Unstoppable Beast

Teeth_JP

So here it goes: A review 14 years in the making.

Three weeks ago I stood at the box office of my local cinema chain with a “1-free admission” ticket voucher in my hand. It was a Christmas present given to me by a Secret Santa at work and I’d held on to it until now so that, no matter what financial situation I found myself in, on June of 2015 I would have a guaranteed ticket to see Jurassic World on the big screen.

Do you see how seriously I take this shit?

So there I was, standing in line behind a group of teenage oafs who were poking and yelling “pussy” at each other, when a moment of divine intervention took place. First the yobbos asked for four tickets to “Mad Max: Fury Road” and I was relieved. Then the woman at the candy bar asked if they wished to see it in “Gold Class”. They declined, but the words danced on my eardrums and wouldn’t go away. “Gold Class?” I said out loud, and then suddenly realised that I was saying it to her. What happened? I didn’t even register that I was in the middle of ordering a ticket. The whole thing was an out-of-body experience. She charged me some enormous amount of money, but all I could think about was how little control I now had over my destiny. She gave me change for a $50 bill, but I don’t know who’s it was because I couldn’t remember handing it to her.

Now, bewildered, I’m in the Gold Class lounge and a waitress comes over to take my order. Order? Yes, order! In Gold Class they take your gourmet food order and bring it to you during the movie. I ordered a burger and a Lemon, Lime and Bitters…I think (that’s what I received later on, so it’s all I can deduce). I tried to cover up my “Why couldn’t I be rich instead of good looking?” T-shirt, so people wouldn’t think I was out of place. I’d never felt this much like Jack Dawson in the First Class of the Titanic. Back came the waitress with a smile; “You may go in now, Sir”.

To be honest, it does make sense. This is the movie I’ve been anticipating “for like forever like totally”! It’s the biggie, so why not make it a fully enriching experience?

Gold_Class

It turns out that Gold Class is set up for couples, so the seats are placed two-by-two. They sat me down next to a pretty girl who was beaming with excitement about the movie. She was alone in a “couples” movie theatre, so how could she possibly have a boyfriend? I was alone, and I know I don’t have anyone significant in my life. Could this be the beginning of a Rom-Com romance? Maybe after the movie I’ll ask for her name and enquire about why she likes Jurassic Park. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll be an ultra-fan and we’ll walk along the shore exchanging stories about how much it means to us. My imagination is getting ahead of me, you say? Sure, but that’s what they said about putting a man on the moon and this could only be slightly less achievable, right?

The lights began to dim and the waitress arrived with my food. Sorry, not my food, it’s our food. It turns out that my future bride-to-be ordered a Lemon, Lime and Bitters as well. It was with her chicken burger, so not a beef burger like mine. Different, perhaps, but also complimentary. You might even say that “she completes me”. This could be a great moment for me, and a life changing day, but then…

I_Lost_My_Childhood

The Gold Class, the burgers, the drinks, the beautiful woman beside me; none of it mattered after ten minutes of Jurassic World. There’s no way it could ever work out between us now, honey, because I will forever associate you with this film; a cold, cheap, rotten experience.

Where to start?

How about starting where it starts; with a terrible opening shot. Let’s play a game of “spot-the-difference”.

Spot_the_difference

What’s different about these two images?

Answer: Everything!

The creature on the left appears as a tangible, fragile, newly moulded animal. The one on the right is false, slimy, and monstrous. That’s not what Jurassic Park is, or ever was, about. The moment this image faded up on the screen I knew that something was very wrong.

Unfortunately, I was expecting a film of quality with some effort and thought put behind it, like the original was. What I should have foreseen was a low-cost, quickly assembled, fashionable money-maker.

Oh_I_see

Jurassic World is a “Trendysaurus”. Instead of bringing us back to the glorious film franchise of the past, it shoehorns its most familiar elements into a new one and shamelessly capitalises off of them. It’s not just bad, it’s worse; corrupt!

Sorry, I’m ranting without specifics. I have to go through this bit-by-bit.

