‘CHANGE IS LIKE DEATH…’
When, prior the film’s release, it was revealed that Fallen Kingdom clocks in at just a few minutes longer than the two-hour, four-minute Jurassic World, I was, frankly, a little disappointed. Many viewers — fans and critics alike — have complimented the blistering, breathless pace of Trevorrow’s film, but, for me, it took away from it. For me, the price of that pace was robbing the audience of the chance to really take in where they were, and what was going on. It felt like the story needed another twenty minutes or so, and, having walked out of the cinema mere hours ago (at the time of writing, of course), I’m sad to report that Fallen Kingdom has the same problem. This time, though, the price is much, much higher. This time, it doesn’t just rob the audience, but Nublar, too. The island where it all began gets nowhere near the send-off it deserves.
I am, honestly, baffled at how that section of the film was handled. I can’t believe it. The entire sequence, from arrival to departure, feels comically brief, and while it’s big on spectacle, it’s light on emotion (and logic…) — right up until the very end, when it delivers a scene so stunningly, heartbreakingly perfect that it’s sure to stand alongside Alan Grant’s first encounter with a brachiosaur as one of the franchise’s most memorable moments. Believe me, you’ll know it when you see it. It’s flawless… but not quite enough to redeem the bizarrely emotionless sequence that precedes it.
That, really, is my overarching issue with Fallen Kingdom: it’s never quite enough. While most of what is there is great, a series off baffling omissions, abrupt cuts and skipped set-ups lead much of the film to feel like a string of missed opportunities. (One particular reunion in the second half of the story left me all but open-mouthed at its complete lack of cohesion.)
And speaking of missed opportunities…
Made abundantly clear by my near-ceaseless ramblings on Twitter, one of the aspects of Fallen Kingdom I was most looking forward to was its soundtrack. While I was underwhelmed by some of his work on Jurassic World, the thematic material Giacchino delivered is truly fantastic; I was tremendously excited to see how it would evolve. Sadly, though, it doesn’t. Not really.
After some beautiful, sweeping reprises of Jurassic World’s wonderful theme towards the beginning of the tale, the score peters out into a series of unremarkable themes and, frankly, astoundingly tone-deaf omissions. Though they are alluded to, there are no clear statements of Jurassic Park’s classic themes on Nublar (or, indeed, as it meets its end), and even Giacchino’s aforementioned material for Jurassic World feels underused. And while the Indoraptor’s sinister motif (arguably the theme of the film itself) is great, and some of the big, loud horror-style cues towards the end are, too, they’re not quite enough to redeem. In fact, great though they are, some of those horror-sytle cues feel incredibly intrusive — partly, I think, because it really doesn’t feel like there’s all that much music in the film (to such a degree that I’m surprised the accompanying album packs twenty-four tracks. If the tracklist wasn’t out there already, I would’ve hazarded a guess at half that… at most).
‘HOW IS THIS BETTER?!’
Thankfully, though, it’s not all as bad as it sounds. Despite everything I’ve said, I walked out of Fallen Kingdom feeling considerably more positive than I did as the credits rolled on Jurassic World. The things it left out may come to bother me more as time goes on and the film sinks in, but, as it stands, there’s a lot to like in there, too — even in the section spent on Nublar.
Though I was fundamentally disappointed by that sequence as a whole — not least because the layout of Jurassic World has changed considerably (pay attention to the location of both the monorail track and the volcano…) — there’s some fantastic use of sound throughout. From the moment we arrive on the island until the moment the excrement hits the cooling device, constant explosions and deep rumbles serve as a reminder that the place is unstable. And though A) the things we’ve heard about Nublar being ‘littered’ with corpses aren’t explored at all, and B) I would’ve liked some acknowledgement of the plethora of new species on the island, it’s great, nonetheless, to see so many new dinosaurs there. Far more than it did in 2015, Isla Nublar feels like a Jurassic world. And the visuals… Beautiful Disaster indeed.
