June 12, 2015
I remember, like a lot of Millenials do, seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. It was a seminal moment. The build-up, the reveals, the wonder, the awe . . . followed by the adrenaline, excitement, and fear. Spielberg’s 1993 original is, bar none, one of the best blockbusters ever made, from the top down. After two sequels that abandoned the first theme park aesthetic and stuck with the deadly dinos, here we are 22 years later with John Hammond’s dream of a functioning dinosaur zoo apparently a reality. Was it worth the wait? I say yes.
When I watched the original, it almost felt like a bait-and-switch. “Hey, we have a massive dino-theme-park! Spared no expense . . . except when it came to hiring and paying loyal employees.” The actual park was not ready and the characters were there to give it their approval (SPOILER: They don’t).
Returning to Isla Nublar, (the previous two sequels took place on “Site B” Isla Sorna) Jurassic World sees 20,000 visitors a day. It is owned by the Masrani Corporation which, in light of declining sales, seeks to spike attendance by bringing in yet-another new attraction, one that will fit the focus group’s imagination of “more teeth”. Hence, the first genetically-modified hybrid dinosaur, named the Indominus Rex. Turns out engineering a hyper-intelligent dinosaur, the equivalent of serial killer Michael Myers, is not a good idea. Chaos ensues.
Director Colin Trevarrow, who re-wrote the original script with his writing partner Derek Connolly, took the premise of the original and fulfill every promise, also adding the best bits and pieces left out of the films or from author Michael Crichton’s books. Jurassic World is massive. They even got the T-Rex to finally eat the goat on command.
There’s a wonderful sense of self-awareness and meta-narrative 14 years later after two sub-par sequels and diminishing returns. The Indominus Rex itself is a commentary on the CGI explosion since the first film hit: what better to lure unsuspecting audiences back into Jurassic World than with what we all want: something bigger, badder, and with more teeth? It’s so stupid, you could actually believe a studio exec would do it.
The I-Rex was quite simply made to be a serial killer, without even any of the instinctual excuses that other animals like the Raptors have. No, this animal is an all-out sociopath. Any scene with or about her reminded me of the fascinating ethical and philosophical problems of the first, of messing with nature, of humanity’s illusion of control.
But telling genre stories like these can be tough. You can’t just sit and talk about the dinos. You gotta fill it with action, danger, death. Sadly, it’s hard to convince an audience to follow any character when they clearly fall in two categories: the leads and the dino-food. What the original film did so well was sketch the characters and establish arcs that the chaos of the park would force forward. Alan Grant hated kids until he was forced to run from dinosaurs with them. John Hammond had a vision until that vision was revealed to be a fantasy etc.
What’s interesting here is despite the marketing pushing Chris Pratt as the savior – and make no mistake, he is – Bryce Dallas Howard plays the hero. It’s she who actually changes because of the story, going from a career-obsessed ice queen to finding her maternal instinct, for both her lost nephews and the park’s animals. Once that distinction becomes clear, my enjoyment of the film leapt. Because as much as I love Pratt, I got an issue here.
Chris Pratt is great, in that, he is playing a superhero version of Chris Pratt, in all his common-sense-touting, motorcycle-riding, Raptor-taming awesomeness. Even the kids call him a badass and light up when they see him. Hey, I love me some Pratt but maybe one flaw? Maybe anything I can relate to as a non-superhero and a non-Chris Pratt? Alas, there is none, but let’s be honest: he wasn’t hired because he would play a character. He was hired to play himself, because literally everyone loves themselves some Pratt. There’s a reason he was in almost every piece of marketing material.
Howard is really good despite playing a tired cliche of a female character. Now that the sexist glare of the film’s marketing is out of the way, we can actually see her change throughout the film, much like Sam Neill’s Alan Grant in the original. Her heroic moment in the finale gave me goosebumps.
The kids, played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, I just couldn’t find an appeal. The background stuff about their parents’ divorce is just so tired, made worse by the fact that the original did this bit so much better, barely referencing the divorce and trusting the audience to go for the ride. The extent we know about Robinson’s character is his favorite hobby is to creepily stare at every girl in his view, as if this was going to tell us something we didn’t already know about a teenage boy. Simpkins’ comes across better as the younger, more sensitive of the two.
Though it’s through their eyes we first see the park, their scenes after we meet Pratt and Howard felt tacked on, as opposed to part of the journey. Spielberg worked the kids into the story organically. Here, Trevarrow has them as a prerequisite.
Vincent D’Onofrio as our human villain seeking to weaponize Raptors that Pratt’s character has tamed, chews the hell out of his scenery. This is not Daredevil D’Onofrio; this is Men in Black D’Onofrio. Irrfan Khan plays the clueless-yet-charming billionaire owner and Jake Johnson plays our audience surrogate is Lowery, a hipster computer tech who mocks the company’s obliviousness to their Frankenstein dino. He wears a vintage Jurassic Park shirt and christens potential hybrids as “Pepsi-saurus” and “Tostidodon.” You get the drift.
As I said earlier, great storytelling is often accomplished through multi-tasking the elements of a film, combining exposition and character development into one package with multiple plot functions. The first Jurassic Park did this brilliantly. This film, not so much. But it’s hard to fault anybody, because the sheer spectacle, reverence, and entertainment on display are on par or honestly better than the set pieces of the original.
As only his second feature film, Trevarrow deftly handles the weight (some would say burden) of honoring the original while pursuing new avenues, like the I-Rex. For the most part, it works, but Trevarrow is no Spielberg. He’s not quite to the point where he can knit together all of his cool ideas into a single satisfying narrative. He’ll stop to give some kid time, then pick up D’Onofrio doing shady stuff, then follow Pratt and Howard around for a bit. It can feel disjointed at times.
An ultimately satisfying blockbuster with honest-to-god spectacle, not just a mishmash of computer pixels, Jurassic World supersedes Spielberg’s own sequel, The Lost Word: Jurassic Park, as the definitive follow-up to one of my generation’s favorite films.
Dir. Colin Trevarrow
- Chris Pratt as Owen Grady
- Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing
- Nick Robinson as Zach Mitchell
- Ty Simpkins as Gray Mitchell
- Vincent D’Onofrio as Vic Hoskins
- Irrfan Khan as Simon Masrani
- B.D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu
- Jake Johnson as Lowery Cruthers
- Omar Sy as Barry
- Lauren Lapkus as Vivian
- Katie McGrath as Zara Young
- Brian Tee as Katashi Hamada
- Judy Greer as Karen Mitchell (nee Dearing)
- Andy Buckley as Scott Mitchell