Film Review – Jurassic World
The one thing Jurassic World (2015) does really well is solidifying how much of a master craftsman Steven Spielberg is. It’s been twenty-two years since Jurassic Park (1993) was released, and it’s still being compared to in terms of action adventure spectacle. What Spielberg accomplished – as he has so often – is creating indelible images that stick in our minds. There are sequences that will be forever remembered in that film. He was able to inject a level of wonderment and terror into one package. Jurassic Park was such a success that the sequels had the impossible challenge of following it. Even Spielberg himself couldn’t capture the same lightning when he returned for The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997).
Colin Trevorrow – the director of this latest installment – clearly admires the original, maybe a little too much. He (along with screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly) tosses in numerous callbacks to the first film. Easter eggs are scattered throughout, to the point where it flirts with losing its own identity. John Williams’ iconic score (re-orchestrated by Michael Giacchino) booms relentlessly throughout. The filmmakers are so in love with the franchise that they fail to reinvent it, instead winking to the audience, “Hey, remember how great this all was two decades ago?”
The obstacle none of the sequels overcame is explaining why people want to go to a theme park with dinosaurs born out of test tubes. You would think that after the initial disaster, investors and managers would steer away from this potential death trap. But no, character motivations became more foolish with each return. What did they expect would happen when they tried to control animals that had been extinct for 65 million years? Here, the screenplay oh so conveniently skips this problem by not addressing it at all. We open with the theme park fully built and operational, located on Isla Nublar – the same island of the first film.
This is the most self-aware entry in the franchise. Attendance to the park has been declining. To combat this, the park’s primary investor (Irrfan Khan) orders the head scientist (B.D. Wong, reprising his role from the original) to come up with a brand new dinosaur. The result is the Indominus Rex. Bigger, nastier, and a hybrid of different breeds, the Indominus Rex is the most fearsome (and silly) creature yet. Its creation will hopefully bring people in flocks. This could be the idea behind the series as a whole. With each installment, the scope has grown exponentially, hoping the monetary gain would rise as well. There must have been a studio executive somewhere that had this mindset when the decision for a third sequel was made. The great irony is that within the movie universe, the economical greed resulted in terrible outcomes. Maybe the filmmakers should have heeded the same caution in real life.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. If we step back and examine this from a distance, Trevorrow and his team did make it entertaining. There’s an energetic forward momentum, it never drags and never gets boring. The special effects are particularly good. I long for the days of practical effects magic, but this is a new age, and computer generated imagery has taken center stage. The dinosaurs move with believability. One particularly scene, involving a battle between two dinos, had the audience at my screening hooting and hollering with excitement. The action scenes never quite hit the high peaks of the earlier films, but it does have a level of fun I’m sure general audiences will gravitate to.
Have you noticed I’ve yet to talk about the characters? That’s because they’re so thinly drawn that they barely rise above simple archetypes. Chris Pratt’s character Owen is defined merely as a macho man, a “dinosaur whisperer” who has the ability to connect with the animals, or so we’re told. The two kid brothers (Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson) have the uncanny ability to put themselves in the worst possible position. We learn that they have problems back at home, but all is forgotten once the dinosaurs start running amuck. The kids’ Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) has the most fleshed out arc, starting out as a stone-cold-park-manager and then ending up as a not-so-stone-cold-park-manager-who-can-run-in-the-jungle-in-high-heels. Vincent D’Onofrio has the unfortunate job to play the dumbest character, a man so absentminded that he actually believes velociraptors can be manipulated to fight against terrorists. Yikes.
If there’s one standout character, it’s the one played by Jake Johnson. Johnson has had an excellent couple of years, and he continues that trend here playing a park control operator. He’s given the best lines, generates the most laughs, and in a story filled with idiotic people, he actually comes off as pretty level headed. At this point in his career, Johnson is riding high, and I suspect he’ll have even more success in the very near future.
The more I think about Jurassic World, the less I like it. Sure, it’s competently made and has some nice action set pieces. If you don’t think too hard it can easily masquerade as a better movie. But how much of this is really going to stick out and leave a lasting impression? It’s a “here today, gone today” situation. Poorly written characters continue to make bad decisions in pressure moments, and plot developments arise out of thin air. You mean to tell me these dinosaurs are so intelligent they know how a tracking beacon works? Okayy. If you squint really hard, you might find this to be good old dumb fun. But honestly, how long can you do that before getting a headache?