Sunday, June 21, 2015
Jurassic World: Bloody dinosaurs
Steven Spielberg’s first dino-disaster film, Jurassic Park, was an event in itself. Apart from changing the landscape of computer-generated imagery in Hollywood, it was instrumental in triggering global interest in the science of genetic engineering (no exaggeration!). The first sighting of the long-necked brachiosaurus in Isla Nublar by Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler inspired awe and wonder. When it leapt on its hind legs to chew on leaves, you knew it was a moment of cinematic brilliance.
The fourth installment of the series, Jurassic World, is directed by Colin Treverrow, whose first film, Safety Not Guaranteed, was shot with a budget of less than a million dollars. Interestingly, Jurassic World was released on June 11, the same date that Jurassic Park released in 1993. The new film was supposedly conceived as one that would introduce the Jurassic films for a new generation. Tough ask, really.
So, 22 years and three films later, what does filmmaker Colin Trevorrow do to reinvent the franchise for a generation that has been witness to spectacles like James Cameron’s Avatar and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings? Nothing much, really. There is a dialogue early on in the film that aptly reflects the makers’ dilemma (Steven Spielberg is the executive producer). Claire, the park’s operations manager, admits that the visitors don’t care much about dinosaurs anymore and that it’d have to take newer attractions to make them spend money.
Jurassic World is just a rehashed plotline, featuring two kids stranded on a guided tour of the fully functional park and a dinosaur nicknamed Indominus Rex, a result of the genetic fusion of T-Rex and other violent species, on the loose. The characters of the film remain pretty muchthe same: a greedy businessman (this time, an Indian played by Irrfan Khan), a cautious animal trainer, Owen Brady (Chris Pratt), and two young children on the run. With the exception of Henry Wu (B. D. Wong), no other character from the previous films find a place in the narrative. His presence as the genetic scientist is symptomatic of the makers’ attempt to bring in cooler and bigger dinosaurs.
To its credit, the new film features some stupendous action set pieces, consisting of both men fighting dinosaurs and dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs. The film especially delivers in the last 20 minutes, in which the Indominus Rex battles its more docile cousin. Otherwise, Jurassic World neither inspires awe like Jurassic Park nor manages to adequately explain the science behind genetic modification. Throwing bigger and more ferocious dinosaurs at the audience clearly doesn’t make the film better.
Jurassic Park, if you can overlook the simplistic philosophical blather, was at the least an effective cautionary tale against messing with nature for profit. Its sequel, The Lost World, could also be seen in that light. In this film, the basic idea of producing dinosaurs in the lab to create a theme park gets an approval. The problem, the narrative seems to suggest, lies in billionaires wanting to milk the nature ‘too much’. It is about creating a Jurassic Park with a human face. This is definitely a change of philosophy.
The film may have benefited greatly if it had taken a lesson or two from another Steven Spielberg disaster film, Jaws, wherein he, inspired by master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, created dramatic tension not by showing us the shark constantly, but by concealing its image for the first hour.
However, there is no reason to believe that the Jurassic franchise will not survive. But how must it reinvent itself? There is a clever sequence in the film where velociraptors, trained by Owen, are used to hunt down the elusive Indominus Rex. There is even a suggestion that these beasts could be used as a deadly weapon in the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan. Imagine this — patriotic American dinosaurs, velociraptors and T-Rex, sent to the Middle East to fight terrorists. Now, that’s a Jurassic sequel I would like to see.