Raptors with Cameras – Jurassic World (2015) Review

Jurassic World posterWhen did we start letting blockbusters off the hook so easily? When did we start expecting so little of them that we allowed studios to churn out generic sequel after generic sequel? When did we become so content as to replace enjoyment from originality with enjoyment from references to an older, better film? If one thing defines our cinematic era it is the power of nostalgia and our willingness as audiences to give into it with each passing franchise iteration. This power is rampant in Jurassic World, a gigantic and spectacular beast that worships at the altar of its first ancestor with an unsettling post-modern grin.

Mere seconds after practically breaking the fourth wall with her welcome to this new dino-park, confident operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) strides purposefully towards the camera, investors in tow, and states that “no-one is excited about dinosaurs any more”. This typifies the blatant self-awareness that pervades Jurassic World, emerging as the fourth film in a series that has failed to dazzle audiences since its first outing way back in 1993. It’s a film that’s all too knowing of what it is; as a sequel, as a summer blockbuster, and as a money-making product. It’s also acutely aware of the problems it faces with its apparently jaded audience; going so far as to use them to set up the thin narrative and state them in dialogue time and again. But for all this seeming intelligence Jurassic World is surprisingly dumb, opting for more as the answer under the misapprehension that it equates to better. Someone forgot to tell the writers that you can’t just wink and state the problem – you have to come up with a creative solution.

As is clear from the title, things have moved on in the twenty-two years since the grand failure of the original attraction as a viable business. The ‘Park’ is now a ‘World’, jam-packed with visitors, rides, and more dinosaurs than you can shake a flare at. Plus a monorail, an aquatic section, a pyramid, and probably fifty separate Starbucks and McDonalds establishments (somewhere off-screen no doubt). But audiences are bored to death of de-extinction and want something new, so not-a-mad-scientist Dr. Wu (B. D. Wong) cooks up the Indominus Rex using a ludicrously dangerous cocktail of DNA that gives it all the tools required to be the perfect prehistoric killing machine – adaptive camouflage, anyone? All the park staff, except the sage yet stoic Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), think this is a cracking idea and completely safe. Verizon even sponsor and present the I-Rex. But tradition must be adhered to and things go pear-shaped quicker than you can say “hubris” and we’re along for another prehistoric rampage.

Contrary to Claire’s earlier statement, the most exciting parts of Jurassic World are when the reptiles break free and stomp around devouring the guests. Where the original film built suspense this one barrels ahead with fast-paced action and whilst entertaining at times it subsequently fails to capture much of that unique blend of wonder and dread. Director Colin Trevorrow – with no more than one indie film under his belt – ably handles the carnage and it’s still fun to see dinosaurs chomping people (even if one character does meet with an uncomfortably drawn-out demise), but these highs are not lasting and seldom inspire awe, even when Giacchino kicks the John Williams score up to eleven and the camera sweeps elegantly across the vast expanse of the attraction.

Moments like these expose Jurassic World as a messy but safe creation, hamstrung by the considerable history behind it, never able to tell a convincing story because it’s too busy nodding at the previous films. The characters – once so strong with the likes of Malcolm, Sattler, and Grant – are barely given enough attention for us to root for them. In fact, in this outing the dinosaurs are given as much depth as the humans, severely reducing the fear factor they once possessed. Case in point – Owen’s pack of raptors with which he somehow communicates using plain old English and a clicking device, able to placate them with an outstretched palm.

The more one thinks about this and the rest of the film as a whole, the sillier and crucially duller it becomes – using dinosaurs for military applications has to be the height of ridiculousness, and don’t get me started on the out-of-the-blue conclusion. The film-makers have set about the task of reinvigorating the franchise with their pieced-together script in one hand and a giant Jurassic checklist in the other, and have judged the latter to be far more important than anything resembling narrative. So in the end that’s what we get with Jurassic World, a handsomely made pile of references that’s just bigger and more on the surface. There’s still raptors, but this time they’re tame…and they’ve got cameras.

Update #1 – This blog, it is a-changing

It’s been a while folks, and I’ve been busy.

