Month: June 2015

Jurassic World

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As frankensteinian in its creation as one of its main stars Jurassic World was stuck in development hell for several years and features a script that has been written and rewritten by numerous people and it really shows.

Set 23 years later on the island featured in Spielberg’s iconic film this time around the park has been inherited by wealthy playboy Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and has been running like any other theme park. Just like any other theme park it needs new attractions to entice visitors as “de-extinction” is apparently old news. Jurassic World is betting on its latest “asset” a genetically engineered dinosaur built from scratch to wow visitors.

Young brothers Zak (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are visiting their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) Operations Manager for Jurassic World when unfortunately things don’t quite go to plan and it’s down to park ranger of sorts Owen (Chris Pratt) to deal with the fall out whilst Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) head of Ingen Security has his own plans.

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Jurassic World has plenty of similar narrative devices as its progenitor which is both good and bad.

There’s always been some sort of other worldy appeal to dinosaurs, something that seems so fantastical but isn’t because they were real living and breathing creatures rather than figments of the imagination. Jurassic Park tapped into this magnificently with an across the board appeal and Jurassic World a long awaited follow up, which wisely side steps two inferior sequels, will definitely have a distinct nostalgic appeal to a certain generation who were young teens when they saw Spielberg’s film and the idea they might be taking their own kids to see this film might explain its record breaking box office haul.

It should be said that logic has no place in Jurassic World, the idea that the park could be not only functional but thriving after the events of Jurassic Park is just one of several things that will derail this train. When it works it works brilliantly but when it doesn’t work it not only completely shatters your suspension of disbelief and makes plotholes (of which there are several) stand out but serves as a reminder of how Jurassic Park did everything better pretty much.

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After the amazing Mad Max Fury Road turned the rules of cinema on its head with glee the formulaic gender roles here are a bit grating, Howard in particular suffers at the hands of the script which features characters who are distinctly lacking in development. Howard’s Claire is a thinly sketched detached workaholic who doesn’t appreciate her family and through the course of the film demonstrates behaviour which makes her out to be not only utterly helpless but also rather stupid despite being the person apparently in charge of Jurassic World.

Pratt meanwhile fares better as the rugged archetypal hero who is more than just a gun toting grunt but rather channels some of the same charm seen in his turn as Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy. Owen is one of the few people who realises the potential for disaster in Claire’s new attraction for the park and the whole “dino whisperer” aspect is played surprisingly well. Whilst D’Onofrio has little to do besides being one of the most obviously shady characters since Burke in Aliens, another film which this one borrows a scene from practically wholesale.

As for the obligatory “kids in peril” the contrast between the siblings is well played with Gray the younger of the two being a hyper dino expert giddy with excitement at the prospect of seeing real life dinosaurs whereas his older teenage brother is blasé about the whole affair and more interested in teenage angst and checking out girls at the park but you’re seldom actually invested in what happens to them.

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One of the more interesting aspects is the way the reality of Jurassic World is shown with various attractions rather the Safari Park affair seen in Jurassic Park, a Seaworld esque area housing a vast Mosasaurus (featured prominently in the trailers) being just one of numerous different attractions looking realistically plausible. There are numerous nods to Spielberg’s film throughout from visual cues like the infamous scene featuring the flock of stampeding Gallimimus to acknowledging the previous incarnation of the park in a more meta way.

Indominus Rex the new attraction could be seen as a walking nightmarish commentry about the effects that captivity  can have on animals, something which Pratt’s Owen makes abundantly clear to Howard’s oblivious Claire.  Knowing nothing other than the walls of its environment and being fed via crane a hostile first encounter with actual people is just a further catalyst for the fearsome beast to wreak havok on the island it’s experiencing for the first time . The contrast between Owen who see’s the dinosaurs as animals and Claire who sees them as “assets” with an attached cash value for the park underpins the pairs relationship dynamic.

This leads into one of the odd things about Jurassic World, you’re not really sure who’s side you’re supposed to be on the clueless Claire and the oblivious visitors to the park who number in the thousands or the dinosaurs. Indominus Rex isn’t “evil” but rather a product of its environment and callous treatment at the hands of its creators.

