Friday, June 26, 2015

Jurassic World

Jurassic World (2015, dir. Colin Trevorrow) is more a theme-park attraction than a film.  It’s entertaining, but without much surprise or novelty.  It’s careful to reference many of the elements of the 1992 film Jurassic Park, and one can almost imagine the filmmakers checking them off, one by one.  Rather than a brother and sister, we have two brothers, sent to spend the weekend in Jurassic World while their parents plan for a divorce. Their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) manages the park, and she is entirely focused on the bottom line, on profit margins.  She’s given little thought to the moral and philosophical aspects of cloning and genetically engineering dinosaurs.  She’s just focused on her own job and career.  She gives little thought to her nephews, who are mainly in her way, until they disappear into the park, unsupervised, at the same time that the new carnivorous attraction has escaped from its compound. There is an evil capitalist who’s helped fund the cloning operations on the islands but who has covert motives—he wants to use velociraptors as military weapons.  The man he has employed to train them, Owen (Chris Pratt), doesn’t know this is his intention.  Just as in the first film, there is sexual and romantic tension, in this case between Owen and Claire.  There is the inevitable failure of security precautions taken in the park for the protection of guests and employees, and there is the failure of scientists to understand fully the capabilities of the creatures they have created.  The new film pushes every little button from the first film, sometimes with tweaks and changes, but essentially offers nothing new.  Most of all, there is no scene as intense and frightening and effective as the one in Jurassic Park when the Tyrannosaurus Rex appears for the first time.

Most of the dinosaurs in Jurassic World have been engineered by the scientists who created them to be bigger and better than the originals.  Apparently this is because park-goers (and film-goers) have grown bored with the originals and require something meaner and bigger to convince them to fork over the price of admission.  The true center of this film, in terms of all the things wrong with it, is the hybrid dinosaur Indominus Rex, engineered from the genes of the tyrannosaurus, the velociraptor, a few other dinosaurs, cuttlefish, and tree frogs (!).  He is certainly bigger and meaner than any other dinosaur in this film, but he’s also kind of a bore—he’s big and loud and he kills everything in his way, but you know that is what he’s going to do from his first appearance.  Just as you know that the only thing you want to see in this film are the dinosaurs.  Who cares about plot or character or ideas?  Just give us dinosaurs.

None of the dinosaurs in the film have any hint of feathers, and most of them are a uniform gray—this is in contradiction to recent discoveries over the past several decades suggesting that many dinosaurs (including velociraptors and some tyrannosaurs) had some sort of feathers and that they were probably pretty colorful too, at least in comparison to the boring gray dinosaurs of this overwrought cinematic mess.

Winged dinosaurs escape from their enclosure late in the film and attack park goers—they behave very much like the birds in Hitchcock’s film The Birds, except that they’re bigger and, of course, meaner.  Oh, yeah, they can also pick up human beings and fly off with them.

Jurassic World certainly glances, briefly, for a microsecond, at the various issues attendant to cloning and genetic engineering, but it’s hardly interested in exploring them deeply.  They are mainly plot points to which the film doesn’t want to call much attention.  (“Pay no attention to those ideas behind the curtain.  Watch the big and mean Indominus Rex out in front.”).

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