Monday 9 July 2018

8-Year-Old Reviews: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Part 1

Yet if you can't go back to the island, how can you call it Jurassic World? Well, maybe we just need to change the meaning of that phrase. Ever since JPIII, the world has known about Isla Nublar. Jurassic World is a worldwide phenomenon. Yet even before the park was made public all those years ago, BioSyn was hunting for clues, wanting to get a piece of the resurrected dinosaur pie.

Wu leaving the island with the embryos is a pretty tantalizing sequel hook. Of course there are probably still nutters in the military desperate for Raptor Commando Squad, but why focus only on military applications? Indeed, what if Wu went further than InGen, and brought dinosaurs to the world on a scale they never imagined? Having a park populated with giant deadly carnivores is risky, but what about a number of smaller, safer parks with those baby Triceratops, Apatosaurus and Gallimimus, genetically altered to inhibit growth to create "pet" dinosaurs a fraction of the size? The dinosaurs aren't cheap now, but that's because they cared enough to do them right - in the absence of extinct species protection laws, who's to say some company or another will just create inferior knock-off dinosaurs from stolen DNA? Perhaps advances in genetic technology and recreation revolutionise the techniques, making them cheap and reliable enough for multiple applications. Soon dinosaurs could become as normalised as dogs, cats, horses and livestock are now.

The park may be gone, but it's still a Jurassic World. 
 - Me being a soothsayer, 3 years ago

There are good films, and there are bad films, so it seems to go. Some are universally accepted; others have a mixed reception; still more are curate's eggs or flawed masterpieces. As I've watched more films, read more about film theory, and engaged in my own criticism, I can never escape the same conclusion - film criticism is completely and utterly subjective. Films are art. How can it be otherwise?

Yet there's part of us as a collective so obsessed with quantification of everything, we end up applying maths to them - a certain rating, a certain percentage, a certain number. I'd say there absolutely is a place for maths in art, but to act as if it is the be-all-end-all of all artistic expression seems, to me, to be stripping subjectivity from the equation altogether. It's the difference between saying "this film is" and "I think this film is." One is an observation, the other is about what the film meant to you.

36-year-old Aly, is this just a roundabout way of trying to justify that you liked Jurassic World while still acknowledging its weaknesses?

More like trying to understand why I liked it, 8-year-old Aly. After all, there are dinosaur movies I - well, we - don't like, despite dinosaurs. I think it's because even the least celebrated Jurassic Park films have something in them that makes you think.

So this film made you think?

Oh, it sure did.

Me for another 2 hours.

Generally speaking, if a critic says something is "silly," "preposterous," "unbelievable," or otherwise stretches credulity without actually explaining why it is so without resorting to circular reasoning, then that acts as an indicator to me that said critic is mistaking their lack of understanding and/or imagination with a failure of verisimilitude.

"Well, I can't understand it, therefore nobody else could, therefore it's stupid and dumb!"

Exactly, Aly. Science Fiction is a great genre for separating the critic wheat from the chaff, because if a critic doesn't buy the theatrical ticket of accepting a world with robots or clones or spaceships, then how can the film stand a chance? We do this all the time with all sorts of films, yet even with science fiction, fantasy, and actual comic book films reigning supreme in theatres worldwide, some critics just completely fail to engage.

There's an amazing anecdote recounted by Mike Symons which struck me:

I have a fuzzy memory that I’m perhaps romanticizing, but want to share none the less… It was a conversation that took place in film school years and years ago between a young black writing student and a white teacher in the program. This teacher fancied themselves pretty progressive, literate in this history of African-American film and all that. And I guess that’s true in a way, but he was still not so subtly trying to get this student to write indie-style confrontational films about the subject of race, “because that’s what the world needs from young black artists!” Of course, the student was interested in coming at it a whole different way. He just laughed at the teacher and said, “Dude, I want to make the next Spider-man.” The disgusted look of  the teacher’s face was incredible. He could only respond in sputtering words, “Why do you want to make that trash?” The student replied in a way I will never forget…
“Because you think it’s trash.”
Obviously there are dynamics at play here which are very different in terms of a dinosaur aficionado riposting a snooty film critic's dismissal of a prehistorically inclined creature feature, but I feel a great empathy for that student.

