If you haven’t seen Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom yet, then here’s something to watch out for. Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a BBC news report about the imminent destruction of Isla Nubar and the plight of the dinosaurs still on the island. Throughout the report, a news ticker tape runs along the bottom of the screen. If you can, pay close attention to the headlines that appear, and in particular, one that relates to a particular world leader… It’s one of the funniest things in the movie, and is actually quite subtle, but if you’re not in the know, it can be easily missed. As for the rest of the movie, well, that’s for another time and place.
Animation, Anna Paquin, Apatosaurus, Arlo, Dinosaurs, Disney, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Frances McDormand, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright, Peter Sohn, Pixar, Pterodactyls, Raymond Ochoa, Review, Sam Elliott, Spot, Steve Zahn, T-Rex
D: Peter Sohn / 93m
Cast: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Jack McGraw
Anyone going to see The Good Dinosaur should know a couple of things before they do. One: if you’re expecting a movie as enjoyable and as creative as Inside Out was earlier this year, then you’re going to be disappointed. And two: you’ll be surprised at how bland and pedestrian it all is.
Getting that out of the way at the beginning of this review makes it easier to write the following: Pixar should have let this one die in development. The movie has had a troubled history. Original director Bob Peterson was removed from the movie in 2013 because he couldn’t come up with a final, third act. All of the cast, with the exception of McDormand, were replaced, large chunks of the script were re-written, and the movie was re-scheduled for release two years after its original, planned release date (27 November 2013). All in all, it feels very much as if, having sunk an awful lot of money into the production, Pixar had a choice: write off the project entirely and take a large financial hit, or carry on in the hope that the finished product will be good enough to earn back its costs.
Obviously they chose the latter, but it was the wrong decision. The Good Dinosaur is a movie that any other animation company could have made, and that’s not what we should be saying about a Pixar movie. It may be unfair, but Pixar is synonymous with animation excellence, both in terms of the visuals and the stories. And while The Good Dinosaur contains some of the most photo-realistic animation ever, when it comes to the story, it becomes clear that it wasn’t only the third act that had problems. Once the basic premise is done with – meteor that wipes out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago misses the earth, leaving dinosaurs to evolve further – the movie doesn’t know if it wants to be the new The Land Before Time (1988), an out-and-out Western, or a distant narrative cousin to The Lion King (1994). And it doesn’t help that against all the beautifully rendered backdrops, we have an apatosaurus whose animation looks like it was sub-contracted out to Aardman (it’s Arlo’s eyes – take a look at Chicken Run (2000) and you’ll see what I mean).
But whichever story it’s trying to tell, it’s not strong enough to hold the audience’s attention, and scenes pass by that provoke ennui instead of engagement. Even the relationship between Arlo and Spot, normally something you could rely on Pixar to make affecting and charming, proves merely sufficient to the story’s needs, and the “inventiveness” of having Spot being the “pet” wears off pretty quickly. With the movie’s two lead characters lacking a way to connect with the audience, it further hinders the movie’s attempts to make itself a satisfying experience for the viewer.
The movie also has problems with its tone, as it mixes humorous elements with moments of terrible heartbreak, and there’s an unexpected sequence where Arlo and Spot get stoned. The introduction of friendly T-Rexes is a bit of a stretch, and leads to a campfire scene where you wonder if an homage to Blazing Saddles (1974) is on the cards (The Good Dinosaur has lots of these moments, ones that remind you of other, better movies). It all goes to reinforce the idea that Pixar have released their latest movie in the hopes that it’ll recoup its costs before anyone notices how disappointing it is.
Rating: 5/10 – saved from a lower score by the incredible visuals, which elevate the material just by being there, The Good Dinosaur is yet another unfortunate example of Pixar having (mostly) lost their way in recent years; even the talented voice cast can’t do much to improve things, and potential viewers will be better off waiting until Finding Dory (2016) is released for their next Pixar fix.
After taking a year off in 2014, Pixar are back this year with two new movies – it’s like having two Xmases. Inside Out has already charmed both critics and audiences alike, and by the look of The Good Dinosaur, it’s pretty certain that Pixar have come up with another winner. The story of what might have happened if a meteorite hadn’t hit Earth sixty-five million years ago, and the unlikely relationship that develops between an Apatosaurus named Arlo and a human child, this has attracted criticism for the way that Arlo looks against the photo-realistic background – check out the shot of leaves in the rain – but however he looks this is probably going to tug at the heartstrings just as effectively as the beautifully compiled montage in Up (2009).
