Of dinosaurs and cinemas

Cretaceous Cruise gone wrong

Last Friday we went out to the movies.

We went to see Jurassic World. Blockbusters are always better on the big screen.

There are some movies you just have to see in the cinema, when they come out, munching overpriced popcorn while sitting in a large auditorium with a group of total strangers. It’s just a part of the experience.

What makes this worth writing about is the realisation that the last movie we saw on the big screen was Avatar – which means that it’s been over five years since we went to a cinema! We had to drive all the way from Frankfurt to Mannheim (some 100km away) to watch it in 3D and in English. That’s because in Germany all the movies get dubbed, and I’m certainly not paying full price for half the product.

For the regular 2D experience, there was the venerable Turmpalast – the only place that showed movies in original un-dubbed and un-mutilated splendour. Showing times of “original versions” (as they’re called here) at other cineplexes were a hit-and-miss affair not worth pursuing.

This means that, for all intents and purposes, there was only one cinema in all of Frankfurt and surroundings.

And going there wasn’t exactly fun: Getting to the Turmpalast in downtown Frankfurt was a nuisance. Finding parking was impossible; once a parkade closed and nearly locked in my car for the night. The Turmpalast’s cinemas were small and decrepit, the sound was poor, the seats filthy, air conditioning dodgy, and condiments were way overpriced. We got very selective about what we went out to watch before the place closed down completely in 2010. The local DVD rental shop soon became the primary source of movie entertainment.

The Turmpalast Cinema, Frankfurt in 2010

Damn’, I miss the third first-world selection of huge malls and cinemas in Johannesburg!

Since we moved away from Frankfurt we’ve almost gotten used to not going to the cinema — were it not for the fact that 2015 has a few “required viewings” lined up: Mad Max. There’s Spectre (Bond 24) and a new Tarantino (The Hateful Eight) coming. The Terminator will be back, and dammit! The Force Awakens. A new Star Wars movie!

So guess what? We finally found a cinema nearby — just across the Dutch border via a highway taking you straight to ample parking.  Jurassic World was the beta viewing, in 3D and in English. You can even take a glass of beer into the cinema! Hope and order have been restored.

As for the movie itself?

Well, it was a big and fun romp in the park and served its function as a CGI effects-laden spectacle which got predictably silly towards the end. I’ll spare you a synopsis but what I will say is that the 3D effects made some scenes look like a diorama – particularly during the aerial shots where the helicopter looks like a toy. Jurassic World is a children’s movie.

Baby bronto: $10 a ride

The set design, though, is impressive. The make-believe environment of the now-completed Disney theme park is as detailed as the sense that this commercial machinery is running so smoothly that it’s become rather blasé. It’s boring. It lacks bite, despite there being “more teeth”.

When the original Jurassic Park came out in 1993, viewers – along with the characters in the film – were utterly dumbfounded by what they saw: Dinosaurs. Big, moving dinosaurs. They looked convincing. Jaws dropped, there was lots of oohing and aahing. And when the star of the show, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, was slowly revealed as he escaped from his paddock to make mince meat out of a Jeep with two kids in it, there was screaming and running. You just knew this guy was the boss. It was awesome.

Jurassic Park was not exactly a children’s movie.

As a result, viewers – not unlike visitors of the fictional Jurassic World – have become desensitized. We’ve become numb.

Oh, look! Dinosaurs. Real, breathing dinosaurs! Meh! Boring. Where’s my selfie stick?

What the new movie lacks is a sense of awe. We’re not blown away by the effects anymore.

There is no subtle introduction to the new creatures, there is no pause to reflect on what just happened when a character gets chomped, trampled on, blown up or swallowed whole in mid-air. Meatosauruses munch on people like viewers snack on popcorn. Even the villain (a waste of Vincent D’Onofrio’s talent) is merely a plot device to justify Chris Pratt leading his pack of velociraptors on a chase of the Indominus Rex through the jungle – on a bike, for fuck’s sake! Disbelief can only be suspended for so long.

Cool and the gang of assets

Whether this apparent lack of appreciation for the scientific marvels (nasty DNA splicing) by the park’s visitors and the audience (special effects) was intended by the writers/director is up for discussion. The question that remains is what semi-plausible ideas the inevitable 5th movie will attempt to top this with. Godzilla on Isla Nublar?

In related news, Jurassic World featured an unexpected personal easter egg in that the second guy to get chomped by the Indominus Rex was the same actor who played the pivotal role of an ogre in the TV series Grimm — the DVD box set of which I’m currently chugging through. In English, of course.

Addendum: The security guard who had blood dripping onto his forearm before getting chewed also appeared in Grimm — in the role of an assassin. Strange coincidences.

Image credits: Turmpalast by Eva K. via Wikimedia Commons, Universal

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