The Summer of the Dinosaur
Dinosaurs clobbered the combined super hero talents of The Avengers. They also handed Schwarzenegger his T-800 ass. Interestingly all three films are bred from the same cynical experiment that might have started in JJ Abrams’s lab…repackaging.
Cynema has evolved or been upgraded much like Arnie’s T800 at the end of the latest Terminator franchise. My definition of Cynema says that a movie is made deliberately bad even if the filmmakers have the means to do it better. In the case of Jurassic World, Terminator Genysis and Star Trek: Into Darkness they are beautifully produced films, but all the more deceptive.
These films all lack a central thing: a well done script. All three of these films are not unfolding stories, but rather set pieces stitched together with basic dialogue and character development to push things toward the next set piece. The argument could be made, that in a few years, the need for directors and even screenwriters could be gone. They are made obsolete by “managers” who push a film through a written “To Do” list.
Some have said Jaws 2 was a film made by committee. The director, Jeannot Szwarc was simply a gun for hire in the wake of the firing of original director, John Hancock. While the reasons for Hancock’s firing vary, one consistent line is that his vision for the film and the studio executives’ did not marry and 6 months into production, Hancock was relieved of his duties as director.
Sequel Was a Dirty Word
While sequels were no new thing in Hollywood by 1975, Hollywood was bitch slapped by Spielberg’s original Jaws into seeing how summer blockbusters could generate huge revenue. “Sequel” was kind of a dirty word at that time, but Hollywood warmed to the idea of wringing out more dollars from the same, familiar story. And hey, it didn’t always have to be good. The process had begun…
Jurassic World, Genysis and Into Darkness all depend on nostalgia as their lifeblood. They simply can not exist without the hard work of the previous, better written films. These three films define style over substance and exist only because of the hard work done by a previous generation. Interesting that this has been said of the Millennial generation–a generation that has little regard for what came before it, but wants to reap the rewards of the hard work done before them.
The scripts for these films are not so much actual three act screenplays, but rather “To Do” lists containing the recognizable elements from the better previous films while a “manager” pushes the “story” through to the end. In between are thin characters and a strong reliance on the recognition of scenes from better movies, now called “nostalgia.”
Who Holds The Bag?
I am going to pin the actual start of this process on Star Trek Into Darkness. I admit, I enjoyed the JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek reboot. I am NOT a fanboy, Trekker(ie) or really a series fan. While I saw the original series growing up, it was The Wrath of Khan that got me into the movies. I never embraced The Next Generation, or any series spinoffs and saw only a handful of episodes from various seasons of the Picard years. I thought TNG feature films were lackluster and wasted opportunities.
However I got into Star Trek II-VI. I was moved by Spock’s death and Kirk’s sacrifices and I was rightly turned off by Shatner’s fifth film. Part six was a classy exit for the original cast and Kirk’s death in Generations was a waste and a cynical cash grab to lure audiences to watch the new crew.
Stick with me here. I will circle back to Jurassic World and Genysis.
When Abrams was picked to revamp the declining Star Trek franchise, even ardent fans knew something had to change. The last Trek film, Nemesis, was a dud–some storyline that should’ve been reserved for a series episode. Everyone in that last film looked bored and ready to collect their paycheck.
The 2009 reboot did something clever. It didn’t break canon. Instead the writers brought back the old “alternate timeline” plot device and made it work. Basically they could go back and redo everything, even remake old film and series plots because now everything was different. They figured out a way to have their cake and eat it too.
Leonard Nimoy was wisely chosen to bridge the venture and officially made the film a sequel, while at the same time it WAS a reboot. Goddamn, it was the ultimate cinematic hat trick. When Nimoy meets face to face with Chris Pine’s wonderfully realized James T. Kirk; he clearly recognizes him as his old friend, thus firmly making this film a sequel and yet…it is a remake, reboot, re-imagining.
Liked the film or not, it made money and relaunched the series and breathed new life into the half century old franchise. Abrams did it, and while the film had its issues, I left it feeling entertained and that the filmmakers afforded considerable respect to the previous films and work without pandering to fanboys.
Then came Into Darkness and Abrams showed his true colors.
Abrams has a formula I call “no it’s not, no it’s not, okay it is…” He did it with his TV series Lost where he denied the island was purgatory and all the castaways were dead. Then in the final episode that’s exactly what it was. He claimed the creature in Super 8 was not an alien and again, he lied. Then he did it with Into Darkness.
It’s a Remake
Into Darkness is a deceptive film, because instead of relying on a strong script, it cannibalizes the previous and superior Wrath of Khan. It is a cynical film that eschews good writing for boxoffice surprise, knowing it was a retread and had nothing new to offer. While many assail Shatner’s Star Trek V, I offer Into Darkness as the worst of the films. Why? Because it isn’t a film…it’s a committee made package.
Abrams lied from the beginning about Benedict Cumberbatch playing the series greatest villain, Khan. Dopey fanboys make excuses that the altered timeline would alter Khan’s appearance, I call bullshit. Altering timelines does not change race, ethnicity or sex of characters. If it does, then make Kirk Indian or black. Khan is made Caucasian to throw off the public and deliver a “twist” in a lackluster lazy script.
