JURASSIC THUNDER Review: Here’s Your Dinosaurs With Machine Guns Movie, Technically
Birth.Movies.Death news editor Scott Wampler wants to see a Jurassic Park movie where the dinosaurs shoot machine guns. He really wants it. He wants it so bad he wrote an article exhorting Universal to produce such a film, and when Colin Trevorrow confirmed that it wouldn't happen, he wrote another in protest. Well, now he’s got his wish. Jurassic Thunder comes out on digital platforms next week, and it is, finally, the dinosaurs-with-machine-guns movie Scott has dreamed of.
Here's the poster:
Not terrible! It promises a movie with multiple types of dinosaur invading a city - pteranodons flying around, the city in flames as they wreak their destruction. Hell, even I wrote an editorial hoping to see something like that. The dinosaurs on the poster look decent, too.
That is not what Jurassic Thunder is like at all. The actual movie features but one type of dinosaur, with guns mounted to their heads, and is set entirely in a jungle and a desert military base. It also looks like this:
Jurassic Thunder opens, incredibly, with a framing device: a couple of clueless girls in a comics store (whose logo appears in the same frame, and twice as big, as the movie's title) being lectured by the manager on how awesome the in-universe Jurassic Thunder comic book is. The whole movie is a fictional act of nerdsplaining, played out via the manager reading the books aloud over, I assume, an entire afternoon. Though it plays out with barely any nod to that device, the movie that follows is, appropriately, the kind of unironic testosterone-laden nonsense that would appeal to teenage boys who've only experienced the wider world through comics and action movies.
The story is so confusing and over the top, it reads like Axe Cop, but with a writer aged thirteen instead of a five. A rebel military leader, residing in “African Fortress, Dakar” and dressed like a Wal-Mart Idi Amin, threatens global war. Additionally but separately, a virus has turned most of Africa's population into cannibals, or zombies - it's unclear. The Americans want to nuke the entire region, but can’t risk World War III. So they make a deal with the Russians to purchase experimental "biologic" weapons technology designed “specifically for this situation”: dinosaurs with remote-controlled machine guns strapped to their heads.
So, Africa. If this were a piece of ‘80s trash like Raw Force, this would be simply a relic of its time. But Jurassic Thunder is a movie being released in 2020, full of pop culture references and clanging homage to an obviously limited palette of inspiration. Given the movie’s macho stupidity, it’s little wonder the movie engages in such careless literal and representational victimisation of Africa, but that doesn’t make it any less cringeworthy. The fact that the sole black good guy turns into a zombie then gets eaten by a dinosaur doesn’t help.
As for the rest of the movie: to quote True Lies, as I'm shocked this movie doesn't, it's all bad. The narrative devolves into utter senselessness, as the dinosaurs are sent to eat the zombies and blow up the rebels, then a crack squad of commandos is introduced, because the filmmakers wanted a crack squad of commandos. Even the actors who manage moderately convincing performances are done a disservice by the editing. The action scenes are staged with little geography or rhythm, and even dialogue scenes are staged clumsily, shot on what appears to be late-2000s consumer equipment. Worst of all, the pacing deadens whatever energy the trailer implied, through tedious running gags and airless scenes of strained banter: a character made up almost entirely of homophobic jokes, multiple eye-rolling cracks at a character named “Colonel Sanders"; a startlingly unconvincing Donald Trump impersonator. His improvised rants must have seemed hilarious onset, given how much screentime they’re proffered. They are not.
Jurassic Thunder’s visual effects are both terrible, and somewhat staggeringly, one of its best features. The compositing is glitchy and inconsistent, and none of the effects elements are tracked properly, leading to characters and objects sliding sickeningly around their digital environments whenever the camera moves. The dinosaurs are a mixture of rough CG animation and, custom hand puppets. In a scene where a character gets splattered with blood, the blood is jerkily hand-animated onto the actor’s face; then after several such shots, actual fake blood appears on his face. Why - how - would you splatter an actor with blood for a scene without shooting the actual splattering?!
All that said, the effects are actually kind of ambitious, in the sense that these filmmakers are attempting sequences that are well outside their reasonable capability. Nearly every shot that isn’t an awkwardly tight closeup features some kind of digital effects. Much of the movie was clearly shot against green screens; the filmmakers have built entire environments out of stock footage, CGI, and prefab FX elements that many would never even attempt to do. In spite of the poor quality of it all, there’s something adorable about these filmmakers attempting to create dinosaur fights, military destruction, blatantly Top Gun-referencing dogfights, and jungle warzones with the obviously meagre resources they had. Bless their hearts. They were clearly having fun, even if we're not.
Is Jurassic Thunder a masterpiece? No. Is it “so bad it’s good”? Also no. For the most part, it’s painful to watch, the result of consuming a diet exclusively of comics and blockbusters and never once paying attention to what makes them tick under the surface. Its story makes no sense, its characters don’t even register as archetypes, its sense of humour is the “grimace” emoji wrought large, and it features a whole rainbow of casual bigotry. At 84 minutes, it wears out its welcome well before its dancing-Trump credit cookie grates across the screen. With reviews like this, a common retort is “oh, like you could do better.” This is the first time I can actually state pretty confidently that I have. And that movie is no masterpiece either.
For what it’s worth, the girls end up loving the comic book, of course, presumably because it's so awesome and the comic-book store guy is so compelling.
But are you happy, Scott? Are you happy?