Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic-World-Raptor-Bike-Chase

 

DIR: Colin Trevorrow • WRI: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow • PRO: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Kevin Stitt • MUS: Michael Giachinno • DES: Edward Verreaux • CAST: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Judy Greer, Irrfan Khan, BD Wong, Katie McGrath

 

Originally scheduled for production in 2004 but plagued with an onslaught of script complications and scheduling issues common to the movie blockbuster, the fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park series has finally materialised with director Colin Trevorrow at the helm and Spielberg’s wizardry harmonising the mammoth undertaking as executive producer. As the third highest-grossing film of the 1990s, Jurassic Park was extolled for its pioneering, state-of-the-art special effects (if not a dim critical view taken on its light character development), however, the franchise’s two subsequent, undernourished efforts failed to transcend the tension-fuelled visceral thrills of its original, demonstrating the jeopardy in serialising every blockbuster success story. In essence, in a matter of eight years audiences had had more than its fill of imposing, dinosaur-stomping terror and simply moved on.

 

Inheriting a cinematic legacy that provided a digital blueprint for the industry and holding a cherished positioned in popular culture, Jurassic World has to contend with pleasing contemporary audiences who have already corroborated that dinosaurs don’t do it for them anymore, thereby questioning the relevancy of a fourth film, in addition to the increasing audience demand for the excessively bigger and better in this digitally-sophisticated climate. A decade of unstable production worries would suggest that even the digitally-advanced possibilities Jurassic World has to play with, may just not be enough to resurrect the franchise in the hearts and minds of contemporary audiences and Jurassic World is in danger of further staining the cinematic and cultural position held by its iconic original.

 

Twenty-two years have passed since trailblazing John Hammond’s dreams of an international dinosaur theme park were shattered but have now been realised back on Isla Nublar by billionaire benefactor Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Run entirely by commercially-driven operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the Jurassic World resort exhibits a spectacular array of dinosaurs of varying species and spellbinding futuristic attractions to keep the twenty thousand daily visitors entertained. Under tremendous pressure to lure the ever-demanding audiences to the park, original InGen geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) pushes the boundaries of scientific innovation to create an original genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus rex. Uncertain of its intelligent capabilities, Claire calls in animal behaviour expert and velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to ascertain the safety of the behemoth before its grand unveiling. Just as Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) arrive unannounced and are left to their own devices, the unpredictable Indominus rex escapes, threatening the lives of all on the resort.

 

Narratively continuous to the original film but slightly disregarding its two sequels, Jurassic World is a spectacular rush of furious energy, spellbinding awe and alarming terror from beginning to end. Firmly situating the film in the digital age and benefitting enormously from its dividends, Jurassic World brings a level of mesmeric, adrenaline-fuelled visual wonder combined with a suspenseful yet reassuringly familiar narrative, that has all the hallmarks of a Spielberg/Amblin production in its heyday, which is essentially what Jurassic World aims to achieve. The film’s revisionist and self-reflexive tone displays great deference to its cinematic creator, technically paying homage to its style of filmmaking through an elaborate and intricately detailed production design that employs both animatronics and remarkable CGI effects, to mark the film as technically impressive, narratively nostalgic and culturally relevant again. Jurassic World is all about executing its own ambitiousness on a mammoth scale both narratively and metaphorically, and similar to Jurassic Park delivers at the highest possible technical level. Yet once again, it is not without its obvious narrative concerns.

 

As with the negative critical attention directed at the storyline and character development in the original, Jurassic World is arguably destined for a similar fate. Attempts to flesh out the characters and make them more three-dimensional have only succeeded in creating a host of stereotypes that equally hark back to the 1980s action-adventure film. If a source problem is needed to throw light on the decade-long script production issues, it surely would begin with the film’s regressive leading characters and an evident inability to improve gender stereotypes in the same manner in which they have committed to revising their technical operations. While the narrative unsurprisingly remains firmly entrenched within the boundaries of action-adventure genre, ramping up the ante at every turn with flashes of horror, humour and science, the overriding themes of strong human values specific to the action-adventure remain at the core of Jurassic World once more, if not more clearly defined than in the other three films. The narrative subtexts delineating commercial greed and unethical scientific manipulation appear to predominantly manifest themselves through Claire, who appears to bear the burden of moral responsibility entirely on her shoulders, her ethical awareness only realised once a miraculous transformation into a more submissive role has been assumed.

