EVERY JURASSIC PARK FILM (INCLUDING FALLEN KINGDOM), RATED AND REVIEWED

Today, the 6th of June 2018, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom comes out here in the UK. Whilst too young to have enjoyed the first instalment of this franchise upon its initial release, I do have fond memories of watching the movie and its sequels around the turn of the millennia. One particularly vivid memory – and it is strange the things we remember – is of my anger at a most irritating placement of an ad break during a television broadcast of the first film, just as a Tyrannosaurus rex tore the roof off the toilet in which cowardly lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) hid, ruining one of the film’s most entertaining and iconic scenes with three minutes of unrelated adverts. Then came a hiatus of over a decade in which I didn’t watch any of them. In fact, I don’t remember caring much when I heard the first Jurassic World was coming out, as I’ve generally not been impressed with most franchise revivals (Star Wars prequel trilogy anyone?).

It may then surprise some of you to learn that I have tickets to see Fallen Kingdom this afternoon, the very first day it hits the silver screen. This is largely because of my girlfriend who, unlike me, never forgot about that world of prehistoric beasts. Since being together, we have seen all four films at least once every six months or so. Having stepped away from this world during my adolescence means that unlike Gloria, who grew with them, I have seen them from two vastly different perspectives: through the eyes of an excited child, to whom trips to London’s Natural History Museum to see the dinosaur skeletons were always the highlight of any week and voraciously consumed anything on the subject with unrestrained excitement (I never once missed an episode of the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs, and my first iMAX experience was a trip to that by Glasgow’s Science Centre aged 12 to see Dinosaurs Alive!); and as an adult for whom theme alone is not enough to really enjoy a film.

 

In anticipation of our cinema trip later today, here is what Gloria and I think of each move in the franchise (so far):

 

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Jurassic Park (1993)
A: The original and still the best. Abounds with iconic scenes (clever use of a reflective door is a personal favourite). The concept was like nothing seen before, the dinosaurs in both appearance and behaviour are largely accurate for its time (as for that matter are most concepts of genetics and technology), and despite its ambition the story feels believable. It’s a movie that is exciting, serious, scary, and funny in equal measure and more importantly knows the right time and place for each. Alan (Sam Neill) and Ellie’s (Laura Dern) professional and “personal” chemistry is palpable and yet Jurassic Park resists any attempt to add any explicitly romantic twists to the plot. Exciting and genuinely fun yet somehow equally mature and sophisticated. What I’d give to drive through those gates…
9/10

G: Innovative. The first commercial movie to deal explicitly with humans and dinosaurs, and they got it just right. The special effects were not only amazing for the era, but have aged spectacularly well and are as watchable now as they were then. Overall, the ensemble of characters are endearing and have enough depth. The T-rex encounter while trapped in the car when the power goes out is one of the finest scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen, and Spielberg’s skilful manipulation of pacing in the scene in the kitchen makes it one of the most tense and exciting in the film.
10/10

 

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
A: My biggest issue with this film is the casting, which lost the two strongest performances from the original (Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, of course) whilst keeping less likeable characters such as Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) – not a bad performance may I add, but simply a character I find to be intrinsically annoying, though thankfully less so than I find him to be in the first movie (in which he is fairly two-dimensional). Whilst the casting and storyline at times feel distinctly like the result of a cash cow spin off situation, the dinosaur chases are phenomenal and there are enough enjoyable scenes for this to be a worthwhile watch.
5/10

G: This one definitely feels more like another film about dinosaurs than a genuine sequel to the first. The Lost World finds its feet after a fairly weak opening, getting into gear just in time for the return to the franchise’s dinosaur-packed islands. The characters are frustratingly poor: Malcom is arrogant and frustrating, Sarah (Julianne Moore) is imprudent and irresponsible, and Owen (Vince Vaughn) is quite simply unnecessary. It is a group of characters in dire need of a leader that inspires confidence, crying out for the safe hands of Alan Grant.
7/10

 

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Jurassic Park III (2001)
A: A welcome return for Alan and, very briefly, Ellie too, with chemistry intact (though the introduction of her husband and their young child explicitly suggest the relationship to be nothing more than a friendship). I loved the abandoned feel of the island, setting the action firmly in dinosaur territory and adding to the sense of tension throughout. The much smaller ensemble and return to a more “brains over brawn” approach is also a definite improvement over the explosions and machine guns that were so prominent the second. This film strips away technology and science for a much simpler approach, building the story around the most basic concept of all: survival.
7/10