Alan Taylor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Colin Trevorrow, Dinosaurs, Emilia Clarke, Indominus Rex, InGen, Irrfan Khan, Isla Nubar, J.K. Simmons, Jai Courtney, Jake Johnson, Jason Clarke, Judgment Day, Raptors, Sarah Connor, Sequels, Skynet, T-1000, T-800, Terminators, Vincent D'Onofrio
The third and fourth sequels in their respective franchises, Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys are that rare combination: reboots that feed off the original movies. And you could argue that they’re also remakes, in that they take the basic plots of those original movies and put their own – hopefully – nifty spins on them. But while there’s a definite fan base for both series, which means both movies should do well at the box office (enough to generate further sequels), is there enough “new stuff” in these movies to actually warrant seeing them in the first place, or getting excited about any future releases that are in the pipeline? (And let me say just now, that both movies have ensured that the possibility of further entries in both franchises will be an absolute certainty.)
Jurassic World (2015) / D: Colin Trevorrow / 124m
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus
Twenty-two years on from the disastrous attempt by John Hammond to open the world’s first dinosaur theme park, his dream has become a paying reality, but one that needs ever more impressive dinosaurs to keep visitors coming. Thanks to the backing of the park’s owner, Masrani (Khan), and the scientists responsible for cloning the park’s main attractions – led by Dr Henry Wu (Wong) – each new attraction strays further and further from the original concept of replicating the dinosaurs everyone is aware of. Now, Wu and his team have designed a new dinosaur, the so-called Indominus Rex, an intelligent, über-predator that is taller than a T. Rex and even more deadly.
When animal behavioural specialist Owen Grady (Pratt) is called in to assess the new dinosaur’s readiness for being shown to the public, he and park manager Claire (Howard) are unprepared for just how intelligent the Indominus Rex is; soon it escapes and begins to wreak havoc across the island. With an evacuation of over twenty thousand tourists going ahead, including Claire’s nephews Gray (Simpkins) and Zach (Robinson) who have strayed off the normal tourist track, Grady and Claire must try to keep everyone safe, as well as dealing with parent company InGen’s local representative, Hoskins (D’Onofrio), who sees Indominus Rex’s escape as a chance to prove that raptors – who have been trained by Grady – can be used as militarised weapons. But his strategy backfires, leaving everyone at risk from Indominus Rex and the raptors.
Given that Jurassic Park III (2001) was pretty much dismissed as so much dino guano on its release, the idea of making a fourth movie always seemed like a triumph of optimism over experience. And yet, Jurassic World is a triumph – albeit a small scale one – and while it doesn’t offer us anything really new (aside from Grady’s instinctive, respect-driven relationship with the raptors), it does make a lot of things feel fresher than they have any right to be. This is essentially a retread of the first movie, with Gray and Zach as our guides to the park’s wonders (and perils), the fiercest dinosaur in the park getting loose, and the humans relying on other dinosaurs to take down the big bad and save the day. It’s not a bad concept – after all, it worked the first time around – but despite how well the movie has been put together, it’s still a fun ride that just misses out on providing that much needed wow factor.
Part of the problem is that the movie makers have taken the bits of Jurassic Park (1993) that worked and added some stuff that doesn’t. Do we really need to see yet another misogynistic portrayal of a relationship, where the woman changes for the man and not the other way round? Do we really need to hear a scientist blame the moneyman for not paying attention when the scientist created something unethical? And do we really need to hear deathless lines such as “We have an asset out of containment” or “It can camouflage!” (a trick the Indominus Rex pulls off just the once, by the way, when it’s convenient to the narrative). Of course we don’t, but because this isn’t a straight remake, but a reboot/update/witting homage, that’s what we get. For all that the movie is technically well made, and looks fantastic in IMAX 3D, it’s still a retread, and lacks the thrills we need to invest in it properly (and that’s without the paper-thin characters, from the stereotypically neanderthal Hoskins, to the annoying dweeb in the park’s Control Centre (Johnson). In short, the movie lacks the depth necessary to make us care about it, and without that depth, it just becomes another superficial ride the viewer will forget without realising it.
Rating: 6/10 – another summer blockbuster that doesn’t do enough to justify its budget or hype, Jurassic World is like an old friend regaling you with a story you’ve heard a thousand times before; maybe this will work better as the intro to a bigger story and plot, but if not, then this is just another disappointing entry in that ever growing cache of movies known as the Unnecessary Sequel.
