Big­ger, bad­der, smarter

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei

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

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