Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

2018 #225
J.A. Bayona | 128 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

It’s three years after the events of Jurassic World and the dinosaurs who overran Isla Nublar have basically been left alone while the rest of the world goes about its business. But now there’s a problem: the island’s previously inactive volcano is about to erupt, wiping out the dinosaurs… again. Former director of the park Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) now works for a charity struggling to convince people to save the dinos, where she’s contacted by Mills (Rafe Spall), a representative of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the one-time business partner of park founder Hammond who helped initiate the whole bringing-dinosaurs-back-from-the-dead palaver. They’re sending people to the island to rescue as many dinosaurs as they can, but they need Claire’s help. Naturally she agrees, and so along with ex-velociraptor-wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt) and a motley crew of supporting cast members, they head back to the island… but it soon turns out Mills & co may have a nasty ulterior motive for wanting to save the dinosaurs…

Although there are shades of the first Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, in this setup, I think Fallen Kingdom does enough different that any similarities aren’t excessively problematic. Indeed, it’s got its own array of flaws for us to contend with first. It’s like someone assembled all the ingredients specified by a recipe, but instead of following the instructions they just bunged everything together haphazardly, and so the resulting dish seems like it should be right but is somehow just… wrong.

Letting sleeping T-rexes lie

To be less metaphorical, I think Fallen Kingdom is built on decent ideas and concepts, and it’s executed with some stylish direction by franchise newcomer J.A. Bayona (including a couple of particularly good sequences, like a tense oner in a sinking gyrosphere), but it’s all let down by a terrible screenplay from Jurassic World co-writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. The story is poorly constructed — not in the sense that it’s unfollowable, but in that it’s wonkily put-together, frequently showcasing scenes that are nothing but exposition, with a pace and emphasis that feels unbalanced. Not unrelatedly, the quality of the dialogue is very weak, lacking in character or plausibility, or, failing the latter, memorableness. Sure, there’s the odd line the talented cast can make work (Howard gets a mini-monologue about the first time you saw a dinosaur that’s almost really good), but most of what comes out of their mouth is perfunctory. If they’d bothered to hire some solid writers, instead of just People Who Have Ideas, then maybe those ideas could’ve been turned into a cohesive whole that’d be a worthy sequel. Heck, even getting someone in to polish up this draft could’ve helped a lot. Instead, Fallen Kingdom is a bunch of decent concepts for plots, subplots, themes, and visuals, haphazardly bunged together with half-arsed execution.

In terms of particularly egregious examples, the standout for me is the subplot with Lockwood’s granddaughter, Maisie. No spoilers, but her storyline is no more than a (too clearly telegraphed) twist and a thematic resolution, which is in need of an actual story to give it meaning and work it up to being an actual theme of the movie in the way they clearly want it to be. What could be a meaningful finale for her character is rendered moot by the fact it has no genuine build-up, not to mention they had to throw another lead character’s moral development under a bus in order to get there (for a more spoilersome discussion of this point, check out Andrew Ellard’s Tweetnotes).

Clawesome

It’s not just subplots that falter: the inciting incident (volcano is going to wipe out dinos; do we have a responsibility to save what we created, or is this nature course-correcting?) is a very rich premise with potential for debate; but other than stating those two positions, the film does nothing with it. It’s just there, an excuse to go back to the island and get the dinosaurs out, ready for the next part of the plot. This is probably why many viewers seem to find the first half perfunctory, but the second half — where the film takes a sharp turn into a Gothic-ish ‘haunted’ house movie — to be something fresh. Like so many of the film’s other ideas, I think it’s a good concept bungled in execution. It coasts by on imagery alone, Bayona achieving the look he’s after, but without Connolly and Trevorrow backing it up by making the situation work as a story, or for the characters. One example from this section: the scene of Maisie hiding in bed as the the dinosaur inches closer, which was featured so widely in the trailers. It’s a great visual, combining childhood fears and notions of protection (“if I’m under the covers nothing can get me”) with genuine threat and terror… but the film has to jump through hoops to make it happen — it’s only there because someone had an idea for the visual and they shoehorned it in, not because it makes any sense in context.