Terminator Genisys (2015) / D: Alan Taylor / 126m
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Byung-hun Lee, Michael Gladis, Sandrine Holt
In 2029, the human resistance, led by John Connor (Clarke), is on the verge of defeating Skynet and its machines. But it also needs to destroy Skynet’s last chance of avoiding defeat: a time displacement machine. When John reaches the site, though, he learns that Skynet has sent a terminator back to 1984 in order to kill his mother, Sarah Connor (Clarke); with her dead, John won’t be born and won’t be able to lead the resistance to victory. Knowing his past and what needs to be done, he agrees to let Kyle Reese (Courtney) travel back as well and keep Sarah safe. As the machine begins to work, though, Kyle sees John being attacked by a terminator.
When Kyle arrives in 1984 he finds himself being hunted by a T-1000 (Lee) before being rescued by Sarah – and a T-800 (Schwarzenegger). Sarah tells Kyle that the T-800 was sent to protect her when she was nine years old, but that she doesn’t know who sent it. With the T-1000 in constant pursuit, the trio do their best to work out why this timeline is now so different from the one that John has always known. Kyle is sure that it has something to with visions he’s been having of a future that hasn’t been destroyed by Skynet, a future that will still exist in 2017, the year that Skynet – in this timeline – launches the nuclear missiles that will seal Man’s fate. He persuades Sarah to travel with him to 2017 using a time displacement machine that she has built with the T-800’s aid.
However, their arrival in 2017 leads to their being arrested. But at the police station, an even greater surprise awaits them: the arrival of John…
As Arnold Schwarzenegger has said all along, “I’ll be back”, and here he is, older, greyer, slower, with a few motor skills issues, but as he also says, “not obsolete”. It’s a clever distinction that says as much about the actor as it does the character of the T-800, giving us an aging Terminator and providing a perfectly acceptable reason for the Austrian Oak to be involved. But while he’s the star of the show, it’s also noticeable that he’s sidelined a lot of the time, giving both Clarkes, and Courtney, the chance to carry the movie in their iconic star’s absence. That they don’t is down to a script that, as with Jurassic World, wants to be as much as a retread of its progenitor as it does an entirely new instalment. As a result, the need to include what might be generously termed “fan moments” – “Come with me if you want to live” – often means a narrative that struggles to find its own identity.
There’s the germ of a great idea here, predicated on the series’ idea that “the future isn’t set”, but its revisionist version of 1984, complete with Schwarzenegger taking on his younger self (one of the movie’s better ideas), devolves into an extended chase sequence that rehashes elements from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and acts as a kind of Terminator Greatest Hits. It’s all effectively staged by director Alan Taylor, but the sense of déjà vu persists throughout, making the screenwriters’ efforts to give us something new all the more disappointing. Even moving the action to 2017 is less than inspiring, not even allowing for a change of scenery or approach, but canny enough to include J.K. Simmons’ light relief, and change the thrilling truck chase from T2 to an unexciting helicopter pursuit. As with the trip to Isla Nubar, it’s all very professionally done, but with that one all-important ingredient still missing: something to make the viewer go “wow”.
Rating: 6/10 – as fourth sequels go, Terminator Genisys is a vast improvement on the last two instalments but remains very much a missed opportunity; with the way open for another sequel it’s to be hoped that it’ll be more original than this, and will take the kind of risks that the first movie made in order to be successful.
D: Colin Ferguson / 87m
Cast: Steven Brand, Kirsty Mitchell, Raoul Trujillo, Gabriel Womack, Emilia Clarke, Jazz Lintott, Christopher Villiers, Nathalie Buscombe, Vladimir Mihailov
Another in the long lame of SyFy movies, Triassic Attack is, on paper at least, one of the most wretched ideas they’ve come up with. Angry at the sale of ancestral lands to the local university, Native American Dakota (Trujillo) decides to put things right by summoning the spirit of the Great Protector. But the ritual goes awry and the skeletons of three dinosaurs housed in the local museum come alive and wreak havoc in the surrounding area, endangering all and sundry. And that is basically that. The skeletons appear all over the place, the local sheriff (Brand) looks dour and unhappy throughout (as well he should – turns out Dakota is his father), his estranged wife Emma (Mitchell) allows their daughter Savannah (Clarke from TV’s Game of Thrones) to be put in harm’s way time and time again, and any viewer watching this farrago should be warned of the danger to their health: they’re likely to break several ribs and hurt their jaw when it hits the floor repeatedly.
Now, before we move on, let’s get these very valid points out of the way: 1) the skeletons depicted aren’t of creatures that lived in the Triassic period; 2) they roar and bellow despite having no vocal cords or lungs; 3) they move around easily despite not having any eyes; 4) when two are “destroyed” at the same time, the pieces reassemble together to create a flying dinosaur that never existed in any historical period; and 5) the ROTC cadets seen in the movie appear to be equipped with both Bulgarian uniforms and a Russian anti-tank weapon.
