This year’s dino-thriller/action/drama Jurassic World opened this weekend gleefully terrifying both the Jurassic rookies and veterans alike. If you have been around long enough to remember the dawn of the Jurassic Park era, prepare to feel really old. It was almost exactly twenty-two years ago (June 11th, 1993) that Steven Spielberg mesmerized us with ferocious life-like dinosaurs and hypnotized us with a wobbly spoonful of Jello in his masterpiece Jurassic Park. To provide a better frame of reference, for those of us who have completed so many orbits around the sun that the 90’s have become a hazy/distant memory, imagine at the time this movie came out, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had not yet aired, and Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, Notorious BIG and John Candy were all still alive. Oddly enough Jurassic Park wasn’t Spielberg’s only dinosaur movie that year, he also produced a cute little animated ditty about a T-Rex and its friends called We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story.
Jurassic Park released at a time when most of the dinosaurs in the media were friendly, lovable characters in shows like Dinosaurs (1991-1994) and movies like The Land Before Time (1988) – a movie series that, I kid you not, will be releasing its 14th Sequel later this year. Then Spielberg’s vision of the large reptilian creatures brought about a reformation and scared us back into the fearful reverence we were meant to have, and would indeed have if we were to actually meet these creatures in real life. It was a life-changing film that whose legacy was continued by two sequels The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001). Now fourteen years after the release of the third installment, the legacy continues with Jurassic World.
When the film was announced there was a mix of elation, skepticism and questions. The elation was self explanatory, the skepticism was mainly focused on the fact that this Jurassic film was not going to be directed by Spielberg (though some of them failed to remember that he did not direct Jurassic Park III either) and there was a question of since the franchise had already been dormant for so many years, if it was wise to awaken it. Basically the epic trilogy had been encased in amber-like nostalgia for many years and some think it would be unwise to extract its essence and bring it to life again, hmm sounds familiar. Spielberg had actually been trying to get a fourth installment going for almost twelve years now. There were several scripts written (including versions rumored to have human/raptor hybrids running about). Suddenly a new Jurassic Park film was being made and Spielberg’s name wasn’t listed as being directly involved (though he is the Executive Producer). Soon questions like “Who will direct it?” and “Is it a sequel or a reboot?” flooded out and were answered leaving more questions and anticipation. When Colin Trevorrow was announced as the film’s director and co-writer, many people (including myself) were baffled and had to type his name into google to see who this guy was.
With a very short list of things he has directed (and only one of them being a full length movie), There has been an understandable level of unease about Trevorrow taking the helm of the franchise. He made a debut on the silver screen with his charming and humorous indie-drama Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). And though it was a phenomenal film, it is hardly a logical launching pad to earn the position as director on a massive reboot/sequel like Jurassic World. So how did Trevorrow score this role? It is simple, Brad Bird (Tomorrowland (2015), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)) turned down Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To make what is a very long and complex story short, when LucasArts and Disney were looking for a director for the seventh installment of Star Wars they were also looking for a director for Jurassic World. They approached Bird to direct Star Wars along side of his current project Tomorrowland, he said no but he told Producer Frank Marshall that he knew a guy that reminded him of himself. His idea was basically to focus all of his attention on Tomorrowland while he would have Trevorrow act as his stand-in on Star Wars. That led to Marshall researching Trevorrow and finding out he is a great storyteller. Then the idea came to use his talent to fill the director’s chair on Jurassic World instead. Marshall then went to Spielberg and explained Trevorrow’s ideas on the film and a director was chosen. Why did they pick Treverrow’s idea for the movie? Storytelling. His work with Safety Not Guaranteed impressed Marshall and Spielberg so much that they listened to his ideas and decided they were all on the same page. Trevorrow suggested they go back to the ideals of the first movie: joy, wonder and happiness of a new world that is soon contrasted by horror and peril. That is the story they had been searching for and that is what won Trevorrow the role.