Busy thinking.

It’s something I do quite often, usually on a daily basis (honestly!), but just so there’s no doubt I have provided some photographic evidence below. Rodin, eat your heart out.

Rodin's new thinker

Good grief, I do not have a flattering profile. Not a work of art at all.

The main focus of my thoughts has been where to take this blog that some genuinely wonderful people take the time to read on occasion. It started as a platform to talk about films and to hopefully improve my writing skills in the process, and to that extent it’s proved somewhat successful. However, in recent months some things have started to bother me.

Chief among these is my writing style, in as much as I don’t really have one. No distinct voice. And as strange as that sounds, it does worry me. As a severely amateur self-styled film critic, I take the time to read the professionals – Empire, Variety, Little White Lies, Guardian, Telegraph, even the Metro from time to time – and have started to emulate the widely used format for commercial mainstream reviews. I honestly couldn’t pin down exactly what that is but I feel like I’m conforming to it whenever I put fingers to keys. If the chance presents itself at some point in my life, I would love to talk about films for a living, but no-one will give me that chance if I am simply one more generic voice in the deafening chorus of voices on the internet. If I’m just imitating what’s already out there, what’s the point?!

With this in mind I have weirdly been imposing a lot of restrictions upon myself with regards to what I write about and how frequently I write, possibly trying to emulate the conditions of a professional. This has not proven to be fun, and maybe that says a lot about my suitability for a critic’s job, but bringing to light my unprepared state is no bad thing. I don’t have the skills to churn out quality written pieces about mediocre films on a daily basis, that can only come with practice and some very shrewd editing. But I do love to talk about films that stir up my passion for films, whether by their enriching substance or complete ineptitude. It’s these films that I want to talk about, whatever they may be, and I believe doing so will help me find my elusive critical voice.

Last in my realisations has been the nature of being an amateur blogger. In terms of my opinions, I answer to no-one. I can say what I want, about whatever topic I choose – anything related to film – write as much or as little as I want, and then publish it at whatever time I like. I sound like Captain Obvious here but I don’t think I’ve considered the implications fully until now. At times, and for practically inexplicable reasons, I have diluted my opinions in order for my writing to appeal to a wider audience. It’s crazy, and above all it’s dishonest, and that needs to change.

So what does all this mean for my blog?

Firstly, there won’t be a publishing schedule. I’ll be writing whenever I have something worth writing about, and taking the time to produce content that I’m happy with. I’m planning to produce a greater variety of content, so sometimes that could mean you get something that’s complete bollocks or it might be ruddy brilliant – I can’t make any promises about quality – but if it’s up on the blog you’ll know that I’m happy and I’ve put the effort in. How often are posts likely to appear? Once a week but we’ll see how it goes.

Secondly I’ll be writing about films that I’m passionate about, films that are important to me. If I don’t care about it then you won’t hear me talk about it, but that’s not all. If you like my writing and want to hear me talk about something that you care about, by all means let me know. I want to write what I want, and what you genuinely want to read. At this point a special thank you to those who have engaged with the blog and even requested films for me to review. I haven’t forgotten about them and I will address them in due course, hopefully in some interesting ways.

Following on from these two points, it’s likely that you won’t see many posts about the latest releases and the major blockbusters on my blog. With the number of commercial publications out there you don’t have to look far for views on the newest films, so I’m going to focus a little more on the smaller and perhaps lesser known films; independent, foreign, British, and so on. I’ll still be watching as many films as possible, and making a comment here and there, but I want to support the films that might go unnoticed and unsung. Perhaps even contributing to the British film industry in some ways, who knows?

Lastly – and most importantly – there’ll be no more writing to please the masses. I’m going to keep honesty and integrity at the heart of all that I write, and do my best to put that across. No-one should read what I write if it isn’t my honest opinion, plain and simple.

All that’s left to say is thank you to all of you who have read what I’ve written so far, even if that’s just a sentence or two, I hope you have gained something from it. For those willing to stick around, we could be heading into some interesting territory.

Films await. I’m excited.