Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World

Rating

Director
Colin Treverrow
Screenplay
Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Treverrow, Derek Connolly
Length
124 min.
Starring
Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omary Sy, BD Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus, Katie McGrath, Andy Buckley
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril

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Source Material

Review
Sparing no expense, Universal has brought back one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, giving audiences a new look at where our favorite prehistoric theme park has gone in the last two decades. Jurassic World may possess the DNA of its predecessors, but the original Jurassic Park doesn’t make up the largest portion of that strand.

Following the events of Jurassic Park, a new investor (Irrfan Khan) helped develop a new theme park featuring the latest technology and security. A rousing success, day-to-day operations have transferred to career-driven Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and things couldn’t be going more successfully. As the owners want to up the wow factor to keep attendance up, a new dinosaur has been bio-engineered. Named indominous rex, Jurassic World is mere weeks away from its revelation and only a last-minute security failure can bring the whole thing toppling to the ground.

Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt takes the lead as Owen Grady, a dinosaur enthusiast who has been training a pack of velociraptors in a secret compound on the island where an insistent InGen bureaucrat (Vincent D’Onofrio) presses him to make them ready for field testing against human targets in enemy territories. Resistant to using these animals as weapons of war, Owen refuses, setting up the obvious altercation between Owen and D’Onofrio’s Vic Hoskins.

If these two unraveling plot lines weren’t enough, the four-person team of writers have injected another major threaded plot to the madness. It concerns two boys, 13-year-old Ty Simpkins playing roughly his own age as Gray Mitchell, and 20-year-old Nick Robinson playing two years younger as his brother Zach. Zach and Gray are being shunted off to Jurassic World while there parents are going through divorce proceedings hoping to make their last few weeks more meaningful. Judy Greer plays their mother who entrusts the care of her boys to her sister Claire who passes those duties off to her personal assistant (Katie McGrath).

These three concurrent plots are joined by a handful of subplots that stretch the audience’s attention span and are ultimately discarded with minimal excitement. One involves the lead scientist from the original park (BD Wong reprising his role as Dr. Henry Wu, the lone returning character) and another spins around two control room operators played by Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson who seem to have that kind of romantic chemistry you expect to pay off at some point later in the film.

In 1993, Steven Spielberg adapted Michael Crichton’s anti-science novel into a feature film that thrilled audiences of all ages with its fascinating depiction of a world where cloning has enabled scientists to bring millennia-dead dinosaurs back to life. Over the intervening years, two sequels embittered audiences to Spielberg’s original vision (one of which was partly his fault and partly that of author Crichton who specifically wrote a sequel to the novel as if his first book were actually the first movie), resulting in an apparent lack of interest in the property. However, it seems Universal may have hit the right chord in reviving this property twenty-two years after its origination as audiences will undoubtedly gobble up the bountiful effects, frequent humor and thrilling adventure on display in the sequel.

The big problem here, as it was in the original, is that the human characters are imperiled for sometimes unnecessary reasons. The death count is almost on par with Jurassic Park, but those characters often died after the audience got to know them. Here, some of them are periphery characters we barely see and couldn’t care less about because we’re not given the opportunity.

Michael Giacchino’s score is a flaccid attempt to evoke Williams’ orchestral beauty, falling back on his familiar themes while creating a new companion musicscape that’s utterly forgettable. Other elements of the production, including the scenic design, sound design and visual effects are all competent, but far from extraordinary. Are we so far removed from the origination of CGI technology that we can no longer be thrilled by solid effects?

Throughout the early 1990’s, several films took CGI to a new frontier. Of the most celebrated, Jurassic Park was one. The realism was palpable, grounding the film with modern technology and impressing an entire generation of film enthusiasts. While that film might have had screenplay issues that in hindsight seem indefensible, it was a genuine crowd-pleaser and there were few who weren’t pulled into its vast tapestry. Today, CGI technology is so pervasive that we no longer seem to notice it. Jurassic World blends the CGI work effectively, but suggests the question: why are we no longer awed by the spectacle?

In the original Jurassic Park, our first sight of a genuine dinosaur was several minutes into the film as the skeptical scientists were being driven over the vast landscape to come across a field of brachiosauri. In that one scene, John Williams’ evocative score soars to create one of the most deliriously thrilling scenes in film history. Audiences were floored by the sheer breadth, scope and beauty of such a simple scene.

In Jurassic World, the exact same orchestral score is pulled and overlayed to a scene where the two boys enter their hotel room and fling open the doors to the balcony and see, not dinosaurs, but a massive theme park filled with people and not a single prehistoric critter in sight. This scene at once expresses how far we’ve come in our culture that spectacle is rewarded not with originality, but with a commercialization of that reality. Whether director Colin Treverrow was astute enough to make that marked observation with this particular scene or if it was purely accidental is up for debate.

We’ve entered an area of over-commercialization. If Disney’s Avengers paradigm weren’t proof enough, Jurassic World is a perfectly fine example to use. Here’s a film that wags its finger at scientists, corporations and commercialization saying verbally that these things are ruining our culture and our ability to consume various products, but it simultaneously bolsters those same ideas. For every retort made like a joke about ceding new dinosaur naming authority to the likes of Taco Bell, the film drops the names in an effort to tie-in its own products and contributors. It’s at once both fitting and pathetic.

Most audiences aren’t going to see Jurassic World thinking they’ll get a lecture on crass commercialization or corporate abuses of animal rights or the necessities of feminism (a concept that needs its own separate conversation to delve into). They are going to the theater to be excited and entertained. For its part, Jurassic World does this. However, in doing so, Treverrow has squandered a lot of the perceived talent that resulted from his deliriously inventive Safety Not Guaranteed. Will he continue on this path of immense profitability? The results suggest he could definitely do that. Or will he travel a path similar to the original director of Jurassic Park and blend mass entertainment with pensive character studies as a way to truly express his artistic capabilities? That’s certainly the hope, because while Jurassic World was undeniably fun, it’s also incredibly simple-minded.
Oscar Prospects
Probables: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects

Review Written

June 17, 2015

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