 

While Christ Pratt fits in solidly to the archetypal action-adventure hero role, meeting character expectations without too much incident but not necessarily all burliness and brawn either, Claire’s transformation from a dehumanised, career-orientated threat to a sexualized, simpering damsel in need of feminizing by Owen, introduces a wholly regressive and misplaced feminine quality in the franchise, that was not made visible by either Laura Dern in the original or Julianne Moore in The Lost World. While the burden of moral responsibility may be seen to be shared by some of the male characters who are positioned as the moral guardians to Hammond’s enterprise, their fates do not allow for this burden to be shared equally and moral reconditioning is positioned firmly at Claire’s door and only made possible through the realisation of her nurturing values, offering reassurance that the whole world has not gone completely mad and traditional roles remain firmly in tact.

 

Gender stereotyping and a formulaic narrative aside, Jurassic World premises itself on the promise that it is both cinematically and culturally relevant by exceeding and executing the same audience expectations that defined and popularised its original film. In a sense, Jurassic World has been crying out for twenty-two years to be revised for the digitally-rich cinematic age, given Jurassic Park’s influence in the industry overall and its current timing seems just about right. Two decades on, the film undoubtedly steps up to its own plate and in keeping with the overall philosophy of the franchise, does it bigger and better, if not narratively weaker. Whether a fifth film needs to be made is one to be mulled over later. For sheer entertainment and thrills, Jurassic World is more than enough for now.

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

124 minutes

Jurassic World is released 12th June 2015

Jurassic World – Official Website

 

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Men, Women & Children

Still from Men, Women & Children

DIR: Jason Reitman • WRI: Jason Reitman, Erin Cressida Wilso • PRO: Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook, Jason Blumenfeld, Michael Beugg, Mason Novick • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • CAST: Adam Sander, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, Olivia Crocicchia, Emma Thompson

 

Men, Women & Children sees former wunderkind Jason Reitman return to a contemporary subject, after a baffling diversion into romantic melodrama with last year’s Labour Day. Unfortunately, Men, Women & Children is a far cry from Reitman’s masterpiece, 2011’s thrillingly tart Charlize Theron vehicle, Young Adult. Like Reitman’s other more successful features, Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009), Young Adult was a character study with a fairly narrow focus. Men, Women & Children, by contrast, is a multi-stranded portmanteau piece, in the vein of Paul Haggis’s Crash (2004) or Alejandro Gonzáles Inárritu’s Babel (2006). Although ostensibly lighter in tone than either of those films, Men, Women & Children dutifully replicates their central oxymoron – attempting to vindicate the diversity of human interaction by reducing it to a schematic.

 

Orbiting around the idea of how technology facilitates the increasing isolation of the very people it claims to connect, Men, Women & Children hones in on a selection of suburbanites in present day Texas, including a jaded married couple played by Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt, a pair of disaffected teenagers played by Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever, and two contrasting mothers, one of whom (Jennifer Garner) tirelessly monitors and restricts her daughter’s internet and phone use, while the other (Judy Greer) prostitutes her nubile daughter’s image on a subscription website. A trite framing device, in which the travails of these people are cross-cut with the progress of the Voyager satellite through space, seems to suggest that their interactions are emblematic of present day human society in general. In so doing, the film sets out to debunk the myth of the “global village”, while unselfconsciously perpetuating the false notion that new-technology communications are a genuinely global phenomenon. Emma Thompson’s narration, which sets descriptions of space exploration alongside observations of the masturbatory habits of middle-aged Texan fathers, underscores the point, although the self-satisfied smirk with which it is delivered doesn’t make the medicine go down any easier.

 

The film suffers from the curious problem of feeling didactic about nothing in particular. Many critics have read it as alarmist or hectoring, although that doesn’t seem to be quite accurate. Instead, Men, Women & Children attempts to cultivate a kind of studied neutrality, presenting its “findings” without explicit comment – at least until the very end, which wraps things up in a sentimental bow. The problem with this approach is that not one of the film’s observations is new, and its technique – in which artificial suspense is created by cross-cutting multiple story arcs in an attempt to disguise that each one is predictable as a metronome – undermines the quality of its performances. Sandler and DeWitt, particularly, are very good, given how little they have to work with; Judy Greer, likewise, makes something uncomfortably credible of a part that could easily have slid into caricature.

