Kklak! Dinosaurs bit back!
Minor spoilers included
It is impossible to spoil Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as the trailers have already spelt out most of the plot: volcano erupts, dinosaurs in danger, heroes to the rescue, heroes betrayed, villains sell off dinosaurs and create an even more horrible creature, Indoraptor, who breaks free and stalks a little girl in a creepy Gothic mansion.
Even having seen the movie, I emerged wondering exactly how this latter, unpredictable turn had happened but, with J.A.Bayona, director of The Orphanage, at the helm, maybe I should have expected it.
The result is as if 2000AD’s notorious comic strip “Flesh”, about time travelling Dino-hunters meeting grisly ends, was, instead, created for Misty, the girls’ comic of horror and the supernatural.
As surprisingly usual, the trailers also give away some of the final moments of the film, notably a not-much-of-a-context shot of a Mosasaurus rising beneath a wave to feast on a surfer. As a seasoned film goer, I had easily spotted that this shot would be barely connected to the film. In fact, I thought that the film makers were having a dig at another movie, the yet to be released The Meg, about a 75 foot Megladon on the loose. However, I suspect the scene was largely included as a in-joke as it mirrors mysterious film clip, premiered at a 2013 German Star Wars convention, of a flying quetzalcoatlus grabbing a surfer and lifting him into the air.
Jurassic Worrld: Fallen Kingdom is not without a sense of humour. For example, there’s a news bulletin discussing global warming and the dinosaurs plight that has a text running across the screen that suggests that the President of the United States doubts that dinosaurs ever existed. This has, of course, raised the ire of the internet’s right wing who are busy claiming that the film is leftist, Liberal propaganda. But they have been deliberately teased .There’s a certain hubris to a film that seems, at times, to comment on itself. I wasn’t sure what a shot of a Lion roaring at a T-Rex was supposed to signify; pride comes before a fallen kingdom?
Jurassic Worrld: Fallen Kingdom has attracted a lot of negative press that I don’t think the film deserves. Vox has judged it to be “Soulless”, “Tired and contrived” scolded the Telegraph, while The Verge (Vox’s operations partner) found it to be ‘A stunning disappointment.” But the Jurassic Park films have always been a little disappointing ever since Stephen Spielberg decided to pull the teeth from Michael Creighton’s dinosaurs and turn his book into family friendly entertainment instead of ‘Jaws on Land’ which people, including myself, had been hoping for. So I don’t know what fans have been hoping for.
The scenes Spielberg left out from the original novel were worked into later films, so if it is the book that fans want, that dinosaur has well and truly left the island and, now, even the island doesn’t exist anymore because, not that far from the beginning of this film, Isla Nubla, Jurassic Park’s geographic and spiritual home, is blown to pieces by a volcano.
Many thought that Jurassic World would fulfil their dream of seeing the park up and running as John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) always wanted. The problem was that Jurassic World was a kind of Dino-Disneyland, complete with fun rides and goofy characters , even if they really wanted to meet and eat you. The dinosaurs also took back seat to Chris Pratt’s almost comical square jawed posturing, the travails of Jurassic Word’s Assists Manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a not terribly exciting man made hybrid named Indominous Rex with barely used chameleon-like abilities.
(Barely used because what would be the point of creating a gigantic scary monster that you couldn’t see on screen?).
It is hard to over emphasise how totally out of step with the previous movies these developments were. Since Jurassic Park, the protagonists in film had mostly been science nerds and the antagonists had been the dinosaurs who were just doing their nature-ish thing without the direction of humans.
Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs were neither heroes nor victims as they were in Jurassic World. But all that newly crafted baggage is back again, with Pratt and Howard joined by a cast of dinosaur wranglers and two young members of Dearing’s eco-concerned, Dinosaur Protection Group: Zia and Franklin, played respectively by YouTube star Daniela Pineda , apparently renowned for lampooning women’s issues (sounds charming?!) and Justice Smith , who, jaw dropingly , plays comedy relief as a whimpering coward prone to slapstick mishaps. It’s a useful reminder that, when it comes to representing African Americans in film, Hollywood is still in the Stone Age.
Once we leave the island, Jurassic Worrld: Fallen Kingdom becomes ‘gothic’ in tone. The film contains a lot of settings familiar from gothic fiction, notably the vast mansion owned by John Hammond’s financial collaborator, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) that looms over a dark, isolated forest. But the gothic was also about emotion, provoking sublime terror of the unknown. I am not sure that Bayona achieves that.
For a start, there is very little about the film’s marketing department has left unknown. Everything has been shown to us. Also, he director cuts away from suspenseful scenes such as a the Indoraptor crunching its way across a glass roof towards the protagonists. The smattering of parent-accompanied-children, who left at the end of the film, reassured their parents that “they weren’t scared, not really, not much.”
Jurassic Worrld: Fallen Kingdom does engage with a defining characteristic of the gothic genre: the Uncanny, defined by the way gothic romances make familiar objects strange, including us. In Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm was presented as slightly reptilian, with a leather skin jacket and a tongue that pressed between the scientist’s lips seemed to taste the chaos in the air. Bayona does a similar trick with Lockward’s granddaughter, Maisie, played by Isabella Sermon. We are first introduced to her as she pretends to be a dinosaur and scuttles unseen among the undergrowth of Lockwood’s personal dinosaur exhibition and, when Grady tries to tempt her out of her hiding place in a dumb waiter. Their interaction recalls the moments when he tries to bond with the velociraptors. Maisie herself is a gothic trope, evoking the uncanny through “doubling”, sometimes represented in the form of a doppelganger.
It is true that Bayona recapitulates the work of Spielberg, but he still his own man. This film is beautifully shot. The dinosaurs never looked better. Watch out for a moment where a velociraptors shadow is cast over the trees by the headlights of a car. The images hold the film together from beginning to the end. However, Bayona doesn’t seem to know how to end. Spielberg captured the theme of Jurassic Park in a single scene: the T-Rex roaring triumphantly as a banner reading “When Dinosaurs ruled the Earth” flutters to the ground. But how can you find a shot that will encompass Jurassic Worrld: Fallen Kingdom’s themes of mankind’s impact on the environment and the chilling potential of a future where genetic engineering itself has gone on the rampage? Instead, we are ‘treated’ to scene after scene, one of which is post credits.
I wanted Bayona to stop with a marvellous composition involving a raptor atop a triceratops skull, but, instead, the director treats us to varied, intentionally emblematic moments backed by Ian Malcolm’s rambling narration that sounds like Jeff Goldblum’s outtakes from an earlier scene. It’s as if Fallen Kingdom has exploded the narrative of Jurassic Park and can’t entirely put it back in the box.
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide. His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip. He reviewed comics and films in posts and podcasts for the Mindless Ones until he became a net diva and forgot to name check the rest of the team at a San Diego Comic Con. panel. The Mindless Ones gave him the nickname ‘Tymbus’.