Review: Jurassic World

In a year of supposed blockbusters, where most so far are proving to be pretty disappointing experiences, along comes another much hyped, and much anticipated event movie which fails to buck the trend.  My anticipation for this film was quite high last year, but as the trailer campaign progressed I grew less interested as it looked to be more Jurassic Park 3 than 1 or 2 (yes, even 2 has some redeeming features).  The ropey CGI seen in the trailers didn’t worry me too much as surely they would refine that in post production…surely?

Jurassic World, as many will tell you, is the spiritual successor to the first film.  Ignoring the side stories of the different islands of the previous sequels, this film is set decades after the events of the first film, and a fully operational dinosaur park has been established.  However, bizarrely it didn’t take the population of the planet too long to tire of dinosaurs (even though the packed streets and attractions of the park that we keep seeing kind of contradict that contrived plot element), and so the park works at not only extracting more DNA from fossils, but also mixing up their own new brand of dinosaur.  Enter the deadly Indominus Rex, a genetically bred mix of mysterious origins (although the twist of where the DNA came from isn’t although clever although so it thinks, being easy to work out in the first lines of dialogue introducing the beast).  Cue Rex escaping and rampaging over the island, putting park guests and exhibits in danger.  Included in them are the nephews of the park controller, the generic military madman who wants to use dinosaurs as weapons, the nerdy worker in the control room, and Chris Pratt in a role that seems like an afterthought which was expanded when Guardians of the Galaxy proved popular.

Let me first of all get off my chest that this is yet another film  in which unnecessary conversion to 3D actually helps damage the experience thanks to some genuinely poor composting of multiple images.  In crowd scenes, the live action characters are mapped poorly among CGI constructs, resulting in moments where they seem to be mapped ahead of other people when they should be behind.  Shots in motion result in a bending of scenery (and in some cases limbs) as the forced perspective struggles to keep up with the changing visual perspective.  The jarring effect of such poor rendering snaps you out of the film, and you end up unable to really immerse yourself in the events on screen.  In addition, this is yet another action film where converting to 3D makes it so that too much is going on in some moments for your eyes to follow, and I had to close one eye on occasion just to keep up with the visuals on screen.  When combined with some sloppy CGI which quite clearly wasn’t improved after the trailers, it doesn’t make for a great experience.  The dinosaurs look great, however, but it is the many CGI park shots that fail spectacularly.

But even without the 3D and ropey CGI, the film is nothing more than an average experience, marginally better than the third film was, but nothing more.  The characters are dull, generic drones, with Pratt suffering the most from a part that (as mentioned) seems to have been expanded once his popularity exploded last year.  The story setting – a packed theme park – should have led to more peril than we had seen in previous films, but instead we only really have a small number of people in peril, aside from one small moment when crowds (who mysteriously vanish minutes later) are attacked.  A few half baked forced nods to the original film (and seriously, how long do batteries last in equipment that is decades old?) make it seem that the director desperately wants you to love his film as much ands that old one.  Continuity between shots suffered at times, and I get the feeling there are some late re shoots and additions forced in which account for the problems (especially as most involve Pratt and Howard’s characters, which further highlight the expanded minor role previously mentioned).

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But, hey, maybe I’m being too picky.  After all, surely all that people want from the film is dinosaurs?  Well, if so then the film does deliver.  The effects for the dinosaurs are great, with all the favourites in the mix, and the new Rex being a gloriously terrifying creation (although also an inconsistent one in the tracking abilities it is said to have).  The roar chills, the skin detail is disturbingly real, and the creations all fit well into the scenes.  It’s just a shame that the human elements are so weak, as instead of us being thrilled at the peril on screen, we are nought but visitors to a theme park ourselves,  watching the dinosaurs with a modicum of interest, but internally feeling a bit tired of seeing things we have seen 3 times before.

Jurassic World will no doubt thrill the easily pleased who just want dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs, but to those of us who prefer there to be some semblance of plot, characters, or drama (you know…human element) in our films, then it is nothing more than forgettable eye candy destined to be looked back on as just another sequel.

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What I learned re-watching the Mad Max films recently.

***Note: I originally intended to post this before the release of Fury Road, but didn’t get round to finishing it.***

With Mad Max Fury Road finally arriving on the big screens over a decade after it was originally intended to be made (and if you still haven’t seen it, then get out and do so now), it seemed an opportune time to revisit the films about Max, the road warrior.  It has been a long while since I last saw any of these films – in fact it was round the release of Beyond Thunderdome, a film so disappointing at the time that it retroactively destroyed all memories of the first two films.  Whilst re watching the trilogy, I began to realise a few things about the series, and why they are so iconic.

1: The first film is the only ‘true’ story of Max
Now, I’m not trying to claim that there really is a road warrior out in the Australian outback, ramming cars into bikes, trucks, and strange men in gyro copters.  No, what I’m saying is that the first film is the only part of the series that is realistic and restrained to some kind of grounded setting.  As the origin story for our protagonist, it is told as is, not via voice over of someone telling the tale.  Grounded in reality it may look cheap at times (hey, it was a low budget film), but it tells  powerful story of a lawman who tries to put his family first, but loses everything and is pushed over the edge.  By the end of the film to all intents and purposes Max has lost his mind and gone off the deep end.  The Mad of the title can be seen not as a word for angry, but for genuine insanity.