Of course, Triassic Attack is rubbish. You might even say it’s ordure of an extremely high order. It’s been cheaply made, with a cast that struggles to engage with a script that really does seem to have been cobbled together from that cynical experiment involving monkeys and typewriters, and the direction is leaden, uninspired, and often absent. There are worse SyFy movies out there – check out Camel Spiders (2011) if you don’t believe me – and the premise is so ripe for mickey-taking it’s actually unfair. And yet…
Despite everything, it’s a fun movie to watch. The attack sequences are laughable yet enjoyable at the same time. Even though they’re incredibly silly, there’s still an underlying primal threat there that comes from seeing anyone attacked by such creatures (skeletal or otherwise). The characters are a fraction above one-dimensional, and the acting (Womack’s spirited comedy turn aside) another fraction below competent. The locations are attractive – though the town itself is marvellously short of proper buildings or residents – and the scenery compensates for a lot of the other detractions. There’s a hissable university bureaucrat (Villiers), music that swells and falls in complete ignorance of what’s happening on screen, the climax is better than expected, and the movie shuffles along at an agreeable pace that doesn’t allow it to outstay its (negligible) welcome. It all adds up to a silly movie that shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone, and actually doesn’t set out to be.
Rating: 4/10, silly, stupid, brainless movie that should put a smile on your face even though it’s really, really, really bad; the title alone tells you all you need to know.
Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.
D: Barry Cook, Neil Nightingale / 87m
Cast: John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Tiya Sircar, Skyler Stone, Karl Urban, Charlie Rowe, Angourie Rice
Taking his kids Ricky (Rowe) and Jade (Rice) to an archaeological dig, Zack (Urban) fails to engage a reluctant Ricky into moving far from the car. While he waits for his dad and sis to come back, Ricky is greeted by a talking bird, Alex (Leguizamo). Alex chides Ricky for his lack of interest in the past and begins to tell him a story set 70 million years before, the story of Patchi (Long), a pachyrhinosaurus. Born the runt of a litter, Patchi has trouble fitting in, especially with his brother Scowler (Stone); they are at odds from day one. After a run-in with a predator leaves him with a hole in his frill, Patchi’s efforts to fit in become even harder. When the weather changes, an older Patchi must join his herd on a great migration; thus begins Patchi’s road to acceptance not only by the herd, but by his brother and by love interest Juniper (Sircar).
Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie is a mash-up of The Land Before Time (1988) and The Incredible Journey (1963). The mix of live action and CGI is impressive, with several of the dinosaurs achieving a level of photo-realism that bodes well for the forthcoming Jurassic World (2015). Their “interaction” with the real world is well-staged and handled, and there is a pleasing sense of verisimilitude throughout. Taking its cue from the BBC TV series of the same name, Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie looks amazing from start to finish (and in 3D it looks even better – despite being converted in post-production). The detail is nothing less than breathtaking. The backgrounds, shot in Alaska and New Zealand, are spectacular, and add a pleasing sense of scope to the movie despite its (relatively) small budget of $85m.
What isn’t so pleasing, however, is the script by John Collee (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Happy Feet), a dialogue-driven disaster that manages to make dinosaurs seem un-cool and almost entirely lame in their pea-brained outlook. That their lips don’t deliberately move in sync with their lines isn’t as distracting as the fact that what’s being said is so childish and immature (it’s actually amazing there isn’t a fart gag in there somewhere). While Leguizamo fares better than the rest, even he can’t pull off some of his dialogue, and Long is saddled with some of the dopiest, silliest lines he may ever have to deal with. Granted Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie is meant to be a children’s movie, but do kids really respond to, or appreciate, this level of half-baked, jokey, verbal simplicity? If I was over the age of eight and watching this movie I might feel so insulted I’d want to chuck my popcorn at the screen in protest.
With things so hampered by the script, everything else suffers. The plotting and story arcs are simplistic and predictable, the characterisations equally so, and the sense of danger provided by a pursuing trio of Gorgosauruses is never allowed to accrue too much tension. Directors Cook and Nightingale at least ensure that things move along at a decent pace (helped by their editor, John Carnochan), but fail to inject much of note into proceedings. The photography, as already mentioned, is impressive, and the scenery often breathtaking, but these aspects are unable to offer a distraction from the awkwardness of the movie as a whole.
Rating: 5/10 – saved from a lower score by its visuals, Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie is a movie that will probably impress very young children, but will frustrate teens and adults alike; a missed opportunity that sounds as if the producers lost faith in it somewhere during the production.