Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)

AvengersWhile attempting to retrieve Loki’s sceptre from a Hydra stronghold, The Avengers encounter a pair of superpowered siblings (Elizabeth Olsen; Aaron Taylor-Johnson) seeking revenge on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) for the role his company inadvertently played in the death of their parents. Wanda — a woman with unusual influence over the minds of others — undermines Stark’s already fragile mental state, and compromised he returns to New York concerned that he has not yet done enough to secure the safety of all mankind. Together with Dr Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he uses the sceptre and the mystical gem it contains to unlock the secrets of consciousness with the aim of improving the effectiveness of his drone army, inadvertently leading one of his suits to become self-aware. Named Ultron (James Spader), the nascent AI declares war on its creators, along with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and the rest of humanity.

A lot has changed since the release of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in 2012; and although much of that change has been orchestrated on purpose some of the repercussions have proven to be beyond even Marvel’s (now Disney’s, of course) considerable control. Now eleven films into its unprecedented, pioneering and as yet unparalleled mega-franchise — the no longer burgeoning but rather burdened MCU — and five films on from the Battle of New York, the studio has issued returning director and overseer Joss Whedon with a very different task indeed. Already assembled, the titular super-team must now be developed, redeployed and ultimately divided ahead of the next cinematic season — a tertiary series of instalments known as Phase Three, and already set to kick off next year with Captain America: Civil War. Whereas once the idea of merging four individual franchises was audacious enough, the MCU has now grown to such a size — Marvel’s television division included — that with hindsight it suddenly seems like the simplest thing in the world.

Remarkably, Whedon once again pulls it off — using his experience on the previous film in addition to his time as showrunner on programmes such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly to duly focus on the monster-of-the-year while simultaneously furthering the overarching arcs of his various heroes — albeit without quite the same sense of enthusiasm or effortlessness. While offscreen the director has been lamenting the shoot, talking at length about how the process has not just exhausted but damn near ended him too, onscreen the spectacle has lost some of its box-fresh sparkle. The intention was always to go deeper rather than larger, but while Iron Man and co. are indeed subjected to increased scrutiny the stakes have arguably never been higher. Since Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki’s failed bid for world domination, Miami, London, Washington and the planet of Xandar have all gone the way of New York, leaving audiences fatigued and Age Of Ultron with fewer places in the known (or even unknown) universe left to blow up. The relationships have never been more compelling, the characters never more engaging and the witticisms never more entertaining, but the set pieces aren’t what they once were. A battle between Hulk and Hulkbuster is as interminable as it is unnecessary, while the finale is simply a variation on an overly familiar theme.

That Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron is underwhelming, however, is inevitable — in many ways it’s a victim of its own success. Phase Two has never quite lived up to Phase One, with each film struggling to find its place in Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic and televisual universe. Some like Iron Man 3 have pushed for auteurial autonomy over studio synergy at the expense of a comprehensive experience, while Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Solider have taken a more utilitarian and cohesive approach to storytelling, leaving Agents of SHIELD to fill in the gaps. Already on uneven footing, Whedon was never going to replicate his previous success with its firmer foundations and novel ambitions, but it’s to the director’s credit that he at least succeeds in expanding on it. New additions Vision, Wanda and Pietro steal the show, as does Ultron, the saga’s best villain by far, while expanded roles for supporting characters such as Black Widow, Hawkeye and War Machine are very welcome indeed — Don Cheadle in particular is a delight. It’s an unexpected inversion; the key question coming out of Avengers Assemble was whether anyone would be interested in the composite series after the first crossover, so it’s a little surprising that secondary or even tertiary characters should be missed in the latest team-up. Nevertheless, you still find yourself asking what Pepper Potts, Darcy Lewis or Daredevil‘s Wilson Fisk might be making of Ultron’s actions.

Although it may seem that every successful film is spawning a shared universe these days, the truth is that the MCU remains unique — and as such the usual rules don’t really apply. As with much of Phase Two Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron is a flawed film, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is part of a failed experiment. Regardless of what becomes of Ultron or any of the other characters, the story is not over yet, and it may well be that with repeated viewings or subsequent instalments audiences’ perceptions of Age Of Ultron may change. For now, though, the disappointment is undeniable, if perfectly understandable.



Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Kingsman The Secret ServiceGary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is owed a favour. Seventeen years ago, his father saved the life of a Kingsman (Colin Firth) — a secret agent independent of crown or country — who promised to repay the man’s family in any way he could. When Eggsy is arrested for Grand Theft Auto, having stolen a car belonging to one of his abusive step-dad’s cronies, the Kingsman rescinds the charges and they repair to the pub for a chat. Harry Hart — as he later introduces himself — reveals that it was he who trained Eggsy’s father, and seeing something similar in the younger Unwin offers to enroll him into the service’s training programme. Across the pond, evangelical environmentalist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) is planning to tackle the planet’s overpopulation problem with his latest product: a new SIM card capable of hacking the cerebral cortex.

There are many reasons to be excited about Kingsman: The Secret Service — the source material, the cast, the trailer — but perhaps the most enticing factor is the re-partnering of comic-book writer Mark Miller with director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman, following their first collaboration, instant cult-classic Kick-Ass. Having successfully celebrated and satirised the superhero genre in equal measure, spawned a sequel and made stars out of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz, the triumphant triumvirate have turned their attention to classic spy thrillers in the Bond mould. Sadly, however, while their latest offering is as gloriously over the top and gleefully irreverent as its predecessor, there’s no denying that overall it constitutes something of a disappointment; Kingsman only ass-kicks.

The problems are manifold, and it is worth noting that a small number of them are out of their creators’ control. Whereas Kick-Ass felt vital and innovative, opening less than ten years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-man and making a lasting impact on the genre it mocked, Kingsman is a few decades overdue and already feels somewhat out of date. There’s also the fact that in its absence the spy spoof has become something of a genre in its own right, and while the Miller-standard 15 rating opens up some new avenues of exploration there is a considerable amount of crossover; of jokes that are just as familiar as the cliches the seek to subvert. The weaponised pen, for instance, has a long and illustrious history of its own, and as fun as Eggsy’s introduction to his atypical arsenal is it’s a gag you will likely recognise from everything from Austin Powers to Johnny English.

These are mere quibbles, however, when compared to the issues firmly within the filmmakers’ control. For a movie that pits chav against suave, Brit against hick and tradition against technology, Kingsman: The Secret Service is surprisingly light on conflict. There’s action of course — fisticuffs, gun battles and even a character with knives for legs — but little in the way of actual drama. This impacts both the stakes and the eventual reward, making for a rather unengaging and unsatisfying experience, but it also effects the characters and the comedy. Egerton and Firth play off one another perfectly, but many of the other performers feel more than a little perfunctory. In an attempt to distinguish themselves Jackson affects a lisp and Mark Strong enlists some sort of ambiguous regional accent but there’s no escaping the suspicion that they are playing cartoons — and not particularly funny ones.

Unforgivably for the forces that brought us Hit Girl (and in Vaugh and Goldman’s case, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique) the female actors fare even worse. In one scene a fellow Kingman recruit quips that ‘Eggy’ only made it into the group by virtue of positive discrimination, but the same could be insinuated about Sophie Cookson (as Eggsy’s main competition) and Sofia Boutella (the aforementioned parassassin). Usually it would be to a film’s credit that it lacks a traditional love interest, except that in this case such levels of characterisation would constitute something of an improvement. Cookson serves no purpose at all, and spends much of the last act strapped to a balloon in the upper atmosphere, while Boutella is little more than a sharper-than-average secretary, at least until her stunt double takes over. Even Eggsy’s mother (Samantha Womack) feels extraneous; her story isn’t resolved until the mid-credits sequence, her son only checking on her and her daughter/his sister’s safety after he has boned a Swedish princess.

It’s frustrating because for the most part Kingsman: The Secret Service is really quite good fun. Vaughn is onto a winner with Egerton, who like Taylor-Johnson before him grounds the craziness without completely contradicting the cliche, while Firth is on fine form throughout, whether he’s showing off his collection of newspaper clippings (‘Brad Pitt Ate My Sandwich’, reads one) or sharing a reheated Big Mac with the film’s big bad. What’s more, there are a number of stand-out scenes that impress in isolation, from a memorable melee in a crackpot Kentucky church to the most spectacular skydiving sequence since Godzilla. It’s just a shame that it’s not always sick in the good sense.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America 2Following the battle for New York, in which the Avengers assembled in order to fight off an alien threat lead by Thor’s adopted brother Loki, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is working with S.H.I.E.L.D to identify other, rather more terrestrial threats. When Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) is targeted by a mysterious enemy, however, and Rogers is framed for the attack, he instead finds himself on the run from the agency his forebears helped to create. Aided by superspy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and veteran paratrooper Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Rogers — as Captain America — embarks on a journey to clear his name and divine both the identity and true intentions of the mercenary known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