Is Jurassic World a bad film? No, not totally. As a random piece of Saturday-afternoon escapism, it’s just barely decent. Big monsters chasing screaming people, if that’s what you want then that’s what you’ll get. What you won’t get is any emotional attachment to those people.

Jurassic_World_Characters

Chris Pratt plays Owen Grady, a Velociraptor trainer who doesn’t want to do anything with his Velociraptors. Seriously, he trains raptors for apparently no purpose other than how cool it looks. When the military comes to him and demands that he put them to use, he winces and cries…but what the fuck was he training them to be…pets? Never explained! Ugh!

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire Dearing, Jurassic World‘s operations manager. She has the impossible job of running a resurrected park that, two decades ago, failed disastrously and cost the lives of four people (not to mention the second attempt in the heart of San Diego that unleashed a T-Rex into the city). If I was her I’d take another job, but she instead doubles down and decides to mutate the dinosaurs into “more dangerous creatures”, thereby making another Dino-breakout a near certainty. How inspired!

Genius_Idea

This time we have two new children, both boys. I never got a handle on these kids. The little one cries a lot because his parents are getting divorced. The older one has a girlfriend who loves him, but can’t seem to stop staring at girls. I think he’s some kind of pervert, but of course the film never properly addressed this. We’re supposed to sense a broken relationship between them that heals throughout the film, but after 30 minutes of mutual disdain I just wanted to see them both inside the jaws of a large predator.

They were both really bland actors, too. Nothing interesting or distinct about either one. What a shame.

Jurassic_Park_Characters

Jurassic Park had lovely characters that were each memorable in their own way. Sure, Lex sometimes became a bit unbearable with her screaming and crying, but she saved the other characters on more than one occasion with quick wit and mad computer skills.

Tim was a bit of a punching bag, and spent most of his time suffering bumps, bruises, and electric shocks. However, he did have a rather funny discord with Alan Grant and Lex. Both found themselves annoyed by his nagging antics, but (for better or worse) he was portrayed as a believable 8-year-old boy and you never hated him.

Alan Grant is, to all intents and purposes, the main character of an admittedly ensemble-esque film. The plot affects everyone but the story belongs to him. He is a man who struggles to tackle the responsibilities of parenthood. He sees no reward in fathering a child, much less raising one, and it is only by witnessing Lex and Tim in danger that he discovers the true depths of his paternal instincts. By the end of the movie he is not only protecting the children, but caring for them as well.

Ellie Sattler may just be the most underrated feminist character in all of genre cinema. To me she’s even more fascinating than Ellen Ripley, and I’ll tell you why. As the Alien series went on, Ripley was depicted as increasingly masculine. While she protected her loved ones and eviscerated the enemies who tried to destroy her, as any good heroine should, the filmmakers decided that the best way to represent this visually was to crank her testosterone level into overdrive. She cut her hair and rolled up her sleeves as a visual cue of empowerment and courage. That’s the low hanging fruit, if you ask me. The real trick is to give your female characters agency and resilience while still maintaining their femininity. We’ve been sold on the idea that strength of character necessitates a butch physique, and it’s the often unrecognised subtle misogyny that still persists in modern action-adventure literature. Ellie Sattler, however, was different. She never picked up a gun or even had to punch anybody, but instead held her own in heavy intellectual debates and willingly confronted danger when it was necessary. Did she scream and cry and times? Sure, like a friggin’ damsel tied to a train track, but remember that courage is not the absence of fear but rather action in spite of it. She was never sexualised or shamed, but could still tease and flirt with the men around her when she felt like it.

I certainly cannot say the same for Claire. She spends the whole of Jurassic World running around in high heels and then, when shit really hits the fan, strips down to a tank top. Upon reflection, the entire downfall of the park is because of her dumb behaviour, so you never gain any sympathy for her either.

Chris Pratt’s Owen feels like he’s been transplanted from a 1930’s serial movie. I struggled to find a single flaw in his genetic code. He’s strong, smart, conscientious, and somehow always correct about everything. Ian Malcolm may have been proven “right all the time”, but at least he was an arrogant asshole. It’s so boring to see a character with no pitfalls, and to make matters worse…he isn’t even any fun to be around. Pratt is given almost no funny lines or enjoyable moments. He just gives us his “blue steel” look every time something serious happens.

