Jurassic World (2015)


A couple of decades after the events of Jurassic Park, the world has inexplicably grown bored with the concept of dinosaurs in a theme park. Having seen attendance steadily decline over the last ten years, the park’s operators create a bigger, badder dinosaur in hopes of reinvigorating public interest and increasing revenues. Almost immediately, however, the dinosaur poop hits the fan and potential repeat customers start dying off. Can an ex-military dino-trainer (Chris Pratt) and the park’s operations manager (Bryce Dallas Howard) save the day? Yeah, probably! Replicating the awe that the original film inspired was always going to be an impossibility. Luckily, director Colin Trevorrow and his crew not only recognize that problem, but embrace it wholeheartedly and address it almost directly. The feelings of the park’s patrons towards the dinosaur attractions in the park very closely mirror those of the film going audience in relation to CGI dinosaurs in movies. Much of the dialogue regarding the need for a bigger dinosaur (and, there IS much) is a not-so-well-veiled commentary on what we’re all thinking as we watch.

We were amazed at what Spielberg threw out there in 1993 because, a) we had never seen it before and b) because Spielberg was smart enough to use the kind of restraint that ensured we STILL hadn’t really seen everything we think there is to see. In 2015, that ship has sailed, so the complete opposite route is taken. Show us lots of dinosaurs, quickly and often. The action starts almost immediately (although, due to the film’s funniest moment, not quite as soon as we think) and doesn’t let up for a whole lot of character development. There’s no time to examine dino poop or bond with children. They even kinda rush through the discussions about whether this is something they SHOULD be doing. With no one of near as much interest as the first film’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, it’s easily forgivable. World also all but forgets that the two sequels even happened (not the worst idea in the world) and provides quite a few homages and cheeky winks at the original’s most iconic moments. B.D. Wong, the only returning actor, is given an interesting swing that almost serves to improve his character in the first film if you were to go back and watch (and, you know you will).

Smartly, the focus here is squarely on the action and carnage, and we are served up more than our share. The body count, in fact, is most definitely higher than the first three films combined (this is also the first film that shows the park at full operation with a packed crowd, so the potential victims are countless, unless you can count to just over 20,000). Much of it also has a bit of a mean streak running through it – one supporting character, despite being a relatively decent person as presented, is given a particularly drawn out and cruel death that we wouldn’t wish upon the film’s villain.

Speaking of bad guys, that’s one of the film’s decidedly weak points. Vincent D’Onofrio is fine as a government agent hassling Pratt for use of his velociraptors in military combat, but his villain just isn’t very villainous. We know that we’re supposed to hate him because he snarls and chews the scenery, but there are a lot of moments where he really isn’t THAT wrong in what he’s doing, which becomes a problem in the third act. Of course, the Jurassic movies always allow for two layers of baddies when you consider the dinosaurs themselves. Weirdly, in the case of the giant dinosaur, Indominus Rex, that is specially created for the park, we're never really given a view of his true scale. Perhaps it’s an homage to Spielberg’s own Jaws, but for a creature whose size is brought up an almost ridiculous number of times, it’s odd that the audience is never given a truly representative look at just HOW big he is. It’s important that he be significantly bigger than the usual T-Rex, but we just have to take their word for it. Even in a scene in which the two both appear, it’s hard to distinguish just who has the size advantage. As it stands, there’s no good reason to NOT have just used the T-Rex again. Indy (hey!) is also given a few abilities and knowledge bases that they attempt to explain away by the different strains of DNA he has running through him, but a few of them are just plain silly. It is kind of a hoot, however, how the film’s second act almost treats him as killer in a slasher film. More fun here, however, are the giant shark-eating alligatorosaurus (shut up) and the flying dinos that are finally used effectively Hitchcockian after the third film let them go to waste.

On the acting front, Chris Pratt is his usual funny, charming self and we fully believe he has a genuine love for the velociraptors he trains. Sure, his character is a little TOO perfect in his ability to be good at everything (a fact that’s not lost on the child characters in the film), but he’s just so darn likable and carries the film well.

As the park’s manager of sorts, Bryce Dallas Howard has the film’s biggest arch, beginning as a Mayor Larry Vaughn, refusing to shut the park down for fear of losing profits and investors, then transitioning into an Ellen Ripley, complete with sweaty tank top, newly bad-assed attitude, and giant gun when she needs to kill some rogue dinosaurs. Less successful, but through no real fault of the actors, are Howard’s nephews (Nick Robinson & Ty Simpkins). At the tender young ages of angsty teenager and fun-loving, but also kinda-angsty preteen, the boys are plot devices of the biggest kind, having been inexplicably sent to be babysat by their notoriously busy and irresponsible aunt at the most dangerous place in the world. Even their home life situation seems injected just to add a false dramatic element. Their parents’ divorce subplot is brought up by one of the kids at an incredibly weird and entirely unnecessary moment, only to be dropped immediately and never addressed again (‘oh, hai Lisa’s mom’). When we see the parents again at the end, they are holding hands as if the filmmakers are saying, “you’ve all seen a movie before and you know damn well what having your kids in a perilous situation will do to an impending divorce.”

One of the biggest failings, unsurprisingly, comes from the marketing department. The trailers raised a couple of controversies that end up being non-issues when you see the context. Firstly, we all balked at seeing the velociraptors as cooperating good guys, ready to do Pratt’s bidding. But, it’s actually handled much better than expected, even if not perfectly. Sure, their development seems to skip a stage or ten from where we see them early in the flick with no particular explanation, but it’s still fun to watch them battle people and dinosaurs externally and their own allegiances internally. Also, Joss Whedon’s slam of Howard’s character being treated in the trailers as “a stiff” in a “70s-era sexist” film prove to be just as unfounded. She MUST start out that way in a film like this in order to make her transformation moment that much more of a show-stopper. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t jump to conclusions regarding small clips before seeing the meat around them.

Make no mistake – there are a TON of deus ex-machinas (hey, the kids can rebuild a transmission under extreme duress), macguffins, and stupid decisions made by otherwise seemingly smart characters. But, you have to consider that this entire franchise is predicated upon not only a stupid decision, but the SAME stupid decision being made with each film (you know, the one about thinking this whole concept of a dinosaur park is a good idea, and continually attempting to reopen it regardless of the number of people who die). So, it seems silly to waste time dwelling on the individual smaller ones. Ultimately, there’s not as much heart and soul in this film, but that’s why we still have the first one. What we needed to reinvigorate the franchise is a dumb popcorn flick that we can get excited about watching while our brains take a break, and that’s exactly what you’re going to get here. There's also an incredibly fun and applause-worthy climax that I would be doing readers a great disservice if I mention even one detail about.  Despite my nitpicks, this was still a blast. On a side note, I saw the film in IMAX 3-D. The IMAX aspect really made it pop, but the 3-D was mostly unnecessary.


Jason Howard