Review – Jurassic World

The very fact Colin Trevorrow’s mammoth monster movie has replaced the noun ‘park’ with ‘world’ in the title should give a pretty clear indication of the gargantuan aspirations of this latest entry in the dino franchise.

The film's box office stampede means a further installment is inevitable; one can only hope that engaging characters and a solid script aren't as extinct as in Jurassic World

The film’s box office stampede means a further installment is inevitable; one can only hope that engaging characters and a solid script aren’t as extinct as in Jurassic World

It hasn’t quite been 65 million years, but the wait for the fourth film built on the foundations of Michael Crichton’s novel has been long indeed, having been stuck in development hell like an insect trapped in amber for over a decade.

Now that it is finally here courtesy of Safety Not Guaranteed director Trevorrow, Jurassic World emerges as an occasionally thrilling, but ultimately flimsy exercise in 21st century blockbuster filmmaking.

The Mosasaurus jumps the shark in Jurassic World

The Mosasaurus jumps the shark in Jurassic World

With the odd exception, modern day tent pole releases trade-off on what went before whilst repackaging themselves in the hope that a big enough audience will simply shrug their shoulders and swallow what’s being served to them. Although Jurassic World isn’t as egregiously cynical as the likes of Transformers, it’s hard to ignore the suspicion the film is constantly apologising for bowing down at the altar of Steven Spielberg and stealing so shamelessly from the bearded one’s 1993 original.

Trevorrow and co may have felt that having frigid company mouthpiece Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) informing rugged-but-nice Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) that the genetically modified Indominus Rex has been cooked up in the lab because audiences expect the latest iteration to be bigger and better is self-referentially winking at the viewer, but it doesn’t excuse the fact Jurassic World is having its cake and eating it.

Isla Nublar's resident hunk Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) in Jurassic World

Isla Nublar’s resident hunk Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) in Jurassic World

There are other examples. The film makes a corporate sponsorship joke about naming its prize exhibit “Verizon Wireless Presents the Indominus Rex”, whilst having outrageous levels of product placement throughout. Furthermore, an incredulous Owen points out to Claire the foolishness running around a swampy rainforest in heels, but she somehow manages to anyway, even managing to outrun a T-Rex while holding a flare in a near carbon-copy rehash of Jurassic Park‘s most memorable scene (Trevorrow also employs Spielberg’s trademark camera zoom to someone’s face on numerous occasions).

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has a flare for the dramatic in Jurassic World

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has a flare for the dramatic in Jurassic World

Other aspects simply don’t make any sense. Why on earth, for instance, would the Indominus enclosure be guarded by a comically inept guard who’s more interested in throwing snacks down his gullet than checking on the whereabouts of probably the most dangerous animal on the planet? Also, if the Indominus somehow managed to jump over a 50ft fence, how the hell did no-one see it?

As for InGen security chief Vic Hoskins’ (Vincent D’Onofrio) hair-brained plan to turn Owen’s raptor pack into supersoldiers, the least said about that one the better.

Brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) look suitably scared in Jurassic World

Brothers Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) look suitably scared in Jurassic World

Compounded, these moments become increasingly frustrating and overshadow the parts of Jurassic World that do work. The dive-bombing pterosaur attack on the thousands of visitors herded into the resort is the highlight of the film and features its nastiest scene involving a character being dunked in and out of the water by a hungry pterosaur, only to become lunch for the Mosasaurus, a giant aquatic lizard that normally provides SeaWorld-style shows for guests.

A furious stampede of guests aping a herd of dinos is also a nice touch, as is a moment early in the film when a dramatic footprint is revealed to be that of a small bird – one that links us to the introduction of hapless brothers Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins).

Clever girl: Indominus Rex gets to work in Jurassic World

Clever girl: Indominus Rex gets to work in Jurassic World

Meanwhile, the final dino-tastic standoff is admittedly well handled and features a particularly satisfying denouement, but too much of what has come before involving the Indominus is either nicked from Aliens (1986) or Spielberg’s original.

The film’s box office stampede means a further installment is inevitable; one can only hope that engaging characters and a solid script aren’t as extinct as in Jurassic World.

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Review – Safety Not Guaranteed

Looking to fill a blank space in the September 1997 edition of Backwoods Home Magazine, employee John Silveira wrote a pithy classified ad as a joke.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed – “there’s enough heart here to earn a smile come the closing credits”

The ad stated: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before”.

Little did Silveira know that his throwaway paragraph would prove the inspiration for the low-budget Safety Not Guaranteed, a comedy-drama equal parts whimsical and melancholic from the mumblecore stable of American independents.

Disconnected and disillusioned Darius (Aubrey Plaza) interns at a Seattle magazine and volunteers with fellow staffer Arnau (Karan Soni) to assist writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) in tracking down the ad’s author in a sleepy seaside town. This turns out to be Kenneth (mumblecore alumnus Mark Duplass), an eccentric and paranoid supermarket employee who deals in conspiracy theories and is convinced secret agents are out to get him.

She poses as an applicant with her own reasons to want to travel back in time and wins the trust of the slightly obsessed, but kind-hearted loner, who sees in Darius a kindred spirit and someone who’s not afraid “to stare fear and danger in the eye and say ‘yes'”.

Darius at first indulges the child-like Kenneth’s plan to build a time machine, believing it to be nothing more than a fantasy, but as they spend more time together she finds herself increasingly attracted to the fellow misfit and starts to wonder if what he’s claiming is actually the real deal.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Kenneth (Mark Duplass) in Safety Not Guaranteed

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Kenneth (Mark Duplass) in Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed brings to mind the offbeat 1980 film Somewhere In Time, in which Christopher Reeve’s writer becomes so obsessed with a picture of an actress (played by Jane Seymour) that he travels back in time to 1912 to be with her.

Memory, in particular the desire to recapture and revisit a specific moment in time, is a prominent motif throughout the film. Darius, who has resigned herself to simply “expect the worst and try not to get my hopes up”, would rather return to when life was easier and made more sense.

According to Kenneth, the whole point of building his time machine is to prevent a tragic event from occurring, although as he lets slip to Darius, it’s actually more “about a time and a place” when he believes he was happiest.

Darius (Aubrey Plaza), Arnau (Karan Soni) and Jeff (Jake Johnson) try to track down the mysterious author of an unconventional ad in Safety Not Guaranteed

Darius (Aubrey Plaza), Arnau (Karan Soni) and Jeff (Jake Johnson) try to track down the mysterious author of an unconventional ad in Safety Not Guaranteed

The melancholic yearning for younger, less complicated days is also present in the character of Jeff, who uses the assignment to look up his first love, whom he has reminisced about and wondered ‘what if?’ for years. He also urges Arnau not to waste his youth and, in scenes reminiscent of Roger Dodger prises the young intern away from his laptop to introduce him to the world of girls.

Director Colin Trevorrow gives the film a lightness of touch that dilutes the sadness of Derek Connolly’s script. Duplass, who has made a career out of directing inward-looking adults with arrested development excels as Kenneth, bringing the right mix of oddball innocence to the role.

Plaza (from TV’s Parks and Recreation) has the face-slapped-with-a-wet-fish look down to a tee, but finds an endearing sweetness in her scenes with Duplass. Indeed, the moments when the two are training for their ‘mission’ are the highlights of the film.

Whether you buy the ending largely depends on how invested you are in the characters. Trevorrow for one tries his best to sell it, as do the cast, and while it doesn’t entirely convince there’s enough heart here to earn a smile come the closing credits.