I could go on for hours about this, and I haven’t even brought up the lack of interesting supporting characters like John Hammond, Ian Malcolm, and Robert Muldoon.

Jurassic_World_Park

I’m happy with the idea of finally realising Hammond’s original vision of a fully functional dinosaur theme park. It’s about time that we saw it come to life instead of just wallowing amongst the ruins from the first film. It also fulfilled my first request:

Return to Isla Nublar

We’re back home on Isla Nublar for the first time in over 20 years and it feels great! The park is gloriously detailed, lives up to all my expectations, and even included a great many homages to the original. There’s a statue of Hammond, a fossil digging area, night vision goggles, jeeps, Dr. Henry Wu returns and Mr. DNA even showed up!

Mr_DNA

We were only given a fleeting glimpse at him, but he was there.

Yet, something is a little off. The whole park feels like it was designed by Apple. It’s a lot more futuristic than the original, which seemed more like an entrenched safari experience. This is clearly the new direction the filmmakers wanted to go in, bringing the entire concept into the 21st century.

Jurassic_Park_Park

So why did the original feel more authentic to me? It was simpler in construction and instead made use of the space that the island provided. The whole park could be operated by a tiny control room, and only two operators (though this was also a major factor in the park’s demise). The dinosaur paddocks were few, but gigantic. Constantly, the dinosaurs were a no-show. This not only gave it the relatable experience of touring a zoo, but also provided a slow and steady build up to the Tyrannosaur breakout.

Within 30 seconds of being in Jurassic World, we’re surrounded by dinosaurs. At times, the level of co-existence tips over into absurdity.

Jurassic_World_River

Am I really expected to believe that this falls within the constraints of Health and Safety? Look at this! What happens if someone paddles too close and tries to pat one of the Stegosaurs? Give me a single modern zoo that will let you riverboat with the Hippos!

While we’re on the subject, what the hell was this?

Jurassic_World_Goat

Is that seriously a crowd of children waiting to watch a T-Rex eat a living goat? How on earth is that not a massive controversy waiting to happen? Kids aren’t allowed into R-rated movies, but public mammalian execution is ok? “You must be THIS tall to watch the limbs come off”?.

Keep in mind that the “goat luring” in the original was merely a temporary attempt to present the endorsers with a definitive glimpse at the park’s most notorious creation. It was never meant to be implemented in the final design.

It’s not a major complaint, but this park didn’t feel like the original pitch. It’s been renamed Jurassic World, so i suppose that gives it a bit of room for fantastical deviation. Fair is fair, I just wish it had restrained itself a little.

 Indominus

The story revolves around the creation of the Indominus Rex, a genetically engineered hybrid. I wasn’t entirely sure what to think when I heard about this. On the one hand it is in keeping with Jurassic Park’s theme about “the arrogance of man”, but on the other hand it smacks of B-Movie horror.

Pretty soon, though, it became clear that regardless of the validity of the concept…the execution was going to derail the entire thing.

Trevorrow

Colin Trevorrow has proved himself to be a good director with his charming first feature Safety Not Guaranteed. It’s a great little indy film that plays with the audiences belief and trust in different characters. Funny, believable, and emotionally captivating, Trevorrow’s merging of mumble core and science fiction ridiculousness made for a critically acclaimed debut…

…but he ain’t no Spielberg!

 Spielberg

When Steven Spielberg made Jurassic Park, he already had Duel, Jaws, and all three Indiana Jones films on his CV. The man had action adventure and horror in his bloodstream.

At no point in Jurassic World did I feel any tension. There was no desire to hide anything from the audience. The Indominus Rex was plainly displayed in full sunlight mere minutes into the film. Boring!

Here’s a riddle for you: What’s the most influential moment in Jurassic Park? Here’s the answer:

Water_Ripples

It’s been spoofed a thousand times for a good reason; it works! It’s called foreshadowing, and is a way to intimidate the audience prior to the full reveal. The lack of this in Jurassic World tells you everything you need to know.

