‘cos they’re sure as Hell not going to DIE). Cast in these familiar shoes, are Ty Simpkins (as Gray, the young one; another misfitting-genius in the mould of Joey Mazzello’s Tim) and Nick Robinson as Zack (of course he’s called Zack: headphones and nascent teenage acne-angst glued firmly to face? Tick.). So Zack and G (henceforth I’ll call them ‘ZG’ as they’re so inter-changeable) are bundled off to stay at the Park, as guests of Mom’s power-playing sister, Claire.
It’s Trevorrow and Connolly’s idea of a ‘bring your nephews to work’ plot and before we can raise an objection, we’re on a super-duper catamaran/bus, along with a few hundred other lambs-to-the-slaughter, out to Isla Nublar: the fabled location of JP#1 and Ground Zero in Michael Crichton’s original novel.
The vision of a functioning park is, I admit, spectacular, if a little too brash and, um, American, but yep: when ZG flings open their room’s louvered doors and the camera keeps going, out over the world that ILM built, I did wonder if Spielberg might’ve been standing (even metaphorically) at Trevorrow’s shoulder, whispering stuff like ‘if I were doing this movie, which I’m not, I’d try this… Not that I’d ever impose.’
The swooping camera crosses the main plaza and lands in a control centre / lab, where Dr. Wu (BD Wong and the only member from the original cast to have made it thus far) is holding forth on his latest hybridised creation: something he’s christened ‘Indominous Rex’. Okay, Wu: let’s cut the crap right now and drop the ‘Ind’ bit and just call it ‘Ominous’!
Then we meet Aunt Claire ((‘AC’) Bryce Dallas Howard who, I think, only took this role as a forfeit for a lost bet) and, somehow, we just know she’s going to go through the entire picture in that blouse, skirt and heels combo… Ugh. And all because she lost a bet? How else to describe her one-note ‘Queen Bitch’ persona? In the previous films, we had Laura Dern and Julianne Moore: both sassy, relaxed women, who could embrace a field-khaki without embarrassment.
If Spielberg had directed this one, I’m sure he’d have soon got AC into something more comfortable once things went South, but Trevorrow’s decision becomes a grating, misfiring perversity the longer the movies runs; it’s as though he’s punishing AC, rather than revelling in her liberation from the office.
My frustration was mollified, slightly, on seeing the control room and its Chief Cynic, Lowery (Jake Johnson) who, unlike previous incumbent Nedry, seemed to be more of a Dr. Malcolm fanboy, if the conspicuous book on his desk was any guide. Another returning spirit, was that of the park’s owner. Avuncular teddy bear John Hammond having passed away (R.I.P. Dicky), meant there was now a new owner in-town. Welcome to Jurassic World, Simon Masrani: Eighth Richest Man in the World™ (Irrfan Khan). How odd, Sir, that you decided to visit now… Still, Masrani spouts familiar lines as ‘spared no expense’ and rocks a sharper, less trustworthy suit than Hammond. Like his naïve predecessor, Masrani hasn’t learnt Malcolm’s lesson: that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should… It’s a lesson he’ll learn soon enough.
So, to recap: ZG are at play in the Fields of the Lord, while their Aunt fidgets with her phone and shows-off to corporate sponsors: to both her and Wu, the dinos are mere ‘assets’. Indominous Rex happens to be a big ticket item that, in any other park, might buy a new hotel or rollercoaster. What could go wrong?
Chris Pratt as Owen Grady (‘OG’): that’s what. He’s running a ‘secret project’ to ‘weaponise’ velociraptors (sounds like a Good Idea) and has a cranky, ex-military-now-gone-to-seed dude for a boss, in the form of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins, who is, without irony as far as I can tell, banging-on about ‘a natural pecking order’. Ho, hum. I guess when the ‘pecking order’ gets shuffled later-on, Hoskins won’t be around to see the end result? OG’s definitely channeling Pete Postlethwaite’s Roland Tembo, with his leather waistcoat and blend of all-round bad-assery and nous, although it’s not enough to make this HIS picture: his character is the same at the end, as at first blush. Nope: this movie is all about Aunty Claire… She’s the only one to go on an interior AND exterior journey. Everyone else is going through the motions (or will be once they’re digested), just so she’ll experience a revelation or two.
So she ropes-in OG to understand why the Über-Rex has apparently gone AWOL in its paddock and we discover that these two used to be an item, back when Aunty Claire had an emotional side: awkward.
But that’s it: Trevorrow gives us nothing else. In JP#1, we had a believable relationship between Grant and Ellie, with the issue of ‘will they / won’t they have kids?’, acting as the grit in the oyster of their union. It made us care over whether both made it to the credits and, if they did, whether one or the other might find a breakthrough on the question. Not here. From the moment I saw these two people together, interacting and talking words to each other, I couldn’t give a monkey’s. There’s less chemistry in ARGON, for crying out loud! As a result, I didn’t care about them: Claire, because of her indestructible appearance and brittle, shrill entitlement of being a successful woman ‘in a man’s world’ and Owen, because although he’s happier in his skin, Pratt endows him with a studied, aloof nonchalance that I found grating. But that’s just me.
Upshot is, that on the thirty-eight minute mark, Über-Rex busts out of her paddock, initialising the rest of the film’s own brand of emergent chaos, beginning with the trashing of her keeper’s vehicles (along with her keepers).