Things haven’t been the same since New York. It’s a sentiment that’s been repeated by Iron Man, Thor and now Captain America, though one that they most likely share with their legions of fans. When Phase One culminated in The Avengers, and Marvel merged its four sub-franchises into something new and never before seen on the big screen, it seemed as though the studio was ready to revolutionise the superhero genre. In some respects they did: Sony have rebooted Spider-man and announced their own expanded universe, while 20th Century Fox have found a way reconcile their two X-Men timelines into one cohesive franchise. Even rival comics company DC have reacted in a similar vein, finally announcing plans to pit Batman and Superman against one another in, you guessed it, Batman vs. Superman.

Watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, however, it seems that everyone’s embracing change but Marvel themselves. The studio’s latest, along with other Phase Two titles Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, may pay lip-service to the wider universe (there is mention of Stephen Strange, providing further suggestion that a Doctor Strange movie may well be on the way) but there is very little sense that this is simply one episode in a larger series. Billed as a “political thriller”, Anthony and Joe Russo’s sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger starts out as a welcome reaction to events elsewhere in the franchise, but rather than slowing things down long enough to let wounds heal and traumas manifest it quickly escalates into just another action movie. If you think of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe as a serial, this is our third end-of-season finale in a row.

That’s not to say that the film isn’t good; to the contrary, Marvel’s commitment to making solid movies has resulted in another success in superhero storytelling. Though perhaps not a political thriller in the typical sense (Black Widow is back, but she has yet to do any actual spying) the film does have an atmosphere of secrecy and conspiracy that plays nicely into the Russo brothers’ themes of freedom and transparency. It’s also very well acted, with Evans in particular getting plenty to work with. Anyone who felt the character was poorly served by either of his previous appearances will be relieved to see him both growing as a character and convincing as a superhero in his own right. Returning players Jackson, Johansson and Cobie Smulders also get their chances to shine, while newcomer Anthony Mackie is a constant delight as Falcon. As for set pieces, The Winter Soldier boasts some of the most breath-taking seen so far in the MCU, though all but the final skirmish tend to go on a little too long.

It all comes down to Marvel’s priorities, and whether they favour the individual movie or the franchise as a whole. The Amazing Spider-man wasn’t a great movie, but as the first instalment in a larger story it was very successful indeed. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, is very much a stand-alone movie, and squanders the chance to be something different; something more. Rather than continue to streamline and integrate the mega-franchise, the film complicates things further (an AI is at one point introduced, though confusingly it seems to be a different AI to Ultron). It once again falls to Whedon to remind everyone of the bigger picture, and his post-credits sequence is possibly the highlight of Phase Two so far. As he’s said in interviews: “Don’t go bigger, go deeper”.


RoboCop (2014)

RoboCopIt’s 2018, and robot soldiers are in use everywhere except the United States of America. Eager to tap into the domestic market, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is trying to find favour with the wary American public, ultimately deciding that the best way to overcome “robophobia” is to put a man inside the machine. When policeman Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured while investigating corruption within Detroit’s police department, his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) consents to OmniCorp’s planned use of robotics to help save her husband’s life. Under the direction of scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), Alex is rebuilt as RoboCop, and tasked with eradicating crime across the city. Despite attempts by Norton to control his creation’s decision-making faculties through cybernetics, however, Alex becomes fixated on one crime above all others: the failed attempt on his life.

Like many Paul Verhoeven films, 1987’s RoboCop was ahead of its time. It foresaw the growth of multinational conglomerates, the rise and dominance of the right-wing media, and the development of drone warfare. Nowadays, what was once science fiction is now much more of a reality, as tech companies, news moguls and unmanned airstrikes proliferate the news. The landscape of law enforcement too has changed, with CCTV, the internet and tagging commonplace in the monitoring of criminal behaviour. José Padilha’s 2014 reboot might not seem quite as intuitive or precognisant, but it feels even more urgent and timely. Back in the ’80s it was technology that we feared — the apparently inevitable rise of the machines — but it has since become increasingly clear that it is not technological advancement of which we should be weary, but the humans driving it.

