Sunday, June 14, 2015

Marc's Jurassic World review: not your father's de-extinction theme park

Aptly enough, Jurassic World feels like a theme park ride, and certainly not one of the sedate, trundle-along-in-a-gyrosphere variety. It's a high-tech, towering, gleaming steel roller coaster, with a breakneck pace that very rarely relents (only when they need to force a little character development in). It's certainly enormous fun, a spectacle worthy of being seen on the biggest screen possible. What it isn't is a Jurassic Park movie.

I've tried to keep it brief, but as a warning, this might get unusually wordy.


Granted, the name change was probably for a good reason. Jurassic World breaks from the franchise thus far in numerous ways. The slow build-up of the first film and The Lost World is dispensed with. There's no need for characters to be coerced or manipulated in order to turn up on Dino Doom Island; the place is now a fully fledged tourist attraction. The film begins with two (largely forgettable) kiddiwinks, played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins as the older one and the younger one, respectively, already on their way to an island just off the coast of Costa Rica.

Handily, they're off to visit their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who seems to virtually run the place single-handedly. She also happens to be an especially uptight corporate bigshot who has walked in from a Paul Verhoeven movie, and is unwilling to see just how much of a better person she could be if only she would embrace motherhood and child-rearing and blahblahblah. Yes, the gender politics are indeed a little dubious in this one, but fortunately this stuff is mostly dispensed with near the start.

Naturally, Claire can't be arsed looking after her sister's lazily sketched children, so she sends her ever-so-English assistant to pick them up instead (yeah, thanks Hollywood). While Younger One (OK, Gray) is a wide-eyed dinosaur enthusiast, Older One (Zach) is a Surly Teenager who'd rather stare creepily at girls and check his mobile than deign to get a close-up look at a Tyrannosaurus devouring a live goat. And so the self-satirising begins.

You see, resurrected dinosaurs just aren't that big enough of a draw any more; like Zach, people have grown jaded, and falling profits are alarming the park's corporate sponsors. In conversation with expert dino-wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Claire reveals in suitably business-bot tones how the park's management have decided to fix this problem - and, yes, it's with an oversized, extra-toothy monstro-dinosaur spliced with a smorgasbord of genes from different creatures.

I'm sure you've all seen the usual stills dozens of times, so here's something a bit different. Constantijn van Cauwenberge contacted us on Facebook, asking if we'd be interested in sharing his images of the JW raptors, but with feathers painted on. Sure would!

Much has been made in the online palaeo community* of the hybrid dinosaur, the 'Indominus rex' (or 'Verizon Wireless presents Indominus rex', as Claire would have it). Mostly, it's been criticised for being an unimaginative 'big mean theropod' with a mouth wide enough to drive a bus into, a rather sunken head and opposable thumbs, for some reason. However, as a misbegotten creation literally designed by committee, its design sort of makes sense. Of course it's unimaginative - it was cooked up by the marketing department.

Naturally, Owen is the first to point out that deliberately creating an animal with exaggerated predatory characteristics, and then keeping it in isolation for its entire life, is the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas. It's not long before Indubitablus has outsmarted its captors and, with the help of its gene-spliced superpowers, busted out of its confinement. And that's when the fun starts.

For me, the most effective scenes in the movie are those that take place in the earlier stages of the Indiabolus' rampage. Quickly sprinting off into the jungle and tearing out its tracking implant, the creature has numerous thrilling encounters with the two kids (whom you don't really care about), Owen (whom you do - Chris Pratt on top eminently likeable form yet again), Claire and a host of ill-equipped InGen security goons, who are apparently deliciously crispity crunchety on the inside. Mmm.

There are some surprisingly potent moments of tension as the Indianapolus, which apparently kills for the sheer thrill of it, stalks its human victims - superior to anything seen in the other two sequels, and almost up there with the Main Road sequence from the original. There's even room for a good dinosaur-on-dinosaur setpiece, as the hybrid freak takes on an ankylosaur. Furthermore, a scene that could quite easily have been inadvertently amusing - Owen and Claire coming upon a trail of slaughtered apatosaurs in what was formerly Happy Herbivore Valley - manages to be genuinely rather sad. Poor old bronto.