G: Glad to see the strongest characters back from the first movie, ditching The Lost World’s disjointed collection of irritating characters for a group firmly bound by the desire to survive. The group’s seemingly unshakeable teamwork – in particular the unspoken understanding and acceptance of the fact that people make mistakes and that sometimes bad things are done with good intentions – creates a real sense of family between all of the humans stuck on the island. This makes for an interesting turn from the more conventional human adversaries of the previous films in the series, and makes this one of the most simple and pure feeling films in the series.
8.5/10

 

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Jurassic World (2015)
A: A strange mix of unnecessarily futuristic technology (including hamster balls for humans and irresponsibly dangerous hybrid “designer” dinosaurs, something frankly ridiculous if we’re to believe this movie is set in a post-Jurassic-Park-catastrophe world) and disappointingly outdated and fictionalised dinosaurs (I won’t go into details as there are many much longer articles than this one dedicated solely to the subject). Jurassic World tries to capture the essence of Jurassic Park, but gets the balance wrong in my opinion, with the inclusion of comedic lines during some potentially quite tense moments and the unsubtle and predictable approach to developing the relationship between Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) – completely lacking the subtlety and tact that made that of Alan and Ellie so special – particularly disappointing when compared to the original. To its credit the film is a visual masterpiece and the reliance on animatronics is worth its weight in gold. If only those dinosaurs were accurate.
2/10

G: Tries way too hard to be funny and lighthearted, with pretty much all of the characters lacking a certain earnestness from which the film would have benefitted. I am also not a fan of the domesticated and frankly dog-like portrayal of dinosaurs: we’ve lost the focus on archaeology and palaeontology in exchange for dinosaurs that are dealt with from a purely financial perspective. I did like the final twist in which the Velociraptor Blue teams up with T-rex to defeat Indominus rex, and of course loved the long-awaited return to the Jurassic Park universe.
6.5/10

 

UPDATE:

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2017)
A: Tries, successfully, to be more emotional than the previous effort, which I liked. The film poses serious questions about the ethics of our manipulation and exploitation of nature and the morality of the economically motivated forces behind it. Unfortunately it also seems heavier on both special effects (I would have preferred more animatronics and less CGI) and action (which comes flying at you from all angles almost non-stop throughout). There was absolutely no mention of palaeontology or the natural biology of dinosaurs, instead choosing to focus on increasingly ridiculous (in name, appearance, and behaviour) hybrids, which are discussed and treated as though they were contemporary animals. The film is enjoyable enough, but felt less Jurassic Park than any other instalment in the franchise yet. No spoilers here, but the ending seems to open doors for expansion beyond the limits of those infamous islands, and even beyond dinosaurs themselves. I personally would have slightly altered the ending (to one that would firmly close the doors to any further damage to the franchise more films), but given its takings at the box-office I’m sure we’re in for a few more.
4/10

G: Nothing in this film blew me away as some aspects of the original “Park” films do, but I did really enjoy the more “intimate” moments shared with dinosaurs, as this film allows us closer to the dinosaurs and for longer than arguably any of the others. Some of the realism seems to have been lost, with Fallen Kingdom turning the series from the original sense of travelling back in time towards an increasingly science fiction universe. Whilst the constant action makes for exciting viewing, there were one too many near-misses casualty-free to be even remotely credible. Bayona (the director) and his team have made excellent use of not only lighting and shadows, but the cinematography and artistic direction itself to generating tension. I’ll be interested to see what I think after a second viewing…
6.5/10

