Jurassic World (2015)

jurassic_world_ver2_xlgJurassic World is a sequel 14 years in the making. And it was well worth the wait. The fourth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise has gone through many iterations. It started out as a simple story about procuring the lost shaving cream can from the old island. Then for a short while it was going to be a horrific film about monster human-dinosaur hybrids designed to be used for war.

When writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, the brilliant minds behind the Rise of the Planet of the Apes film, took the reins a few years ago I was excited. Excited to see some clever voices take control of a flailing sequel that had been greenlit so many times in a decade it could make your head spin. When they were finished with the script some story points leaked on the web about a working theme park with a Sea World type show featuring a water dinosaur eating a great white shark and a plot revolving around trained velociraptors helping to track down a new type of killer dinosaur loose on the island. Once Colin Trevorrow was hired as director he explained in interviews that they needed more time so he could completely re-write the script from scratch. (Yet we still have a Sea World type show where a water dinosaur eats a great white shark and trained raptors help stop a new killer dino, so not sure how much he re-wrote.)

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I’m a huge fan of the original Jurassic Park. Clearly I’m not alone. It is the film that made me want to make movies. It incorporates two of my biggest loves: dinosaurs and theme parks. And it was by my favorite director, the great Steven Spielberg. It had it all. When I saw it at midnight on June 11th, 1993 it blew my, then twelve-year-old, mind. When I found out there was going to be a sequel in 1997, I went nuts. I bought all the toys. I hung up posters, cereal boxes, candy containers, and anything with The Lost World branding on it. And at Memorial Day weekend my friends and I saw the midnight showing, only to walk out of the theater saying, “eh”.

Eighteen years later and Jurassic World is coming out. Once again I buy the poster, I buy the toys. I buy candy and anything with the Jurassic World branding on it, and I see the early showing the day before and walk out of the theater and say, “hell yes!” This is the sequel to Jurassic Park I have been waiting exactly 22 years for. This is the best Jurassic Park film, since Jurassic Park.

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Jurassic World is a Jurassic Park film for Jurassic Park fans made by a Jurassic Park fan. It’s almost entirely fan-service, (except for a sub-plot that feels a lot like Universal mandated that they shove in there.) We get to finally see a working dinosaur theme park. We get to experience what it might be like to visit and touch these animals. And most importantly for me, we get to re-visit the place where it all started, Isla Nublar, the island from the first movie. The subsequent films took place on Isla Sorna, a land of bland jungle.

But the nostalgia factor is a double-edged sword. While paying so much homage to the original film, Jurassic World has trouble creating its own voice, and sometimes feels a bit like an imitation or a reboot. You get the feeling that it isn’t as authentic, much like the undeserved sequel Indiana Jones 4 and the Quest for More Money. However these complaints are actually answered in Jurassic World itself, by Jake Johnson’s character, that stands in for the audience, calling out Jurassic World for not being as “legit” as the original Jurassic Park. “They didn’t need hybrids back then”. And he’s right. The film gets a little meta here and there, giving so many nods to the original film that it’s shaking its head up and down the whole movie.

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It’s a fun popcorn movie. It’s a blast the whole way through. You’re strapped in and ready for the ride from the very beginning. I loved every minute of it and I’ll watch it again and again. But it lacks some soul. It’s a bit too glossy, and at times feels a bit piecemealed together. You can tell it’s a fifth or sixth iteration of an idea for a sequel. There are subplots thrown in for no reason other than to either satisfy a studio requirement or lay the groundwork for inevitable sequels. Some of the characters are underdeveloped, and worst of all, there is no true protagonist.

In Jurassic Park, from the beginning we meet Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler. They are the main characters and we see the events of (almost) the entire film through their eyes. We arrive to the park with them, seeing it all for the first time when they do. When they split up, we follow Alan’s story lost in the park with the kids and we follow Ellie’s story back at the control room trying to reboot the park. Then they come back together for a satisfying third act. In Jurassic World, we start by following two children as they arrive to the park. Then the camera flies across the island to the control room and we follow Claire, the head of park operations. Then we meet Owen, who is training raptors. Owen and Claire meet up, then separate, then meet up again. And every once in awhile we check in on the kids. There’s no cohesive story flow. In fact, the only character we truly follow is the camera itself, as it flies from one part of the park to another trying desperately to connect a disparate story. By the end, all the main characters inevitably come together, but not in any way organically. More just because they have to.

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It’s easy to pick on the problems of the film, but I do want to reiterate that I love the movie. It’s eight-thousand times better than Jurassic Park 3, and I even like it more than The Lost World, which I have actually come to appreciate over the years, like a fine wine that gets better with age. The Spielberg films had something that JP3 and JW are missing though, and that’s big set-piece scenes, both dramatic and suspenseful. The dinner table scene in the first film is incredible. Here we have five completely different characters simply discussing science, discovery, and ethics around a table, and it’s one of the most riveting scenes in cinematic history. Another great scene is where John Hammond talks about his flea circus with Ellie while all the ice cream is melting (a metaphor for his dreams of a real dinosaur park dying around him).

There aren’t many scenes in Jurassic World that last more than three minutes, so we never really dig in to anything. It’s like the montaging of a movie, quick quip here, fast cut there, then action action action. There is a sweet moment with Claire, Owen and a dying Apatosaurus, but even that is brief and fleeting. The other type of big scenes missing are the suspenseful ones. In the original Jurassic Park, the T. rex escaping on the road is my favorite scene in any movie ever. It’s long, scary, suspenseful, and there’s not an ounce of music for ten minutes. It’s just pure unadulterated terror. The Indominus rex breakout scene in Jurassic World has a similar feel, but comes up short (literally, it’s a rather quick scene, as most are in the film). Even The Lost World has an intense scene with the two rexes attacking the RV. When Julianne Moore’s character is laying on the glass while it’s cracking around her I am on the edge of my seat. That sequence clocks in at nearly 15 minutes. Jurassic World could’ve used something like that early on, rather than jumping around so much.

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It’s for those reasons that I am giving this film four stars rather than five. It’s still got dinosaurs, clever action, fun dialog and the best ending of any action movie I’ve seen in years, but it lacks the slowdowns, and long suspenseful sequences that the made the original a masterpiece. I adore the new score by Michael Giacchino. It’s at times chilling and the new theme is just beautiful. I’ve been humming it in my head as much as I did the John Williams theme after the first film. Chris Pratt, was and always is, great. The effects were good, especially the new Indominus rex and the raptors. Some of the other dinosaur designs were a bit lacking and usually shown only in the background unfortunately. I’ve already seen Jurassic World twice in theaters and will probably see it again once more. Of course I will buy it to add to my collection on Blu-Ray. Here’s hoping to see some deleted or maybe even extended scenes on the special features.

Even though this is a film about a dinosaur theme park, it’s unfortunate that we don’t really learn too much about dinosaurs in it. We do learn that keeping an animal in isolation its entire life can be bad for its temperament. We learn, once again, that raptors are smart pack hunters. But not much else. Dr. Henry Wu makes a point in the film that the animals of Jurassic World, and Jurassic Park, are not now, nor ever been, real dinosaurs. They would look much different, he goes on. But you wanted bigger, and more teeth. And that’s exactly right. The Velociraptors of the real world would’ve been much smaller and covered in feathers for example, but this isn’t a documentary. It’s an action movie.


 
 

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