Jurassic World is indeed a continuation of the series and not a reboot. Although to be perfectly honest you could skip The Lost World and Jurassic Park III (basically the events on Isla Sorna) and just go from the original Jurassic Park storyline straight into that of Jurassic World (basically the events on Isla Nublar). I say this because this film seems to do exactly that; there are references to the original Jurassic Park and its story but we are to understand that we are now twenty years after those events and there is nothing of note in between.
Enough history, let’s get down to business!
**Reader Beware: There are spoilers ahead!**
This film drops us into an already operational Jurassic World. Jurassic World is much larger, more technologically advanced and more exciting than Jurassic Park was. Of course, it must be better, because Jurassic Park never made it past the special guest test run. The father of the modern dinosaurs, John Hammond has died and passed his legacy down to Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), a ridiculously wealthy man with money in many industries, and he has pushed for bigger, better, “cooler” dinosaurs. The genius behind those bigger better, cooler dinos is Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) who was one of the original scientists creating the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (and the only cast member from Jurassic Park in this film). Of course, as it is with everything in life, bigger, better, cooler comes with a cost (both morally and financially). This means corporate sponsors, military involvement and playing around with genetics in a way that god would frown upon. The problem with pretending to be god is that you are taking advantage of all of the perks without having the omniscience to see how everything could go horribly wrong (or the omnipotence to fix it when it does).
The first forty minutes or so of the movie (after we are introduced to Jurassic World) was either a not-so subtle attempt to make a statement about corporate greed, animal rights, powerful females in the workforce and the military complex or was just a slightly annoying sprinkling of them into the storyline. Of course we are also dazzled with the excitement of the park (with far less of the awe and wonderment of the original film) but that is awkwardly spliced in between these moments of real world issues. Scenes like leading man Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Parks and Recreation) who plays Owen, an ex-Navy animal trainer mechanic, commenting on how the corporate sponsorships are ridiculous and arguing with InGen military nut job Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) about militarizing VelociRaptors and whether they have rights as animals if even if they cooked up in a lab. Then scenes with leading lady Bryce Dallas Howard, (The Village, The Help) who plays Claire, living up to the stereotype that strong women in business roles have to be ruthless, sexy (those goddamned heels – we’ll get to that later), independent (in the relationship sense) and lack the mothering ability or instinct. All of these issues are real life battles and indeed need to be addressed, but if you are going to bring it up then really address it or leave it be and focus on making your film more seamless and to the point. Now the original film had a hint of taking on issues, like whether it is wise to play with nature, but it fit within the story and didn’t feel as awkward.
Part of the problem with this movie’s beginning is that it does exactly what its namesake does, tries to outdo everything that has been done and show off newer flashier things at the cost of being branded by corporate sponsorships. I honestly saw as many (if not more) product placements throughout the film then I did different species of dinosaurs. Coke, Mercedes, Triumph Motorcycles, Starbucks, Margaritaville, Beats by Dre, Samsung and obviously Jeep (though that goes back to the first film) just to name a few obvious ones. Meanwhile we bounce around from dinosaur to dinosaur like we are actually on tour with no real connection to the beasts. In fact the best dinosaur from the trailer (the shark-eating Mosasaurus) makes three cameos during the whole film and is really just an ancillary character.
After the initial elbow jabbing, the film takes off into what it is meant to, chaos. Part of the god-complex creating better monsters is their new experiment in gene splicing the films villain, the Indominus Rex (D-Rex) The D-Rex is the next anticipated attraction that gets sponsored by Verizon Wireless early on in the movie. It is a combination of the genes of the previous film’s villain, the T-Rex, with that of a top-secret classified second dinosaur (a raptor, it was a raptor and that is why it is so very evil). In addition we learn that it had cuttlefish and tropical frog DNA spliced in for maintenance reasons but, oops, that comes with side effects/perks like active camouflage and being able to hide from the infrared heat scanners. We later find out that all of this was on purpose because Dr. Wu is directly in the palm and payroll of the now uber-militant InGen.