2: Kids imaginations are responsible for the bondage-punks style of the villains
Mad Max 2 introduced the , mythical aspect of the road warrior by telling the tale via flashback.  The opening and closing is narrated by an elderly tribe leader, talking about his encounter with the mysterious stranger.  The thing is, as we find out to the end (did I say spoiler alert?), the narrator is the feral boy from the film, a primitive character who was quite clearly a disturbed young child (he had a bladed boomerang – that’s not normal).  The story he is telling is quite clearly exaggerated by his childhood memories, and likely enhanced to make for a better story.  So, the good guys dress in white (or cream colours), the bad guys have weird masks, spiked leather bondage clothes, and drive cars built out of Satan’s meccano.  This is similar to when you start to tell your mates about that time you got in a fight on a night out, but realise that the reality (that you were beaten up by a girl and ended up a bloodied mess on the floor crying) wasn’t that impressive, so you add 14 armed bouncers to the mix, who you deftly took out one by one until that one guy sucker-punched you.  Yup, the events of the second film were probably just a small argument at a petrol station which turned into a bit of a fight, but as told by this aging madman it becomes a mythical adventure, inspired by old stories of lone cowboys fighting off bandits.
Now Fury Road may seem to dismiss this theory, as the opening voice over is by Max, but to which I refer you to the last line of the first point.

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Hold on..that's Weird Science! Ah well..

3: Practical effects from decades ago look better than modern CGI
Look, they just do, you can’t deny it.  Whilst some CGI can look great (the recent Planet of the Apes films for example), so much today looks cartoon like and fails to impress.  When you watch CGI cars flipping around in Transformers films, you can’t help notice that they are bouncing wrong (we all know how gravity works).  Now, regardless of how old it is, if you have a shot of a real car smashing through a real bus, it will always look like a car smashing a bus because, well,  it is.  Same goes for dismemberment and blood spurts – yes, it does look a bit fake at times, but the fact it was done practically with models and fluids makes it still work better than doing similar with CGI.  Thankfully the new film, according to reports, knows this and we can expect real stunts and blood bags ahoy in Fury Road.

4: Thunderdome wasn’t actually that bad
Look, it is a bit of a mess, and mashes two stories (Bartertown and the plane survivors) unconvincingly, and Tina Turner is a bad choice, but it still has some great moments.  Just accept it as a warped tale being told by an aging survivor trying to recite his encounter with Max, possibly whilst getting drunk with his mates (see point 2), and you can find it a lot easier to accept the failings of the film.

5: They can tell any tale in this world
Thanks to the mythical nature of the series since that second film, you can spin any story out of the setting.  Seriously, think about it for a second.  Say, for example, someone came up with the idea to pit Max against a mutated hyper-intelligent dog, well they could easily add a back story of genetic research being conducted some time before the fall of civilization, and we’d just chew it up and accept it so long as it had cars and bad guys in bondage.

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Even epic vehicles like this!

This is also why everyone has been quite accepting about the new film being made.  Bear in mind that reboots and remakes get a bad rep, with many judging before it is even made, Fury Road was warmly embraced from day one, even when it was made clear that Mel Gibson wasn’t coming back.  The world collectively said, “So what? Just give us cars and carnage!”  Think of Max in the same way as James Bond, anyone can play the role so long as it sticks to the basic conventions of the setting (Bond = spy, Max = twisted future).  Although if in the next film (which has a script ready to go) Max drives an invisible buggy to an ice castle, I’m out.

RIP Sir Christopher Lee (1922 – 2015)

Another one of the greats has left us.  Sir Christopher Lee passed away on Sunday morning, with the news only breaking today as they wanted to ensure that family and close friends were informed first.

Lee is an actor who, at 93 years old, must have had an impact on pretty much every generation of film viewer today, with him being fondly remembered for a variety of roles.

For myself, I first discovered his work through roles such as Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun, or as Rochefort in the Musketeer films, along with his iconic turns in the Hammer Horror films (I was quite a young viewer of Hammer films on TV, lapping up the theatrics and dread).  Films such as Wickerman came to my attention at a much later time, which meant there was a body of work that I could explore more of as I got older.

Never an actor to take himself too seriously, his appearances in films such as Spielberg’s (unfairly) maligned comedy 1941, or as a mad professor in Gremlins 2, showed a degree of humour he possessed (although the less said about Police Academy: Mission to Moscow the better).  Even in interviews he had a gentle wit, such as when he was quoted as saying, “Somebody once asked me how I found Peter Jackson, and I said: ‘Well, I parted his hair, and there he was.'”

In more recent times he has found a new audience through roles in the Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings, and varied Tim Burton films, and even when those films haven’t quite been as good as you would hope, there was no denying that Lee stood out and made his scenes engross and entice you.  As he said himself, “Every actor has to make terrible films from time to time, but the trick is never to be terrible in them.”

All of that iconic work, and without mentioning the same gravitas he brought to TV roles in dramas such as Gormenghast, or voice roles such as the Discworld series (animations Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music, and live action Colour of Magic) as the voice of Death.

Rest in peace – as the great man himself once said, “To be a legend, you’ve either got to be dead or excessively old!”  Well, he got to life to a fantastic age, and his legacy of work will ensure that he will live on forever.