JURASSIC WORLD (2015)
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Screenplay: Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly and Rick Jaffe & Amanda Silver
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins
Rating: * * * ½ (out of 5)
Jurassic World traffics in the repercussions of genetically modified hybrid creations: the perfect alibi, then, to deliberately splice into the film itself a self-aware apology for the inherent urge to manufacture a product, in the words of one character, that’s “bigger, louder, more teeth”, with the very unabashed f/x-driven carnage its audience demands. “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur any more,” we’re told early on, a sentiment soon backed up by our jaded audience proxy, modern teenager Zack (Nick Robinson), who’s more entranced by a cell phone SMS than any resurrected dino-DNA. Even this Meta-saurus Rex.
Knowingness in and of itself means nothing. Done with style, it can elevate (Phil Lord & Chris Miller’s 21/22 Jump Street series and The Lego Movie). Used glibly, it’s a cheap shot (see Schwarzenegger’s smug Last Action Hero, itself stomped and chomped in a 1993 box-office head-to-head by… Jurassic Park). Frontloading its mea culpa, Jurassic World initially risks protesting too much, yoking insatiable customer appetite alongside its generic movie military-industrial complex and mad scientist bad guys. But a franchise like this ultimately won’t so much bite the hands that feeds it, so much as give it a little nibble. And it soon becomes clear that, rather than wagging its finger too hard at the audience, director Colin Trevorrow really wants to point upwards, paying homage to / aping the signature Spielberg shot of rapt humans gazing above at some breathtaking new digitized vision. Virtual reality still demands real awe.
Credit the film for at least acknowledging our fast-forward culture’s tendency to greet what was astonishing five minutes ago as routine. Twenty-two years on from Steven Spielberg’s immensely enjoyable thrill ride and the Disneyland / Prehistoric Zoo vision of Richard Attenborough’s billionaire benefactor has been open for two decades. And while Jurassic World attracts 20,000 guests a day, business only keeps roaring so long as new, increasingly fantastic creatures do too.
As such, the T-Rex, the Jurassic series’ signature big beast, takes a backseat here to the Indominus Rex, an unholy lab concoction that’s been bred for intelligence and even camouflage, which inevitably gets loose and “kills for sport.” Going super-size means that the franchise’s other MVPs, the velociraptors, have been muzzled, now trained and – to a degree – tamed by ex-Navy handler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). Given the limited options for prehistoric killing machines, you have to question Grady’s disbelief when InGen villain Vincent D’Onofrio reveals his plans to deploy them as a bio-weaponized task force – what did he expect, an Olympic relay team?
As with many Spielberg-derived adventures, a patchwork family unit is the real team here, as Zack and his wide-eyed younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins) are sent on holiday by their bickering parents to Jurassic World’s Isla Nublar off the Costa Rican coast, ostensibly under the care of their aunt and park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Unfortunately for them – and us – Claire is a hard-nosed career woman, without a sense of humour or affinity for anything not spreadsheet-related (she constantly refers to the dinosaurs as “assets”). Though her journey is from unfeeling fembot to potential mother and romantic partner surprisingly becomes the default lead, it’s a drearily caricatured role.
Pratt fares better, dispensing entirely with a character arc in favour of solid leading man cool. Deliberately less fun than his Guardians of the Galaxy breakout role, his and Howard’s verbal sparring isn’t so much screwball comedy as unstable, screw-loose screenwriting, just about propped up by the actors’ natural charisma. Still, you know that these two plus her nephews are basically the Sam Neill / Laura Dern + two kids grouping from the first movie. Depending on your knowingness tolerance, it’s either a neat call back, or a stunning lack of (re-)invention.
Jurassic World, then, hews as closely to Jurassic Park, then, as is humanly – and giant lizard-ly – possible. John Williams’s plaintive original theme is incorporated into Michael Giacchino’s new score, amid numerous nods to the first film. Jake Johnson’s wisecracking control room lackey even models a vintage JP T-shirt, declaring that “the first park was legit”, and basically dismissing the two previous disappointing sequels.
True, Jurassic World is easily the second-best entry in the series (though the bar wasn’t set particularly high) and considerable imagination has gone into the actual park itself, from baby triceratops petting and riding areas, to educational holograms, to a Sea World deluxe stage that houses the enormous mosasaurus, the giant ocean-dwelling beastie that chows down a shark as a snack (another Spielberg in-joke). Trevorrow and production designer Ed Verreaux’s team have constructed an entertainingly viable arena, which they then gloriously demolish once the dinosaurs run amok.
Considering Trevorrow’s only other feature was little seen but endearing 2012 time-travel indie Safety Not Guaranteed, he handles the mammoth step up in scale and expectations with confidence. There isn’t a single set piece to rival the menace of the first film’s T-Rex showdown, or the suspense of the glass-shattered, cliff-dangling RV from The Lost World, but it’s consistently gripping and fairly brutal within its PG-13 limitations. You sense that Trevorrow would enjoy ramping up the satire and humour even more (there’s a smart visual gag with bird feet early on), but ultimately, as with the consumer critique, everything must be reined in to provide the most enjoyable ride possible, safety fully guaranteed.
What’s been cooked up in the Amblin’ lab, then, is a state-of-the-art blockbuster that kids you that it knows how state-of-the-art blockbusters go, then proceeds to follow the state-of-the-art blockbuster playbook to the letter. It’s honest, though scarcely innovative – don’t forget that even Jurassic Park noted its own franchise-ability through Jeff Goldblum’s chaos theory expert (and far more quotably too). Jurassic World is ultimately just another ride, one that ruefully admits it requires working parts “bigger, louder, more teeth”, then cheerfully provides them; but at least doing so with enough purpose and gusto to keep most customers satisfied. “Life will find a way,” as Goldblum wryly observed first time out. As will moneymaking, the movie franchise’s true DNA.