Thursday, 18 June 2015

Jurassic World

Jurassic World takes place in an appalling alternative universe in which bratty teenagers are completely numb to the sheer magic of a Tyrannosaurus Rex grinding a goat to mulch. Pre-release press and Universal's ad campaign seemed to share this detached indifference, selling hard on the kind of corporate cynicism that dictates we need a brand new Super Dinosaur and a pack of rehabilitated Velociraptors.

JP4's mammal characters are split between fans and cynics. Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) and raptor handler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) are the enthusiasts, allowing themselves to be wowed. They react to the animals as they are, rather than how they might want them to be. Gray's older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) and his Auntie Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the resort's Operations Manager, understand the dinosaurs as abstracts that confer different kinds of value. Claire sees them as interchangeable assets to be managed, Zach gets to throb around the teenage girls they attract.

Colin Trevorrow falls in with the enthusiasts, elevating the special effects to featured players with character detailing to rival the human lead's admittedly slim pickings. Owen and Claire are closer to premises than fully-rounded characters. Their interactions have a similar irritated frisson as Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone, but that's about it.

Claire's big character moment is outrunning an apex predator in the heels she has stubbornly refused to relinquish. Owen is an all-purpose action man relegated to the role of babysitter for the finale. Claire and Owen's relationship never really adds up to anything more important than a way to ape an iconic shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The real stars are, obviously, the dinosaurs.

Jurassic World's latest attraction is the Indominus Rex, a committee shaped chimera that gobbles up siblings and is blessed with a suite of camouflage techniques. There's an open contempt at work in how Indominus has been designed, her outline is essentially that of a Rex but with muscular talons replacing that species' vestigial arms.

Owen, speaking with the authority of God, describes the Indominus as being the prehistoric equivalent of a psychopath. She isn't just isolated, she knowingly resides outside any prescribed social order. She's never existed before so she doesn't know any limits. It's an interesting point, is it expected that these resurrected beasts are functioning with a race memory? Do they instinctively fit into roles or are they remembering them from their original, pre-extinction lives?

In this sense, it's easy to enjoy the Indominus' rampage. The park scientists cooked up a truly satanic dinosaur in an attempt to impress Verizon Wireless enough to part with some sponsorship money. Everyone expects it to play ball, being just threatening and monstrous enough that the communication company's executives are pleased with it.

Indominus should be a product that confers a sense of dynamism, instead it's a crocodile mawed hag that rends anything it comes into contact with. She's not defending herself, she's actively, aggressively seeking conflict. How's that for a company mascot?

Glimpsed as pliant missiles tracking alongside Chris Pratt's motorcycle in early trailers, JP4's raptors are, thankfully, very far from being domesticated. The crackpot plan to use them as bloodhounds to track the Indominus fails miserably, handing the Indominus a pack of stooges to take the fall while she makes her escape. This solves one of the bigger conceptual hurdles Jurassic World had to mantle - there can be no good or bad dinosaurs, they should all instead be barbed mouths that flex and snap for chaotic reasons.

Trevorrow and his special effects teams approach the feature monsters with a sense of reverence, the Tyrannosaurus Rex in particular is treated with the kind of awe and affection you'd expect for an ageing star. It's not unlike how Terminator: Salvation presented its digital Arnold, an indefatigable icon that shoulders tremendous punishment because the filmmakers know it's a great idea on loan from a better film.

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