Tuesday 11 August 2015

It bites: "Jurassic World"

The third biggest movie of all time is as egregious an example of corporate self-dramatisation as has ever caught on with the general public. Where Titanic and Avatar spun cautionary tales of industrial oversight and overreach - one leading to naval disaster, the other to an indigenous people fighting back - Jurassic World serves as a celebration of a vast entertainment conglomerate's ability to sell us on genetically modified product, and then clean up after itself once it all goes wrong. This patina of self-reflexivity is intended as super-clever, and worthy of a hearty pat on the back, as many critics and paying punters have thus far given it; it is, like the Minions spin-off and Fast & Furious 7, a line-item that can't fail to look swell on Universal's end-of-year spreadsheet. As a film rather than a business proposition, however, Jurassic World is stunningly rote.

Where the Spielberg original had - like Jaws before it - just enough B-movie nous in its DNA to sustain an hour and fifty-minute runaround, the new film runs to two hours and thirteen minutes, a case of blockbuster bloat, if ever there was. (These things are meant to hit the ground fast and hard: would we applaud Usain Bolt if he took over two minutes to run the 100m sprint?) So we get a protracted hour of set-up, touring Isla Nublar's new, spectator-friendly state-of-the-art facilities (think SeaWorld for the once-extinct), introducing the new dinosaurs (no more differentiated, in this take, than Coca-Cola offshoots, or Marvel superhero movies) and establishing characters who, from first frame to last, remain of the purest cardboard. (No longer carnivores, these dinosaurs must have a sweet tooth for packing peanuts.)

Much of the first-wave discussion around the film focused on the demeaning roles for its women: Judy Greer mostly a spectator as a tearfully concerned mom, Bryce Dallas Howard as an on-the-ground career gal who gets a ridiculous scene of rolling up her sleeves - and an erratic splash of mud on her collarbone - when the script intends her to play action heroine. In truth, like most corporate enterprises, Jurassic World is an equal-opportunities squanderer: there are, likewise, nothingy parts for Irrfan Khan as the moneyman, Chris Pratt as some kind of dinosaur whisperer (and how sad, after the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and this, that the multi-faceted clown of Parks and Recreation will be typecast in bland, buff hero roles for the next decade), Jake Johnson as a nerdy functionary, Omar Sy as a handler, and Vincent d'Onofrio as an overseer with the kind of excellent dentalwork only a paycheque like this can cover.

As with, say, Julie Delpy's fleeting presence in the last Avengers movie, you could see this as in some way reassuring: that talented actors are keeping at least a toe, if not a full foot, in the Hollywood game, and that a staggering percentage of the moviegoing public is absolutely A-OK with the waste our Tory overlords perceive within the BBC and the NHS. (Maybe it's as nothing compared to what we see in the office every day.) Still, there looks to have been a decisive shift in the types of characters the Jurassic movies have made heroic. The original, you'll remember, centred on trained scientists Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum, who very wisely decided to get the hell out of Dodge once the flesh-ripping carnage began. The closest we have to outsiders this time round are a pair of dully credulous teenagers (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, avatars of the target audience) who treat the outbreak of chaos as just the wildest of rides.

The POV has, instead, shifted inside the boardroom and the R&D lab, moving the franchise closer to those company men and women working damage control and striving to get Jurassic World back online by fair means or foul: d'Onofrio's hostile third-act takeover is really only here to get us feeling warm and fuzzy about the original Howard-Pratt regime, on whose watch the trouble first broke out. (And maybe that's why the film feels a need to go past the two-hour mark: to let bad feelings subside, so business can go on as usual.) No surprise to find the film has its own yes man at the helm - the sophomore Colin Trevorrow, who ditches even those mild traces of personality and wit he gave his negligible indie quirkfest Safety Not Guaranteed to indulge in tics and cribs that collectively resemble a form of Spielberg karaoke.

You name it, you get it: characters gazing up saucer-eyed at something that hasn't yet been pixellated in (for major spectacle, the visual effects throughout look very poorly and hastily integrated), the accelerated tracks-in at moments of crisis, and of course the obligatory John Williams fanfares, deployed with such unremitting obviousness you can only imagine Trevorrow alone in the mixing suite after hours, pushing buttons and bellowing "Are you not roused? Are you not stirred?" at his imaginary audience. Jurassic World plays that audience of fanboys for total suckers, and - even given the drooling credulity of this subset, no doubt wanking themselves into a froth as I write at the prospect of the new Star Wars films being in any way life-changing, rather than more of the same thin corporate gruel - I'm amazed, and rather dismayed, that so many of them fell for it as box-office figures would suggest that they have.

The film remains airless and inorganic, utterly lacking Spielberg's eye (or Dean Cundey's eye) for the natural beauty of this particular tropical isle - I assume the film was always calibrated for dim-bulb 3D, because it wasn't going to pop out at us any other way - and boasting considerably less peril than the average health-and-safety video: the climactic dino-on-dino showdown offers all the thrills and spills of watching the market correct itself, as we're forever being told it does, and Trevorrow's final image is less resonant than evidence of a rebranding waiting to happen. (A sequel has, inevitably, been announced.) If you were wowed by Jurassic World - rather than merely satisfied £15 had been extracted from your back pocket without undue pain or violation - you're gonna love your nearest shopping mall.

Jurassic World is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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