Back when the first Jurassic Park came out, the reviews weren't always as kind as you'd think they'd be, given the film is now widely beloved (mostly through the benefit of hindsight.) It certainly wasn't as cruelly maligned as John Carpenter's The Thing, but even the positive reviews took pains to qualify their praise:

The movie delivers all too well on its promise to show us dinosaurs. We see them early and often, and they are indeed a triumph of special effects artistry, but the movie is lacking other qualities that it needs even more, such as a sense of awe and wonderment, and strong human story values.
 - Roger Ebert
In Jurassic Park, adapted from Michael Crichton’s 1990 best-seller, the dinosaurs — some benign, some terrifying, all wondrous — tap into the giddiest science-class daydreams you had as a kid. Created through a blend of computer-generated animation and electronically controlled models, they are so marvelous, and Spielberg choreographs their scenes with such wit, tension, and verve, that it’s easy to overlook the film’s obvious weaknesses: a plot that’s at once busy and thin, characters you like without caring about, a coy layer of blockbuster self-consciousness.
 - Owen Glieberman
As far as unpretentious Hollywood entertainment is concerned, it was a mediocre year. The fact that so many people enjoyed Jurassic Park and Sleepless in Seattle as if they were fresh rather than warmed-over genre romps, made me conclude that they were lucky to have seen fewer movies this year than I did.
 - Jonathan Rosenbaum
If only the humans were as impressive. Giving the film's best performance, Attenborough shines in a brief scene expressing Hammond's dismay at his failure and his dreams for another chance. Attenborough concisely captures the man's foolishness and disarming sense of wonder, effectively softened from the arrogant and ultimately doomed Hammond of the novel.
The others are merely passengers on Spielberg's technological express, their lack of dimension to be blamed on screenwriters Crichton and David Koepp, who - in addition to sparing the central characters - have eliminated or simplified the novel's most unsettling implications.
 - Jeff Shannon
Do the dinosaurs work?
Indeed they do.
Does anything else?
Not really.
The greatly anticipated "Jurassic Park," it turns out, is the poor little rich kid of this summer's movies. Everything that money can buy has been bought, and what an estimated $60 million can purchase is awfully impressive. But even in Hollywood there are things a blank check can't guarantee and the lack of those keeps this film from being more than one hell of an effective parlor trick.
All the imagination and effort (including 18 months of pre-production) that went into making the dinosaurs state-of-the-art exciting apparently left no time to make the people similarly believable or involving. In fact, when the big guys leave the screen, you'll be tempted to leave the theater with them.
 - Kenneth Turan

Aye, I learned not to trust anything critics say from an early age. Well, earlier. About the time Jurassic Park came out, there was a lot of Dinomania going about, as the adult population started to catch up with the children in terms of remembering that dinosaurs are cool. So, the very same year Jurassic Park came out, so too did a few... other dinosaur films.

Like this one.

And this one.

And, good grief, this one

Pray tell, Aly, how did those films go 25 years later?

Nowadays, Carnosaur is generally left out of Roger Corman's Greatest Hits (though for about 15 years it actually had more sequels than Jurassic Park did, and even in 2018 is currently tied), the Prehysteria! trilogy (yes really) is practically forgotten outside of dinosaur cinema fandom despite featuring the talents of the inimitable imitator Frank Welker, and Super Mario Bros. is notorious as a colossal failure on multiple levels. But before the film came out, folk were frighteningly eager to give something that looked like a complete disaster the benefit of the doubt, much as I imagine Sean Connery gave The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the benefit of the doubt.


I remember this Starlog magazine: it's probably still in a box in the house somewhere. I can't find a digitised version on the Starlog archives, but I do distinctly remember the previews for all the upcoming dinosaur films, and each one of them was puffed up to the sky.

You remember correctly. There was an interview with the set designer for Super Mario Bros., with nary a hint of the beleaguered production trouble that went on behind the scenes, and a full-page spread on Yoshi, who appeared for all of two minutes in the final film. Even as a wee lad, I could tell there was something a bit off with all the fluff pieces for films that just didn't look like they could be anywhere near comparable to Jurassic Park. Ah, the nostalgia!