On a similar level is Jeff Goldblum’s cameo as fan-favourite character Dr Ian Malcolm. He’s ostensibly contributing to that save-or-not debate I mentioned, but as that goes nowhere his appearance is equally pointless; no more than fan service — it feels like a tease; an excuse to put him in the trailer. A short featurette included on the Blu-ray gives some indication of what the filmmakers were actually trying for here (some of Malcolm’s dialogue is lifted from the writing of Michael Crichton, the goal being to link back to the franchise’s originator and reiterate his “science gone wrong” theme), but it doesn’t come off. Worst of all, I didn’t feel like Goldblum was actually playing Malcolm — it’s the same actor, obviously, but not the same character. Was he phoning it in? He was only on set for one day, after all. Or maybe it was just terribly written. I mean, on the evidence of the rest of the film…

It's getting hot in there

Fallen Kingdom is not the outright disaster some have painted it as, but it could’ve been much better. There are so many things it almost gets right — for another example, it’s very much planned as Part 2 of a trilogy, but it feels like real effort has been made to make it a film that works on its own; that isn’t merely a two-hour exercise in getting us from where Part 1 ends to how they want Part 3 to begin. That’s admirable (not everyone seems to bother), but undermined by how much the film feels in need of major structural work at a screenplay level. Ultimately, I think your tolerance for “good ideas but poor execution” will dictate exactly how you feel about the finished movie.

3 out of 5

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is released on DVD and Blu-ray (regular, 3D, and 4K UHD flavours) in the UK today.

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The Tree of Life (2011)

2018 #192
Terrence Malick | 139 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The Tree of Life

Writer-director Terrence Malick made just five films in the first 38 years of his directorial career, this being the fifth. In the seven years since it came out, he’s made five more. Why the long gaps before, or the sudden increase now? Who knows — Malick is notoriously interview-shy. But the answer may indeed lie with this film, sitting as it does at the fulcrum of his career. It was a project Malick had on his mind for decades (he shot material for it as far back as the ’70s), which for various reasons — primarily funding and technology, I think — it took him until this decade to achieve. Many think it was worth the wait: lots of people love it, including the Cannes jury, who awarded it the Palme d’Or. Many others… don’t: plenty of people regard it as pretentious, or at least too abstruse to care about. It’s a film that, I think, can only elicit an entirely personal reaction. So here’s mine.

The Tree of Life is about… um… oh dear, we’ve hit a snag already. Well, once it settles down (which takes the best part of an hour), what it’s literally about is a family living in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s — dad (Brad Pitt), mom (Jessica Chastain), and their three sons, Jack (Hunter McCracken), R.L. (Laramie Eppler), and Steve (Tye Sheridan). The kids play around doing the kind of thing young lads did in the ’50s — running around in the woods, swimming in rivers, throwing stones through windows, murdering frogs — while being torn between the influences of their parents: their kind, gentle, caring mother, and their strict, authoritative, borderline abusive (or just straight abusive?) father.

But the film also occasionally shows us Sean Penn as grown-up Jack, working some high-level job in a present-day city. And it also shows us an extended sequence about the birth of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth. And that’s to say nothing of the epilogue… Or, indeed, the prologue, which introduces a massive event in the family’s life that is then, arguably, unreferenced by the rest of the movie.

So… yeah.

Pondering or ponderous?

Much of The Tree of Life is more like visual poetry than a traditional narrative film. Beautiful images glide before our eyes, some with obvious meaning, others less so. Some of the images resonate or rhyme with each other, urging us to infer our own interpretation of what we’re seeing, and why, and what it signifies. This is mostly true of the opening chunk — which lasts a good 45 to 60 minutes — and the ending. In between, more of a narrative is discernible — the stuff about the young family — although it’s constructed in a poetic fashion, with minimal dialogue, lots of vignettes, fragments of day-to-day life that don’t necessarily have an immediate significance.

To me, it felt like we were watching someone’s dreams or memories, presented as we really remember things: random fragments from our lives. If you think about your memories of childhood, they don’t take the form of a neat narrative in concise scenes with all the important landmarks accounted for. We do remember big events, of course, but also many small things; and some things we remember extensively, but others only fragmentarily. If you could view a person’s memories, they’d create, not a biopic, but an impressionistic collage or our lives — and this film is that, I think.

