Since I started writing again last year, I’ve made a few attempts at going back to the beginning of a game or film series and reviewing each entry in turn; for whatever reason – usually issues with having a lack of time and/or interest – these attempts have always stalled. Reviewing an entire series felt a bit unattainable to me; something it was fun to aim for, but which would never be achieved.
Until this week, that is. Fuelled by the compellingly addictive Jurassic World: Evolution on Xbox One, I’ve been watching all of the films in the series in order from the beginning (and – something I hadn’t mentioned, as I didn’t focus on the technical aspects of the movies in my reviews – in 4K, no less). I am fully aware that my reviews can get a little wordy though – to say the least – so I promised to return with a more succinct summary of my thoughts on each film. As a bonus, I’ll even rank them too – the cool thing is that before I watched them all again, I was convinced of the order I would rank them in. That has now changed after seeing them all again, so closely to each other and with the benefit of hindsight.
This was supposed to be a shorter read and I’m already waffling. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
The groundbreaking first film has aged pretty gracefully, aside from a few now-dated CGI shots that were pretty mindblowing in their day, along with the computer tech that’s shown throughout. That aside, the creature work still holds up for the most part (did you know that there are just six minutes of CGI in Jurassic Park?) – most of it utilising some still impressive animatronics and puppetry. It’s not all about the effects though; the film’s focus on giving us an entertaining science lesson before kicking off the inevitable carnage grounds the action – and gives us time to get to know the characters, all of which are worth spending time with. The John Williams score is sublime too.
The first sequel and the only other film in the series to be directed by Steven Spielberg; though he shouldn’t have bothered. Both Spielberg and the returning Jeff Goldblum – once again playing chaos theorist Ian Malcolm, a vital part of what made the first film so enjoyable – seem utterly bored with the film throughout, with the laziest of setups giving us an excuse for more dinosaur destruction. The special effects have aged much worse than those in the original, with much more reliance on CGI; the action is often forgettable, aside from an excellent raptor attack in long grass – and it all culminates in a daft, unsatisfying T-Rex wander (hardly a rampage) through San Diego. A huge disappointment.
With another four year gap between instalments, you’d think that it would have been spent getting a decent reason for us to visit Isla Sorna again; sadly, the third film – directed by Joe Johnston – is completely forgettable in almost every way. Though it’s initially exciting to see Sam Neill back in the role of the first film’s fossil hunter, Alan Grant, he seems to have moved backwards since the events of Jurassic Park – and his personal situation is unnecessarily downbeat. There’s a few neat moments of action – the Spinosaurus is great, as are the Pterodactyls – but the characters, Grant aside, are paper thin and the CGI has somehow become even worse than in the second film, perhaps because of its overuse. This was the film that was thought to have killed the franchise for more than a decade; watching it again, it’s not hard to see why.
As franchise reboots go, Jurassic World is a roaring (pun intended) success. It pays homage to the original, moves us into uncharted territory and gives us plenty of new elements that we haven’t seen before. There’s nostalgia here in spades, but thankfully it’s much more than that – with further genetic meddling (the kindly Dr Wu from the original movie has most definitely become more arrogant with age, it seems) and the taming of velociraptors being on the menu this time. Though full of references to the original film (the second and third films are, thankfully, ignored – there’s no mention of Site B at all), it does feel like its own thing – and it’s a worthy sequel for the first time in the franchise’s history. Advances in special effects still don’t quite ensure consistently great dinosaurs throughout, but for the most part they look fantastic – and Wu’s newest creation, the Indominous Rex, is a wonderfully nasty new threat.
Though sold in the trailers as a dinosaur rescue mission – with a seemingly similar feel to The Lost World: Jurassic Park – around halfway in, Fallen Kingdom takes a very different turn indeed. A much darker film than its predecessors in tone as well as cinematography, there’s a somewhat gothic feel to the second half’s mansion-set action, with dinosaurs being sold to various wealthy ne’er-do-wells for no doubt nefarious purposes – before the carnage kicks off in spectacular, if somewhat unusually claustrophobic, fashion. Special mention needs to go to the dinosaur effects this time around; not since the first film have they truly felt like living, breathing creations – there’s a spectacular attention to detail here, with one example being the animals breathing heavily in a realistic fashion when they panic. The action scenes have some real tension to them too, as well as some excellent jump scares (perhaps unsurprising given that director JA Bayona is well versed in scares and tension, from films such as The Orphanage and The Impossible). Though the film overall has its weaknesses, the ending takes us even further into new territory for the series, with countless dinosaurs now loose in the wild on the mainland. Jeff Goldblum’s small, but pivotal, cameo is the icing on the cake here; it’s a much better film than it’s often given credit for, in my opinion.
Before watching them all again, I would have ranked the fifth film a lot lower – I did appreciate the unique feel, wonderfully realised dinosaurs and fantastic epilogue a lot more this time around. So for now, here’s how I’d rank the films in order (no surprises with the top spot though!):
- Jurassic Park
- Jurassic World
- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park
- Jurassic Park III
And there we have it, at least until the sixth movie is released next year. Can it maintain the level of quality that’s been maintained since the series came back in 2015? It’s already got a head start, with a brilliantly intriguing set up. We’ve also got what is perhaps a sneak peek at where we could be heading, with short film Battle at Big Rock – which takes place after the climax of Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom. Written and directed by Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow (also responsible for co-writing Fallen Kingdom and currently directing the as yet untitled third ‘World’ film), it’s another excuse for more dinosaur carnage – a reminder that the series most definitely still has potential to take us to some very exciting places.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next. As Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm says at the end of the fifth film: “Welcome to Jurassic World.”
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