Next to experience her wrath is ZG. We catch-up with them aboard a monorail and talking about the imminent divorce of their parents, as a reason for them being on this island in the first place; it’s a blatant, shameless repeat of JG#1 and I’m left asking why? Why bother giving them this burden, if it’s never fully exploited as a point of union / contention? That’s just lazy scriptwriting. There is an upside though, as their journey ends at a station where ‘Gyrospheres’ can be driven out into the surrounding plain. Cool-looking, self-propelled, spherical buggies made of ‘unbreakable’ plexiglass, they’ll allow ZG to get close to the giant herbivores; and closer still, to others.
As we follow the progress of a detachment from ‘Asset Containment’ barrel their way across the Park, it gives us an opportunity to catch small, fan-service glimpses of other aspects of the regular visitor experience, i.e. kayaking down a lazy river accompanied by Stegosaurii and the like.
Back in the Control Room, Masrani, OG and AC watch as the ‘life gauges’ of the guards sent to bring-down the Über-Rex wink-out, like characters in a video game: being so detached from it all, the occupants in this room might be forgiven for thinking that’s what they’re a part of, given how bad is the guff they’re asked to say aloud. OG: ‘She’s learning where she fits in the food chain and I’m not sure you want her to figure that one out!’ OG then advocates having the island evacuated touts-suite, to which Claire replies: ‘We’d never re-open!’ and that’s the problem at the heart of the picture, if not the entire franchise: how to reconcile safety with commerce. Each generation ignores the corporate memory of past mistakes, believing they can do better…
Naturally, the one Gyrosphere unable to be recalled, happens to be that driven by ZG and they happen to drive through a newly-demolished section of fence and happen to be mauled by Über-Rex, just as AC happens to phone, asking if they’re okay! ZG’s mobile’s out of reach (ironically, the first time it’d left Zack’s greasy mitts). It’s effective film-making & editing here, but devoid of flair. Not to worry though, as help is on the way: yep, you guessed it: OG and AC, who’s just remembering her familial responsibilities, before their absence become as embarrassing as a loud fart in a lift. She’s also having the blinkers lifted from her (corporate) eyes as well, when she and Owen meet a mauled Apatosaur (and the only animatronic in the picture), realising, perhaps for the first time, that the Park’s ‘assets’ are also real animals. This is her first visible softening – and it’s cause is a damn dinosaur!
Meanwhile, ZG find themselves in the ruined Visitor’s Centre from JP#1. In the twenty-plus years since the first calamity, the jungle has reclaimed the building, but when John Williams original motif is picked out on a lone piano, it renders all the composition we’ve been hearing to that point, as
mute moot. Sorry, Michael Giacchino.
Of the principals, Masrani’s the first to die: killed by his own ignorant hubris, when he opts to fly his helicopter (now armed with a mini-gun), instead of relying on its regular pilot and gets entangled with Pteranodons now emerging from the damaged aviary. A literal crash and burn, this one.
Now, Trevorrow has ZG, AC and OG converge on Main Street; the Park’s main plaza, just as these Pteranodons and other flying gribblies descend to terrorise the panicked masses. Cue: Funny-Peculiar shots of birds landing on hot grills, lifting people into the air and other (yawn) hum-drummery, including an unscripted kiss between the two ex-lovebirds that made it into the final cut, yet better resembles sexual assault than latent affection.
Without Masrani around to call the shots, Hoskins has a go. His first act? Release the Raptors! Which is, of course, GREAT, except that it’s then revealed that Über-Rex is part-Raptor herself and can communicate with OG’s semi-tamed four-pack. Now the hunters become the hunted, as they always do in this franchise.
Next to go, then, is Hoskins himself, when one of the raptors bites (off) the hand that feeds, before moving on to other, juicier bits. Now with the taste of man-flesh, they still – inexplicably – leave our heroic core alone (it’s a pack thing); that is, until Über-Rex reappears. Trevorrow has this set up, so that we think the raptors are going to act as minions to the big momma, only to have our expectations reversed, with the minions turning on Rex, without much of an impact. This prompts AC to call on their secret weapon: the regular T-Rex from the first films.
Still wearing those damn heels, she waggles a night-stick in its face, then runs towards the camera, with the beast just behind: if it’d been me, I’d have had a heel break at that moment, but Trevorrow not only lets her live, she joins the others in making it through the Big Boss Fight so that, in a final, pointless coda, she can walk into a sunlit morning with someone who, just a day before, was an embarrassing relic of her own pre-history. Told you it was Claire’s story, didn’t I? It’s certainly not ZG’s… The boys reward? Enduring a sappy reunion with Mom & Dad, then it’s back to the ‘States for their divorce (one imagines).
Better yet, Claire’s two immediate (male) bosses are now dead, as well, so it’s looking good for the promotion, now that Über-Rex has kindly smashed the glass ceiling for her, along with the walls, etc. Yet it’s still a diffident, cocky bloke to whom she cleaves? Give me strength.
This is a cynical, timid, gutless film, made to fit its age certificate and keep the franchise alive – and nothing more. It is the cinematic definition of going-through-the-motions. Of course, the original trilogy was itself doing nothing original or daring (CGI aside, it was as emotionally manipulative as Jaws had been twenty years earlier), but to come back after fifteen years, against a slew of superhero movies and do exactly the same? Cynical. Timid. Gutless. Yes, it made money (unlike The Mummy) but how much of that is nostalgia and how much is appreciation of craft?
On reflection, nostalgia might be The Mummy’s problem as well – there’s no-one around who
remembers cares about the franchise. That’s why Jurassic World had to get made now – while it still had an audience that remembered. And cared (although after seeing this, one wonders if they’ll be back).
The sting in this risible mess? There’s another one due-out in 2018 – with Owen & Claire returning as the original power couple; I guess The Mummy has a lot to answer for, one way or another…
Claire: ‘What do we do now?’
Owen: ‘Best stick together for survival’.