This being LITC and all, I should probably go into more detail about the animal reconstructions. Basically, from a scientific perspective, they are pretty much all atrocious. Even the aforementioned Apatosaurus lack the real animal's absurdly fat neck, and have skin that is best described as pachyderm-meets-Gurche. Stegosaurus have correctly upright tails in one scene (a la The Lost World), only to have droopy Burian tails in the next. The raptors long ago ceased resembling real animals, and are now firmly entrenched sci-fi monster characters - they've even shed their JP3 quills. By far the worst are the pterosaurs, which are skeletal, screaming nightmare banshees seemingly based on William Stout's earlier work, with added monsterising.

Another of Constantijn's tweaked screenshots. The feathers aren't strictly accurate, of course, but then they're GENETICALLY ENGINEERED WITH FROG DNA and there is science FICTION, gawd. When in doubt, stick key words in uppercase. Anyway, check out Constantijn's site, Conz Comics!
 Now, much is made in the movie about how the dinosaurs aren't real dinosaurs, or in the words of lead geneticist Dr Wu (a role reprised by B D Wong, who has not aged a day), not 'pure'. Reflecting what many apologists...uh, fans have been saying on t'internet, Wu points out to hilariously absent-minded CEO and inept helicopter pilot Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) that his creations are built on a hodgepodge of DNA from different animals, and don't represent reality. "You didn't want reality - you wanted more teeth." Fair enough, but also rather lame. The techniques have been refined since the first film - we should be closer to the Real Deal. And it would just be so, excuse me, awesome to see more up-to-date dinosaurs on the big screen - it would replicate the thrill felt when seeing Jurassic Park for the first time.

But this isn't a Jurassic Park movie. The dinosaurs are avowed freaks and monsters - the movie declares itself a monster flick, and then sits back and watches the carnage unfold. Sure, the carnage is a hoot - especially when the freak-o-pterosaurs descend on a crowd of tourists in Hitchcockian fashion, or InGen troopers take on mere reptiles with rocket launchers - but the wonder is gone. The film wants to have its cake and eat it, with characters popping up that are essentially stand-ins for sceptical audience members** - "the original park was legit, they were content with real dinosaurs" - but in the process becomes a little too knowing and clever-clever.

I want to see dinosaurs in my dinosaur movie, damn it. Godzilla was last year.

So, yes, you will be entertained. It's well-paced, thrilling, and manages the odd humorous beat, too. You'll grin at just how far Colin Trevorrow is willing to push at the limits of what is acceptably absurd, and clearly everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed making this movie. But, sadly, the Jurassic series has ceased to be a dinosaur franchise. I'd be tempted to say that it's eaten itself, but that's not quite true. It has lost much of the ethos that made the original so memorable, and that's a little sad. Go and see it, but don't expect the world.

Finally, I'd like to discuss the film's ending, which is when it goes completely batshit crazy. Of course, serious spoilers will be involved, so anyone who hasn't seen the film should probably stop reading now.

*See Brian Engh's Twitter hasthtag #buildabetterfaketheropod, and all the art that spawned, much of it excellent, the rest (intentionally) hilarious.
**Thanks to Niroot for astutely noting that one.

...

Right - the ending. Good grief. It was to be expected that Indubbelus would not be stopped by mere ordinary dinosaurs, least of all a gaggle of puny raptors. However, the treatment of the T. rex as the true hero of the franchise has now reached new levels of hilarious absurdity. As the giant door of Paddock Nine rose inexorably upwards, and the grand old dame slowly lumbered forth, eyes glinting in the darkness, the scene was only missing a Spaghetti Western flourish on the soundtrack. And then...and then, it teams up with the lone surviving raptor. And then...that still isn't enough to finish off the Inkillablus, which by this point has endured attacks from high-powered tasers, bullets, an ankylosaur club and a near-direct hit from a bloody rocket launcher.

So we require a squamate-ex-machina, as Charles Knight's steroidal mosasaur (which must weigh about 200 tonnes) beaches itself in order to drag Incredidiblus to a watery grave.

And then...the T. rex and raptor, those former foes, give each other a mutual look of respect, before wandering off.

I'm just surprised they didn't go further. Where was Spinosaurus? T. rex could have tag-teamed with her, putting aside old animosities in order to take down the GM impostor. And then, as it collapsed to the ground, it could have been swarmed over by a horde of Compsognathus land piranha. All set to one of the WAR! themes from Serious Sam. Maybe something for the sequels, along with making sure that King Ghidorah turns up - haven't seen him in a while. Crossover, anyone?

