The problem with nostalgia is that it makes us forget the way things really were. Case in point, Jurassic Park – the 1993 blockbuster that wowed audiences with its photorealistic dinosaurs and left a deep footprint in popular culture. Spielberg’s mind was elsewhere of course, he already had a foot in the holocaust, and consequently the parts of his monster movie that weren’t landmark visual effects were undercooked. The characters were thin, the story nigh on extinct, making Park a poor relation to Jaws. Yet the movie’s endured, despite Spielberg’s botched second attempt at getting it right (The Lost World) and Joe Johnson’s wan third chapter.
Now we have Jurassic World, a fairly bland reprise of the original, as befits a movie directed by a man named Colin. The new movie trades on the memory of the old with great efficiency, going so far as to recreate that sense of emptiness and anti-climax felt by Spielberg fans when the original was over.
World has one ace up its sleeve however, it’s wryly aware of its own redundancy. The self-reflexive story has the bean counters who run the park order a new Frankenstein-predator to reintroduce the wow factor for seen-it-all-before visitors. That’s a pertinent if obvious comment on familiarity breeding indifference in cinema audiences.
The solution, one would think, would be to write a movie that had characters so vivid and three dimensional that a crowd inured to computer generated killer beasts would be engrossed on a human level, so walk away buzzing. But Colin Trevorrow’s followed the argument of his story a little too closely. In the real world, as in the movie, the attempt at reinvigorating the audience ends in disappointment for the whole family. Trevorrow’s failed to solve the park’s Achilles heel: it’s a necropolis for humans. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are likable enough but they’re made of straw just as surely as the reptiles are made of pixels.
What Jurassic World shows vividly is now important Spielberg’s direction was in compensating, at least in part, for the human void at the heart of these stories. World has scale to match the first two movies, but it’s bereft of style. Without that, without Spielberg’s ability to add dynamism and artistry in composition to setpieces, you have a very pedestrian ride indeed.
Michael Giacchino’s score underlines the problem. He’s fast becoming Hollywood’s pastiche artist in residence – a man whose generic cues in the romantic style of old evoke the likes of John Williams without ever threatening to match them for melodic quality and variation. He and Trevorrow are well paired in that regard; they’re both trying to orchestrate a conscious throwback to a style of blockbuster neither of them are skilled enough to pull off. When you consider Jurassic Park was a flabby adventure by Spielberg’s standards – a movie that was good without being great on account of the world’s most commercially successful director working half-cocked, then the new movie is, in effect, a second rate version of a second rate film.
The truth, and if you’re a computer animator I invite you to look away now, is that the only way to reintroduce a sense of awe and wonder into blockbusters in this age of wall to wall CGI is to take a chance on characterisation. These movies need a Brody, Hooper and Quint. Perhaps then we’ll care when one gets eaten, one just escapes with his life and the other destroys the movie’s big bad. It’s worth a shot.