Friday, 26 June 2015

Jurassic World

Has there ever been a year in which the Hollywood box office has relied so much on its past successes as 2015?

From the reunion of the main cast from the original Star Wars to tooling Arnie up again for Terminator Genisys, some of cinema’s best known and most loved franchises are making a return this year, and the recent success of Jurassic World (which became the first film ever to take over $500 million worldwide in its opening weekend) suggests that there’s much profit to be had in audience nostalgia.

But surely nostalgia is a finite resource? The original Jurassic Park, for instance, is full of brilliant moments that remain entrenched in the collective pop cultural conscious, moments that Jurassic World is as enamored by as the rest of us - most of its money shots make direct references to them. But the problem is director Colin Trevorrow and the rest of the filmmakers involved in this reboot offer nothing new and exciting beyond reverence of the original, and as such, for all its financial success, their film is never going to be remembered in future years as anything more than an inferior copy.

Early on a meta-commentary is established that initially seems slyly aware of the difficulty the film has establishing itself as a worthy picture in its own right. ‘No-ones impressed by a dinosaur anymore’ says Bryce Dallas Howard’s corporate character; ‘Consumers want them bigger, louder - more teeth’. But unfortunately the film’s answer to this dilemma is the ‘Indominus Rex’, a genetically modified half-T Rex, half-velociraptor that reeks of a lack of imagination.

As with so many big-budget films these days, ‘bigger, louder - more teeth’ translates to yet more CGI. The consensus in Hollywood is that the limitless possibilities of what can be digitally put on screen through computer pixels is the way to satisfy their audience’s desire for spectacle; unlike the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, of which huge, animatronic models were built to supplement the special effects (see right), the Indominus Rex is an exclusively computer-generated creation. But, as Mad Max: Fury Road recently proved by eschewing effects for stunts wherever possible, digitally-created virtual reality is never a match for the visceral feel of watching filmed real objects moving in real space.

This over-reliance on CGI often also means that more basic components like story and character are overlooked. Whereas Jurassic Park featured a charismatic and eccentric cast of characters, cringe-worthy children and women constructed by sexist cliches make up the new film’s universe - even Chris Pratt’s effortless charisma is here flattened into a dull, run-of-the-mill alpha male lead. And the tone is erratic, lurching from unconvincing sentimentality to mean-spirited deaths.  

Among all its faults, there is one scene that does seem to have captured the imagination and looks as though it could be remembered for years to come - the shot of Chris Pratt, arms outstretched, attempting to subdue his trained velociraptors, has launched a popular meme, with copycat versions spreading across the internet. But it’s interesting to note that this scene first came to prominence not as a moment in the film, but as a moment in the many trailers that contributed to the huge pre-release marketing campaign. Perhaps our future memories of today’s films won’t stem from what we see in the cinema, but instead from the endless hype that precedes the actual viewing experience.