Mystery Fail

Spielberg wasn’t just the man who directed Jurassic Park, he was Jurassic Park. Without him the whole idea falls apart and becomes just another boring monster movie. Trevorrow has given us a modern dinosaur blockbuster, and that’s not a compliment.

Dinosaurs are chasing people in a Jurassic Park movie and I don’t even care about it! If you had told me that when I was eight years old, I would have branded you a liar. What a depressing thought.

Jurassic_Chase

More people are killed in Jurassic World than in Jurassic Park, and yet it feels like a less violent movie. There are only 5 human deaths in the original, but you can recall each one. Remember that poor schmuck whose job it was to open the Raptor enclosure? How about that darkly funny moment when the T-Rex smiles at a terrified Donald Genaro before lifting him off his toilet seat and shaking him to pieces? Will you ever be able to forget Muldoon thinking he got the upper hand on the Raptors, only to find himself face to face with his “clever girl”. The comedic irony and anticipation that went into these sequences meant that you really felt the “crunch” of that person finally being eaten.

The victims in Jurassic World are just chickenfeed.

 Horror_Fail

I sat through the whole movie waiting for a single decent stunt. Hopefully someone was going to dangle over a cliff or climb up a tree before the credits rolled.

….nnnnnnope!

Instead we got a fiery helicopter crash and a massive Pterosaur attack. Apparently the scene is an homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds. Well, I do love The Birds. The problem is that it has no place in a Jurassic Park film.

Pterosaur_Attack

It feels like something out of Dawn of the Dead or Battleship Potemkin. Crowd massacre sequences are hardly ever tense, they’re usually silly and a little fun. Because of that, they work beautifully for Piranha 3D…but again, not for Jurassic Park! What Jurassic World needed was a couple of nail biting sequences without dinosaurs filling the frame.

Good_Stunts_Fail

That being said, I was impressed by the slight nod toward Disney’s 1940’s musical cartoon Fantasia.

 Fantasia_300

What about music, though? Was John Williams’ score still there? Yes, it was. In fact, my mother even said she enjoyed the film “because it still had the same music”, which goes to show you how powerful and iconic the original themes were.

I’m not that easily impressed. The majority of the score was completely altered into a generic action movie reinvention. The most recognisable musical moments were just injected, in their entirety, from the original trilogy. More importantly, Williams’ more subtle jungle themes were completely lost. People seem to forget that the original Jurassic Park was enriched with tribal drums and flutes. The Jurassic World score managed to keep the grand orchestral cues intact, but lost all the tropical underpinnings.

It’s a tough decision, but I’m ultimately disappointed with Michiael Giacchino’s unfulfilling soundtrack.

John Williams_Fail

Enough about how it sounds, though, what about how shitty it looks?

I work with CGI, and even I’m starting to hate it now. Every creative problem is solved by throwing Visual Effects at it these days. Nothing looks real anymore, and Jurassic World stands as another example of why audiences need to be reminded that less is more.

Let’s play another game. One of these two original Raptors is CGI, and the other is an animatronic puppet. Can you tell which one was made in a computer?

Raptor_Comparison

Maybe you can or maybe you can’t (it’s the one on the left, by the way), but there isn’t really a glaring difference, is there?

Perhaps the blending of CGI and animatronics wasn’t entirely seamless, but it worked surprisingly well. It was more impressive, back in the 90’s, to see a gigantic Rex punching her way through the roof of a car because so much of it was actually real.

T_Rex_Clip

I grew increasingly annoyed while watching Jurassic World, because everything on the screen just looked like a bunch of ones and zeros. There’s no reason why Colin Trevorrow couldn’t have hired a production team to resurrect the animatronic T-Rex. He either didn’t want to or was advised not to. Regardless, it’s a wasted opportunity. Every one of the original fans would have thanked him for it and I’m sure younger audiences would been happy as Larry to see something different from what they typically get in an Avengers movie.

Animatronics_Fail

It’s not just about the over-saturation of CGI, though. The CGI itself isn’t even that impressive.