So this D-Rex gets loose and starts killing for fun, dinos and people alike. Claire and Owen get through their appropriate employee/boss interactions and team up to go find her nephews that are lost in the killzone. That is when Claire has a sudden transformation, and rolls up her sleeves in a slight homage to Rosie The Riveter (only to be scoffed ay by Owen) with heels, yes when tracking your lost kin in a muddy jungle rank with bloodthirsty carnivorous beasts it makes little sense to change into more sensible shoes or just go barefoot. And as if traipsing through the jungle in heels isn’t ridiculous enough, she later runs from a T-Rex over concrete in those heels. Apparently the whole keeping the heels on thing was actually Bryce Dallas Howard’s idea but regardless of whose idea it was, it is just a little cute/funny, but is illogical and doesn’t really make up for the sexist overtones that plague the film. And though there has been plenty of debate of the discussion of sexism in the movie there are some blatant scenes that were just for laughs at the expense of the image of a strong woman (one in particular when the nephews beg to stay with the strong, unflappable and oddly multitalented Owen over their Aunt who has just become empowered and finally is caring for them).
The rest of the film is the good old blood, guts and crunch that we were all looking forward to with unfortunately weak attempts at character development along the way. There are surprises like learning that the big D-Rex is actually part Raptor and that InGen has basically been using Jurassic World as a testing ground for their idea of dino-soldiers. There are also great throwbacks to the first film like the old visitor center and one of those two-tone Jeeps. There are, of course. screams, gunshots, stampedes, chase scenes, comic relief and even a surprise (digital) cameo by Jimmy Fallon providing over-the-top comic relief. There was some advancement in the character of some of the humans and dinosaurs alike. We get to see Chris Pratt ride his Triumph motorcycle along with his pack of (somewhat) trained Raptors. And we get that classic Jurassic Park happy(ish) ending.
One of the best parts of the movie is near the end when D-Rex reaches the main part of the park and is fighting the squad of Raptors that had turned their backs on their adopted Alpha, Owen, to follow this big Rex-Raptor hybrid for a while. But Owen gets through to them and they help the humans fight. Unfortunatly three raptors’ teeth are too short (and few) to box with this dino-god. So Claire runs (in heels) to the T-Rex pen and leads the classic T-Rex to the scene to battle the D-Rex. Suddenly the old villains are the heroes and even team up to take down the monster (well it is actually the Mosasaurus that makes one last brief appearance to chomp and finish off the lead villain). It is a beautiful throwback to the original film.
Here is the bottom line, if you went into this film and could look past the product placement, sexism, preaching about things and its choppiness, then you will probably have enjoyed it for what it was supposed to be. I feel that Trevorrow’s claim to idea the script back to the ideals of the original film was unsubstantiated and lacking. The 1993 film Jurassic Park (for all of its limitations for the time and acting) brought us a sense of wonder and awesome respect for dinosaurs while Jurassic World makes us view them as expendable attractions while whispering to us that it is bad to do so. It did have some amazing CGI and a semi-refreshing storyline. Chris Pratt was as strong and humorous as usual and the child actors in the film didn’t feel as awkward and fake as the previous films (and their acting skills were so very much better). Does it have enough good to outweigh the not-so good? That is ultimately up the viewer but I would say yes, it does. At the end of the day it was a Jurassic Park film and automatically earns some of the grace that any film franchise sequel gets. We went to see big dinosaurs thrill us and chomp humans and got some laughs and a blossoming, yet awkward, romantic relationship between Claire and Owen.
Though it has received numerous harsh reviews and an average score of 67% from the major online review sites, the film made $82.8 Million opening night and is on course to be the third largest opening weekend for a movie ever (if it sticks to predicted sales). So the story here is that the Jurassic Park franchise has endured and despite major flaws in the writing of this fourth installment, people still want to be thrilled by creatures that once ruled the earth. Who knows if there will be another sequel, but I predict people showing up faithfully for that installment even though this one was not up to par because Jurassic Park always finds a way.
[I must point out I saw the film in Standard Definition for many reasons including sold-out showings and the inability to wear contacts. So cannot speak to whether it is worth it to see the film in 3D but this site seems to have a pretty in depth analysis of it that may help your decision.]