' ' Cinema Romantico: Jurassic World

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jurassic World

Perched in the lobby of the ornate Jurassic World theme park headquarters is a statue of John Hammond, the good-hearted if misguided philanthropist who gave birth to the original Jurassic Park. But it may as well be a statue of Steven Spielberg, so reverent is director Colin Trevorrow’s film to the series' original auteur. The initial thirty minutes of the fourth entry into the indomitable franchise make innumerable references to that first film, whether by year or by the park itself, like when two kids stumble into an abandoned storage facility and find old night vision goggles that may well be the same ones little Timmy wore. A computer dynamo, Lowery (Jake Johnston), back at HQ sports a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt he copped for serious cash off eBay. When he’s mocked he can’t help but earnestly intone how the original park was so much better intentioned and far, far cooler than this current incarnation, a line that’s such a straight-forward slam dunk for critical analysis that I almost hesitate to use it. But hey, there it is, and Lowery knows the truth long before the film ends - such an homage will surely reach a breaking point, and when it does, the film will crack like those dinosaur eggs that provide our opening image.

For awhile it seems as if Trevorrow is really going for something here. Fairly inexperienced for assuming responsibility for such a box office colossus, a director of one prior feature film, Trevorrow is nowhere near the same sort of stylish craftsman as his Jurassic-era forefather. Yet, like so many auteurs of his era, he does have a grasp of irony. So sets his sights on meta, overtly addressing the elephant in the room – that is, “Jurassic World”, like the Jurassic World theme park of the film itself, is just an unabashed cash grab. “Every time we’ve added a new attraction,” says Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager, “attendance has sky-rocketed.” The film is as knowing as “Scream 2”, the idea that sequels need to add new attractions to increase audience size. So as Dearing’s park concocts a whole new dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, jerry-rigged from every conceivable source, desperate to up the ante, so does the movie. The Indominus Rex is a dinosauria representation of sequel-itis.

Really, the concept has some spark, trying to shoehorn a critique into a box office bazooka that feeds Hollywood's gluttony. If Trevorrow could have stayed on point, it might have become a pivotal moment in our current water park-ish cinematic climate, like a sleeper spy suddenly sprung to life who throws down a foul-smelling gas bomb in Universal City, California and cackles. Of course, that was never going to happen. “Jurassic World” was made with Steven Spielberg as executive producer, under the umbrella of his Amblin Entertainment, and so rather than pushing full bore into satire, Trevorrow retreats for legit monster movie. And everything falls apart.

The film turns on two kids (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) sent away by their divorcing parents to Jurassic World where their aunt, Claire, is supposed to show them a good time. The kids, whose names I forget, are essentially screenwriting automatons, existing to get in peril so they can be saved and to allow the brittle Claire's motherly instincts to bloom. After all, her character can only advance a level in “likability” by embracing her matronly nurturing and by falling in love with the film’s hero, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). With his vest and quips, he is intended as an Indiana Jones adventurer only to come across more like Matt LeBlanc's version of Major Don West. Claire, meanwhile, is less Karen Allen than Kate Capshaw, a damsel who indicates she’s “ready” for battle by unbuttoning her blouse to show off her cleavage-accentuated halter top. (Never mind the much lamented heels. Why you keep waiting for Pratt to take those things and hack off the heel a la Jack Colton.) Individually, they have no sizzle. Together, they have no chemistry. They are verve-less. Their kiss makes the Cage & Kruger kiss in “National Treasure” look like Day-Lewis and Stowe in “Last of the Mohicans.”

Maybe it’s merely because I suffer from debilitating anglophilia but the only character with even the pretense of pop is Zara (Katie McGrath), the woman whom Claire entrusts to watch her nephews. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t much, but she demonstrates real world hysterics when the kids go missing, and telling off her fiancĂ©'s bachelor party on the phone has spunk that’s essentially non-existent elsewhere. I can actually see her life off screen while everyone else is just waiting for the dinos to run amok. And that makes it doubly odd that Zara's genuinely cruelly violent and super prolonged death is the only one that resonates, as if the film is illustrating it has no place for even halfway charismatic characters.

It is also the only action sequence assembled with any kind of know-how. Otherwise, the classical editing of Spielberg’s original is sorely lacking, sacrificing well-built suspense and palpable dread for hurling special effects at the screen and hoping their pizazz will yield oohs and aahhs. It does not. It’s aweless. When the famed T-Rex finally trots out it's supposed to be a heroic callback to the original, but mostly it's wonderful only because you know the film has at long last reached its wrap-up. One more cinematic blot of blah and we can all go home.

“Jurassic World” becomes the very product it initially suggested it sought to mock, an unimaginative, un-engaging blockbuster. It’s a two-hour Super Bowl commercial, posing as hiply relevant. Then you realize it's just smokescreen to sell the same soulless product.


Anonymous said...

But it's fun!!! LOL...I totally agree with everything you say and yet it's completely what I expected and so I was cool with it.

Nick Prigge said...

I gotta be honest, I thought San Andreas was so much more fun than this one. So much lighter on its feet.