Clever girl (or why I love the Jurassic Park franchise). Contains spoilers

17th July, 1993.  My father had died suddenly of a heart attack just over a month before.  I am on tour with the Sound of Music, currently resident for three months in Bournemouth.  My friend and I are co-producing a charity gala for a Bournemouth HIV/AIDS hospice starring pretty much everyone performing in Bournemouth over the summer.  I am stressed, shocked, numb, driven.  And Jurassic Park has just opened in the UK.

The SoM company had booked a cinema for a midnight matinee – our own private viewing, post-show excitement, some of us with sweets, more with alcohol.  I sat next to Christopher Cazenove, a lovely, kind, talented man who died a few years ago, also too young.  We were all excited, even me in my head-fucked state.  We had no idea what to expect except that there were dinosaurs, Richard Attenborough and Sam Neill.

When Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill, dropped to his knees in front of a parade of dinosaurs, Christopher and I unconsciously and simultaneously reached for one another’s hands, both of us crying with joy and wonder.  It’s a memory as fresh now as it was then, and I have watched Jurassic Park rather more in these ensuing twenty years than might seem reasonable.  I can quote you most of the lines, in order.  I am entirely smitten with velociraptors.  It’s one of my favourite films ever.

Jurassics 2 and 3 – well, not so much.  I switch off 2 once they leave the island (having made sure I get my velociraptor fix first) because it’s just silly.  3 is better because Sam Neill and Laura Dern are back, William H Macy is in it and the velociraptors get a load of airtime.  But still.  A bit meh, as they say.

Fourteen years on, Jurassic World has broken box office records around the globe. Yeah I know, they say that every time, but it’s just beaten Avengers: Age of Ultron, a film I have no intention of seeing.  The thing is, I’m not a massive fan of a franchise.  Yes, Star Wars the originals, Indiana Joneses up to a point, Lord of the Rings for sure and The Hobbit because who wouldn’t want to see Aidan Turner as an unfeasibly beautiful dwarf?  But your Avengers and your Marvel this and Mission Impossible that… couldn’t give a toss.

So what is it about the Jurassic Park franchise?  I couldn’t wait to see Jurassic World, but was a little nervous having viewed the ridiculous trailer of Chris Pratt leading a pack of velociraptors on a motorbike.  I mean, seriously?  The signs weren’t auspicious.

But within five minutes, I was lost, overwhelmed with joy, adrenaline and a kind of grief.  I cried a lot.  The first time was when that incredible John Williams theme kicked in.  Then when the little kid, Gray, gets his first glimpse of the island.  Then when we see the original Jurassic Park gates, looking oddly small.  Then when I see the velociraptors.  Then… then… then…

I’ve read a lot of blog posts and reviews where the writers say things like: “Cardboard characters,” “where’s the feminist perspective?”, “what’s the BAME index?” “why does the impending divorce of the kids’ parents never get mentioned again?” Normally, I would also be engaged with these questions, but with the Jurassics, I simply don’t give a shit.  I’m not there to watch the people, I’m there to watch the dinosaurs.  I’m there to weep when the brontosaurus dies in Chris Pratt’s arms.  I’m there to cheer when Blue the velociraptor rips Hoskins to pieces.

If you’ve ever been on a safari, you know what an indescribable privilege it is to see animals in the wild, doing what they do.  I am reminded of that feeling as I am immersed in Jurassic World.

So why is that?  It seems to me that JW is made by fans, for fans.  It ticks every box from the original film to every film Steven Spielberg has ever made.  The dying brontosaurus is ET.  The English babysitter getting eaten by the Mosasaurus references Jaws.  Spielberg is the absolute master of the emotional hit.  There is no irony in a Spielberg film, no post-modern knowing winks.  Watching a Spielberg film and allowing yourself to be taken by it is to become a child again.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET, are the films that most resemble Jurassic Park. They are not manipulative, unless you have no soul.  They go straight for the heart, they are about deepest dreams and wishes, they are about love.

Jurassic World remains true to the Spielberg ethos of ‘never kill off the core family’.  Core families are a vital element, and generally don’t mean blood families.  There’s a lot of divorce in Spielberg films, there are parents who are not present, and adults who become surrogate parents (Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler in JP, for example).  There are always children, and the children never die.  Oh except for that kid at the start of Jaws, but we hadn’t got to know him and it was Spielberg’s first major film.

Jurassic World is also about man’s – or humanity’s – relationship with the natural world.  Yes, it’s layered on with a trowel, but that doesn’t make it less valid.  The dinosaurs are ‘assets’, the Mosasaurus feeding time with laughing spectators – well, have you seen the backlash against Seaworld and keeping whales in captivity just for our viewing pleasure?  It’s about hubris and arrogance – the arrogance of the military, the arrogance of science.  It’s about creating a hybrid dinosaur with the ridiculous name of Indominus Rex (part-cuttlefish, part-tree frog, part-raptor, part-oh who knows, they won’t tell us) because the public want something ‘cooler, with more teeth’.

It’s about Chris Pratt taming velociraptors, a concept so bonkers it actually convinces.  But then, he imprints on them when they are born, so it does make a kind of sense.  I only hope Blue, the one remaining raptor, pals up with the T-Rex after they save the park, because she’s going to be awfully lonely without her siblings.