The real stand-out, however, is the film’s second half. Though I do feel that the effect of Bayona’s ‘claustrophobic’, ‘gothic’ climax has been vastly exaggerated (it moves along at a clip only marginally slower than the rest of the movie), there are some truly spectacular scenes in there. Immediately followed by the moment that left me ‘all but open-mounted’ though it is, the nightmarish sequence in which the Indoraptor pays a visit to Maisie’s bedroom is excellent, featuring one incredibly striking visual after another.
In general, in fact, I found the Indoraptor to be a vast improvement on its big, white (most of the time…) predecessor. It’s vicious, menacing, and interacts with its environment in a throughly satisfying manner; it truly comes across as an animal to be feared, and though there is an atrocious moment in which it seems to literally smile at its own deviousness, it’s one of the best examples yet of sinister hyper-intelligence. My only regret is that it wasn’t given considerably more screen time.
Happily, though, the dinosaurs weren’t the only characters I enjoyed; I was pleasantly surprised by the humans, too. To get straight to the most important point, I was thrilled that Jeff Goldblum felt as though he was playing Ian Malcolm again, and not some version of his wonderfully eccentric self. His time in the film is, admittedly, painfully brief, but it still manages to be effective — and, with lines taken almost word-for-word from the pages of Crichton’s Jurassic Park, resonant.
But characters returning from Jurassic World were fine, too. I suspect it might have quite a bit to do with them coming as less of a shock than they did in the first film, but I enjoyed Owen and Claire a lot more this time around. On a very basic level, they seemed more natural than before, more genuine — Claire in particular, though I continue to feel that her transition from asset to activist wasn’t properly portrayed, has a notably satisfying arc, culminating in a credibly mature, emotional decision (one that facilities a perfect representation of Trevorrow’s various comments on the difference between children and adults).
Elsewhere, Dr. Wu — while he still fails to ring true to his character from Jurassic Park — doesn’t come across as as much of a super-villain as I’d feared he might, seeming to show some genuine fear as things start to veer off-course — and both Zia and Franklin, though they bring nothing remarkable to the table, prove to be okay, too (if a bit bland…).
Indeed, blandness aside, I was tremendously relieved that Franklin didn’t come across as irritating as he seemed in the trailers. He is annoying, don’t get me wrong, but — aside from a certain scream we’ve all seen and cringed at, and a horrific tension-breaker during the climax — he doesn’t take it quite as far as I’d feared he might. And, for the most part, the same can be said of the film’s comedy. It’s there, and it’s awful (one particular scene involving a slightly worse-for-wear Owen well and truly crosses the line), but it never gets quite as bad as I feared it might.
THE NEO-JURASSIC ERA
Admittedly, though, I could feel very differently when the initial buzz of finally seeing the kingdom fall wears off. My various thoughts are true to how I feel about the film now, but whether they’ll be the same when I take to my keyboard to compose some more thorough, spoiler-filled impressions at some point down the line, remains to be seen. Frankly, I guarantee that some of my frustrations about the misused soundtrack and the time spent on Nublar will gradually deepen into outright hate… but I’m not there yet.
As I mentioned earlier, I feel better about Fallen Kingdom than I did about Jurassic World. It makes some bizarre decisions, introduces elements that might prove to have been a step too far, and has a script that occasionally features writing as thoroughly dodgy as that of its predecessor, but it’s also a visual treat and, in a few incredibly satisfying moments of ‘Holy shit!’ brutality, well and truly makes dinosaurs scary again.
When I wrote about its second trailer back in February, I got quite a lot of shit for sharing the article with the statement that, ‘Jurassic Park is dead.’ Thing is, folks: it is. Fallen Kingdom is a different beast — I think, in fact, that’s why I was able to enjoy as much of it as I did. In being such a departure from what came before, it doesn’t feel quite as beholden to it. As a wise man said…
“Change is like death… you don’t know what it looks like until you’re standing at the gates.”
For better or worse, we’ve reached those gates. Welcome to the Jurassic world.