But that can still leave the viewer to question what it’s all about, especially given the extended sequence of space gases, forming planets, burgeoning microscopic lifeforms, and dinosaurs. Yes, in arguably the film’s most baffling sequence (there are many contenders), we see an event in the life of some dinosaurs. Actually, I say it’s the most baffling, but only if you stick to the film itself: of all the confusing things herein, that’s the one with the most concrete explanation, thanks to visual effects supervisor Michael L. Fink having a little chat with critic Jim Emerson about Malick’s intentions for the scene. Not everyone likes firm answers to this kind of stuff, so I’ll just link to where you can read it if you want to.

Motherly love

That said, some of the stuff I’ve already mentioned in passing I only know definitively thanks to extra-textual sources. Well, if you count the film’s end credits as extra-textual, which I suppose they’re not. But it’s only thanks to those that I know for certain which of the boys Penn was supposed to be, or that the creation-of-the-universe stuff is indeed meant to be that (based on genuine science, donchaknow), and that these scenes show us the “astrophysical realm”, because there are effects credits for that. And more still can be learnt from, of all places, the Blu-ray’s chapter menu: the long creation sequence is indeed called “creation”, in case you weren’t sure. The ending is “eternity”, followed by “was it a dream?” Others include “grief”, “innocence”, “mother”, “father”, “I do what I hate” — all showing us the way towards important themes… maybe. Or perhaps they’re just convenient chapter points…

Praise for the film’s imagery is due not only to Malick, but also cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki. And it’s not even the guy’s best work — I’d argue for consistent beauty he’s surpassed it with some of the stunning, Oscar-winning stuff he’s done since — but you can see how he got from here to there: the very best shots in The Tree of Life are kind of what he does all the time in films like The Revenant. As for constructing those images into a meaningful flow, I’m never sure how much is down to an editor’s own creativity and how much is them operating machinery under the director’s instruction — I guess, like most things in the movies, it’s a collaborative mix of both. Anyway, the film has five credited editors — Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, and Mark Yoshikawa — who I’m sure must’ve been vital to the process. (Relatedly, here’s a fun anecdote from IMDb: “an Italian cinema showed the film for a week with the first two reels switched. Even though the film starts with production logos, no one in the theater noticed and thought it was all part of Terrence Malick’s ‘crazy editing style’.”)

Creation

There’s a lot of really great music and sound design as well — something Malick clearly considered important to a Lynchian degree, given that before the film plays the Blu-ray flashes up a notice advising you to “play it loud”. Alexandre Desplat is credited for the music, but a very, very long list of sourced tracks too hints at what actually happened: most of his music went unused in the final cut, with only a few minutes making it in. I imagine that feels quite unedifying, to have your work sidelined; but maybe it’s better than being ditched entirely in favour of a new score, as has happened to plenty of other composers in the past.

It’s easy to get hung up on all this filmmaking when thinking about The Tree of Life, because that’s where its own focus seems to be, as opposed to the usual things a reviewer might think to discuss first, like the screenplay or performances. But there are still actors here, and good ones at that. The movie is really centred around Hunter McCracken, and he’s very good. The casting directors saw thousands of Texan school kids while trying to cast the boys, and the effort paid off; though McCracken hasn’t done anything else since, so maybe not for him personally. The other two brothers don’t have so much to do; in fact, I kept almost forgetting one of the trio existed, so little is he on screen or relevant to events. Ironically, he’s the only one of the three who’s gone on to have a career: it’s Tye Sheridan, most recently seen as the lead in Ready Player One.

As for the adults, Sean Penn is one of the many lead actors in a Malick film whose performances have wound up on the cutting room floor. According to Lubezki, there’s enough deleted footage to make a whole movie focused on Penn’s character. Yep, sounds like Malick! Obviously such a movie would be completely different to this one, but I’d be curious to see it. More screen time is devoted to Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt, who both achieve a lot with comparatively little. Chastain is the focus early on, but it later becomes apparent that Pitt has a showier role, in a way, because of his character’s arc. There’s a pullquote on the back of the UK Blu-ray that calls it “the strongest performance of his career”, but considering his performances in the likes of Se7en and The Assassination of Jesse James, or that he’s been Oscar-nominated for his turns in Twelve Monkeys, Benjamin Button, and Moneyball, I thought that was a bit of an outlandish claim to make. To each their own, though.