The amount of care that went into creating the world’s first photorealistic computer animation, back in 1992, was staggering. A handful of young entrepreneurs, experimenting with new technology, managed to convince Spielberg that CGI dinosaurs were within the scope of the picture. He signed off on the approach, but demanded that they deliver an impeccable product and wouldn’t take “new” for an answer.

All these years later and we end up with animated dinosaurs that not only don’t look better than the original…they actually look a little worse.

T_Rex_Comparison

And the reason is laziness. CGI is like McDonalds food these days, cheap and quick. Hordes of computer slaves are locked into a room and pressured into spitting out a large bouncy finished product that’ll keep the money flowing. The result is a cartoony Tyrannosaurus Rex which completely undermines the intended impact of the final scene.

Speaking of the final scene…

Spoilers_Ahead

In the last moment of the film, a Tyrannosaurus Rex is released from captivity and used to fight the Indominus. The whole thing turns into a dinosaur pile-on as every large carnivore joins in and finally defeats the villain.

Mad

Ok, now I’m pissed! Why on earth is this the 3rd act of the film? The first Jurassic Park ended in a tiny battle between the Rex and the Raptors, but it was more of a short capper to a final scene rather than the scene itself. Jurassic Park is not Pacific Rim! If you want to make a movie about monsters fighting then make it on your own time. Keep your ugly Michael Bay hands off my favourite franchise! Not everything has to be a Transformers movie! They’re dinosaurs, for Christ’s sake, not Godzilla and Mothra!

Dinosaur_Fail

Jurassic Park is about the de-extinction of majestic animals from a lost time. It’s about the exploration of that moment when you get to see what you’ve studied on paper your entire life standing before you in the flesh. Beyond that it’s concerned with the ultimate repercussions of it.

Jurassic World made no mistake by switching the focus to hybridisation. The fault lies in not exploring that idea properly. I want to see some discussion and development of it. How and why did this process occur? What are some of the details? What kind of parallels can be drawn to real life? None of these questions are even considered. The entire concept just exists as an excuse for more jagged chomping teeth.

Science_Fail

In fact, if the movie has a theme at all, then it seems to be “the original is way better”. Ergo, it becomes a metaphor for its own existence. Why on earth bother making a derivative of a product that you yourself admit cannot be improved upon? It’s like making a new Playstation console and naming it the “Not Quite Playstation”.

I recently heard rumours that the script was written in two weeks. I don’t know if it’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Spielberg seems to have let Trevorrow do his own thing, and that’s fair enough. I’ll tell you this much, though; I’m keeping my Jurassic Park Trilogy BluRay set as it is! There’s no way that Jurassic World is sneaking in there and turning it into a “ménage à quatre”. This thing lives or dies on its own.

A friend of mine text messaged me, after seeing the film, with a single line: “it has no heart”. Never was a truer word spoken. Jurassic World truly has no heart. It is a soulless entity. I don’t even feel like Trevorrow cared after a while. He’s already spoken about his refusal to direct the next one, so he must have finished this one with a gun pointed to his head.

The moment Bryce Dallas Howard showed up and spoke the words “Welcome to Jurassic World with that same clinical tone that a doctor uses when they diagnose your cancer…I knew. I knew that somewhere in time Jurassic Park‘s bones had withered away and been replaced by cold hard rock. De-extinction, is it possible? Evidently not.

Welcome_Fail

Of course, this is just my opinion. Apparently I’m in the minority. Jurassic World has grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide and has already smashed the record for the biggest opening weekend ever. Telling people that it “has no heart” is proving to be futile.

Nothing_to_see_here

I don’t believe for a second that it’ll be remembered fondly by anyone twenty years down the track, like the original has been, but a lot of people have paid through the nose to see it (including myself). I’m glad that the franchise still has a lot of juice, even in this age of superhero movies. I just wish it still had its character.

6/10 'Disappointing'

– Rant Over!

One thought on “Unstoppable Beast

  1. You write SO WELL, Carl! I do hope you get into some satisfying work opportunity where your film knowledge and writing expertise can be appreciated. It was a pity that the film disappointed you, but it was great to read all the details of that disappointment. Keep blogging, and perhaps you could open your thoughts to a wider audience! Your English teachers would be extremely proud of your writing!

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