10 THINGS I LOVE AND HATE ABOUT YOU

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Love

  1. The most entertaining modern-day Shakespeare adaptation since Scarface (Macbeth). I was schooled in England, which meant a lot of Shakespeare was read (and watched). I once played Romeo onstage. Undoubtedly a result of a burn-out of sorts, I have developed a tendency to ignore all things Shakespeare – a condition not helped by the ceaseless use of the Shakespeare “brand” to rip off tourists – much like how our brains will stop registering physical landmarks given sufficient exposure (I would pass the Palace of Westminster without so much as a glance returning home from Leicester Square’s casinos or the Southbank Undercroft). And whilst not all of Shakespeare’s work may have been entirely original, cough cough, it sometimes takes a disguise like 10 Things to remind me that whoever is really to thank for writing/plagiarising his (/her/their, depending on who you ask) stories definitely knew how to write/pick a good one. A pleasant surprise, that I was watching The Taming of the Shrew dawned on me only once the film was underway (if I had known before, I had completely forgotten); I sat down to watch it knowing nothing but that it is one of my girlfriend’s favourites.
  1. Not just another cheesy romantic comedy aimed at preteen girls. I believe this film is as good an example as any of why one should never judge a book by its cover. In my defence, I haven’t ever refused to watch it: I don’t care about genre (all have both gems and turds) and will never knock a film before watching it myself (don’t believe the hype). But nevertheless, over the years I have chosen other films (often significantly worse, in retrospect) over 10 Things I Hate About You, such as when spending loose change on movies in thrift shops, picking something on streaming sites, and the like. I don’t know why (possibly actually the incredibly boring cover), but I expected something more generic, more normal, more “ok”. That’s not to say this is the best comedy I’ve ever seen – and it’s possible the experience was enhanced by its following a week-long thriller binge – but it massively exceeded my (admittedly modest) expectations and was much less alienating (as a young adult male watching it for the first time) than I expected.
  1. Nostalgia. I know, weird right? As mentioned above, I hadn’t actually seen this movie before, I didn’t grow up in America, go to a co-ed high school (and definitely had less fun than the characters in the movie), or ever get paid to seduce a girl so a classmate could date her sister (unbelievable, I know). But as a young adult slowly adjusting to wage slips, bills, and taxes, it did stir up happy memories of both the pettiness of the worries of student life and the fun I so recently left behind (my university year were the most care free and enjoyable of my 24 on Earth so far). I was taken aback that a first viewing of a film could have a similar (albeit less intense) emotional impact to that of, say, each American Pie binge with my best friend since graduating (and yes we watch all of them, including the bad ones: “American Pie Presents” I’m looking at y’all) – a genuine nostalgia, given that it is the continuation of a tradition we ourselves started in our high school years over a decade ago.
  1. Chemistry. This film strikes a nice balance: genuinely funny yet emotional enough when it counts, whilst maintaining a sort of easy lightheartedness and innocence throughout. In my opinion most significantly, the film has captured a most authentic sense of friendship between the cast. Apparently Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles – whose characters (Patrick and Kat, respectively) date in the movie – themselves dated during filming and David Krumholtz (who played Michael) has credited the film’s success to the real-life friendships formed on set:

    The cast was experiencing what I’ve since found to be all too rare: a unified chemistry throughout the ensemble, without a single bad apple in the bunch. We all agreed that we were having the best summer of our lives.

  1. The cast. Whilst friends played by real friends and a couple played by a real couple arguably makes for a fairly straightforward job for the cast (all jokes aside, Stiles’ performance is particularly strong), many have gone on to have rather fruitful careers; Whilst protagonists Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Cameron), Stiles, and Ledger have had arguably the best careers in the (almost) two decades post- 10 Things, a surprising number of the young cast are still familiar faces on screen. Either way it’s always fun to see actors “back in the day”.

 

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“Hate”

  1. The cast. Ok, I don’t actually hate the cast. More accurately, it saddened me to see a Heath Ledger looking so young, relaxed, and happy, in the context of his untimely and tragic passing. A phenomenal talent from the start – 10 Things serving as his breakout performance in American film – to finish – winning the second ever posthumous Academy Award for acting with his perfect rendition of The Joker in The Dark Knight, and the youngest posthumous Oscar winner ever, by over a decade – it saddens me to think of the wonderful talent that was lost. But what really breaks my heart is to think of the future he had ahead of him but didn’t get to live, the daughter he didn’t get to see grow, and the family and friends he left behind.
  1. Nostalgia. Nostalgia is always a little bittersweet. But, with real-world adulthood looming, looking back at my youth and those beloved university years that came and went in a flash, the realisation that 1999 was nearly two decades ago (already?!), and a poignant reminder that life is both delicate and fleeting is enough to send me into an existentialist crisis if I pay it too much thought. Thank goodness it was a comedy and not a coming of age drama.
  1. Not just another cheesy romantic comedy aimed at preteen girls. On a slightly cheerier note, I really wish this revelation (mentioned in point 2) had come sooner, as both storyline and setting would have been more relevant and relatable whilst at high school myself, being force fed Shakespeare like there’s no tomorrow.
  1. The guitar.* (If you don’t mind a little spoiler or have already seen the movie, you’ll find this point if you scroll down. If you do, please ignore the paragraph after point 10.)
  1. That I didn’t hate it. Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* As if Kat, a strong, stubborn, and intelligent young woman, one scarred enough by past experiences to have literally chosen to transform herself from one of the most popular young ladies at school to a loner, having let someone past that tough facade into her surprisingly delicate world only to find out he was paid to do it would ever trust him again (or any other men, for a while at least), beautiful Stratocaster or not. Of course, as viewers we know how Patrick really feels, and it really is the right outcome, but – much like assuming a cat is a mammal because it has four legs like a dog, which is also a mammal – one can reach a correct conclusion through faulty logic (after all, a lizard also has four legs). Having witnessed the lengths needed to win her heart in the first place, I highly doubt any gift would be enough. Great guitar though.

