REVIEW: Jurassic World (2015)

Dino expert Oscar is our guide for the fulfilment of John Hammond’s vision. Welcome back. 

I’m going to level with you, good readers, I’m not sure if Jurassic World is the best blockbuster of 2015, given the competition, but it is the one that means the absolute most to me. After fourteen years of waiting, I can finally have some closure to a movie series that was, to me, what Star Wars was to many people. And I’m happy to report that it delivered on what I was hoping for, exceeding it in many areas, but there were inevitably moments where it didn’t quite coalesce properly.

On the island of Isla Nublar, Jurassic World stands as an immensely successful prehistoric theme park, with attractions ranging from herds of Apatosaurus roaming free to the aquatic Mosasaurus devouring sharks for crowds. Overseeing Jurassic World is driven careerist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who finds herself saddled with the arrival of her nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins), sent on holiday by their parents. Preoccupied with other projects, Claire provides the boys a surplus of passes and sends them off to explore the park by themselves. Former InGen geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), and the scientists of the Masrani Corporation have been tasked a new assignment; to create a commercially-viable artificial dinosaur that keeps tourists pouring into Jurassic World – the Indominus rex.

CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) is determined to keep the situation under control. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an ex-military animal behaviour expert, is called in to ensure that the new creature’s enclosure is secure. We see that Owen has a rocky relationship with the new brood of Velociraptors, with himself as the tenuous alpha of the pack, as observed by InGen head of security, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio). The I.Rex stages an escape from her paddock and disappears into the jungle, threatening every creature on the island, both humans and dinosaurs. When Claire’s nephews venture off-course in a gyrosphere vehicle and are chased by the Indominus, Owen and Claire team up to hunt down the monster before it causes more damage.

The acting is good for the most part. Pratt effectively cements himself as an action movie star and makes the character of Owen very charismatic whilst giving him a bit of a grizzled edge. Dallas Howard is generally likeable as Claire and is effectively the real main character with the most screen-time. Simpkins does about as well as to be expected as a wide-eyed dinosaur fanatic. Robinson comes off rather mean during the beginning, but he and Simpkins have great brotherly chemistry and don’t come off as annoying. Jake Johnson is tech-support Lowery; he offers some subtle and snarky comic relief and doesn’t detract from the tone. D’Onofrio is a gung-ho maverick and can come off as over-the-top at times, but he was still an enjoyable baddie. Khan puts in a subtle performance as Masrani, despite not having much screen-time, and he ultimately isn’t the villain. The returning Wong gets a little more fleshed-out as opposed to the sketchy character he was before. Judy Greer and Andy Buckley are featured as the parents of Zach and Gray, and work well with their limited appearances. Other actors include Katie McGrath, who is sadly underused, Lauren Lapkus who has one nice moment with Johnson’s character, and Omar Sy as Raptor-handler Barry who is certainly a badass, working well off Pratt but again is underused. Also, Jimmy Fallon makes a cameo. It’s pointless.

This has the most action of any Jurassic Park movie, and for a relatively green director, Colin Trevorrow pulls it off competently, it’s well-staged and there’s a lot thrills to be found along the way. Even a bit of blood as well. The last  thirty-minutes is where the film truly shines with it’s dinosaur set-pieces when a certain Tyrannosaurus rex makes her long-awaited return, whilst making a backhanded jab at Jurassic Park III. The film does a great job of building up Jurassic World as a believable theme park, with all the inner-workings of such and it all looks solid. Part of you almost wants to go there! Visually, the film looks wonderful, with rich colours and dark contrasts, and majestic vistas of the park and those dinosaurs. If there is a gripe I have with the visual effects, it’s that they are very CGI-heavy, but it is still high calibre work and the majority of the dinos are stunning to behold, as I saw for myself in IMAX 3D. Raptor head puppets were made and digitally painted over to give them musculature and eye movements. When the film takes a surprise emotional turn, an Apatosaurus neck and head is used to optimal effect. Fans will naturally miss Stan Winston’s animatronics, but better some than none at all. If this film wanted to make me feel sad or sympathetic for the dinosaurs, then it bloody succeeded.

