I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner. In an age where audiences are lured to the theatre by the Pied Piper of Hollywood dangling their favourite childhood experiences before them, and then pulling back the curtain to reveal a vacuous, hollow entity on the screen draped in those movie’s skins like a cinematic Buffalo Bill, it was only a matter of time until they reached Jurassic Park. Again.
Jurassic Park must be one of the most financially bulletproof franchises this side of Star Wars, but it’s always been poorly suited to franchising the way Terminator has. The original is a complete, self-contained story with little room for follow-up, but like Terminator (with Genisys also out this month) we somehow keep returning to it with increasingly diminishing returns. This time it’s Colin Trevorrow’s turn to bring the defibrillators to the franchise, as Hollywood’s latest inexperienced indie directors chosen to headline blockbusters so the studio can micromanage as much as possible, but even taking into account the myriad script rewrites and studio interference he is way out of his depth here.
The story this time focuses on two children so lacking in personality I can’t recall their names, sent by their divorcing parents (whose marital difficulties are forgotten twenty minutes in) on a holiday to Jurassic World, a gaudy, deeply unpleasant-looking theme park managed by their aunt Bryce Dallas Howard. Weirdly, the film seems deeply upset at the idea that the boss of a massive theme park based around dangerous animals wouldn’t want to spend their day babysitting kids, and so her character arc through the film is going from not wanting children of her own to realising that as a woman her uterus is all she’s good for. It’s an arc so absurdly and overtly misogynistic it almost reaches The Room levels of unintentional hilarity.
Chris Pratt rounds out our set of heroes as a raptor trainer whose villainous boss Vincent D’Onofrio wants to train them to fight for the army, the exact motivation of countless Aliens spin-off villains which is somehow even less believable here. This may be because no-one has anything resembling the vaguest semblance of character consistency or arcs. Each of the kid’s scenes has nothing to do with any of their others, after the divorce subplot is dropped we keep getting payoffs for set-ups that never happened and unlike the first film at no point do they accomplish anything relevant to the plot. It’s actually quite surreal, for most of the runtime I forgot why I was even meant to dislike D’Onofrio’s character and started rooting for him against Pratt (who comes off as a self-righteous arsehole).
Our main plot (if it can be called that) is based on the idea that the public have lost interest in dinosaurs since the Park opened (which must have happened some time after it was overrun with dinosaurs), so the management have started genetically modifying bigger, more impressive spectacles for the viewing public, starting with the new and improved Magic Dinosaur (TM) created from the DNA of a thousand Mary Sues. This gives it the ability to do whatever the plot demands, from knowing how modern electronic tracking systems work well enough to use them as bait to turning invisible. Yes folks, we have a camouflage dinosaur, which was notable for the sheer pitch of my hysterical cackling echoing throughout the theatre. Every power this thing has comes out of absolutely nowhere, is used once and then forgotten, including its thermal vision with which it later fails to notice our heroes standing in front of it. It’s also clear no-one in the film’s production has ever spent time around animals, as perfectly normal animal behaviours like sororicide and killing for fun (seriously, cats are bastards) are presented as proof of the Magical Dinosaur’s evilness.
The strange thing is, it’s all trying to come together into some sort of theme about the nature of modern blockbuster cinema, painting them as flashy spectacle nostalgia grabs with hardly a brain cell to share. It fails to realise however that it is exactly the sort of film it despises, leading not only to a movie that seems to loathe it’s own existence but presents a truly wonderful argument why it should not exist. For all it’s utter contempt for modern film audiences – every time a character uses a mobile phone we’re invited to sneer at the waste of human life daring to use the conveniences of modern technology, instead of gasping in awe of our CGI dinosaurs only made possible by modern technology – it never comes close to presenting any alternative it thinks they should be watching instead (unless they’re female in which case they should apparently only want children and nothing else).
The CGI is a major issue here. Colin Trevorrow has no clue how to sell either CGI or spectacle; everything that could possibly be computer-generated is and whereas good filmmakers like Spielberg and Del Toro know how to ground giant effects sequences with realistic camerawork Trevorrow seems almost to do the opposite. Nothing ever feels real, which isn’t helped by how he has apparently never heard of depth-of-field, making every giant dinosaur attack feel flat and lifeless. The only real exception is the most horribly misjudged death scene I’ve seen in years, in which a minor supporting character, who has done nothing to earn the audience’s ire, is brutally tortured by pterodactyls for literally a minute. It feels like someone spliced sixty seconds of Saw into a Marvel film.
I had almost no emotional reaction during the film’s second half, beyond the aforementioned death scene and one moment I loved in a rather hateful manner. During the climactic Magic Dinosaur vs T-Rex (who is never mentioned before this point) showdown the scene of the unconvincing CGI new dinosaur briefly seeming to have killed and cannibalised the original film’s icon was a perfect visual metaphor for this movie.
Really though, I’m not this film’s target audience. I have no particular nostalgia for the original and that’s all this movie aims to deliver on, throwing in one pointless reference after another (I think they may have flat-out lifted a stampede shot) and climaxing with a deus ex T-Rex. This film is a great summation of the problems of modern blockbuster cinema, a lazy cash-grab aimed at people desperate to relive their childhoods, and with box-office only beaten by Titanic and Avatar it seems we’ll be getting this shit for some time to come.