Into Darkness is nothing more than a patchwork of scenes openly ripped from The Wrath of Khan. The horrible ending where Spock shouts “KHAN!” at Kirk’s death is an embarrassment. The “script” did nothing to understand that the emotion from the 1982 film was built on decades of adventures and relationship between Spock and Kirk. The rip off scene means nothing in the Abrams film as these two men had basically just met and built nothing between them. This is a cynical rip off and Abrams tried to excuse the whole film as a “tribute” to Wrath of Khan. It is not. It is not a remake either. What Abrams did however, was repackage classic old scenes from a better film that resonated with audiences, and updated them in his lousy film.
Jurassic World followed Into Darkness’s lead. This is a paint by numbers film, made by a committee. They brought in an unknown director who did anything but direct. He managed this film from one set piece to another. The amount of tributes to the first film are so frequent, it simply reminds you of how much better the first film was.
Jurassic World is a remake Trojan Horse. It gets away with being a sequel, but it’s really nothing more than Jurassic Park v.10. All the same elements are there: the kids in peril, the reluctant romance and the conspiracy of technology falling into the wrong hands. Throw in convenient plot devices (a dinosaur that is suddenly discovered to posses the ability to evade thermal scans, use camouflage and possess superior intelligence) and you have set pieces stitched together with thin characters, sophomoric dialogue and punctuated by a crash and boom ending.
Yet Jurassic World pulled it off. The fifth biggest film of all time is a total middle finger to audiences. They’ve been served up the same shit for the fourth time and told it is something new. Even the male lead, Chris Pratt, can be swapped out with your sandy blonde hunk of choice. Pop in Chris Hemsworth, Channing Tatum or even Zach Effron, add stubble and you have a Chris Pratt stand in. Nothing in this film is original. Bryce Dallas Howard is painfully boring. She is given no real dialogue and has as much sex appeal in the badly placed romance scenes as a prop dinosaur. Zero character development.
I am sure that director Colin Treverrow was told something like “This is how it’s gonna go. Don’t get any ideas.” He was brought into manage, not direct. This thing will direct itself.
There are so many scenes that openly copy the moments from the first film, that for a moment, I wondered which movie I was truly watching. From the T Rex attack on the Jeep in part one to the dinosaur stampedes and the “Nature Finds A Way” moment…it’s all blatantly copied in Jurassic World and passed off as a loving “tribute. Hell, the final battle with the victorious T-Rex of the first film is a total Godzilla ripoff, aping his majestic walk into the sunset. Fifth biggest film of all time…maybe, but it’s a screw job for popular culture and audiences either so starved or so ignorant, they don’t even realize they’ve been had.
This is lazy filmmaking at its best and most expensive.
Terminator Genysis continues this trend. First time it’s a mistake. Second time it’s a pattern. What started with Into Darkness was followed by Jurassic World and solidified in the dead on arrival Terminator Genysis. Again, this is a film that is fueled by nostalgia. The best characters and scenes from the superior The Terminator and Terminator 2 are reshot and repackaged and placed into a threadbare timeline.
Not only is there nothing new here, they steal the Abrams “alternate timeline” bit and basically try to remake the first two films with a weaker cast, an aging Arnold and for all purposes, no real script. Genysis is a committee film. Large set pieces are stitched together with threadbare characters that, while in a different timeline, bear little resemblance both physically or personality to their alternate universe counterparts. Dialogue is again sophomoric, written for teenagers and the sad part is the adult characters sound like teenagers. This new Sarah Connor sounds less like an adult woman, than an Ellen Page-Juno brat. Spouting such witty lines like “bite me” and calling the T800 “Pops,” she is an affront to Linda Hamilton’s gritty portrayal of Connor.
This movie is a mess.
There are moments in Genysis that serve as a warning for the technology we think we control. The film itself is a warning to both filmmakers and audiences…either take back your entertainment or it will continue to take you. Jurassic World, Into Darkness and Genysis are signs of more ominous things to come. They represent a deliberate dumbing down of content and open contempt for audiences by serving them old movies sexed up in new outfits. Two of these films were rewarded with big boxoffice returns (World is the fifth largest film ever while Darkness had the biggest opening in the Star Trek series).
The only way to stop this, is like the theme of the Terminator films, we must seize control of our destiny. The scary part is that it seems most people just simply don’t know any better and…don’t want to.
More To Come
These three films are the next generation of Cynema. The contempt for audiences is real by the studios that fabricated them. They can do better, but they simply choose not to do it. Why? Because they don’t have to. Genysis clearly showed that the series is not just old but also obsolete. It brings nothing new to the table. It offers a thin, convoluted script to make people think it is smarter than what it really is. In reality this is simply a bad film with a big budget and nothing more.
This could apply to all three films as a new wave of “filmmaking” evolves from the technology that spawned it. It may signal the rise of the executives as the real directors of movies with screenwriters relegated to over glorified story boarders providing notes and captions. The Rise of the Executives. God help us.
We have seen the future and, like the enemy, it is us.
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