Rafe Spall

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

11/06/18

Another day, another instalment of a well-worn movie franchise.

I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard about this, I wasn’t overly inclined to bother with it. Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World (2015) was okay, but nothing in it instilled in me the appetite for another monster helping. But then I noticed, that this time out, the movie was to be directed by J A Bayona and my curiosity was aroused. I’ve admired his three previous offerings, all very different beasts – The Orphanage, The Impossible and A Monster Calls, exceptional films, every one. Could he possibly bring something new to the table?

Fallen Kingdom begins with news that the ex-theme park of Isla Nubla, now a dinosaur haven, is in big trouble. The island’s resident volcano has decided to blow its top and its saurian inhabitants appear to be doomed to extinction all over again. John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) has devised a rescue mission, which means that eleven different species will be captured and shipped off to a new, safe haven. Lockwood is terminally ill so the organisation of this complex mission has been left to his young assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), a man we just know at a glance is not entirely trustworthy. Mills calls in Clare Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to help with the mission and she enlists former love interest, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, as affable as ever), to assist her. With a couple of young associates in tow, they head off to Isla Nubla. (The good news is that Clare actually remembers to pack some sensible footwear this time!) Once on the island, they quickly discover that the mission is nothing like as straightforward as they originally supposed…

All right, so the first third of the movie is beautifully filmed and there are some decent people-versus-lava scenes. The dinosaurs are state-of-the-art CGI and, though there’s nothing here to disgrace Stephen Spielberg’s game-changing original, neither is there very much in the way of surprises. Indeed, this first section is haunted by that most deadly of dinosaurs, the Nothingnewbeforeus. Isla Nubla goes up in smoke and I start to think that this is the fate that’s inevitably going to befall the franchise.

But then the action shifts to Benjamin Lockwood’s estate in California and the film instantly takes a big step up, heading in a different, and much more compelling direction. The idea here is that no matter how well intended an original idea is, there are ruthless people waiting in the wings, ready to step in and monetise it. In comes the ever-dependable Toby Jones as Gunnar Eversol, a smug and utterly repellant dino auctioneer. He’s there to sell off the ‘rescued’ creatures to the highest bidder. There’s also a new addition amongst the specimens, a hybrid dinosaur called the Indoraptor,  a super killing machine that’s just crying out to to be ‘weaponised.’

When the auction goes a bit haywire, Bayona ramps up the suspense to almost unbearable levels and, there are some scenes that ride very close to the wind in terms of the film’s 12A rating. Best of all, there’s a fabulous sequence where Lockwood’s granddaughter hides in her bedroom, as the Indoraptor resolutely makes its way towards her. Bayona uses shadows and music to create something both menacing and enchanting – like a dark Grimm’s fairy tale with the wolf replaced by the most terrifying creature imaginable. If the film had all been as good as this, we’d be talking a much higher star rating.

Still, against all the odds, Bayona has managed to imprint his own DNA into this over-familiar franchise and in so doing, has created his own hybrid beast. The concluding announcement of yet another new direction for the series seems suddenly a much more interesting proposition. If they can get Bayona to direct, I for one, am in.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Swallows and Amazons

swallows

08/09/16

Although I was (indeed, still am) a voracious reader, I never read Swallows and Amazons as a child. I remember a copy of it on a school bookshelf, but it clearly wasn’t alluring enough to make me reach for it. I did see the rather marvellous Bristol Old Vic/Children’s Touring Partnership stage adaptation a few years ago, so I’m familiar with the story, and keen to see how it’s played here.

It’s a Thursday afternoon, so the kids are all back in school; today’s sparse audience is well and truly grown up. Which seems a little unfortunate as it gets going, because this is definitely a children’s film, with little of the crossover appeal of the stage production. Nostalgia, I suppose, is what draws these adults in and, even though this is clearly directed at younger viewers, it’s really a delight to watch.

Okay, so it’s a world bathed in a golden glow. Father might be away at war, and Uncle Jim(Rafe Spall) might be at risk from the Russian agents sent to capture him, but we’re soaking up the sunshine with the children, building dens and playing pirates. Life’s not too bad – even when there’s a war- provided you’re rich enough to go away for the whole summer, and your parents are liberal enough to let you camp out alone for days.

But it’s easy to mock the privileged lives depicted in so much children’s fiction from bygone days. And actually, in this film at least, there’s plenty that’s universal(ish): the difficulties of growing up and negotiating the awkward stage between child and adulthood; the sheer injustice of being disbelieved; the burning desire to be successful, and the pride that comes from knowing that you’re fighting for something that’s ‘right.’

The Swallows are the Walkers: John (Dane Hughes),Susan (Orla Hill), the controversially renamed Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen), and Roger (Bobby McCulloch). With their mother (Kelly Macdonald), they have come to spend the summer with Mr and Mrs Jackson (Harry Enfield and Jessica Hynes). The Amazons are local kids, Nancy and Peggy Blackett, and they’re outraged at the Walkers’ claim to ‘their’ island. The Swallows and Amazons declare war, but their friendly fight is in stark contrast to the battles being fought by Uncle Jim, as he tries to expose the dastardly Russian plans he has purloined. The children’s bravery, however, is real and their games teach them teamwork and resilience; in the end, of course, it’s only they who can save the day.

The cinematography is lush, all rolling hills and gorgeous landscapes, the verdant copses idyllic and sublime. And the baddies are scary enough to keep children enthralled. A worthwhile family film, I think… what a shame there are no children here too see it.

4 stars

Susan Singfield