|In April, following the release of a scene depicting sexual banter
between Ms. Howard's prim executive and Mr. Pratt's motorcycle-
riding dude, Joss Whedon, the director of The Avengers: Age of
Ultron, wrote on Twitter: "I'm too busy wishing this clip wasn't
'70s-era sexist. She's a stiff, he's a life-force – really? Still?"
New York Times feature on Director Colin Trevorrow, 3rd June 2015*
In a rather satisfying turn of events, Whedon has apologized and Trevorrow has carefully agreed with the initial criticism. The offending scene plays out like one from an overtly self-conscious movie (knowing, winking dialogue, less banter, more pander). Whedon was disappointed but Trevorrow is suggesting that context (which is usually everything) has to be taken into consideration. We shall see. So, with antennae on medium twitch, what would the average punter know about Jurassic World before going in? From the trailer, Chris Pratt obviously has some sort of relationship with the normally 'eat first, don't bother with the questionnaire' velociraptors. There's a big genetically engineered dinosaur (of course, there has to be; it's the law in sequel land). Park had a T. Rex, Lost World had two, III had a Spinosaurus (bigger and frillier than a T. Rex!) and World has an Indominus Rex, glimpses of which we are teased with in the clips and trailers. So, no surprises here so far (except for the semi-tame velociraptors...) These ideas are courtesy of Steven Spielberg himself (conceived after the modest success of the third in the franchise) and, lottery picked after a promising but modest first feature, director Trevorrow falls dutifully in line.
It's hard to put a personal stamp on such a known property and if Trevorrow has any smarts he won't try to. It's just that CG has all but wiped out a director's personality unless it's used with class and restraint (see Under The Skin for a prime example of the dog defiantly wagging its own tail). And while Jurassic World is an entertaining romp, it doesn't put too many sharp talons wrong, but neither does it put any on original ground. There are a few nice surprises but the air of 'been there, done that' pervades the film like a wet cloak and it takes some serious acting charisma or unexpected narrative twist to knock us off audience autopilot. That said, there is a climactic nod to Deep Blue Sea that was wonderfully and surprisingly executed. Do you really need a story recap? The actual, original Jurassic Park is open. It's brilliantly distanced from the tragedies of the past by renaming it so no one will make any connection. Hmm. Now trading under the new and improved moniker of Jurassic World, everything is going swimmingly except for one aspect of business that is no one's to control; the effects of time. In this case, the fictional audiences (presumably a little richer than the average tourist and, as Times 2 reviewer Kate Muir insightfully points out, significantly thinner than the average group of Americans) are dwindling because 'new' is not something dinosaurs can easily trade on. Johnny Ive can't just whip up an iRex... Or can he, or rather his fictional counterpart? In charge of the park, the fair skinned, ginger coiffed Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, starts the movie as the stereotypical investor-pleasing, power-woman with no time for anyone or anything that isn't phone shaped or her immediate boss. She's such a cliché, she almost tips into originality by being so much of a cliché. She subsequently mellows as she's forced by circumstance to turn into Sarah Connor – with higher heels, a ridiculous aspect of her character that was curiously played to the fore and not forgotten about as she hurtles from one place to another. This character arc must be the 'context' Trevorrow was talking about. Sure, she's at the thin end of a 70's sexist vibe but as she becomes Ellen Ripley (I'm running out of female action stars, can you tell?) it's all OK. It's similarly OK that the hulking Chris Pratt, playing Indiana Jones (sorry, hoping to play Indiana Jones) acts like a man's man with men's men's feeble jokes. But that's OK. Why? Because he's alpha male to the park's three velociraptors, ferocious predators that the military has its scarcely credible eye on. Vincent D'Onofrio is InGen's security chief who plans to create genetically modified mini-raptors. This is definitely the second silliest thing in the entire movie and yes, there are many jostling for that accolade. You'll have to skip to the end for the film's trump card of silliness. As a teaser, Ill call it the 'Captain Kirk gets knocked out by aliens so he can't get beamed up and be instantly out of danger' scenario...