Affection or headlock?

Anyhow, all this is “technical” stuff quite apart from what The Tree of Life is really about. Not that I’m totally clear on what that is, still. I guess maybe it’s there for us to infer what we like from it, be that religious, scientific, humanistic, or, for many a viewer, just boredom. Whether you love it or hate it — and there are certainly plenty of perfectly reasonable people at both extremes — it’s definitely an Experience; one every person who considers themselves serious about film appreciation needs to have.

4 out of 5

A new edition of The Tree of Life, which includes a different cut that’s 50 minutes longer (but, intriguingly, is not an extended cut), is released by Criterion in the US tomorrow and in the UK on November 19th.

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

2016 #130
Peter Sohn | 90 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

The Good DinosaurOnce upon a time, Pixar could do no wrong. Then Cars happened; and worse, its sequel. Now, their movies remain an event, and some people still swear by everything they do, but I think there’s a greater awareness that they’re fallible. When it came out at the tail end of 2015, The Good Dinosaur was received as further evidence of that. Especially coming in the same year that gave us the universally praised (*coughoverratedcough*) Inside Out, it was instantaneously dubbed a “lesser Pixar”. But here is where completism has its merits, because I really enjoyed it.

Set in an alternate world where the dinosaurs were never wiped out and so have evolved to the point where they talk, farm, etc, the film tells the story of little Arlo, an Apatosaurus who’s regularly overshadowed by his siblings. When an accident leaves him stranded many miles from his family he must make the long trek home, finding his inner courage on the way ‘n’ that kind of thing.

There’s no denying that The Good Dinosaur contains an abundance of re-heated elements: there are multiple plot beats shared with The Land Before Time, not to mention the general “talking child dinosaurs” thing; a major inciting incident is taken from The Lion King; the episodic structure is reminiscent of The Jungle Book; animated dinosaurs on photo-real backgrounds recalls Dinosaur; and the moral message and main character arc are lifted from any number of children’s animations. While I did find this bothersome at first — especially as the worst offenders are concentrated in the saccharine first act — by the time the film had settled into its meandering middle I came to quite like it.

MalickianPixar have on several occasions produced films with an innovative opening act that descends into derivative kids’ animation runaround territory. WALL-E and Up are the worst offenders for this; Inside Out does it too, though there’s more of a mix of the two throughout the film. For many critics and viewers, the quality of those openings seem to be enough to earn the films heaps of praise. The Good Dinosaur inverts the formula: the easy, overfamiliar material is at the start, while the more meditative, mature content comes later. Clearly this didn’t work for many viewers, so I guess the lesson for Pixar is to put the clever stuff up front if they want universal praise.

Instead, The Good Dinosaur was often dismissed as only being for very young children. Some bits do come over that way, but it has quite a harsh edge at times, and the scene where the heroes get high on rotten fermented fruit is freaky even for adults (or this adult, at any rate). It’s a bit of a tonal oddity in this respect, especially when you also factor in some of the leisurely, silent moments spent admiring nature that evoke a filmmaker like Terrence Malick. No, seriously. That’s helped by the animation being mind-blowingly good. Not so much the character animation (which is still strong — the character models are more detailed than you first suspect), but the scenery those characters are placed in… wow. If you didn’t know better I’m sure much of it could pass for photography. And the way they’ve achieved water, a notoriously hard thing to capture in CGI, is absolutely incredible.

You've got a friend in mePerhaps most powerful of all is the relationship it creates between Arlo and a young human child he befriends, Spot. With humanity in a much earlier state of evolution, Spot is basically characterised as a dog — the way he moves, comes to his name, follows scents, shakes, scratches and enjoys being scratched, and so on — so of course I warmed to him. Nonetheless, though the building blocks used to create their friendship are very familiar, the way the film sells its emotional arc is ultimately immensely effective. Its resolution may even bring a tear to the eye.