Michael Giacchino delivers a versatile score, delving into some cool horror themes with the Indominus rex as well as the John Williams’ score to build up the park as the fulfilment of John Hammond’s dream, and the new Jurassic World leitmotif is starting to grow on me. Perhaps more could have been done with Williams’ original themes, but that’s all up for debate, as he more than succeeded in giving the film its grandiose moments and incredible action cues.

I’m concerned that there is too much story and too many characters stuffed into the film, and while that emphasises how busy the park is, it makes the film feel crowded. The only characters with a clear-cut arcs are Claire, who becomes more involved in the action and strives to protect the people on the island rather than remain wrapped up in her job. Not the most original character arc, but a well-executed one nonetheless as it is driven by her actions and the situation rather than Owen. The other belongs to Zach whose big brother instinct kicks in when the chaos breaks loose. Barry disappears in the last act with no clear clue of what happened to him. The motivations of Hoskins’ are certainly questionable, but there isn’t enough character to justify his actions or motivations, coming off as a rather stock villain. The Mitchell brothers are essentially there to be the audience’s point-of-view characters and explore the park and don’t have much to do, but they still contribute to the plot in certain areas and are central to Claire’s arc. The Spielbergian motif of broken families appears here as well in the Mitchell family as well, but it’s not fully developed and comes off as just another thing that’s “just there.” There were some moments where the plot took a little convenience.

The core theme of this film is that of humankind’s relationship with animals, and how the best bonds are one of mutual trust and responsibility. The I-Rex was practically made to be a money-making machine and kept in isolation all its life. The beast could be seen as symbolic of consumer and corporate excess, and how a product designed by focus groups and statistics specifically to appeal to an increasingly insatiable audience. With a lack of nurturing, the object of design will turn into a monster; this applies to both the animals and possibly the blockbuster genre in general. The fact that the dinosaurs are genetically tampered with to meet people’s expectations of dinosaurs is lifted straight from the first book, and is played out excellently by Dr. Wu and Masrani. Granted, more could have been done with these ideas and allowed more characters to be fleshed-out, but what we have is good.

Lines that sounded cheesy or hamfisted in the trailers do thankfully work within the film’s context and are shown with much better takes. A lot of the film’s momentum and energy is centred on Howard and Pratt, but I dare say Pratt carries most of the film for us, and while there is an attempt at romance, their chemistry was better-suited as partners and co-workers rather than lovers. The dinosaurs are treated as legitimate characters here, just like the first two films, and Owen’s dynamic with the Velociraptor, Blue, really works. The Raptors, surprisingly, aren’t treated as mollified dogs by the film; they’re still every bit as vicious and intelligent as they were before, and it’s explained clearly why they’re in Owen’s care. Above all, the reasons for the I-Rex‘s monstrous nature are made very clear so that it comes off as a creature with realistic dimensions. There are hints of undisclosed character fates and perhaps these are sequel hooks, but the movie is self-contained. If fate should decide that a sequel shall be,  I hope it’s a good one.

For those who fear the film is just not as good as the original Jurassic Park or would just write it off as another monster movie, remember this: Jurassic Park was made by a director at the height of his career. Jurassic World was made by a director who is just making it big in Hollywood, there was going to be a difference anyway! Jurassic World is a worthy sequel to the Spielberg classic, and possibly the best we can hope for in this dinosaur franchise. While it is predominantly a theme park ride, it’s not without the traditional Jurassic supplements of social commentary and science fiction. The characters may not be the most original or developed, but they are a likeable crowd, and the dinosaurs steal the show as usual. The action, performances and humour are well-integrated, making for a lot of entertainment. For what we got in the end, I tip my hat to Colin Trevorrow for bringing dinosaurs back to life once again.

Oscar Stainton

Student of Ancient History at Royal Holloway University of London, Anglo-Mexican, die-hard Tolkien fan, lover of escapist fiction (be it in space or a world of knights and dragons), dino-maniac, and prospective writer.

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