By Benjamin Mercer (London)
The story of how man, in his quest for the ever bigger, the ever better, the ever more awe-inspiring, creates a monster. This is not the story told by Jurassic World; it is the story of the inevitable ‘Making Of’ DVD extra.
One line of dialogue, spoken early on in the film by one of its minor but more memorable characters, stands out from the tawdry mess of generic action movie clichés. I am paraphrasing, but the message is and was clear: “People aren’t satisfied with mere dinosaurs anymore.”
It caught my attention at the time. Could it be, I wondered, that this apparent moment of introspection and self-critique would set the tone for a film that would convey, subtly but deliberately, a message with meaning?
Well, it didn’t. And if it was intended as such, if it was intended as a coded lament, then perhaps its author will share my sadness and anger that the film, in which monsters play so vital a role, became so monstrous itself.
Jurassic World only succeeds in conveying a message that it does not intend. It is a parody of itself; a film which perfectly sums up all that is wrong with the ‘more is better’ mentality that has been rife amongst the inhabitants of Hollywood studio boardrooms for far too long. It is a consummate piece of needless garbage; the ultimate and perfect synthesis of the grandiose and the vacuous; the result of the most unethical splicing and mixing of the genes of the ‘bad action movie’ and ‘bad monster movie’ genres, with a little of the ‘once-loved franchise’ thrown carelessly into the machine.
It need not be the case that big bangs, cheap gags and glitzy green-screen panoramas are the necessary and sufficient ingredients for a successful film. All it would take is a speck of imagination, and the bravery to propose that a franchise reboot should attempt to be at least as thoughtful as its forbear, and perhaps ‘blockbuster’ would cease to be synonymous with ‘inane’. But we are rarely offered such a treat, such is the homogeneity of the cynicism with which films and their audience are now regarded; the mentality which has seen big budget films abandon all pretence at art in favour of epitomising the art of exploitation.
Jurassic Park was the quintessential popcorn flick, and there is a noticeable tendency amongst those who want to like the reboot to point out that times have changed and that, were the original to have been release in 2013 and not 1993, it would likely have been no better or worse than Jurassic World. But to make that case is to miss the point, and to greatly understate the level of thought and innovation that went not only into the plot and the message of Jurassic Park but into the way the film was made.
Jurassic Park aimed to portray the inconsequence of man in relation to nature, and the futility of his childish belief that he can control it. It was a point that Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park, was fond of making, and he made it well whenever he wasn’t making it poorly.
It emerges at the end of Jurassic World as a butchered moral; a lesson utterly undermined. Those films which best make use of the trope are successful because they accurately portray nature’s impersonality; its mysterious and unrelenting and uncaring presence. Those that fail do so because they transform nature into a contrived villain of the sort so often bested by a Stallone or a Van Damme.
The ‘villain’ in Jurassic Park was not a villain in a true sense, because nature, and its constituent dinosaurs, were never anthropomorphised. The terror and the tension came from a base and uncaring cruelty; something that is not only beyond control but beyond empathy.
Jurassic World abandons this approach in favour of reverting to the most offensively overused stereotypes in modern film. It turned its dangers into villains, it gave them character with all the nuance of a cricket bat to the head, and reduced them to abject caricatures of themselves. And in anthropomorphising its creatures it leaves them vulnerable to a travesty’s worth of very human clichés that should, were the state of film not so abject as it now is, have rendered this franchise (and if you’ll forgive them that then you’ll forgive me this) extinct.
This same thoughtlessness is present not only in the writing but also in the directing and the cinematography. One of the great achievements of Jurassic Park was its use of animatronics combined with clever camera work; an intelligently utilized combination that gave a sense of intimate, immediate danger and played on claustrophobia where necessary.
Jurassic World entirely abandons this approach in favour of a wider view; a CG panorama. In doing so, it sacrifices any desire to emulate the almost inimitable effect of its forbear. It no longer feels real, or tangible, and so is unable to recapture the feelings of wonder, awe and terror.