16 comments:

  1. "Yes, the gender politics are indeed a little dubious in this one, but fortunately this stuff is mostly dispensed with near the start."
    I find this a weird complaint, given that this is the exact same character arc Alan Grant was given in the first one. Note Alan's apparent lack of ovaries, hance no complaints.

    I did care about the kids - if by care you mean I hope they'd become a snack soon, they grew annoying.

    I would like to point out that to my eye, the Ankylosaurus fight was anatomically feasible given ankylosaurs tail articulation - something even its own toyline botches.
    While we're talking accuracy, those pterosaurs still managed to be the franchise's most accurate, sadly. As was the Spinosaurus skeleton.

    I'd like to point out that the original novel had rocket launchers v. raptors as well.

    Overall, though, I do somewhat agree. I was kinda hoping they'd make more of the fact those aren't dinosaurs but theme park attractions (something every movie in the series has been mentioning at least once), what with featuring Iznogoud caliph. The sequel buildup seems to indicate that's part of the topic of the next one, so there's that.

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    1. Differences between Alan Grant and corporate woman: his arc didn't involve forced romance with another character, and he wasn't urged to give up his job for his "ultimate destiny" to have kids and be content with that.

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    2. Alan's romantic setup with Ellie was completely centered around her love of kids and his initial hatred fo them while for Claire, those are two independent plotlines that are barely implied to bare any relevance to each other if at all.
      I don't see Claire being urged to give up her job, just ease up on the workaholism. Claire's sister is obviously a business woman who is not shown to have any problems balancing both work and kids (her marriage is troubled, but there's no implication this has anything to do with her job).

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  2. Ugh, what a wasted opportunity. It's like those stupid Victorian animal stereotypes, in which gorillas wring your neck from the branches overhead for the sheer pleasure of killing someone. The notion that animals aren't monsters is apparently excusable when the animals in question are long dead.

    Will they ever make that film in which feathered and accurate dinosaurs get their due?

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  3. " And then...the T. rex and raptor, those former foes, give each other a mutual look of respect, before wandering off."
    Has anyone here seen Kung Fury? I don't normally talk in theaters , but when this happened I said aloud "Teamwork is very important".

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  4. When the "mosasaur" leaped from the water to kill the I. Rex (putting me in mind of Samuel L. Jackson's death scene from the film Deep Blue Sea"), I shrieked with laughter. I could not help it. I tried to have an open mind when going to see this movie, but the opening scene of the I. Rex hatching, every nerve twitching with EVIL, killed it for me. I gave up. A great parody of this movie would have Chris Prat saying " You put Satan's D.N.A. into a dinosaur? Probably not a good idea..."

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    1. And that parody should have a scene where a giant mosasaur is dangled over the water... and the entire river turns out to contain almost nothing but the jaws of a truly colossal, kilometre-long mosasaur.

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  5. As far as the Spinosaurus, in the final scene, the T. rex came crashing through a Spinosaurus skeleton before duking it out with the I. rex. I think it was the filmmakers making a none-too-subtle statement about their feelings concerning Jurassic Park 3.

    Anyway, your review pretty much sums up my thoughts on the film. The only thing you missed was the crazy side plot about weaponizing the raptors.

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  6. "Constantijn van Cauwenberge contacted us on Facebook, asking if we'd be interested in sharing his images of the JW raptors, but with feathers painted on. Sure would!"

    You utter tease.

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    1. I looked at the pic first, thought "wow, that that looks like they actually put a tuft of feathers on the raptor's head!", and then found out they didn't. :D

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    2. Ah, right. Sorry, Warren. I'm sure you'll agree that Constantijn did a fantastic job of making it look as if they actually did, though. Ain't it interesting that the JW raptors largely reverted back to the JP1 look, colours aside - ditching not only the quills, but also the round pupils of the JP3 creatures?

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  7. I have not,and will not seen this film,but based on the description of the final scene, isn't it taken directly from this scene from Walking with Dinosaurs?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uV0tFMFZdPA

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  8. It's the same general idea, yes, though a few minor details differ (for instance, the mosasaur grabs Indominus' head rather than her tail).

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    1. Also, the pliosaur in WWD did not touch land at all while pulling off its rather fortuitous manoeuvre, whereas the JW lizard thumps at least its torso out onto the pavement.

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