Cultural context is not the only thing to have moved on since the first film’s release, with CGI having come on leaps and bounds in the intervening years. This has allowed Padilha to push the franchise in a new direction, free from the stilted stop-motion and bulky prosthetics that defined the original RoboCop trilogy. Gone is the humour, both intentional and otherwise, as the film instead pushes for a more realistic and all together grittier aesthetic, which for once seems entirely justified. The events of the film are driven by money, ahead of scientific experimentation or even national security, and it is disturbing to think that ultimately the Murphy family are being exploited for financial gain — particularly as Samuel L. Jackson’s commentator wantonly misinterprets just about everything for his programme’s invisible audience. It creates an interesting dynamic within the narrative, as a man is programmed to stop crime by some of the guiltiest people of all.

Padilha’s film looks amazing too, both referencing the original with nods to the outdated design and also moving the look forward. The new RoboCop — first marketed as a Transformer, before being modelled instead on Nolan’s Batman (with shades of the Tron battlesuits) — is a formidable figure, and one that seems a fair extrapolation from the previous model. What’s most interesting about the character, however, is what’s behind the mask. The most striking scene in the film comes when Alex is awoken by Dr. Norton, pulled from a fantasy and forced to look at himself in the mirror. There isn’t a lot to look at, with only his head, internal organs and a single severed hand having survived the explosion that almost cost him his life, and it pushes the boundaries of the 12A rating to ensure that however awesome or aspirational his alter-ego is made to look you can never quite shake the image of Alex’s naked lungs breathing beneath the Kevlar. Even as he battles a group of hulking ED-209’s in the film’s explosive, exhilarating finale.

RoboCop is even surprisingly moving for an action movie, with Cornish and Norton each getting an opportunity to tug on the heartstrings (though this time mercifully off-camera): the former as she bargains for her husband’s life and the latter as he mentors a young amputee suddenly given the chance to play the guitar again. It is also intelligent, and not just as a satire, with seemingly solid science used to underpin the action. The ‘illusion’ of free will is not simply pseudo-psychology but a popular concept in philosophy and even neuroscience; just as Alex is for a time slave to the machine, or rather those controlling the machine, so many believe that consciousness itself is equally accountable to the human body. Are our actions our own? Or are they simply the inevitable result of various biological, environmental or sociopolitical triggers? If the body horror haunts audience’s nightmares, perhaps the film’s themes will give them something just as troubling to contemplate as they lie awake at night.

It would be unfair to dismiss RoboCop as just another pointless retread, at least in the usual sense. RoboCop may have some name recognition, but the character’s hardly as well-known or widely loved as Batman, Terminator or Judge Dredd (who famously served as inspiration for the character). This feels like a new movie, for a new audience, rather than a futile exercise in nostalgia. It helps that Padilha has updated the story, and though his film may be aimed at a younger audience it feels rather more mature than Verhoeven’s original. Dead or alive? This RoboCop very much has a life of its own.


Turbo (2013)

TurboTheo (Ryan Reynolds), a small garden snail from Venice, California spends his days working at The Plant and his evenings watching races on a television in a nearby garage. His racing ambitions aren’t appreciated by his older brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), who refuses to address him by his self-appointed nickname, Turbo. Frustrated by his inherent lack of speed, Turbo travels to the local race track, making a wish that is soon answered when he is sucked through a car’s engine and exposed to nitrous oxide. When Turbo and Chet are captured by a snail-racing taco truck driver (Michael Peña), the speedster’s newfound abilities lead Tito Lopez to enter him in the Indianapolis 500, where he will race against his hero, Guy Gagné (Bill Hader).

From DreamWorks Animation, Turbo is the second product of their partnership with 20th Century Fox (after The Croods), and their second financial failure in as many years (after Rise Of The Guardians). Turbo originated from a company-wide competition that saw employees submit ideas for a new feature film. Conceptualised as Fast and Furious with snails, the film was never going to be much more than a premise, but to his credit first-time director David Soren fleshes the idea out — his own, as it happens — as much as he can.

