'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom'
It doesn’t take much for a film like ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ to work given what seems to be the universal, visceral thrill one gets just seeing dinosaurs cavorting on screen (Terrence Malick’s meanderings during ‘The Tree of Life’ notwithstanding). Throw in some charismatic performers like Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jeff Goldblum and you’ve upped the ante about what this second generation of ‘Jurassic’ movies can pull off.
Without giving too much away, what’s mildly fascinating is how the film’s central menace mirrors the film’s essence. ‘Fallen Kingdom’ owes its DNA to both the original series initially helmed by Steven Spielberg and to Colin Trevorrow’s recent reboot, crafting a monster that may feel at times ungainly but in the end provides a decent balance of thrills and chills. With the last ‘Jurassic World’, nostalgia for the past was the entire reason for the film’s being, literally going back to the set-pieces of Spielberg’s first ‘Jurassic Park’. This made for a movie that was amusing but unable to get out from under the shadow of what came before.
Picking up soon after ‘Jurassic World’, we get some of that ubiquitous “getting the band back together” rote stuff out of the way pretty quickly before the storyline goes into new, pretty odd directions. This time around, the script by Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly borrows liberally from the likes of ‘Frankenstein’, adding a gothic twist to the dino rampage. More interesting perhaps is the way that elements from ‘Jurassic World’ are questioned and reshaped, a clever bit of retconning that actually makes the previous film feel a little more substantial. This comes in the form not only of ethical conundrums, but even a sly nod to the controversy regarding appropriate footwear to don during dino chases.
Director J.A. Bayona (‘The Impossible’, ‘A Monster Calls’) does a terrific job at messing with some of Spielberg’s trademark shots, especially one where the “gaze of wonder” is deconstructed and the eye-highlight is given new meaning. This is film nerdiness writ large, of course, and it’s nice to see someone given the opportunity to play around with such a franchise and have fun with it.
One thing that works much better than feared is the widescreen aspect ratio. Spielberg shot with a relatively tall 1.85:1 framing, which provided much more headroom, allowing characters to stare in awe while leaves were plucked from high branches, all without tilting or recomposing the shot. Here, with a 2.4:1 Cinemascope look, there are unfortunately plenty of shots where the tops of the creatures are truncated when we focus on the humans. However, while at times it gets a bit silly, there is something to be said about having a T-Rex and the like at eye-level, hunched down so they can fit in the wide frame. This adds welcome clutter to the images and holds interest throughout the frame. It’s a bold decision to reframe the canvas this way, and despite serious reservations, I’m pleased to say that it works pretty well, especially in the moody interiors.
It’s these sequences that feel the most original of all the ‘Jurassic’ films, at least insofar as previous iterations haven’t really gone for such a ‘Nosferatu’ vibe. Eschewing jungle for stone corridors and well-appointed dungeons makes a fascinating habitat for giant prehistoric creatures. The surrealism of the ancient and the artifice-laden makes a lovely visual dynamic.
‘Fallen Kingdom’ does devolve a bit towards the end, when seemingly well-intentioned decisions inevitably lead to near holocaustic violence. Still, it’s a moment almost earned, so bully for the filmmakers for trying to have their cake and have a dinosaur eat it too.
While the table is set for mayhem to come, this flick still provides enough to bite into and enjoy. Thanks to some energetic filmmaking, a decent enough storyline and committed, tonally appropriate performance choices, ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ treats us to one of the more fun studio tentpoles this summer season.