We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 6 Sep 6:25PM
Steven Spielberg's trailblazing special effects epic. Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern visit the island theme-park of Richard Attenborough, who has been breeding dinosaurs
The astounding commercial success of Spielberg's theme-park movie proved once again the power of marketing and awesome special effects to overcome a thin story line and feeble characterisation. Another surprising aspect of the response was that the film seemed not to depend on a decent-sized cinema screen but proved effective when reduced to little brother telly. A definite tribute to the director's manipulative skill in dotting the overlong proceedings with enough shocks, scary moments and sentimentality to take up the slack.
Amid the special effects showcasing and chases, Jurassic Park exhibits the perennial concerns of Michael Crichton - who wrote the source novel. Said concern is man abusing scientific knowledge and playing God. The culprit here is Attenborough's John Hammond, an entrepreneur who has used dinosaur DNA taken from blood-sucking mosquitoes that have been preserved in amber to re-create the prehistoric dinosaurs, with the intention of opening the ultimate theme-park cum nature reserve. To prove that all is well with his proposed park, Hammond is forced to call in three 'experts': paleontologist Dr Alan Grant (Neill), his girlfriend paleo-botanist Dr Ellie Sattler (Dern), and chaos theoretician Dr Ian Malcolm (Goldblum). Oh, and sadly some kids are along for the ride too - they are the target audience after all, both for Hammond and for Spielberg.
After the initial splendour of viewing a brontosaurus chomping on a tree-top and the thrill of cuddling a sickly tricerotops, things inevitably go sour and the predators make their presence felt. T-Rex reestablishes his reign, this time as king of movie monsters (a kind of bipedal Jaws), while the smaller velociraptors prove their viciousness by hunting and chowing down on various cast members. Much of the film consists of being chased by dinosaurs and trying to survive. It's a simple formula, but crudely effective.
Attenborough is preposterously bad as Hammond, with an accent as wobbly as his scientific and moral judgement; the performance is only redeemed by his twinkly eyes. The rest of the cast are adequate, but hobbled by under-developed characters. Possibly the rather characterless leads work to the movie's advantage, since no one going to see a dazzling special effects movie needs distracting by a tame scientist's view of very untamed monsters. Not surprisingly, the sound and the computer-generated visuals received Oscars.
Spectacle triumphs over sense, but with effects this effective resistance is futile.
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