It ignores the incontrovertible law of diminishing returns. Jurassic Park made the macro view a tool; something it could use for superb dramatic effect by setting it in stark, wondrous contrast to the rest of the film. Jurassic World, with its overuse of the panoramic shot and the exchanging of sets and locales for a green room, has none of that subtlety and craft.
This in turn affects the role and the importance of the actors. The balance of the fake and the real in Jurassic Park relied on a cast capable of carrying scenes without the aid of computer generated distractions, and the performances of Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and others became as important to the film as its non-human effects. Their presence had a meaning and related to the progression of the plot; they were not there simply as a reluctant acknowledgement that a film involving humans should probably feature humans.
By contrast, the writers of Jurassic World demonstrate almost complete disinterest toward the notion of character. Though Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance stands out as being particularly irksome, I did not find myself inclined to blame her. This was not a case of a bad performance in a good role. Rather, the fault lies with the writers and the director.
So perhaps describing the performances of the cast as being generally unremarkable is, in fact, a compliment to their talents. They did, for the most part, exactly what was asked of them, drawing on their own abilities where necessary to make a set of characters, who might otherwise have been noticeably crap, seem fairly unremarkable.
Of course, being made to seem unremarkable does not absolve the characters’ creators of blame.
That a film can be a box office success despite so flagrantly abusing gender stereotypes is another damning indictment of the film industry. Jurassic World‘s strongest and most realistic female character does not actually exist; it is a creature made of green. Women in the film are either entirely superfluous – think the doting mother who appears in all of three scenes – or else taken from a file marked ‘cliché woman character C’. From dialogue consisting of screams and sheepish ‘nudge-winks’ to the audience about how adorably silly the woman is, and about how she really is remarkably bad at looking after children, to running around in high heels and cowering behind the manly hero. Howard was allowed to drive a van in one scene, which maintains Hollywood’s superiority to Saudi Arabia, but the one occasion in which she wields a gun is immediately followed by a cutaway to Robinson and Simpkins looking astounded that their aunt has suddenly taken Pratt’s job. Not to worry though, kids, she gives it straight back.
The only concession made by the writers to the notion of gender equality is by lowering the men to an equally ridiculous standard. Chris Pratt is there not for his acting ability but as the all-action seducer. There is the benevolent, Indian-ish proprietor of the park; the man to whom John Hammond supposedly bequeathed not only his dream but also his character; a bastion of naïve morality in an otherwise cynical business world. There is the evil corporate suit from InGen, a company called back into existence in order that their representative might pay lip service to the obligatory anti-corporate hints that all modern, corporation-funded films must have.
Indeed, this man deserves special mention because his grand evil scheme is amongst modern films’ more ridiculous ideas: using velociraptors to hunt terrorists. “Imagine if we had a few of these in Tora Bora,” he said, conjuring up images of dinosaurs chasing the Taliban through caves in what was the film’s only genuinely amusing moment.
A word on Michael Giacchino’s score will lead us toward the conclusion of this review as inexorably as Universal Studio’s move toward the release of a pointless, soulless sequel: It is at its best when the film is at its best, which is to say that the numerous musical homages to the classic work of John Williams that accompanied the film’s homages to its own superior ancestor were numerous but well done.
The corollary: the score is at its worst when the film is at its worst, which is every scene that does not contain an homage. The attempt to rouse a sense of heroism as ‘Blue’, the sole remaining velociraptor and the film’s strongest female character rushes back into the fray only succeeds in making that sequence seem all the more offensive. An impressive feat, to be sure, but not one to be proud of.
To conclude: one can forgive the film its numerous scientific inaccuracies. One cannot forgive the fact that, even having been shown such clemency, it utterly fails to redeem itself. It is a film that seems to regret its own existence, relying on evoking the memories of a better time in order to carry its lifeless, soulless corpse across the two-hour benchmark set by its commissioners. It is a film with a smaller brain than a Stegosaurus. It has no moral, for it is the moral, and no amount of CGI can fill the gaping chasm at its core.