 

It’s a shame, however, that Reitman is more concerned with a banal thesis based on flattening the differences between people, than with the kind of drama that emerges from their complexity. Substituting characters for specimens, Men, Women & Children is as reductive as the new media it examines. There’s a certain grim irony, then, in the inevitable social media marketing campaign, which invited people to distil their inner thoughts to 135 characters and tag them with “#mwc”. Judging by the film’s disastrous performance at the U.S. box office, it seems not many people were interested. Perhaps they pre-emptively took Reitman’s message to heart, put down their smart-phones, and talked to each other instead – presumably about a film that had something more interesting to say.

 

David Turpin

16 See IFCO for details)
119 minutes.
Men, Women & Children is released 5th December.

Men, Women & Children – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Carrie

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DIR: Kimberly Peirce  • WRI: Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa • PRO: Kevin Misher • DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Lee Percy, Nancy Richardson •  DES: Carol Spier •  MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort

There is no doubt that I was incredibly sceptical about the idea of a Carrie remake. Brian De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Carrie – originally a novel by Stephen King – is a personal favourite. Undoubtedly creepy, the film – like many old horror classics – is perhaps made more pleasurable for a contemporary audience because of its camp qualities, owing to the time that has elapsed since it first appeared on screen. By today’s standards, immersed as we are in the horror generated by big-budget CGI affairs, De Palma’s Carrie seems quaint, and therefore – in my opinion – all the more enjoyable.

Although faithful to the narrative, director Kimberley Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) spins Carrie in a slightly different direction which has equal potential to please or irritate audiences. The horror aspect of the original film is stripped away, and in its place we have the story of teen bullying and high-school politics. While Carrie has – at its most basic level – always been a story about bullying, this film takes it a step further. By focusing on how bullying is perpetuated through the use of social media, Carrie resonates poignantly with today’s society in which many teens are victims of assaults mediated by online outlets. If you think that the original film’s famous shower scene is uncomfortable viewing, just add a smart-phone and it takes on a whole new level of vicious realism. By contemporising the film in this way, Carrie is made fresher and more appealing for a younger audience, although its infidelity to the horror conventions deployed in the original will not please old-school Carrie fans.

Chloë Grace Moretz – no stranger to the odd remake (think 2010’s Let Me In) – plays the protagonist. While certainly not as creepy and delightfully off-putting as Sissy Spacek’s depiction of Carrie, Moretz – with her wide-eyed innocence and youthful face – works extremely well in the role of a high-school teenager. Although technically just as pretty as the other girls, Moretz’s body language signifies the awkwardness of those in-between years, and a scene which takes place in a swimming pool at the beginning of the film poignantly encapsulates the alienating experience that outsiders like Carrie encounter in school.

However, the depiction of Carrie’s deranged mother Margaret White is disappointing. While the casting is perfect (who doesn’t love Julianne Moore?) it is a pity that although the film succeeds at modernising the characters and scenarios in Carrie, Margaret White remains relatively unchanged. While it is imperative that she is a creepy and sinister figure (as this is a large part of the story), it seems a shame that there is less of a creative re-imagining of her character than there is with the rest of the cast. Indeed, the film differentiates itself from the original by fleshing out high-school girls Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), which gives the film an interesting depth. Unfortunately, and despite her acting abilities, Moore’s dialogue seems to stem from the script of the original film, which ultimately feels disorientating in a context whereby there is an obvious attempt to breathe new life into something old.

2013’s Carrie works on a different level to its 1976 counterpart – as teen fare devoid of the horror and hysteria of the original – and will therefore make the story more accessible for a generation raised on Instagram. Whether that’s a good thing is perhaps debatable. Fans of the original will probably not be too impressed, but unfortunately this is somewhat inevitable when one chooses to remake an already much-loved film. They may not be laughing at you anymore Carrie. Arguably, they’ll be crying.

Heather Browning

16  (See IFCO for details)

99  mins

Carrie is released on 29th November 2013

Carrie – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcgOVzR9dHE

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