While it may take a while to warm up, The Good Dinosaur is ultimately a very affecting entry in Pixar’s canon. It’s by no means a perfect movie, but I do think it’s an underrated one. And, in all honesty, I enjoyed it more than Inside Out.

4 out of 5

Jurassic Park (1993)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #47

An adventure
65 million years in the making.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 127 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 11th June 1993 (USA)
UK Release: 16th July 1993
First Seen: cinema, 1993

Stars
Sam Neill (Dead Calm, Event Horizon)
Laura Dern (Wild at Heart, Inland Empire)
Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, Independence Day)
Richard Attenborough (10 Rillington Place, Miracle on 34th Street)

Director
Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)

Screenwriters
Michael Crichton (Westworld, Twister)
David Koepp (Death Becomes Her, Panic Room)

Based on
Jurassic Park, a novel by Michael Crichton.

The Story
Invited to a remote island by an eccentric billionaire, a group of scientists, investors, and children discover he’s managed to clone and resurrect dinosaurs, which he intends to exhibit in his theme park: Dinosaur Land!
…not really — it’s called Jurassic Park. As the visitors tour the park looking at the creatures, a nice two-hour nature documentary unfolds.
…not really — the dinosaurs escape and run amok and people die and it’s basically a horror/disaster movie with giant prehistoric lizards as the killer/natural disaster. Good times.

Our Heroes
Dr Alan Grant and Dr Ellie Sattler are palaeontologists invited to Jurassic Park’s test run by enthusiastic grandfatherly billionaire John Hammond. There’s also Dr Ian Malcolm, a sexy mathematician (oxymoron?), and Hammond’s grandkids, siblings Tim and Lex, who Grant is essentially left to babysit. There’s also a handful of other characters who are essentially dinosaur-food… er, I mean, who are totally going to survive to the end of the movie.

Our Villains
It’s a bit mean to call the dinosaurs villains — they’re just behaving as nature intended. Of course, when uber-predators like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptors are involved, they’re still the main threat. Their impromptu freedom is all the fault of greedy, traitorous tech geek Dennis Nedry, though.

Best Supporting Character
For what may be the only time in movie history, Samuel L. Jackson is in this movie and isn’t the coolest character. That honour goes to Bob Peck as the park’s badass head ranger, Muldoon.

Memorable Quote
“Don’t move! He can’t see us if we don’t move.” — Dr Alan Grant

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Clever girl.” — Muldoon

Memorable Scene
As the newly-arrived visitors drive across the island, Hammond whispers to the driver to stop. Dr Grant idly looks off to the side, and his mouth falls open in shock. He pulls off his hat. He stands. He fumbles to take off his sunglasses, not believing his eyes. Dr Sattler is distracted by a leaf that shouldn’t exist. Grant reaches over to grab her head, turns it to face what he sees. Now she looks shocked, standing and pulling off her glasses. Whatever they’re looking at, it’s big. And only then, as John Williams’ music swells, does Spielberg cut to it: towering over them, a Brachiosaurus — a real, living dinosaur.

Write the Theme Tune…
Some chap named John Williams totally lucked out writing the film’s iconic main theme, which is one of music’s best evocations of the feelings of awe and wonder.

Technical Wizardry
It’s easily overlooked among all the visual antics, but the film’s sound design is incredible, too. Spielberg insisted on all-new sounds being captured throughout (rather than using any library effects) to help ensure the dinosaur roars sounded unique. The T-Rex’s roar was a combination of sounds from dogs, tigers, alligators, elephants, and… penguins.

Truly Special Effect
Spielberg thought about using a combination of animatronics and groundbreaking CGI to create the dinosaurs, but they just resurrected some real ones instead. More seriously, there’s actually only 15 minutes of dinosaur footage in the film. Nine minutes of that is animatronics — despite its fame and influence, just six minutes were created with CGI.

Making of
Spielberg came up with the idea for the famous rippling glass of water when he saw the mirror in his car vibrate because of sound. When the effects team tried to replicate that with water, nobody could do it… but they told Spielberg they could. The night before the effect was to be shot, effects supervisor Michael Lantieri placed a glass of water on a guitar, plucked the strings, and got the desired effect. For the film — where the glass is on a car dashboard, not a musical instrument — guitar strings were attached to the underside of the dashboard. These days you know they’d just do all that with CGI, and this is why older movies are better.