Jurassic World is marketed as a blockbuster film after all Jurassic Park was a milestone in cinema for numerous reasons but one being its breathtakingly realised visual FX a seamless blend of then cutting edge CG and practical FX work which still looks amazing today even 20 + years later so this should be mind blowing and yet for the most part it isn’t and it becomes really obvious as to why.

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Jurassic World is awash in CG FX to the point that it breaks your immersion at some points, seemingly existing in a world where gravity and mass don’t exist which has the complete opposite effect of what visual FX should have, it pushes you out of the film instead of sucking you in and you lose interest because you don’t care about the characters enough to stay grounded in this world. For every scene like this though there’s another that works impressively well but it is telling that one of the most effective scenes utilises practical animatronic FX rather than CG.

Ever since Sam Neil scared the shit out of that kid with a Velociraptor claw they’ve been an iconic part of the franchise and whilst other elements might not work brilliantly the ‘raptors are used to profoundly impressive effect and feature in the best scenes of the film by far and there’s a definite case of less is more in the utilisation of the franchises other big star which is a surprising and deft move.

Jurassic World is flawed, at times seemingly descending into self parody, but at times it also makes you feel like a 12 year old kid enthralled with the magic of cinema with a third act that is so utterly sublime you will become drunk on the joy of it and features a closing shot that sums up everything brilliant about the franchise.

Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels

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The Scarlet Gospels is Clive Barker’s long awaited return to horror fiction. The Cenobite Hell Priest known as Pinhead has been killing off Earth’s magicians in a relentless quest for power to help conquer Hell. Meanwhile Private Investigator Harry D’Amour has been helping out the dead with the assistance of his business associate blind medium Norma Paine. When a case brings D’Amour face to face with Pinhead the Hell Priest makes him an offer when this offer is rebuked the Hell Priest drags Norma to Hell with him leaving D’Amour to go through Hell – literally – to save her

The odd thing that some may not know is despite being Clive Barker’s most well known creation the Cenobite known as Pinhead has only featured in one short story ‘The Hellbound Heart’. This short story provided the basis for the film ‘Hellraiser’, which would not only make for a notable directorial film debut from Barker due to its nightmarish visuals but also be the start of the character’s association with British actor Doug Bradley who would become an icon of horror cinema thanks to his intimidating presence and memorable performance going on to feature as the character in several inferior sequels.

Harry D’Amour is a P.I who deals with the weird and supernatural and unlike Pinhead has featured in several of Barker’s stories first appearing in short story ‘The Last Illusion’. This story provided the blueprint for the film ‘Lord Of Illusions’ Barker’s third film as director which featured Scott Bakula as D’Amour. Short version The Scarlet Gospels is good, very good and one of the best things about it is readers don’t have to be familiar with Barker’s other books to enjoy this story, which is a great selling point for anyone that might be familiar with Barker through his films rather than his books.

Barker’s writing has a reputation for the imaginative and the grotesque and there is ample demonstration of both here. An atmospheric prologue that will undoubtedly serve as nightmare fuel for some sets things up in a particularly brutal manner before the narrative proper starts.

The narrative is initially split between the two principal characters D’Amour’s has a noirish feel in a world the Barker introduces matter of factly, the dead much like the living are everywhere but only the gifted can see them and it’s the dead that make up the bulk of his and Norma’s clients. D’Amour is haunted by nightmarish memories of his past with a flashback that is particularly disturbing in a way that only Barker could pull off. D’Amour finds himselftaking on a new case on behalf of one of the dead which goes rather awry. The other narrative is that of Pinhead who is in the midst of his own grand plan.

I found myself hearing Bradley’s recognisable voice in my head reading Pinhead’s dialogue such is the association between the actor and the character. There’s a potent charge to the inevitability of the two crossing paths. This is prime Clive Barker it’s visceral, terrifying, imaginative and fantastical in equal parts. The narrative is not only engrossing but compelling and incredibly atmospheric. One of the most impressive feats here is Barker’s Hell which comes with its own geography and hierarchical society far removed from what you might expect.

The Scarlet Gospels was undoubtedly at risk of collapsing under the expectations placed upon it by a fanbase that has grown exponentially but Barker is a much more accomplished and nuanced writer now than when he wrote Hellbound Heart originally published in the mid 80’s and it shows.

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