Turbo has its moments, with the animators often working to compensate for the relatively lacklustre script. The acquisition of Turbo’s powers is handled particularly well, and it’s hard not to at least smile as the snail’s face contorts to the beat of “What’s New Pussycat” or his eyes light up with the glare of full beams. The script’s only noteworthy contribution to the film’s success is in its naming of Ben Schwartz’ character, Skidmark, but while the dialogue is never laugh-a-minute the story is almost too clichéd to fail. Even the animators struggle at points, however, and for the most part Turbo is an unremarkable succession of dull lines and interchangeable…well, snails.

The main issue is that Turbo lacks a King Julien or Snotlout. Reynolds is enthusiastic enough, but the voice cast is unusually weak for a DreamWorks picture. Not even Samuel L Jackson and Maya Rudolph can breathe any life into the racing snails, while Michelle Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins and Michael Peña make nary an impression between them as the main human characters. Hader is suitably untrustworthy as French-Canadian celebrity driver Gagné, but the most memorable character by some margin is manicurist Kim-Ly (who puts the “nail” in “snail”), but only by virtue of Ken Jeong’s piercing, insufferable schtick.

Turbo is not a good movie, and marks something of a step backwards for a studio on the rise. That said, it’s the best film about racing snails you’ll see this year, and with a few solid laughs under its shell that’s not entirely faint praise.


Django Unchained (2013)

Django UnchainedIntercepting the Speck Brothers at a clearing in 1858, German-born dentist-turned-hitman Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) liberates a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who he believes possesses information that could help him collect his next bounty. Unbiased by American bigotry, Schultz enters into a partnership with Django that sees them bound for Candyland on a mission to reunite Django with bride Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was sold separately to plantation owner John Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio). Read more of this post

Avengers Assemble (2012)

Saved from oblivion by a race of aliens craving dominion, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth in search of The Tesseract: an item of unlimited power that currently lies with S.H.I.E.L.D. When it is stolen and the world endangered, Director Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) revive the Avengers Initiative in the hope of uniting Earth’s mightiest heroes. As they reach out to Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), however, it quickly becomes clear that a vengeful former Asgardian and an army of extraterrestrial warriors might be the least of their worries.

Read more of this post

Iron Man (2008)

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.): inventor, playboy, a bit of a dick, is living the high-life in his Miami mansion with his articulate supercomputer (Paul Bettany) and dedicated personal assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Badly injured during a weapon demonstration in Afghanistan, Stark is taken prisoner by a terrorist cell with access to a Stark Industries arsenal. When he narrowly escapes by building himself an armoured suit modified with electromagnets to keep a wayward piece of shrapnel from entering his heart, the inventor perfects the suit back at his laboratory, creating the Mark II. When his original schematic winds up in the hands of a rival (Jeff Bridges), however, Stark must put this new Iron Man to the test.

It’s difficult to appreciate just how much was riding on John Favreau’s Iron Man, but without it there would be no Marvel Studio’s, and, by extension, no The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger or, indeed, The Avengers. Before Iron Man, Marvel had leased the rights to its properties out to other companies, leaving the likes of the comparatively better known Spider-man and X-Men in the hands of Sony and 20th Century Fox respectively. For a shared universe to be possible and future cross-overs to take place, however, Marvel needed all of its heroes under one roof. Good thing, then, that it was such a hit.

Paramount to Iron Man‘s success was Marvel’s trust in Favreau. With more established superhero movies slated for release that same year – 2008 also saw Hellboy II: The Golden Army and The Dark Knight arrive in cinemas – Iron Man had to set itself apart from the competition if it was to find an audience of its own. Favreau, who also appears in the movie as bodyguard Happy Hogan, embraced the comic’s humorous side, creating a Tony Stark that was as funny as he was inventive. However integral the director might have been to the film’s success, it was to be the actor cast in the film’s lead role that was to be its biggest asset: Robert Downey Jr.

Returning to the big screen after a period of recovery, Downey Jr. was yet another wild card that any other studio would have most likely vetoed long before filming started. As Stark, however, Downey Jr. is charismatic, charming and utterly compelling, his progression from shallow, self-centred womaniser to a shallow, self-centred womaniser who saves the world proving consistently engaging.  In fact, the actor is so effective in the role that it’s almost a shame he has to don a giant metal suit for most of the film’s biggest set pieces. That said, Iron Man himself is a wonder to behold in his own right, the flight sequences in particular impressing entirely – even today.