Five films that (almost) everyone can enjoy this Halloween

I would guess that I have my mother’s enthusiasm for all things spooky to thank for my love of my dad’s birthday (happy birthday my favourite old[er] dude!), or, more accurately, the celebration he shares his birthday with: Halloween. Whilst the meaning of this day has changed with cultural beliefs and religious practices, I am glad we have retained the “dressing up as scary stuff” aspect of Samhain, even if (most of us) are no longer trying to scare off ghosts and other malevolent spirits. Growing up I used to look forward to my mum’s halloween parties more than any other annual celebration, and still love decorating the house and opening the door to young trick or treaters out in pursuit of whatever goodies they can get their hands on. But there is another reason I love this date, and it is that All Hallow’s Eve inspires so many who normally stay well clear of anything of the sort to dip their feet into the world of scary movies (which I am usually otherwise forced to watch alone).

Of course, there are a billion lists already available online covering “the scariest films of all time”, “best horror/insert-horror-subgenre-here films of all time”, “best new horror movies”, etc., so you’ll be happy to learn that this is going to be something at least a little different. Below you will find a list of films (of no specific genre) to watch on Halloween, but offer something more than just being scary. I back this approach for a few reasons:

  1. Not everyone is scared by the same things, and so if a film’s only strength is its “scariness” and little else, the impact of the film will vary by the degree to which you possess a certain phobia. What’s more, much like can happen when someone describes a food as “spicy”, you may accidentally invite a pissing-contest in which people begin to joke around and make light of a film (in an attempt to show how unfazed they are or something), which whilst sometimes a good laugh (particularly with “so-bad-they’re-good” gems, although that’s kind of the point I suppose) can ruin the experience for everyone else. After all, most fictional works are more enjoyable when one can suspend disbelief and lose themselves in the story.
  2. I believe at least most of the core facets of what makes a film “good” to be universally applicable rather than genre specific: having an interesting or engaging plot or concept, the strength of the acting, possessing a strong art style/cinematography, and many more.
  3. There’s something for everyone, or at least a better response to the person at your halloween gathering who won’t join in watching something because they “just don’t see the point of scaring yourself” (and frankly more reason to watch a film altogether).
  4. I save myself some grief at the hands of the Genre-Police (ever notice those comments something along the lines of “Actually, x or y movie isn’t horror, but psychological thriller”?). More to the point, many films outside the conventional genres of horror/thriller (and their infinite sub-genres) can also match the definition of “horror” (a thing causing an intense feeling of fear, shock, dismay, disgust, anxiety, or nervousness).

 

So, without further ado, my list of Halloween recommendations:

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Nominated for 7 and winning no less than all “big five” Academy Awards (including Best  Actor for Hopkins’s 16 minutes of screen time), this one really needs no introduction. Hannibal Lecter has become one of cinema’s most iconic – and chilling – characters for very good reason. (A good one to reach for in the company of film snobs).

 

I Saw the Devil (2010)

This Korean masterpiece is as beautifully filmed as it is unflinchingly savage. A cruel, tense, and violent, yet incredibly human and emotional (if you can see beyond the blood), game of cat and mouse.

 

Goodnight Mommy (2015)

This Austrian film plays with some real (and terrifying) psychological conditions (such as Capgras syndrome), and is a triumph in artistic style, concept, and storyline, which through a series of twists and turns will make you question what you accept to be real.

 

The Invitation (2016)

Slow and steady wins the race. Another beautifully shot movie that plays wonderfully with human psychology, this time in the context of a dinner party between old friends. This film controls both pace and tension levels throughout to create a complex emotional rollercoaster, tackling many difficult themes from relationships to death along the way.

 

Hush (2016)

This film takes a familiar horror movie setting – an isolated house in the woods – and ramps up the tension by excluding an entire sense: the protagonist is deaf. I love that this movie has a leading character whose disability is not the crux of the film but is rather an aspect of her character used to change one’s perspective of an otherwise clichéd concept, which I see as both ingenious (from a storyline perspective) and empowering . What’s more the film stays engaging despite the scarcity of dialogue and being filmed at a single location, which speaks volumes of not only the storyline itself, but also the movie’s direction and cinematography.

 

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