Bigger, badder, smarter
Jurassic World (M) National release The Nightingale (G) Limited release
When did the dinosaurs become extinct? About 65 million years ago, as any budding paleontologist will tell you. That the answer to the question has been the same for all of human history is a humbling fact. As one character says early in
one of the initial ideas behind a dinosaur theme park was to remind the human race “how small we are, and how new”.
We are also fickle, have short attention spans and bore easily. So it is that this fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise hinges on the plausible prediction that, 20 years after the great beasts were first cloned back to life, people have become blase about them.
“No one is impressed by a dinosaur any more,’’ declares Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), head of security for InGen, the shady biotech corporation that runs the show. “These days kids look at a stegosaurus like an elephant in a city zoo.’’
People want “bigger, louder, more teeth’’. Hence Indominus rex, a genetically modified dinosaur based on Tyrannosaurus rex but bigger, badder (“She kills for sport’’), smarter and with added extras. Sponsored by communications giant Verizon (one of many neat jokes in the film), she is to be the marquee attraction that will bring the paying customers back to Jurassic World.
It’s a sound business plan, but the suits make the mistake of under-consulting the talent. Indominus rex escapes from her enclosure (how she does so is brilliant) and runs amok. As she’s no respecter of fences, lots of other dinosaurs also find themselves unexpectedly at liberty — and for the carnivores there are 20,000 potential ready meals lumbering around in shorts, Tshirts and baseball caps. At this point it’s worth remembering the park still has a T-rex.
All of this is a bit of a problem for the operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), not least because her two nephews are visiting. It’s up to the park’s velociraptor trainer, Owen Grady (a pumped-up Chris Pratt), to try to save the day, and to thwart Hoskins, who has plans to weaponise the raptors for
Jurassic World, the US military (“Imagine if we had these babies in Mosul”).
The result is a thrill-a-minute spectacular in which the utterly realistic dinosaurs are the absolute stars of the show, though the human actors all do their bit too, aided by a witty and intelligent script, with nods to the 1993 first film in the series, based on Michael Crichton’s novel. Director Colin Trevorrow (Steven Spielberg is executive producer) puts his foot to the floor early on and keeps it there.
Scene after scene — a flock of pterosaurs terrorising the crowd, Grady talking down a twitchy raptor, a diplodocus breathing her last, a mosasaur, well, just being there — are amazing, and sometimes quite moving. You may not wish for all the humans to die, as in James Cameron’s Avatar, but you will find it hard not to side with the terrible lizards (though, as we are reminded in a clever early scene, terrible birds would be more accurate). The climax is an extraordinary extended fight scene that had the audience at the preview I attended in rare awed silence, followed by cheers at the shock ending.
And if you do have budding paleontologists in your life, they will be in heaven. How many velociraptors would it take to attack a T-rex, Dad? Who would win in a battle between a GM T-rex and a real T-rex? Could a mosasaur fight a land predator? The answers are all here.
is a charming French-Chinese production that explores the old and new China and suggests the gap between the two is not as great as might be expected. Sure, there’s a wealth of difference between life in an up-market Beijing apartment complex and in a rural farming village, but people are people and usually find ways to connect. Indeed the idea of connection is both a serious theme and a running joke through Philippe Muyl’s film, which was China’s surprise entry in this year’s Oscars,
The Nightingale though it did not make it through to the final nominations.
It opens with a shot of 60-something Zhu Zhigen (Li Baotian) slurping noodles in his small flat in an older part of Beijing. Above him, a caged nightingale sings. We learn he has had the bird for 18 years, since his late wife found it, a fledgling fallen from its nest.
We cut to another part of Beijing and a girl, 10 or so, in the back of a luxury car, absorbed in a game on her pink-covered iPad. She is Zhu Zhigen’s granddaughter. Her father, his son, is a successful architect. Her mother is a globetrotting businesswoman. “You should live on a plane,’’ Zhu Zhigen tells the attractive young couple. When work calls both parents abroad, pampered Renxing (Yang Xinyi) is sent to her grandfather and joins him on a pilgrimage to his childhood village in the rural southwest. They take the bird along, too, for reasons that will tug at the heart.
So the scene is set for a generation gap road trip (with a lot of walking in this case) in which the young learn from the old and vice versa, terrain Muyl covered in his 2002 French-language film The Butterfly. But he does not overwork it: Renxing is a bit brattish to start with — “I need a plastic surgeon,’’ she declares after being bitten by mosquitoes, and there are lots of jokes about mobile phones and internet connections — but she soon embraces the sprit of the journey. A scene where she is terrified by a buffalo, that workhorse of the rice field, is funny and telling. It’s the first time she’s seen one.
Zhu Zhigen is a calm and gentle presence, though his story becomes more complex in ways that enrich the film. He is a man who fears he failed to look after those closest to him. This is not just about an elderly man and his granddaughter, but about all the relationships in the family, and with fast-changing China itself.
Ming Sun’s camerawork captures the lavishness, and timelessness, of the Chinese countryside. I read an interesting interview with the French director in which he said of the language barrier with his cinematographer, “We watched some movies and discussed general style, but once we started, he worked alone. I was involved only in the framing of certain shots.” The result is a balm for the eyes.
The romantic poet John Keats imagined a nightingale singing on long after he had gone — “Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain —/ To thy high requiem become a sod’’ — and the clever conclusion to this film gestures to that “immortal Bird’’ in ways that should see you leaving the cinema with a smile.
The realistic dinosaurs are the absolute stars of the show in
the fourth film in the franchise
Yang Xinyi, Li Baotian in