|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.
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!|
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?