So this week, for movie night, we watched Die Hard, in honour of Alan Rickman and his general awesomeness. Which was cool, because it's a great film, and it's been many years since I last saw it, and we let Ewan stay up with us and watch it too, as part of an ongoing project to expand his cultural education. We also took Robert to see The Force Awakens, which he really enjoyed, applauding the appearance of X-wings, covering his eyes at Kylo Ren and yelling "No Way!!" at that moment. All very successful. And for anyone keeping score, then yes, thats a 13-year-old watching an 18-rated movie* and a 5-year-old at a 12A. Don't tell my mum! So I'm going to take this post to go back and catch up a movie we watched over the Xmas break; Jurassic World.
One of the reasons it is worth mentioning The Force Awakens is that the return of the Star Wars franchise to the big screen is steeping in knowing nostalgia, but then uses it to leverage in new characters and story arcs under that familiarity. It feels intended to build a platform to go forward with, whilst wrapping it's arms around you and reassuring you that it will still be familiar. Which makes and interesting contrast to Jurassic World, which feels content to roll around in it's nostalgia without ever really looking like it has a vision to the it's own thing. What it ends up doing is mostly just reminding you of how great a film Jurassic Park was.
After two sequels already then, this is a sort of soft reboot; a sequel to Jurassic Park that pretends the other two don't exist. Did they happen? It's unclear. Anyway, finally we see the Park as John Hammond envisioned it; thousands of visitors here to gaze upon "something real", his dinosaurs recreated for the paying public. The opening movements of the film build up the smooth and regular operation of the park, introduce a cast of characters to become imperilled, and the side plot about dubious military-industrial interests at work in the background. And then, of course, it all goes to hell as the engineered super-dino escapes into the wild and causes havoc.
It's really hard not to compare Jurassic World to Jurassic Park because it's so consistantly calling back to that earlier film. It nearly manages to do something clever with it too - nearly manages to build a theme about the need to create an artifically bigger, better version of something that is already successful, about having to up the stakes to keep the punters happy. People aren't awed by CGI dinosaurs anymore, so we need a CGI dinosaur with chameleon skin. They've seen Raptors eat people so now we need semi-trained Raptors that follow Chris Pratt around on his motorbike and then eat people. The idea that the Park itself, within the world, has these challenges, is a solid idea, that sits undeveloped in the background. If Jurassic Park was a movie in smart conversation with it's own status as a heavily merchandised blockbuster, Jurassic World is a movie that has some scribbled notes marked "talk about something clever here, maybe?"
What you are left with then is a film steeped in nostalgia that doesn't do very much with it other than be a lot of fun. It's not a bad thing, really - its charming, and well paced, the cast is good, and the dino-mayhem is entertaining and varied. I did really enjoy it, and the above criticisms are driven not from what the film does badly, but from what it forgets to do at all. It remembers to deliver spectacle, it remembers to be a adventure with a little bit of scare and a little bit of laughter. Many, many blockbusters completely fudge both these, so its functional quality shouldn't be underestimated.
But any power it has is drawn from the call-backs to it's illustrious ancestor. The familiar John Williams theme is held back from key moments, most noticably a wonderfully melancholy sequence in the ruins of the original Park centre. The end of the movie gets a big cheer out of the thrill of recognition of one of the original movies stars, something held back clearly for that moment. And that works; the nostalgia carries the emotional weight that the rest of the film lacks, but can't quite hide it's fundementally hollow core.
* Die Hard was reclassified to a 15 certificate a few years back, but the box we have still says 18.