Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio
The secret, I feel, to enjoying a Jurassic Park movie (or Jurassic World, now- they’ve scaled up) is to make sure your expectations are correctly calibrated.
The first Jurassic Park was a landmark special effects film and a pretty bog-standard adventure flick, albeit one mounted with all the considerable craft and talent that director Steven Spielberg could bring to bear on the subject at hand. That level of craft, and with it the ability to elicit a gosh-wow level of sincere, joyous awe from the sternest of hearts went a long way to papering over the cracks in the narrative, and it remains a beloved cinematic milestone for a generation of film fans.
The next two films in the franchise proved that wasn’t such an easy trick, with even the ‘berg fumbling the ball on The Lost World, although both it and Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III both have their moments. Now here we are, some 22 years after the first film and 14 after the third, with a new director, a (mostly) new cast, and a (mostly) new park. And it (mostly) works a treat.
Jurassic World’s big twist on the old model is encapsulated in its marketing tagline: The Park Is Open. Built on the same island that hosted the original, never open to the public Jurassic Park, Jurassic World is a functioning luxury resort, where thousands of people visit every day to see the ‘saurs. Crowds gasp in horror as a T-Rex, in a sly wink to one of the ’93 films most lauded sequences, devours a live goat; children ride juvenile Triceratopses around a miniature corral, tourists paddle down a jungle river past grazing herbivores – and asshole jaded kids, like Zach (Nick Robinson), on vacation with his dino-mad little brother, Gray (Ty Simpkins) stare moodily into their iPhones, bored to tears by the wonders around them.
It’s an astute comment on modern culture – we got bored with innovation and novelty so quickly (Louie CK does a good bit on this tendency – Google it) so why would honest-to-God live dinosaurs be any different? That’s why park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has tasked the park’s genetics team, led by Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong – remember him in the first film?) to cook up a new attraction – Indominus Rex, a monstrous genetic hybrid whose sole reason for existence is to out-T-Rex the T-Rex (and put bums on seats).
This is, of course, not a good idea, and dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) outlines a number of cogent reasons why building a 50 foot unsocialised killing machine is probably not in the best interests of all involved, but since Grady’s gig on the island is training a pack of Velociraptors, the franchise’s iconic villain species, maybe he’s not one to talk. Still, he does look rugged and capable in his khakis and leather vest, so when the Indominus inevitably gets loose and the park is plunged into chaos, he’s our hero/guide/Spielbergian surrogate father figure.
Jurassic Worldleans into the pulpier underpinnings of the concept and is all the better for it. More than any other film in the series, it feels like a Saturday matinee jungle adventure, and if in doing so it loses some of the polish and artistry of the first film, it gains a lot of momentum. The Indominus is kind of a goofy lead monster, seemingly picking up whatever traits it needs to make any given set piece work (it can not only camouflage itself like a cuttlefish, it can mask its heat signature), but here’s the thing: the set pieces work. There’s an energy and verve to the proceedings, and Trevorrow has real chops when it comes to ratcheting up the suspense.
He also has a gleeful Halloween-spree approach to the horror elements of the story – and it’s easy to forget, isn’t it? that the Jurassic Park series, for all its childlike wonder and spectacle, is built around the threat of giant lizards eating people. Jurassic World has the biggest body count so far, largely by dint of having a large civilian population on hand for the creatures to feed on. The park’s security team also doesn’t fare too well, in a sequence that pulls heavily from Aliens.
What doesn’t work? Well, any attempt to make the characters seem more than proxies through which to experience the spectacle, for one thing. There’s a bit of business about Zach and Gray’s parents getting divorced that lands with a leaden thud. Any business about the morality of playing god in the lab or using the dinosaurs as entertainment or weapons is also way too muddled to work – all our protagonists are straight up participating in the animals’ exploitation from the get-go, so when Pratt slugs Vincent D‘Onofrio, who shows up as a shady suit who sees (pretty damn obvious) military applications for domesticated raptors, it’s more than a little disingenuous. Besides, Pratt’s Grady is ex-Navy, and given that he’s now an animal trainer, I’d bet cash money that he used to be involved in the Marine Mammal Program.*
In the end, Jurassic World is a big budge B movie, and a pretty decent one. It’s not a game changer like the original, but it was never going to be. It is, however, a pretty neat dinosaur adventure with plenty of thrills and kills, and that’s a decent night’s entertainment.
*Complete conjecture, but it jumped out at me.