Next time…
Spielberg returned to helm first sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997, which has its fans, but not that many. Joe Johnston took over for Jurassic Park III, which is less epic than either of is predecessors, and more of a brisk (just 90 minutes long), straightforward action-adventure movie. After many years of aborted plans, the series was revived last year in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, which met with incredible financial success and a mixed (though generally favourable) reception. A fifth film, directed by The Impossible’s J.A. Bayona, will be a direct sequel to Jurassic World and is slated for release in 2018.

Awards
3 Oscars (Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Effects Editing)
1 BAFTA (Special Effects)
1 BAFTA nomination (Sound)
4 Saturn Awards (Science Fiction Film, Director, Writing, Special Effects)
7 Saturn nominations (Actress (Laura Dern), Supporting Actor (both Jeff Goldblum and Wayne Knight), Performance by a Younger Actor (both Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards), Music, Costumes)
3 MTV Movie Awards nominations (including Best Villain — for the dinosaurs? I don’t know.)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation

What the Critics Said
“As he did in Jaws, Spielberg has crafted a man-vs.-nature masterpiece with admirable logic, darkly funny violence and enthralling state-of-the-art special effects. Watching Jurassic Park, one gets the same feeling of wonderment, glee and old-fashioned fright that moviegoers must have felt 60 years ago when King Kong roared out of the jungle and scaled the Empire State Building. […] We ask for two things from big-budget thrillers like this: Make us believe and make us jump. Jurassic Park delivers on both counts; it’s the best gasp-between-the-giggles movie made since a cocky young director and a clunky Bruce the Shark scared the beach out of us 18 summers ago.” — Steve Persall, Tampa Bay Times
(I want to quote so much of this review, because it’s full of good bits, like how it’s “the most intelligent, pro-feminist adventure movie yet made”; or how “a faithful version of Crichton’s tale would have cost at least twice the film’s $60 million price tag” — a film costing $120 million? Unthinkable!)

Score: 93%

What the Public Say
“We’re kept waiting for the first full shot of a dinosaur, and it’s worth the wait, the little jeep carrying Sam Neill and Laura Dern stopping long enough for them to gawp in helpless wonder at the sight of Brachiosaurs eating. It works for two reasons. One is the reactions of the actors, which only adds to the moment’s sense of authenticity and gravitas. The second is the use of CGI. Jurassic Park was like a great leap forward in special effects technology. Before this, the only way to see dinosaurs on film was the stop-motion animated models shot painstakingly by Ray Harryhausen and his peers. Suddenly, all that was consigned to cinema history thanks to digital effects, work that holds up today because Spielberg knew how to use CGI judiciously rather than too often […] The combination of CGI and puppetry to create the dinosaur looks seamless, and whilst it must have been painstaking to develop and film there’s no doubt it’s great to watch” — Mike, Films on the Box

Verdict

For a certain generation, Star Wars is undeniably the defining cinematic experience. For a more recent one, I guess it’s Harry Potter or something. In between, you have my lot — and as became quite clear with the unexpectedly phenomenal response to Jurassic World this time last year, we have Jurassic Park. It was the first film I ever saw at the cinema, and much of it has been lodged in my memory every since.

That it’s beloved shouldn’t be such a surprise, really: it was huge back in 1993, and is one of only ten films that can lay claim to ever having been The Highest Grossing Movie Of All Time. It wasn’t the first film to employ computer-generated special effects, but by featuring them so prominently it paved the way for further effects breakthroughs. The groundbreaking imagery still holds up today — and when you consider that the effects in some movies out last week are already dated, that’s even more impressive.

It’s certainly not just about the effects, though: it’s a fantastic adventure movie, putting its likeable characters through the ringer in a story that is by turns exciting, funny, scary, and genuinely awe-inspiring.

#48 will be… a roaring rampage of revenge.

