Thursday, 11 June 2015
Is there any film whose special effects conjured up such a sense of awe and wonder as Jurassic Park (apart, perhaps, from Star Wars)? Steven Spielberg’s 1993 instalment — sandwiched between Hook and Schindler’s List — effectively gave mankind their first fully-rendered look at the fearfully great lizards (or “dinosaurs”) whose existence on Planet Earth preceded ours by some 65 million years. Based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, the film functioned as both an enthralling sci-fi adventure and a parable about the dangers of tampering with DNA. With its two sequels, including the Spielberg-directed Lost World, having failed to inspire the same degree of adoration, what does Jurassic World bring to the franchise some fourteen years on, long enough that, by Hollywood standards, it might well have been thought extinct?
First and foremost is the amazement. We are introduced to the new and revamped park through the eyes of Gray and Zach Mitchell (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), a pair of familiarly archetypal brothers — the quiet, geeky preteen and the slightly dickish older brother who’s glued to his phone. Having bade farewell to their parents, including a sadly sidelined Judy Greer (Kitty in Arrested Development, Caesar’s wife in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), they’re expecting to spend a long weekend with their estranged aunt, Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who, as the park’s operations manager, is predictably too busy to spend time with them, palming them off on an ill-fated nanny. Even with its aerial view of the gleaming Disney-esque park and 20,000+ guests, the film holds off revealing its animal inhabitants — the first animal we see is, nostalgically, a holographic Brachiosaurus — until the optimum moment and then… wow.
Photorealistic dinosaurs are hardly a first for cinema, but Jurassic World definitely serves to remind us how long it’s been since last we gazed upon a Velociraptor — now under the supervision of trainer Owen Grady (a cool, level-headed Chris Pratt), who both respects and fears them. One of the film’s key themes is that audiences have grown bored with the standard dino fare, demanding bigger and more extravagant thrills. The film certainly provides this in the form of the water-dwelling, Great White-devouring mosaurus and the high-tech gyrospheres — no guessing what happens to one of them — but it also remembers what made the original such a delight: the balance between thrilling action and majestic imagery. The controversial main attraction is the genetically modified Indominus rex, a monstrous, mysterious T-rex hybrid (sponsored by Verizon no less) that enjoys lurking in the foliage and crunching InGen employees. It’s escape is both ill-time and, of course, inevitable.
Colin Trevorrow’s film crucially both pays homage to and moves beyond its predecessors. For every shot of the old visitor centre — that old familiar banner now lying, of course, in pieces — there’s something new, and even those elements that seem initially silly, like the raptor pack and the villainous rex, come to feel like natural developments. As well as the understated chemistry of Howard and Pratt — she’s corporate, he’s a rebel with a trailer, they’re a perfect match etc., etc. — and the impressively un-cloying kids, Jurassic World adds Vincent D’Onofrio’s militaristic security chief, Irrfan Khan’s eccentric CEO (very much of the Hammond mould), and Omar Sy’s wrangler Barry to the list of potential raptor bait. As lineups go, it’s hardly a great leap forward, but there’s enough heart and craft on display to forgive the familiarity.
IN BRIEF: With its John Williams score and adherence to the formula, Jurassic World ends up almost, if not quite, Spielberg worthy. The dino buddies may be a step too cheesy — to quote Tenacious D., “That’s f***king teamwork!” — there’s a lot to like here. There’s real Spielbergian warmth and spectacle, an impressive cast; everything a film needs to have even the most jaded cinema-goer grinning in their seat. It’s hard to imagine there’ll be another theme park after this, but it goes to show there’s plenty of life in the old fossil yet.
Jurassic World gets a 6.5 out of 10
Wednesday, 10 June 2015
– and for McCarthy to stretch her comedy chops. To the film's credit, Spy mostly avoids simply making fun of Susan herself, socially awkward though she may be, preferring to use her as foil to a host of outrageous characters, including Jason Statham as intense braggart Rick Ford1 and Rose Byrne as a horrifically entitled villainess who can't remember the names of her henchmen. From pursuing a suspect through the streets of Paris to gambling in a luxury Roman casino, Spy also subverts the old cliches: Susan's cover stories are distinctly unglamorous – "I look like someone's homophobic aunt" – and her gadgets range from a poison dart rape whistle to pepper spray disguised as anti-fungal spray, but, by flipping the Bond formula on its head, the film ends up being strangely empowering. Better natured than Kingsman, less ironic than Austin Powers, Spy aims for playful homage rather than outright parody and mostly hits its target. Brits Miranda Hart and Peter Serafinowicz provide able support as Susan's gawky colleague Nancy and pervy Italian informant Aldo2, though Bobby Cannavale and Morena Baccarin are given little room to breathe. Nevertheless, these are characters you want to spend time with, both vulgar and lovable; they might even withstand a couple of sequels.3
Spy gets a 6 out of 10
1 To wit: "I watched the love of my life fall out a plane and get hit by another plane."
2 As one-note jokes/characters go, it's a good one.
3 Plus any film that puts Allison Janney in essentially the same role as J.K. Simmons in Burn After Reading is okay by me.