So, to drum up business, the whizz-kids have spliced a few genes together from plot-convenient animals and created a frankly underwhelming 'new' dinosaur, a bigger T. Rex which looks like (drum roll) a slightly bigger T. Rex. No big surprises there. Not even slightly. It gets free (duh) and our heroes have to evacuate the island and deal with the rampaging behemoth. Did I mention, the Spielberg-approved child characters are two brothers menaced by the dinosaurs, having originated from a family on the verge of a divorce? It must be my age but this whole Spielberg broken family shtick is so old by now, the kids must have kids of their own (and maybe they can then get divorced to so the pattern is a never ending cycle of über-clichéd, faux-sympathy-snagging ciphers). The kids in World have none of the charisma or, let's face it, the stupidity of the pair from the first movie. How freaking long does it take a human being to turn off a fecking flashlight? That's right, Lex, scream some more. The T. Rex loves having beams of light flickering in its eye. In World, there is a curious exchange between the two brothers when the older congratulates the younger for making a scary jump from a cliff into a lagoon. This cements the younger brother's cool credentials. This is somewhat made ridiculous by the alternative. Here's a thing. Are you brave and cool because you jumped off a cliff into a lagoon or are you soiling yourself at speed seeing an enormous sharp and many-toothed monster bear down on you and the only choices you have are stay and be eaten or jump? Which one would you make? Think about it long enough and the choice will be made for you.
The selling point of the movie is of course its effects and there is no denying that the FX wizards have honed their craft over the last twenty-two years. It was, as my son also pointed out, nice to see a few 'real' animatronics on screen, real models for the actors to engage with. The fact we can still tell the difference between the real world and the reel CG can be taken very ambivalently. The animation and interaction of the beasts is first rate and despite family pressure, I grudgingly accept that the 3D works but still that 'one and a half stops under-exposed' impression keeps me (usually) well away from stereoscopic presentations. The filmmakers did their best to bat away the inconvenience of modern technology with some perfunctory pseudo-science. The moment Claire must find out if her young charges are safe, is the moment the phone signal drops or is disrupted – God, that sort of stuff pisses me off. There may have been mention of the bubble vehicle outputting a signal that scrambles mobile phones (I didn't hear such a mention and even if I did, why would it?) but why the filmmakers don't make absolutely sure the audience cannot easily pick holes is utterly beyond me. Another aspect to watch out for is Trevorrow's astonishing treatment of the boys' carer, an English nanny with nothing to mark her out for such a spectacular demise other than having her attention wander while the boys evaded her by doing the same. Once she's out of the picture, I was genuinely shocked at the sadism meted out to her character. Speaking of odd treatment towards characters, what the hell was the wonderful Omar Sy doing in the movie, utterly wasted as the hero's sidekick? Was Spielberg thinking that a Frenchman was always a good luck charm, the way Truffaut 'blessed' Close Encounters? Mince alors. Or was it just another way to have a character say "Shit!" twice but it's OK. It's in French.
But the biggest faux pas (which someone must – oh please – must have mentioned) in an otherwise deliriously silly film, is the one piece of logic that would have killed the movie stone dead (so perhaps it was wise for the filmmakers to ignore it). In the same ballpark played in by You Tubers imagining movies with very different outcomes, my point is analogous to the one that suggests Jaws may have been over very quickly if Chief Brody had lobbed a grenade into that gaping maw as Bruce rose from the depths. World's error is compounded by the fact that the answer to all of their problems is almost certainly on the island and mentioned a few times in the movie in terms of looking after animals... Ready? The Indominus Rex is huge, ferocious and seemingly unstoppable but it's still an animal. Drum roll... Dart it! Tranquilise it. Drug it. Give it a Mickey Finn, a dose, some joy juice, a knockout drop. Use science. Get that animal on the ground. With science! Like Mongo in Blazing Saddles, shooting at him just makes him mad. KNOCK THE BUGGER OUT!!!! Or, at the very least, tell me why you can't. Yes, I know dino-action is what the film is all about but don't compromise your own narrative by making it so easy for the audience to dismiss the flow because of a frankly dumb oversight.
That said, the movie is bound to make a ton of money but unlike its illustrious and original predecessor, it's not pushing the art of film (or specifically special effects) forward in any way. It's marking time. I have to admit on seeing the first trailers I was underwhelmed by the same dinosaurs taking front and centre. Where were all the feathers the new research had thrown up?
There's less of the "Wow!" this time around and a surfeit of "Okay, yeah..." But even the filmmakers knew that was somewhat inevitable and that is a refreshing aspect of the film's whole spirit – what can 'they' (or the filmmakers) do to revitalize the franchise? Trevorrow has done a superb job given the ceiling he was given to operate beneath. But I've finished with dinosaurs now even if my son, eager to see it again, hasn't. If ever the reality of a generation gap needed proving... If I'm being charitable, Jurassic World is an entertaining romp. If I'm being hard on it, it's nothing we really haven't seen before... So, no 'saurus' puns. For that, at least, we must be grateful.