In Jurassic World, The Park Is Back Open But The Wonder Is Gone.
Director: Colin Trevorrow.
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly. (Story by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, with characters by Michael Crichton.)
Actors: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Opens at: Wide.
I think we can all pretty much remember the first time we saw Jurassic Park. For an entire generation, watching that film stands as one of the seminal movie-going experiences of their whole lives. Me? I still vividly remember the theater my parents and I went to for our viewing.
Then there's the whole industry side of the spectrum: In that regard, Jurassic Park exists as one of the most influential movies of the modern era, a film that showcased just how compelling CGI models could be on screen.
So, yeah, to call the Jurassic Park franchise a beloved one is a pretty safe bet.
Specifically, it's that reverence that, for over a decade now, has sparked near-constant rumors of a third sequel that would include crazy stuff like weaponized dinosaurs fighting wars or, hell, even a hybrid animal that grew out of Dennis Nedry's shaving cream can.
Then something pretty crazy happened: Indie director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) got plucked from relative obscurity to the helm the tent-pole sequel. An interesting choice? On a number of levels, for sure.
But does Trevorrow's Jurassic World do the original justice?
That all depends, really. It's definitely an enjoyable movie, albeit one with lots of warts. It tries so hard to be a deeply philosophical film not unlike the original. But it also wants to be an action-packed adventure movie like the sequels. As for the plot? The long and short of it is this: This time around, we're following around Claire (Howard Dallas), the manager of the now-open dinosaur theme park, as she tries to juggle her visiting nephews and the unveiling of a new genetically created dinosaur, just as all hell breaks loose.
Now, OK, let's get the bad stuff out of the way. To begin with, this movie is pretty much a remake of the original — like stupidly so. First, there's the obligatory introduction shot of the park — only, instead of brontosauruses, there's just huge buildings. Then there's a scene with with kids in a vehicle being hunted by the new, completely made-up Indominus Rex instead of the T-Rex. There's even a scene that takes place in the dilapidated Visitor's Center from the original, a sequence that directly mimics the climax of Jurassic Park.
Then there are the characters, whose story arcs aren't ever fully fleshed out. In other words, none of them are all that engaging.
Take, for example, Claire: She's a very career-driven woman who knows everything there is to know about her park's performance and profit margins, and she's forced to handle kids she's not quite comfortable around; but, unlike Sam Neill's Alan Grant from the first film, she never really changes. Her harsh exterior never quite melts away.
Same thing with Chris Pratt's Grady, who starts the movie as a holier than thou velociraptor trainer and ends the film in the same place.
Don't even get me started, meanwhile, on the weird subplot that fins's InGen workers looking to find a way to weaponize and arm the dinosaurs — and specifically the velociraptors — as a substitute for soldiers in time of war. Beyond an excuse to have the cool raptor hunting scene that you've seen all over the marketing for this film and the arguably semi-interesting subplot about the rights of a brought-back-from-the-dead animal, the whole thing's mostly just confusing.
The 3D effects, meanwhile, don't really bring much to the table. Neither in-your-face action nor added visual depth plays much of a role in the technology's use or proper lack thereof.
All that said, Jurassic World isn't a wholly dumb film. Not at all. Rather, it winks knowingly at the predicament it's in. Through various pieces of dialogue, Trevorrow clearly attempts to show his audiences that he knows just how completely his hand is being forced by Hollywood's desire to make a movie with a made-up dinosaur. Much like Claire says when she justifies her park's creation of such creatures, there's always an attendance spike when a new “asset” is revealed: Celebrities visit and hotels get booked for months on end. In this role, Claire's pretty obviously set up as a surrogate for the studio system. For the first third of the movie, all she can talk about is numbers, attendance, focus groups and “assets.” Her view of the park is that of spreadsheets and P/L reports. Even the park's design is meant to show just how corporate the whole affair has become: It now has a monorail, hotels and long lines for rides. Gone is the simple, almost intimate Jeep ride of the original park. In its place, we have Claire trying to auction off the rights of the Indominus Rex to a cellphone company.
All of this goes to show that Mr. Trevorrow is aware that the studio system has become nothing but a binary affair where movies could somehow always be more profitable through focus-group testing. His message is that creators are “assets” to be exploited, and that audiences only want things to be bigger, better, and more violent. Through its constant callbacks to the original movie, this effort seems to yearn for the simpler times of the original film, which, if you buy into this reading of the movie, excuses some of its worse portions.
Credit where it's due, though: Those ever-necessary action sequences are quite memorable and compelling, especially the one that comes at the end.
In all, Jurassic World has high ambitions, but ultimately can't quite stick the landing. The meta aspects of its Hollywood commentaries intrigue somewhat, sure. Funny thing is, though, the original didn't need that kind of subtext to elicit wonder from its audiences.
As this film argues, al that extra stuff is secondary; dinosaurs are wondrous enough on their own.
Too bad this film misses its own point.