In any case, most movie critics are human, and alas, many of them are very parochial: if there isn't enough human in it (at least as they can conceive it), then not only are they unwilling to make the psychological leap to care about something that isn't human, they think it's the fault of the filmmakers. "Sure, the dinosaurs are great, but what about the people?" This weird conceit is most evident in a (now apparently lost) review by David N. Buttersworth:

The problem with the film, plain and simple, is that it focuses all of its energies on the dinosaurs themselves.
The problem with this film about dinosaurs is that it focuses all of its energies on... the dinosaurs.

(OK, that's the only gif in this article. promise: keep in mind the internet & its love of simple moving images is still new for 8-year-old Aly.)

That said, some reviewers get it, including one generally positive review that Rotten Tomatoes bizarrely seems to consider a Rotten score:

The best thing about Jurassic Park is the way that fear never drives out wonder, wonder at the special effects that have realised dinosaurs so convincingly, but also at the dinosaurs in their own right. These vivid apparitions are the warm-blooded, agile and in some cases unexpectedly resourceful creatures of new wave palaeobiology. Fear without wonder is a gruelling experience, just as wonder unclouded by fear can be an insipid one.
 - Adam Mars-Jones

So this doesn't turn into a monster of a review, I've split it into a few pieces.


Wheesht. For now, the hot takes:

  • From my perspective, I found Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom a much better experience than Jurassic World, even if I enjoyed both. While the 2015 film was competently and serviceably made, I found the 2018 film to be much more rewarding and imaginative. As of writing, I've seen it multiple times, and each prompted new observations.
  • I would also say I enjoyed it more than the unfairly maligned Jurassic Park 3, and even the misunderstood Spielberg-directed The Lost World. As a cinematic experience, I found that it was generally tighter-paced and had more individual character.
  • Michael Giacchino's score was amazing, drawing not only from John Williams' existing majestic scores, but taking inspiration from composers like Max Steiner, Mario Nascimbene, and Jerome Moross to evoke classic dinosaur cinema
  • There's a lot of great Pacific Rim-style worldbuilding, seen in brief moments, background details, and newscast exposition which contextualises the new Jurassic World we find ourselves in.
  • Outside a few moments that seem purely fanservice for nostalgic 90s kids (hey! As a child of 1984 I can claim to be an 80s kid too!), the callbacks and references to the previous films are generally unobtrusive and thematically appropriate, far more than the rather fourth-wall-buckling equivalents in its predecessor.
  • The direction and cinematography is excellent, as would be expected from J.A. Boyena and Óscar Faura, with several inventive moments and camera shots, especially two thrilling long takes and many beautifully composed shots. This is crucial, because things like this are more evident on repeat viewings.
  • The film understands that the dinosaurs are the stars, and devotes much more of the film to their characters than the previous film. Obviously Blue, Rexy, and the demonic Murderaptor have significant screentime, but Brachiosaurus and Stygimoloch have some great moments. Even dinosaurs with comparatively brief appearances, - like the Allosaurus, Baryonyx, Carnotaurus, Sinoceratops, as well as the non-dinosaur Mosasaurus - have reappearances which make them more than one-scene wonders.
  • The human actors were competent and believable, largely due to a greater use of physical props. Tiny but essential touches like covering ears when the Tyrannosaurus roars in your face, the visceral reality of dinosaur spit or blood on human actors' faces, or unconscious reactions to animal movements that you only get with physical props moving, lead to much more memorable dinosaur-human interactions.
  • Outside a few really good lines (several borrowed from Crichton's own work that didn't make it into previous films), the script is... there.
  • There's a nice wee post-credit sequence that says a lot more than I think it intended.
Of course, I cannot be an impartial reviewer, because it's a film about dinosaurs. Nonetheless, I think if you go into the film with the cinematic ticket in hand, and don't worry too much about physics or scriptwriting or what we currently know about dinosaurs, then I think there's enough in there for a surprisingly thoughtful action film that throws a few questions in the atmosphere like volcanos erupting viscous lava.

Right now, the reaction to the film is mixed at best. Some hate it, some like it, some even love it. Too early to say what my ultimate thoughts are. But I think it has more to its parts than the sum.


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