In the run-up to the release of Jurassic World, there has been a concerted attempt to convince cinemagoers that the film isn’t just another far-fetched summer blockbuster but is actually rooted in hard scientific fact. An eminent palaeontologist came onto the BBC earlier this week to tell us that the new instalment is “more plausible” than its predecessors because it is “dealing with genetic engineering rather than the retrieval of dinosaur DNA.”
It is a relief to report that the film (executive produced by Steven Spielberg) turns out to be every bit as preposterous as the three earlier Jurassic adventures based on Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novels. This isn’t some dry academic treatise on dinosaur cloning. It is theme park movie making which, in spite of its vast budget, has an engaging creakiness about it. Even seen in 3-D on the very biggest IMAX screen imaginable, Jurassic World is a glorified B-movie at heart, one that has its tongue firmly in its cheek.
Conscious of the cutesy anthropomorphism with which T-Rexes and pterodactyls have sometimes been treated in recent times, Trevorrow puts a bit of menace back into the reptiles.
In the film, the shareholders behind Jurassic World, the dinosaur theme park on an island off the coast of Costa Rica, need new “assets.” They have realised their customers are weary of petting dinosaurs and want “bigger, louder” animals. They’re looking for the “wow” factor. That is why Dr Wu has been busy in the labs. You don’t have to have read Frankenstein or seen King Kong to realise that this new creature he designs for $26 million dollars isn’t going to be sitting round in a playpen, eating carrots out of customers’ hands.
The female hybrid reptile cooked up by Wu is a genetic hybrid with “exaggerated predator” traits, extreme intelligence and, bizarrely, a little bit of cuttlefish in her make-up. We know that she has a streak of malice from the very first sequences in which we see a gigantic egg cracking followed by a big close-up of an amber-coloured eye peering defiantly out at the world. (In spite of her sex, she is called “Indominus Rex,” not “Indominus Regina.”)
Jurassic World is run in cynical, opportunistic fashion. Even the seemingly idealistic owner Simon Masrani (Irfan Khan) puts profit margins ahead of customer safety. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager, speaks in business school jargon and is far too busy to spend any time with her nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) who’ve been sent to the island by their feuding parents for a short holiday.
The film’s hero, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), is a kind of dinosaur whisperer. He has established a rapport with the ‘raptors, who curb their more vicious instincts when he is talking in their ear. He’s a scientist but Pratt portrays him as if he is a blue-collar hunk on leave from a 1980s denim ad. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is a hard-hearted businesswoman who, all too predictably, gets in touch with her Amazonian side once danger threatens. Equally predictably, her attritional relationship with Grady can’t hide the erotic attraction they feel for one another.
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This is big Hollywood movie made by a US studio that also runs theme parks itself - and would probably jump at the opportunity to open a real Jurassic World if that was an option. That’s why the satire isn’t too sharp, even if the screenplay does have fun with the absurdly formal language park organisers use to warn customers they’re about to be eaten alive. (“Due to a containment anomaly, all guests must take shelter immediately!”).
Once the Indominus is let loose, the film turns into a conventional action movie. The score by Michael Giacchino is very loud and very brassy (and sometimes sounds like pastiche John Williams.) It adds to the momentum as various characters flee the creature. “Run!” is a word repeated several times as the creature comes clomping through the undergrowth. When she does find someone to eat, the filmmakers take a morbid pleasure in letting us hear the munchety munchety, crunchety, crunchety noise her gigantic molars make. She is stealthy, with an ability to blend in with the leaves, and has the habit of creeping up on humans so they catch a glimpse of her in their rear view mirrors moments before she strikes. She is simply behaving according to her own nature, which is to “kill for sport.” that is presumably why the screenplay throws in an extra baddie in the shape of security chief Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) who has a crazy scheme to use dinosaurs as weapons of war.
When Steven Spielberg was in post-production on the original Jurassic Park, he famously edited it at night while directing Schindler’s List by day. This showed his ability to compartmentalise. There was a sense, too, that he considered the film as a diversion - a bit of a romp in the vein of old monster movies with stop motion creatures created by Ray Harryhausen, not to be taken too seriously.
The new instalment works in similar fashion. It is a fairground ride of a movie in which character and narrative development gradually recede as thrills are foregrounded. Throughout, there are continual references to (and in-jokes about) the old Jurassic Park films. John Hammond (the Jurassic Park founder played by Richard Attenborough) is mentioned several times and even some props from Hammond’s day turn up. The new-style “plausible” hybrid dinosaur doesn’t look or behave much differently from the old ones. She is a big, scaly creature with a long tail and very sharp teeth. She is there primarily to run away from. Further sequels are no doubt in the offing but one hopes that the next time the filmmakers tinker with Jurassic DNA, they might remember to inject some freshness into the storyline too.
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