Movie Review: Jurassic World
(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril)
For those of us who were youngsters in the early 1990’s, Jurassic Park was our Star Wars.
It was a film that captured our imaginations, introduced the wonders of what CGI (computer generated imagery) could do…and, made us buy millions of dollars in merchandise! That summer, John Williams’ soundtrack played on my Discman, I collected trading cards and pogs (yes, pogs!) from the film, and washed down those dino-size fries with Coke in my McDonald’s collector’s cup.
Following that memorable summer experience, two sequels followed in the next 8 years, but neither of them seemed able to top what had come before. By the time the third film rolled around, the sight of CGI dinosaurs was shoulder-shrugging, and we only saw the human cast as expendable appetizers for the carnivores to feast on.
We’ve been so inundated with dinosaurs via special effects, that many had to wonder: as much as we may have imagined a return to that world Steven Spielberg made us believe in, could it ever be as exciting as it once was? That what-if has become reality, in the Colin Trevorrow-directed 4th film in the series, Jurassic World.
Around the start of the 21st century, billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) inherited InGen from the late John Hammond. Where Hammond failed, Masrani succeeded: re-imagining the Costa Rican island Isla Nublar, into Jurassic World. 15 years in, it has become a popular tourist destination, with numerous ways to see creatures from the past.
On the island, we soon find ourselves caught up in the adventures of Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zack (Nick Robinson), who represent the awe of youth, and the ‘meh’ of teenage life when it comes to dinosaurs. Also along for the ride is their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s Operations Manager, who (somewhat like Alan Grant) seems to be at an emotional crossroads in her life.
Many people went ga-ga over seeing Chris Pratt as Owen, the film’s equivalent of a “Raptor-whisperer,” in numerous promotional materials. This idea is one that I just couldn’t fully get behind (no matter how manly and roguish Pratt looks), and it seems you may have to believe a little more than I did, in order to buy into the story of a man who has basic control over several 2-legged killing machines.
There are quite a number of characters that seem to come and go in the story, including the return of Dr Henry Wu (who we last saw in the first film), played once again by BD Wong. Probably of all the extras, the one who really caught my attention was Jake Johnson as Lowery, a security person in the park, who also seems to be a Jurassic Park fanboy (toy dinosaurs decorate his workstation, and he proudly wears a vintage park shirt!). Of all the characters within the film, it is amazing how almost all his jokes just seemed to hit perfectly, amid a sea of many others that flamed out through the course of the film. One could almost think of him as the avatar to many of the film fans in the audience.
Luckily there is no tropical storm this time, but the real behemoth we have to watch out for, is one made through genetic tinkering: The Indominus Rex. Much like how people clamor for “the next big thing,” this Frankenstein’s monster of a dino gives its investors what they want…and shortly after its introduction, exactly what they don’t want. It doesn’t help when you say, “just mash together a lot of genetics,” and not understand what each of these creatures is capable of.
With that storyline going on, Jurassic World pretty much becomes just like Jurassic Park: a dinosaurs-on-the-loose story, except with more dinosaurs, more people, and even more examples of how far effects technology has come.
Aside from a few minutes of live-action creature effects from Legacy Effects (formerly Stan Winston Studios), all of the dinosaurs are exclusively crafted in the computer, courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic. There have definitely been leaps and bounds in the detail on these dinosaurs, but in a few close-up instances, I couldn’t help but want to believe that that snout poking into the scene was a real, physical creature-effect.
One moment that was fun to visually explore, involved a small petting zoo area of the park, where children can ride baby triceratops, and come face-to-face with other small herbivores. I will admit feeling a little worried when one little boy seemed to hug the neck of a small Brachiosaur a little too hard. This little scene reminded me of those moments of wonder that punctuated the first film, when we first saw a Brachiosaur, or witnessed the hatching of a baby Velociraptor.
It would seem that Jurassic World should have a simple enough story, but with over 4 screenwriters credited to it, there soon seems to be a little too much going on. We only seem to get small flashes of character development, while the screenwriters also try to squeeze in a subplot regarding a plan for the dinosaurs, that seems all-too-familiar (hint: if you know of what the company Weyland-Yutani keeps trying and trying to do, you can fill in the blanks). To me, this story-point felt too much like a ‘sequel set-up,’ and may leave several people scratching their heads over just what was going on in that part of the story.
Inheriting musical duties from John Williams, is composer Michael Giacchino. Luckily, Giacchino doesn’t rely too heavily on the Jurassic Park theme, but I was most surprised to hear what sounded like him paying small journey-filled homages to the lighter moments in Williams’ score for Jaws. The music he uses showing the fun times within the park, sounds similar to the moments in Jaws when Amity Island’s 4th of July tourists start to arrive. As well, he even plays with our memories, when a familiar 4-notes on the french horn, signals the reveal of something…familiar?
Much like quite a few films I’ve seen so far this year, Jurassic World just barely met my expectations. There is genuine effort and attention put into the film (the credits at the end show many familiar names from the previous film crews!), but as some of my friends have thought, it definitely doesn’t want to take us anywhere new. If you have much of the previous three films cataloged in your mind, you’ll soon find yourself thinking over-and-over (like I did), “didn’t I see this situation before?”
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “Jurassic World” ends up playing less like its own film, and more like a “best of” playlist of the previous 3 films. Though most of the characters have their small moments, it never really feels like we get to fully connect with them emotionally. For those who didn’t like the last two sequels, “Jurassic World” will most likely feel like the sequel that some fans felt they deserved in 1997 )