This is no one man show, however, and behind every superhero is an ensemble vying for screen time. It is during Stark’s exchanges with Paltrow’s Pepper Potts that the film really comes to life, their effortless rapport and crackling chemistry outshining any number of effects shots and individual character moments. In addition, what was once just an Easter egg for fans is with hindsight the first move of a much larger game, with Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) lingering in the background, tasked with putting together a team. When Samuel L. Jackson finally appears during the post-credit scene, the “Avenger Initiative” is put irreversibly in motion.

A highpoint of the current spate of superheroics, Iron Man was an enormous achievement for Marvel and just a taster of things to come for fans. Funnier than The Dark Knight and more commercial than Hellboy II, this remains one of the greatest comic-book movies ever made.

FILM NEWS: “I Still Believe In Heroes”

For those of you who, like me, struggle to tell one sport from another, this weekend marks America’s Super Bowl. Other than being a massive basketball baseball football event in its own right, the Super Bowl is notable for the time and expense put into the programmed ad breaks.

Along with such other upcoming cinematic heavy-hitters as The Hunger Games, Battleship and John Carter, 2012’s ceremony also featured our most detailed looks yet at Marvel’s hugely anticipated The Avengers, a film which unites four major film franchises in what promises to be the superhero movie to end all superhero movies.

The footage didn’t disappoint. Culminating in a group shot which could pimple Goose-man, the TV spot really is quite something. And it can be viewed below.

Directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers will see Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) assemble under the watchful eye of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Joined by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the Avengers must put their many differences aside and work together if they are to stop Thor’s vengeful brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Now though, back to the court field stadium for some more running…

Jurassic Park (1993)

When John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) investors become jittery following a fatality, they request that the theme park be signed off by a series of experts. Recruiting dysfunctional palaeontologists Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), along with chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Hammond and lawyer Donald Gennaro (Donald Gennaro) initiate an all-expenses-paid tour of the island in the hope of clearing Jurassic Park for visitors. When head computer programmer Dennis Nedry(Wayne Knight) betrays his employer and attempts to smuggle dinosaur embryos off of the island, he shuts down the park’s defences and inadvertently unleashes Hammonds’ star attractions on the tour group – which now includes the entrpeneurs own grandchildren, Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex Murphy (Ariana Richards).

It’s easy to be cynical about the studio’s motives for re-releasing Jurassic Park on a non-adversarial, really rather arbitraty date, eighteen years after it was initially released. With a new trilogy touted, this is the perfect opportunity for Universal to kick-start brand awareness in time for the next instalment, 65 and a bit million years in the making. On taking my seat in the cinema, however, two things quickly become clear: I had completely forgotten Samuel L. Jackson was in it, and, if the price to pay for a fourth film is a return ticket to 1993’s original on the big screen, I for one am all eyes.

But what is it that makes Jurassic Park so resiliently timeless? While there are those who might feel propelled to point out that it is far from Steven Spielberg’s best work, it is certainly his most accessible and entertaining. Boasting a winsome John Williams soundtrack and creature effects from the late Stan Winston which – largely – stand the test of time (the scene in which the ceiling patterns are reflected onto the Veloceraptors – to this day – fills me with joy), Jurassic Park is a veritable melting pot of talent. For me, however, it is the sound design that flabbers my gast; when that Tyrannosaurus opens its mouth, you just know that that’s what it must have sounded like all those years ago.

Jurassic Park is everything you could possibly want from a summer blockbuster: it’s action-packed, funny, scary and in the grandest possible sense, awesome. From the aerial approach to Isla Nublar to the first glimpse of the Park’s prized T-Rex, Jurassic Park is awash with cult moments, remastered for your ongoing enjoyment. While the newfangled cosmetic work fluctuates throughout, bringing a sharpness to some scenes and exactly nothing to others, it is nevertheless nice to know that such a momentous film is being taken care of. Just like artists maintain and restore prized paintings, so is it necessary to tend to the imperfections of important movies so that they continue to have the same impact on successive generations.

The truth is, however, that Jurassic Park manages this on its own, quite despite the studio’s tinkering. The moment in which our heroes catch their first glimpse of a grazing Brachiosaurus is every bit as mind-blowing as it was in 1993, overcoming the clearly dated effects thanks to a indelibly Spielbergian sense of wonder and delight. The performances may waver, the plot may wander (that ending. Really?) but this is why we go to the cinema: to be entertained. With dinosaurs.