Alright, yes, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is a masterpiece of science fiction. It perfectly balanced a sense of grandeur and dread, kept us on the edge of our seat with some unforgettable suspense and never lost sight of its big questions about mankind and our misplaced vanity. It was a brilliant film, deservedly considered a classic, and none of its sequels (including this one) were ever able to be as intelligent or inspired. The thing is, they really never needed to be; we’ll always have the original, and it left us with a nice little dinosaur-filled world that is ripe for future story potential.
Director Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World is an unapologetically fun, and at times totally goofy, re-examining of Jurassic Park as a straight up summer action flick, complete with helicopter crashes, rocket launchers and a bunch of dead civilians caught in the middle. It’s easy to poke fun at Chris Pratt leading a group of raptors into battle on a motorcycle, or the cartoonish creation of a new evil dinosaur who kills for sport, but when the result is this damn entertaining you can’t help but admire the film-makers for seeing the franchise’s blockbuster potential and asking ‘Why the fukuisaurus not?’
While completely different in style and tone, Jurassic World’s nostalgia for the classic film is undeniable and echoes many of the same themes that made it so fascinating. Years after John Hammond’s dream of cloning dinosaurs for a theme park was dashed, investors have since managed to tame the seemingly untameable and rebuild the failed genetically-modified zoo as Jurassic World, which has now been functioning as a successful holiday destination for ten years. But even with such an accomplishment, satisfaction begins to waver and the park’s owners commission a deadly genetic hybrid to win back consumer interest, the Indominus Rex. Naturally, life finds a way to let the Indominus escape and wreak chaos and death around the island. Cue rockets and raptors.
As much as Jurassic World does turn out to be a fun little adventure once it all kicks off, before it gets there it’s a frustrating lumbering beast. It’s easier to suspend disbelief and get past the convenient plotting and sub-par dialogue once the action starts, but while we are being introduced to the story they become bitter pills to swallow. Trevorrow tries to combat this by reminding the audience of the sense of wonder the original film gave, but this ends up amounting to John William’s iconic score being force-fed over shots of computer generated vistas. When combined with some meta humour from Jake Johnson about how the original park was a classic and this one not really comparing it’s hard not to roll your eyes and agree.
The bigger problem is that Jurassic World’s characters are not hugely compelling (disappointing to see from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, the writing team behind the rebooted Planet of the Apes movies) and only really get a chance to shine once the danger starts. This is especially true with leads Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard as raptor trainer Owen and the park’s operations manager Claire respectively. Both fall into very familiar Hollywood moulds, with an unfazed and quippy hero in Pratt and a strong-minded but slightly removed heroine in Howard, but they do so with enough confidence and flair that you can forgive their cheesy designs (though I refuse to believe any woman would have continued to wear high-heels through half of what Claire’s put through).
Others like Claire’s nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson respectively) feel like they are just there to move the plot along and don’t really work as characters in their own right. There are seeds of a story for the young duo, but the payoff seems to have been lost on the cutting room floor and left them as little more than kids in need of rescuing. Given how excellently utilised the kids in the original movie were, Gray and Zach’s inclusion feels like a missed opportunity. Then again, if it meant more time with the action it’s probably the right choice for the movie they were trying to make. These kids do ultimately work as a vehicle to explore how exciting a place Jurassic World is before it goes to hell, helping lead us through a lot of creative little snippets showcasing just how commercialised it’s all become.
I really hate to spend too much time comparing apples and oranges, but I’d be remiss not to mention Jurassic World’s heavy use of CGI and how it stacks up to Park’s astonishingly still excellent visuals. Full credit to Spielberg and his team for delivering effects so timeless, but a big reason it all holds up so well is the fact many of the blemishes were obscured with darkness, trees and weather. In Jurassic World we are treated to all the dinosaurs we want in full view, perfectly lit and jumping all over the place. There’s no way Trevorrow’s more action-orientated vision could have been realised by holding back on the effects, and he should be praised for pushing the effects as to give the audience what they want, but there’s no denying how often the dinosaurs exhibit the weightless quality of a CGI creation. Perhaps it’s a consequence of seeing the incredible practical effects of Mad Max this year, but there were one too many times the effects reminded me I was watching a movie.
While these quibbles and the shadow cast over it by the original movie stop it from being a home run, Jurassic World deserves to be commended on giving fans an unabashedly fun and nostalgic action movie within the confines of the world Spielberg and Crichton created all those years ago. The eventuating Man + Dinosaur vs. Monster plot is decidedly silly (especially given how cerebral Park was), but it all works, and it feels great to just indulge in seeing these 22-year-old creations unleashed and kicking ass. There’s a split-second moment in the final action sequence that is simultaneously the stupidest and most fist-pumpingly awesome thing I have seen on the big screen in some time.
Jurassic World adds yet another flavour to what has already been an incredible year for huge, fun, summer blockbusters, and does so with all due reverence for the film many of us grew up loving.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10