It’s been 14 years since the underwhelming Jurassic Park III was let loose upon cinema screens and, for many, chimed the final death knell for the struggling franchise that had started so strongly with Spielberg’s masterful first adaptation of the popular Crichton novel: Jurassic Park.
Since 2001, the viewing landscape of cinema has changed dramatically. 2001 was the prelude of what was to come: Superhero movies.
Spider-Man, Batman, Superman – all of these movies were to follow post 2000, and it ushered in a new wave of men in tights adulation. People wanted summer blockbusters, yes; they wanted franchises, yes; and they wanted their Superheroes not on 22 page singles, but performing, 24 frames a second at their nearest movie theatre. With each passing year, the popularity of Superhero franchises continued to grow exponentially, and the pressure was on, come what may, for anybody brave enough to even attempt a Jurassic Park IV movie. And try they did, with numerous scripts and names attached periodically to the project over many years, ultimately failing to gain any sort of traction. Kids just aren’t into dinosaurs anymore, it seemed.
Tell that to the incredible $511.8 million in box office Jurassic World just made this past weekend, smashing Hollywood records, and the worrying expectations that many fans, myself included, had for it – especially after the underdeveloped, out of context, story elements it introduced: hunting with raptors, genetically modified dinosaur, etc. Really, guys?
But generating interest so people put their asses in seats is one thing, the real question remains: is Jurassic World any good?
Colin Trevorrow, director of the 2012 Indie darling, Safety Not Guaranteed (if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and scope if after finishing this review!), starts the movie well, choosing to go with a slow burn, rather than dropping us in media res. The only draw back with this choice is the bogging down of expositional information we, as an audience, are inundated with. There are quite a few characters to know through this movie, and numerous relationships that intertwine (some being totally needless) that need to be developed for us to care about what subsequently happens here, but the amount of exposition does pad out what could have been a trimmer, leaner, First Act. The slow burn overall however is a smart choice, allowing them the opportunity to really develop and build up the threat until the inevitable money shot of the genetically created dinosaur, known as Indominus Rex (which, rather awesomely, translates to Untameable King).
The Indominus Rex was the recipient to a lot of initial ire from long standing fans of Jurassic Park, and run of the mill logic. Why create a genetically modified, custom designed, dinosaur when there are a plethora of, y’know, fucking dinosaurs!? Trevorrow chooses to traverse a wonderfully meta path with his decisions here, addressing the age old concept of scientists so preoccupied by wondering if they could, they fail to take a moment to consider whether they should, headed by the only returning cast member from the original: BD Wong’s, Steve Job’s garbed, Henry Wu.
As I mentioned earlier, “Kid’s just aren’t into dinosaurs anymore.” Well, Trevorrow took this concept and ran with it, doing a great job of adding an edge of intelligence to the proceedings, highlighting where we are now as a society. The Instant Generation, where nothing is good enough, and bigger, better, and more are constantly the next risible infatuation – a never ending game of catch up to user, and societal, expectations. This is the contextual reason behind the existence of the Indominus Rex, and it really, really, works. What the trailers lacked was two hours worth of context and development; those main story elements, jammed into a minute/two minutes of trailer hype, read, rightfully so, as simply ridiculous within those parameters. Given the development of a whole movie however, and the plot points thankfully make a lot more sense.
I bet you weren’t expecting that from Jurassic World, eh?
Couple this with their insightful mocking of Corporate ownership, done both somewhat subtly, as with the Samsung Innovation centre and use of Samsung smart phones by every single character, to the not so subtle, as with Jake Johnson’s comic foil, Lowery, openly decrying the corporatization of enclosures and dinosaurs. It’s a great inclusion to what could have just been a senseless, CGI spectacle of dino-violence, and is played tongue in cheek throughout.
Trevorrow continues with this underlying playfulness when playing on fan adulation for the original, especially when (and I’ll keep this spoiler free) certain characters find their way to an original section of the Park. At this point fans, and film maker, revel in the past (check out the number of the jeep, easter egg hunters), literally wallowing in the rose tinted nature of it all, all while still firmly remembering these modern characters. This is a movie that is respectful and fully aware of its past, whilst maintaining its concern with crafting out it’s unique place within its own universe, something it easily achieves, with this scene standing out as a definite highlight.
The movie does have some flaws however, as most do.
The slow burn intro with the heavy exposition is a minor hump, and a surprising one considering how well paced the rest of the movie is, especially the notoriously difficult second act.
There are also a couple of completely pointless characters that, if they weren’t included at all would have had no negative effect on the movie. Specifically: the nanny like character of Zara (who exists simply for an extended death scene which, in turn, reminds the audience of a certain aquatic threat) and the poor, powerless, security guard that is incapable of stopping anybody from barging into the Jurassic World Control Centre. Seriously though, watch it and you’ll see what a mean. Feel free to come back here and comment below when you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these characters.
Like any major blockbuster, there are also a number of plot holes that exist within the story namely (again, I’ll keep this vague to try and avoid spoiling anything for you guys and girls) with an atrium/aviary scene and the carnage that ensues after it.
The inevitable over reliance on CGI and lack of practical effects was also a little disappointing, given the film making techniques Trevorrow could have utilised to further immerse the audience, whilst also providing a nice throw back to the movie making techniques of yester-year.
These are minor quibbles however with a movie that manages to do something that so few thought it could do: bring the Jurassic Park franchise back to life (not done via mosquitos, by the way), let alone in such convincing fashion.
Solid performances all round, especially from continuously developing action super man Chris Pratt (does anybody else still find it weird that Andy Dwyer is an action star?!), who manages to bring an immediate likability to his character of Raptor Handler, Owen – though I’m not sure how much of that is Owen, as a character, or Chris Pratt just being the amazingness that is Chris Pratt. Although his perceived (by some) sexism is prevalent only momentarily at the beginning of the movie, extrapolating upon a pointless backstory relationship, it is switched up later on after being saved by Jessica Chastain’s (sorry, Bryce Dallas Howard) Claire, where he gets up and, as thanks, gives her a grateful kiss, which is an awesome gender role reversal moment for the movie, and again makes the whole endeavour a smarter one than you might think upon an initial viewing.
Also, at one point, a raptor rides a T-Rex.
Read that again.
Yes: a raptor rides a goddamn T-Rex, and it’s not lame, or corny, or played in any other way other than pure dino geek awesome.
Jurassic World has done something that had seemed impossible for the better part of 11 years, and Trevorrow, Pratt, et al, have done a fantastic job in crafting a fun, loud, smart, blockbuster, successfully bringing back a franchise that many considered long extinct.
Steve Russell // @stevetendo
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Have you seen Jurassic World? I’d love to know your thoughts on the latest in the Dino saga that is Jurassic Park, so, please, shout out below in the comments!