It’s 22 years since the first problematic trial run for a dinosaur theme park, but now Jurassic World has turned the idea into a viable and thriving amusement park. Despite housing, you know, dinosaurs, it’s deemed that interest needs to be stoked with a new genetically spliced super-dinosaur. And so park head Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the oddly secretive genetics division, and corporate sponsors Verizon collaborate to present the Indominus rex. When it gets loose, Claire and velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) must work together to weather the crisis. But will Claire’s visiting nephews Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) be safe?
Our four core characters, while all well-acted, are a mixed bag. Main character Claire is engaging, pedantic, sharp, clueless, endearing, and avoidant by turns, though this is not the mess of a poor character, but rather the building blocks of a relatable one. So she worked for me; it’s just a shame that there are such boringly coded moments given to her in a strange character arc from all-business to nurturing (more on this point in the P.S.). Owen Grady is more of a stock badass with a selfless streak, but Pratt carries him through with his charm and natural screen presence. It’s where we get to the kids that things get a bit unbalanced.
Jurassic World struggles to integrate the child perspective in the first act, with intercutting between the adults’ story and the kids’ being tonally jarring. This is not to mention a divorce subplot crowbarred into the screenplay, one of several human moments and half-measured character points that just don’t gel. We get a couple think-piece debates, which I do sort of enjoy, but precious little charm. But what is so strange to me is that this is the one thing director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow should have knocked out of the park. His only other film, again co-written with writing partner Derek Connolly, is the excellent Safety Not Guaranteed, which is entirely comprised of warm, affecting and eccentric human drama. The other screenwriting team here is Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who have also carved a reputation for effective characterization (especially in a film beloved to me, Rise of the Planet of the Apes). This makes Jurassic World‘s milquetoast screenplay, largely lacking in idiosyncrasy and human interest, yet more puzzling.
One area in which the story does perk my interest is in its self-awareness. The screenplay makes some jokes about corporate culture, focus groups and product placement (for a couple scenes it’s sort of doing antiseptic Fight Club), but especially how these concerns relate to blockbuster films. Just observe the first set piece we saw from the trailers: a Great White shark (read: Jaws, the “first blockbuster”) being eaten by a gigantic CGI mosasaurus (read: modern tentpoles). It’s a bald-faced statement, and it was producer Steven Spielberg’s idea! So we have this self-aware narrative, and in the allegory of the film, Jurassic World is the Indominus rex, the brand new attraction that is meant to stand out in a sea of shiny summer movies. But like the Indominus Rex, this film is made up of a few different agendas being spliced together, looks solid, is functional, but at the end of the day doesn’t inspire too much excitement.
Part of this film’s M.O. is its capitalization on Jurassic Park nostalgia, and indeed, Jurassic World is overflowing with references to that first film, to hit the audience right in the feels. Some of it works, or at least is interesting, like when Zach and Gray find an iconic prop from the first film and proceed to burn it. Some of it is sort of pointless; observe the scene of the gallimimus pack running in the field, ripped straight out of Spielberg. To the film’s credit, there is another identical shot reference to the first movie involving a helicopter that does recapitulate the tone to something new (wonderment to dread). But the biggest reference of all is John Williams’ wonderful Jurassic Park theme. However, in Jurassic World, its full-blast version is never played when a dinosaur is on screen! What?
Easing our way more and more into stuff I really enjoyed about this, I must say the pteranodon/dimorphodon attack teased in the trailer is a scene where the action really comes alive. It makes use of the active park (more of a novelty than you’d think), it’s chaotic, it’s fun. But even this is tainted for me by a seriously miscalculated death scene in its midst. Okay, okay, I said I’d be positive. Vincent D’Onofrio as security chief Vic Hoskins is one of those cartoony characters who is so much fun to watch. He’s literally Hugh Jackman’s Vincent Moore from CHAPPiE done right. D’Onofrio gives him a smooth lunacy, and an affected gait. At first I thought it was a sign of confidence, then realizing it must be the result of a battle-born wound. A limp that comes off as a swagger – that’s Hoskins in a nutshell.
Amidst all my mixed feelings, there is one scene (glimpsed in the trailer) I feel is near-perfect. It’s a scene in which Claire and Owen come across the field of dinosaurs ravaged by the Indominus Rex, and they get up close and personal with an apatosaurus. It’s a largely show-don’t-tell scene that lets everything breathe, while also using animatronics in by far their most effective showing in the film.
To paraphrase John Hammond, “You’ll have to get used to Jurassic World, it suffers from a deplorable lack of personality”. Though I feel it’s often workmanlike and lacking in spark, the greatest praise I can give is by saying, it feels like a Jurassic Park movie. Some elements of it do work, it has a few strong visuals, and on balance, it’s better than the other two sequels. There are just a variety of flaws keeping it from being worth preserving in amber. A weak 6/10.
P.S.: I know, Alan Grant has basically the same arc in Jurassic Park. The difference is, that one was well thought-out, well-structured, and established emotional connections through moments of charm all along the way. Remember Alan being weirded out by Tim’s hero worship in the cute car-changing scene? And the last scene in the helicopter that tells you everything you need to know about the end of this subplot without words? When we get to Jurassic World, now I’m asking you to remember that scene where Zach and Gray ask to stay with Owen, despite the fact that all they’ve seen him do is have his life saved by Claire? And the one where Claire tells Zach and Gray to hold hands…? My point is, Claire changes as a character in ways other than this, sure, but don’t introduce this point if you’re going to half-ass it.
P.P.S.: For a nice little through line with a cool payoff, track who dominates the control room throughout the film, up until the very last scene.
P.P.P.S.: Bryce Dallas Howard is making a habit of showing up in the fourth installments of franchises – observe Terminator Salvation.