Jurassic World (2015)

2015 #154
Colin Trevorrow | 124 mins | Blu-ray | 2.00:1 | USA & China / English | 12 / PG-13

22 years ago, Jurassic Park was the first film I saw at the cinema. I was still of an age when all boys seem to find dinosaurs awesome, and of course everyone was talking about this spectacular film and its groundbreaking effects. Plus it was from Steven Spielberg — it feels daft I’d’ve known that at the time, but I was already a certified fan of the Indiana Joneses, so maybe. Either way, I was suitably awestruck, and have always been a little pleased my first big screen experience was such a good movie.

It seems now that I’m of a generation which has secretly held Jurassic Park in a level of esteem that earlier generations had for, I don’t know, Star Wars, maybe. Secret, that is, until Jurassic World came out this summer and, quite to everyone’s surprise, blew all predictions out of the water with the largest opening weekend gross of all time, both in the US ($208.8m) and internationally ($315.6m), totalling the first time a film grossed more than $500 million in one weekend. It ultimately passed The Avengers to be the third highest-grossing film of all time, taking in 40 days what the Marvel team-up needed 133 to achieve.* It was largely well-reviewed too, albeit with some dissenters, so it had a lot to live up to.

For me, it met that watermark. Okay, the plot is fundamentally a rehash of the first movie, but the devil is in the details, and in my book Jurassic World does enough new to shrug off any kind of “stealth remake” allegations. What it does definitely retain is a faithfulness to the Spielbergian tone of the first movie — a stated goal of director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow, and one I feel he’s absolutely pulled off. There’s adventure, humour, a sense of scale and wonder. Even the music’s right: in the same way his theme to Star Wars is the herald of a classical epic, and his theme to Indiana Jones is a call to adventure, John Williams’ equally-peerless theme to Jurassic Park is an ode to wonder, and composer Michael Giacchino deploys it wisely here, saving it for key moments when that sense of awe is front and centre once again. Even some of the film’s ‘problems’ aren’t, in my eyes. Does it spend too long wandering around the park before the big action starts? Not for me… which I guess is a viewpoint that comes with all the caveats of my opening paragraph. I rather suspect this is a movie that was very literally made by fans, for fans.

In that respect, I saw Jurassic World as a movie that was eager to please its audience. It may not always fully conform to logic, and some of its plot developments may be a little far-fetched for some, but it’s been crafted in a way that’s designed to tickle the fancy or scratch an itch among a spectacle-and-fun-seeking blockbuster audience. Sure, the film was greenlit to make loadsa money — what sequel (heck, what film) isn’t — but that doesn’t mean the people who were actually writing, directing, filming, designing, CGI’ing, and everything-else-ing the movie didn’t have pure intentions. Goodness knows how Trevorrow — whose sum total previous directorial experience is an overrated indie rom-com with a vague, underdeveloped sci-fi element — landed this gig, but he does a bang-up job with it. No wonder they’ve given him the keys to a Star Wars saga movie. (That’s a helluvan escalation across just three films, though! Has any other director ever shot so high so fast?)

I realise this review is a bit of a vague gush of praise, so one element that particularly intrigued me was the decision to shoot the film in a 2:1 aspect ratio. There’s some detail on the reasoning here (as well as general information on shooting choices, like the types of film and digital photography used), but essentially it was a compromise between Trevorrow and DP John Schwartzman favouring the blockbuster-standard 2.4:1 (so as to not look like a TV programme) and producer Spielberg wanting 1.85:1 (to favour the dinos’ height). I can’t speak to how it worked in cinemas, but 2:1 is actually a really pleasurable ratio for home viewing. Some 1.85:1 movies do just feel like big-budget TV episodes nowadays (which says as much about how far TV has come, in terms of its visual style, as it does anything else), but 2.35:1 can feel a little too wasteful of screen real estate (as a believer in presenting films in their original ratio (as we all should be) you tend not to question it, but looked at objectively, 2.35:1 on a 16:9 telly is kinda silly. (Not that I’m advocating those daft-looking 21:9 TVs they made a couple of years ago, mind.)) I’ve no idea if 2:1 is likely to catch on more widely (I bet Vittorio Storaro hopes so), but I would quite like if it did.

