Monday, December 14, 2015

Jurassic World

(Colin Trevorrow, USA, 2015)

I remain something of an agnostic on the subject of Steven Spielberg.  There's a lot to say about his work, for and against, and about the effect of his movies on the culture of cinema at large.  Such is a subject for another day, but while watching Jurassic World I found myself
unexpectedly wistful for his knack with the action/adventure blockbuster, a genre that he helped invent.  Given how far this film falls short, I couldn't help but wonder: is it really that difficult to make an even mildly diverting action/adventure film?  To go by the evidence on display, the answer is yes, and our man Steve is one of the very few who can reliably pull it off.  Given the hoopla - by which I suppose I really mean money - I was expecting something, oh, I don't know, fun.  But Jurassic World is a big, lumbering snooze.  The script is that conspicuous combination of ample zingers and utter banality, the unmistakable mark of having been re-written to death, micromanaged and fretted over by a committee of suits.  Trevorrow's direction fairly screams "competence!"; like the characters, he's just hoping to get out of the park alive.  Given the aforementioned piles of cash money that the film made, I'm sure he'll do fine.  I can only imagine the kind of soul-sucking, nerve-singeing task it must've been to midwife a film like this through its undoubtedly brutal delivery into the world, but the job, going by what ended up on screen, was essentially managerial.   The theme of genetic modification, sedulously faithful to the original,  makes for an apt metaphor: the experience is lab-designed, impressive technically but undoubtedly artificial.

Back to Spielberg: it's clear that the mission here was to bottle and sell the winning combination of childlike wonder, science geek-out, and genuine thrills that made the original such a gas.  Jurassic Park is no masterpiece, but it remains a sterling example of a film that can be both smart and pretty dumb, fun and also scary, technically brilliant but not cold and impersonal.   Trevorrow tries to follow Spielberg's example, foregrounding the story of a family in crisis, adopting a fluid, relatively clear visual style, and trying to imbue the proceedings with a clever sense of humor.  Very little of it works.  You can see the blueprint behind the images, and the film becomes a kind of pastiche of well-intentioned entertainment.  Chris Pratt, a focused and able performer, is wasted in a cartoon role, and Bryce Dallas Howard doesn't fare much better.  I'll admit to wondering what the big deal was.

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