“Being a ‘monster’ is relative. To the canary, a cat is a monster. Trouble is, we are used to being the cat.” –Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), Jurassic World
While there have been some big movies that have already opened during this summer season, only one film promises as much mid-1990s, father-of-the-modern-special-effects-blockbuster nostalgia as you can handle. Getting to see the film on Thursday, June 11, the weight of the fact that I’m seeing Jurassic World exactly 22 years to the day that the first Jurassic Park was unleashed upon the public is definitely not lost on me. Much like the first film of the franchise, this new movie is high on spectacle and will leave audiences wowed at the amount of prehistoric-turned-modern eye candy they are getting. Unlike the original, however, this new installment lacks much of the wonder ingrained into the tale, and the characterization of the human portion of the story leaves much to be desired.
You’re going to hear a word tossed around a lot with any talk of Jurassic World: nostalgia. On this front, the movie delivers in spades. Within the first ten minutes, we are back on Isla Nublar, the John Williams score is soaring, and the audience can’t help but start mentally reminiscing about the wheres and the whens of them seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. The plot is solid enough: two decades after the original park failed to open as hoped, another investor (a friend and mentee of John Hammond, in a great nod to the late Richard Attenborough’s paternal character from the first film in the franchise) has made the theme park financially viable, but in order to stay ahead of the curve, the science-y types make a new badass dino that, darn the luck, just doesn’t want to cooperate and escapes captivity to go on a rampaging killing spree. It’s up to velociraptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) and park business manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) to save the day – with the help of some periphery characters, of course – and ensure the safety of Claire’s two nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) in the process.
From a visual and pacing standpoint, Jurassic World is damn near perfect. The dinosaurs, brought to life via a mix of CGI and animatronic/practical effects from Legacy Effects, are stunning, and they come in all shapes in sizes routinely enough throughout the film’s 124-minute run time, it’s ensured that you’ll always have something awesome to look at. Director Colin Trevorrow clearly has an understanding of and an appreciation for the Spielbergian style of what’s come before him; there are no “quick cuts” or shaky-cam footage to be found here, and quite frankly, thank the Giant Lizard God for that.
The most frustrating part of the movie is easily the way the characters were brought to life (or lack thereof) in a manner that is clearly secondary to the “shock and awe” of the visual experience. In the first three Jurassic Park films, the “heroes” were actually scientists, which helped blur the lines between nerdy knowledge and nail-biting action; here, we have nothing but stereotypical Hollywood tropes, as Pratt plays a former military man who’s now conveniently a velociraptor expert; Howard, for as good of an actress as she is, virtually sleepwalks through her pre-labeled scenes as a corporate “yes” woman who lacks so much real-world smarts that she won’t even take off her high heels while running through the jungle. Dr. Ellie Sattler would not be impressed – Hell, even Hammond’s grand-daughter Lex could run circles around this empty shell of a female character.
A quick sidebar about the first three Jurassic Park films. Much hullabaloo has been made about Trevorrow’s mid-media-blitz remarks about how Jurassic World will follow the first movie as canon but essentially toss the second and third installments aside. I think his comments may have gotten misconstrued by we the fan population, because this film very much seems to position itself as a narrative extension of the entire franchise. In fact, one of the park-control-room operators, Lowery (Jake Johnson), sports an original Jurassic Park t-shirt under his button-down (“I got it on eBay for $150!”), waxes poetic about the first attempt at the Isla Nublar theme park (“You gotta admit, even though it never opened… that first park was legit”), and I’m pretty sure I saw a copy of Dr. Ian Malcom’s (Jeff Goldblum) autobiography prominently featured on his desk. The multitude of nods to the other films in the franchise are sprinkled liberally throughout the tale (keep a close eye out for the high-tech yellow-and-green binoculars used by Lex in the first film, a statue-fronted research wing bearing Hammond’s namesake, and everybody’s favorite fictional science group InGen, among many others).
The film’s two-hour-plus run time moves along at a brisk pace – I definitely never felt bored, so credit the movie for that, for sure – and it culminates in a final half-hour of a rollicking ride that’s certainly thrilling; it easily boasts the biggest fake-dinosaur on fake-dinosaur violence ever put on film, at least until 2018 inevitably brings us Jurassic Universe to one-up the game. But as the credits started to roll, I couldn’t shake the feeling that our human characters were much more peripheral to the climax (and the entire story in general, really) then they should have been. Is that necessarily a bad thing for the popcorn-munching masses enjoying the hot action and the cool A/C in the theaters this summer? Not really. Will it be a detriment to how the film is viewed in years to come, once the “heat” of the new release has died down and people start to wonder where it stacks up in comparison to the original? It will, I’m afraid; as can be said for most subsequent films in a franchise list, Jurassic World is no Jurassic Park, although it certainly does feel good to slip back into that world after such a long absence.