I kind of felt like Jurassic World plugged directly into whichever part of the brain is responsible for pleasure and just downloaded itself there. I know it’s flawed; even as I was watching it, there were bits that made me go, “really?” Consequently, this review was originally pegged with a four-star rating — no doubt in part influenced by all the other not-completely-praise-filled opinions out there. But, thinking back on it, I just enjoyed it. I think I’ve outlined the main reasons why that was the case, and why I’m able to put aside the niggles. Maybe I’m going soft? (See also: my reviews of poorly-received 2015 blockbusters Tomorrowland and Terminator Genisys.) On the bright side, I watched Jurassic World and had a really good time — that’s what blockbusters are fundamentally for, isn’t it?

5 out of 5

Jurassic World placed 12th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

* Obviously The Force Awakens has already obliterated most of these records (but not all of them). Nonetheless, Jurassic World’s still-phenomenal success remains part of an extraordinary year for Universal, who have also had two other films (Furious 7 and Minions) surpass $1 billion in 2015. They even broke the previous record for full-year studio gross (Fox’s $5.53 billion) in August. They’re not normally so successful (their best result in the ‘studio league table’ for the past decade was third, but they’re usually fifth or sixth), and I rather like Universal — possibly just because of their awesome logo and fanfare, possibly because of their cool theme parks, or possibly even because of their rich history of great movies — so this story has made me unduly happy as it’s developed since the summer. ^

Sherlock Holmes (2010)

2010 #45
Rachel Lee Goldenberg | 89 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

Sherlock HolmesFrom the company that brought you such pinnacles of cinematic excellence as AVH: Alien vs. Hunter, Snakes on a Train and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus comes the latest in a long line of cheaply-produced blockbuster cash-ins, this time tied to… well, I think you know. (While I’m at it, I encourage you to look at their website — the sheer volume of these ‘mockbusters’ they’ve produced now is almost impressive.)

You wait decades for a new Sherlock Holmes film and then two come along at once. One is the Guy Ritchie-directed Robert Downey Jr-starring genuine blockbuster moneymaker. The other is thankfully not the rumoured Sacha Baron Cohen/Seth Rogen/Judd Apatow/other faintly irritating people (I forget who was involved) comedy vehicle, but instead a direct-to-DVD cash-in from mockbuster kings The Asylum. Yes, I’d rather this version, thanks.

I’ve not seen an Asylum film before, but I hear this is one of their best. It’s not exactly “good” by any reasonable definition, but as “cable TV movie” quality goes I’d say it trumps the dull Case of Evil. And dull this certainly isn’t — sea monsters! dinosaurs! dragons! air battles! If you thought Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes looked disrespectfully blockbusterised, it seems positively Brettian by comparison.

Watson and camp short-arse HolmesBut, in The Asylum’s favour, their Sherlock Holmes doesn’t hide what it is. Yes, it’s called simply Sherlock Holmes rather than Sherlock Holmes and the Implausible CGI Monsters, but at least said monsters are plastered all over the DVD cover (both US and UK). If you see that and still expect something faithful to Conan Doyle, more fool you. That said, at times it’s surprisingly faithful to Doyle’s spirit. There’s some decent-ish investigation and deduction, the story structured like a mystery rather than an action-adventure.

But you can’t escape the dinosaurs, sea monsters and dragons, or the various steampunk elements introduced towards the climax. And so your enjoyment probably depends on your expectations. Some of the acting’s poor — not least Ben Syder’s camp short-arse Holmes, sadly — and the CGI’s weak, looking like a ’90s syndicated TV series. The direction occasionally lacks competence and a couple of action sequences are pointlessly repetitive.

Sherlock Holmes and the Implausible CGI MonstersAnachronisms abound, the best being the first: the film opens in London, 1940, the middle of the Blitz, and the opening shot foregrounds the Millennium Bridge. I don’t think you have to be too familiar with London to know when that was built. Elsewhere we get intercoms on houses, incongruous light switches and period inaccurate telephones, just to mention a couple. It’s shoddy, yes, but almost part of the fun.

But, for all the faults, there are positives. It’s still not “good”, but it is often “quite fun”. Thoroughly daft, certainly, but — provided you don’t demand too much — quite entertaining because of it.

3 out of 5

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern-day re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock, starts at 9pm tomorrow on BBC One.

Tomorrow night, my review of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes.