Among huge science-fiction franchises, Jurassic Park is somewhat unusual in the fact that few people seem to think of it as that. I’m struggling to think of any other movie that’s had a couple of big-budget theatrical sequels that’s thoroughly endured in pop culture yet is still talked about so separately from the series it spawned. When was the last time you heard someone talk about ‘The Jurassic Park Trilogy’? It’s not that the two sequels are completely awful anyway, of course they’re vastly inferior, but then again, so are most things. I think it’s more a testament to just how brilliant Jurassic Park is that it continues to stand apart.
In fairness, neither Spielberg’s own The Lost World, nor Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III attempted to just re-hash the same story. It’s as if they knew they could never hope to match the game-changing, awe-inspiring vision of the original. The Lost World was a more ambitious yet ultimately more silly jaunt into bringing dinosaurs to the mainland, while the third saw a return to the second film’s island for some fun if empty B-movie action. A fourth movie’s been on the cards for years, but the delay in bringing Jurassic World to the screen has surely greatly increased the excitement levels, plenty of nineties kids might not have cared so much about another Jurassic Park movie had it come out in 2004, but now, it’s a nostalgic event movie for many (myself humbly included).
It’s something the film itself appears aware of too, this has more in common with, and more references to the first movie than either of the others. It’s a tough road to take, opening inviting comparisons to a peerless modern classic, but while of course Jurassic World is not in the same league as Jurassic Park, such homaging is not its undoing. It does return to the actual location of the first movie at times, and when some of the old props show up it just feels tacky. However it gets other things right in attempting to re-capture some of the magical atmosphere; when one young visitor first arrives and runs to open his hotel room shutters, the camera swoops outward to a wide aerial shot of the park as John Williams’ magnificent original theme plays. Dammit, I was there, my hope for this movie soared.
I’ll just get this out the way now seeing as how I documented my enduring love for Jurassic Park yesterday; I liked this movie. I tried to not get my hopes up when this was announced, and thought the trailers and what details of the plot were available made it sound quite awful. For a time, I feared the worst. This thankfully isn’t that.
Having apparently learned no lessons from the previous attempts, John Hammond’s dream has now finally been realised. The dinosaurs from Isla Nublar – the original Jurassic Park, have somehow been contained and the island has been converted into the shiny Jurassic World theme park. It’s been successfully operational for years, drawing crowds of visitors, but all is not running so smoothly; as the Park’s operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) points out; “people aren’t impressed by dinosaurs anymore”.
This thinking has led to the genetics team creating a new kind of Dinosaur, a ‘genetic hybrid’ called the Indominus Rex, it’s supposedly everything the public wants; a bigger, louder, scarier, smarter more dangerous new creature. Needless to say, things don’t go too well.
The choice of this beast as the McGuffin to Jurassic World pushes it into slightly different territory from the previous movies. The dinosaurs featured in them were all real species, reconstructed using what scientific knowledge was available, plus some obvious exaggerations for dramatic licence. But deadly as many of them were, they were animals, and generally treated as such. The Indominus Rex is nothing of the sort, it’s a creature that has abilities beyond that of any single dinosaur, and kills everything in its path for no discernible reason other than that it simply wants to. While the I-Rex is effectively introduced, and the film gets some decent moments with it, it renders Jurassic World much more of a fantasy monster movie with little concern for science.
The attitude of spectacle over thought is prevalent throughout the movie, and its best enjoyed when one just accepts this. When the Indomidus Rex inevitably escapes to wreak havoc on the park, we’re treated to a plethora of B-movie dino-action sequences on an A-list scale. New director Colin Trevorrow is no Spielberg but he tries his hardest to be. If dino-battling action, both versus humans and each other is what you want to see, Trevorrow delivers. The film also has a number of startling sequences that I’m sure will frighten younger viewers (in a good way). I’ve done so much complaining about the useless way the PG-13 restrictions have affected depictions of violence in blockbusters, but this somehow have managed to sneak by with a respectable amount of blood intact; the sort of horror scenes the rating was originally supposed to facilitate. From the initial escape onwards, Jurassic World is always entertaining when it keeps moving, despite the dubious nature of its script, requiring several characters to make stupid decisions to move itself along.
And characters are what this movie is truly lacking. Think how many great people there were in Jurassic Park, and I don’t mean just the leads. I bet I can think of a memorable line from every single supporting character in the movie, Nedry, Muldoon, Arnold – all great. This film has none of them, instead our nominal leads are The aforementioned manager Claire Dearing and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a velociraptor trainer. Pratt’s a likeable presence as ever but there’s very little to him here, he’s just a flat action hero archetype, there’s none of the winning humour he displayed in Guardians of the Galaxy, though at least he’s one of the more sensible characters. Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t fare much better, and a half-baked romantic subplot between the pair fails to convince.
In the supporting roles we have a few more talented actors with little to work with, Vincent D’Onofrio plays a cartoonish villain who, like Burke in Aliens, ludicrously wishes to weaponise the dinosaurs. There’s also Omar Sy as one of Owen’s co-trainers, Irrfan Khan as the park’s owner and B.D. Wong reprising his role as geneticist Dr Wu. Wong’s the only returning character to appear, and he gets a decent speech about how none of these animals are “real dinosaurs”, but he’s hardly there at all. Of them, only Khan manages to get a touch of Goldblum-esque eccentricity across, but his personality is inconsistent. There’s also a tech guy played by the usually irritating Jake Johnson who’s not bad and appears to be acting as a mouthpiece for Trevorrow at times (more on that in a bit).
Worst of all are the kids who start the movie off. Two brothers, an older, moody teen (Kings of Summer’s Nick Robinson) and a younger one fascinated by dinosaurs (Iron Man 3’s Ty Simpkins). Gender-swapping aside, they are so clearly analogues for Lex and Tim from the original. They’re Claire’s nephews and they’re rather annoying at times, very stupid at others, and a lot harder to care about than they should be. Their dialogue, like most in this movie, is rarely terrible, but often on the nose, there are a few lines that would have been better off cut, and an insipid divorce subplot that’s introduced then goes nowhere.
More effort has been put into the dinosaurs; there are a few new ones on display. A humongous Mosasaurus is one of the park’s main attractions; it’s cheekily introduced eating a Great White Shark in a SeaWorld-type show. Speaking of which, the velociraptors being trained is actually an idea full of potential, we know these are smart animals and we know that humans can train intelligent yet dangerous animals such as Orcas. While Trevorrow gets some good raptor scenes in, reminding us of the threat they still possess, I feel he kinda fluffed the opportunity to do something really interesting with this angle. He also stages a frightening set-piece in which a flock of pterosaurs swarm into a crowded area that features a shocking, if morally troublesome death scene.
The onslaught of CGI can be a bit wearing at times though, Jurassic Park showcased a perfect blend of CG and practical effects to bring it’s dinosaurs to life, I think the only practical creature in Jurassic World is the neck of a dead sauropod that’s ironically lingered on for too long.
Jurassic World’s other interest is, more surprisingly, an apparent desire to express a sly contempt for the current state of blockbuster filmmaking. The ‘bigger, scarier’ Indominus Rex is supposed to be a product of focus groups, and Jake Johnson’s character comments on his dislike of corporations trying to control their exhibits (“why don’t they just call it a Pepsi-saurus”). It’s none-too subtle, but it puts the film in a weird position as it is, in many ways, the exact thing it appears to be satirising, which also offers an interesting reading of its conclusion (that I’ll discuss in a spoiler post). I’m curious to know if this angle came from original screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (who rebooted Planet of the Apes so well) or Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly, who were hired off the unlikely back of sci-fi-themed Indie romance Safety Not Guaranteed (I imagine the latter).
Jurassic World is perhaps best represented by Michael Giacchino’s score. The original material is fine, but it’s nothing special, there are no cues that are especially memorable. He occasionally drops in themes from John Williams’ original Jurassic Park score though, and such moments stir-up nostalgic feelings of awe better than anything original to this film does. To be fair, Giacchino uses these cues sparingly (and much better than Don Davis did in Jurassic Park III), but it demonstrates how Jurassic World is itself more of an unremarkable movie, whose best moments are derivative of a truly great original.
Whether Jurassic World’s satirical aspirations are successful or hypocritical are ultimately not of great importance. The characters may be weak, and the plot that of a more generic monster movie, but what matters is that it’s fun. It’s nearly always moving, the pace is generally excellent and from set-piece to set-piece I was never remotely bored. We’re never going to get a sequel close to the quality of Jurassic Park, and I doubt Jurassic World will affect how people view this series as a whole, but it’s still worth a visit.