Oh, and about the lead woman – Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire, manages to run in insanely high heels.  She runs really fast.  She doesn’t take them off as you might expect just because Chris Pratt has told her too.  No, Chris.  Fuck you.  I can run in my heels and do it while holding a flare to bring the T Rex out of the paddock to save everyone.  She’s not Ellie Sattler, with her classic: “Dinosaurs eat man.  Woman inherits the earth.” – but Jurassic World, for all its fabulous, adrenaline-rushed glory, is not Jurassic Park.  Jurassic Park had a tiny cast, and a truly original storyline.  It had a great script and genuinely terrifying moments and nobody had ever seen anything like it.  And of course  it had the wondrous Bob Peck and “Clever girl.” Jurassics, you are the business and I love you.  Now and forever. 20150619_16364220150619_163337

Noah and his Ikea ark (contains spoilers)

Darren Aronofsky has called Noah ‘the least biblical biblical film ever made’.  Come on Darren!  You got the ark, the animals, the flood and a big rainbow at the end!  Admittedly you also got the Watchers, aka fallen angels aka Transformers with a maglite inside.  And magic.  LOTS of magic.  Magical snakeskin.  Magical pregnancy testing kit.  Magical bits of rock that magically made huge fires…

The first thing I wrote down (thanks to the handy opening In a galaxy far far away subtitles) was that Noah’s family were the descendents of Seth.  Now that’s already great.  Who wouldn’t want to be descendents of Seth? – Seth Lakeman, Seth Rogen, Seth MacFarlane all excellent Seths.

The next thing I wrote down was that Noah was the first eco-warrior and a vegetarian.  We know this because he gives the first of his motivational speeches about looking after the environment and only eating vegetables.  Good for him.  At this point, he is Young Noah (150?) because his unfeasibly good-looking son is a mere boy.  Later on he becomes Middle-Aged and Judicial Noah (250?  People aged so quickly in the bible days).  By the end of the film, he is very grey and wrinkled so he is obviously Old and Psychologically Scarred Noah (but not as old as his grandfather Methuselah who was 969 when he died.).  Oddly, Mrs Noah didn’t seem to age at all.  As my friend Claire remarked, she must have some wicked hair dye going.  All of the Noah family – apart from Noah, who was Russell Crowe  – were very pretty indeed.  And very white.  One of the many unanswered questions we had was ‘how did black people happen then?’ More magic, perhaps.

As far as religion is concerned – Darren may be an atheist, but he packed in a lot of spiritual/mystical references.  There were Noah’s dream sequences, one of which happened after the Welsh Druid Merlin, sorry Methuselah, had given him some ayahuasca.  And god was referred to as ‘The Creator’.  I guess Darren had to call him something, since ‘Big Bang’ might have given the wrong impression.  Adam and Eve were portrayed as weird glowing people who ate an apple that looked like a beating heart, but Darren gave the atheists a nod by making it clear that the world was created by Darwin.

Much has been made of the film’s CGI, much of which was really crap.  The animals and birds were crap.  The Mad Max-esque/Mordor landscape was quite crap.  The Watchers/Transformers were weird and crap.  The best bit of CGI was the magic forest that sprang up just as everyone in the audience was wondering how Noah was going to  build the ark when the world had been turned to a wasteland because of man’s destruction of natural resources etc etc.  But lo!  A magic Ikea forest grew!  And it was good, and it sent forth a magic river that went all over the world so that the animals and birds could conveniently work out where to come.  And not just any animals.  Biblical animals, which are like fantasy animals.

Once the animals were on the ark, which took about 10 seconds because they all conveniently knew exactly where to go and settled down quite happily, the Noah family got some herbs and put them to sleep so Darren didn’t have to bother about them for the next two hours.  They were on the ark for 9 months, so how come the animals didn’t starve in their enforced hibernation?   Magic.

The best magical thing was the pregnancy testing kit.  In the gospel according to Darren,  just spitting onto a leaf can determine pregnancy.  Who needs Boots?

The other thorny issue was that of incest.  Half-brothers and sisters all re-populating the world – hence  Suffolk, the American Midwest and Afrikaners.

The other other thorny issue was ‘why Ray Winstone’?  Actually, why so many things?  It’s not like the story is that boring to begin with.  Ray plays Tubal-Cain, a sort of biblical Kray twin, a descendent of Cain, who killed Abel.  Ray’s main purpose was to tell us that he was a man, and descended from men.  “We are men.  Men take.  Men eat meat.  I choose who lives and who dies.  You made us in your image,” he says in a conversation with the Creator.  Unfortunately, the Creator is in a bad reception area.  “Nobody has heard from him since he marked Cain,” Ray tells Noah.  Ray has a forked beard.  The snake in Eden had a forked tongue.  Is there some symbolism here?

I think Darren missed a trick with Tubal-Cain, who hitched a lift on the ark in order to eat a lizard and try to persuade Son No. 2 that Man was the dominant species.  “We have dominion over the animals,” he says, before magically engraving the motto on a tea-towel.  No, I made that bit up.

If I were writing Tubal-Cain, I might have made his ‘we have free will’ schtick a bit more convincing.  There are interesting things to say about this, and in between the magic and clunking dialogue, there are also some compelling moments between Noah and his family about right and wrong, and how far justice goes before you end up certifiable.

In the hands of someone less craggy, magisterial and tormented, (Tom Cruise?) Noah’s psychological inner war would have made you want to chuck him over the edge.  Crowe was actually pretty good, but Jennifer Connolly as Mrs Noah and yes, Emma Watson as Shem’s wife Ila were better.

There was one moment, though, where you could hear a million voices screaming ‘nooooo’ and it came when little Ila said to Noah. “Can you sing me a song?”  So there you have it.  Funnier than Les Miserables, and with a lot less singing.