With the kingdom about to fall, we revisit the first installment in this Jurassic Park spin-off series.
In a decade awash with products designed merely to tickle your nostalgia bone, is it any wonder that the long-in-development Jurassic World soared comfortably to well over a billion in worldwide gross? To many who witnessed Steven Spielberg’s treasured original in 1993, the trailer’s active dinosaur resort tapped into our adolescent craving for a real, functioning Jurassic Park, and we all comforted each other in the belief that the resultant film would be better than 2001’s Jurassic Park III. How could they muck it up after a decade-and-a-bit of tinkering?
Having watched all the films back-to-back for both this review and our video retrospective, I am of the belief that Joe Johnston’s much-derided third outing is a stronger movie than 2015’s blockbusting Jurassic World. Some of you might want to stop reading, and I should probably reevaluate my life, but for as dumb as JP III is (and any movie with a Raptor saying “Alan” is dumber than a bag of hammers), it at least has a tie to the original in a dependable Sam Neill, continues to blend CGI with Stan Winston’s amazing animatronics, and is guiltily entertaining due to its lightning-fast length. By comparison, Jurassic World only has Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), who had all but a cameo in Jurassic Park, an over-reliance on sure-to-date computer graphics, very few “real” creatures, and a general sense of bloat that comes with any visual effects showcase these days.
First, let’s consider the conceit of the movie – that functioning, successful dinosaur theme park. In terms of the series’ progression, this was probably a good move. I mean, you had the original take place at a resort waiting to open, the second on a different island of dinosaurs entirely, and the third on the same island as the second. Short of jumping on The Lost World‘s T-Rex in San Diego finale and setting an entire story on the mainland, director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow had very few choices to successfully “reboot” the brand. And the park being open is an idea just brimming with artistic potential. A potential scuppered by utterly feeble choices like the visitor centre sporting holographic dinosaurs or a mode of travel dubbed a “gyrosphere,” just to use more CGI than absolutely necessary. These ingredients are really the only things separating this established park from the failed attempt by John Hammond nearly thirty years ago. You also can’t rely on the presence of the public for mass pandemonium, as following an admittedly-fun Pteranodon sequence, the whole place is evacuated and we’re back to following a small band of stereotypes trying to survive their terminal stupidity.
The characters are what flat-out kills Jurassic World for me. I will accept the schlockiest material imaginable if I care about the protagonists, but Trevorrow didn’t really make an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Grant or Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm. Harsher critics would say the original trilogy’s humans were thinly-written, but they were usually charming and attempts were made to give them dimension. You may recall Grant’s amusing apathy for children, and how his need to protect two kids changed his tune over the course of the film and turned an unassuming paleontologist into an unlikely hero. Malcolm, too, is interesting for being the Greek chorus whose warnings turn out to be true, and whose unexpected injury adds to a sense that no-one is safe.
The inhabitants of Jurassic World are cardboard boobies who never talk about anything except the plot and are the same at the end as they are at the start. Take Chris Pratt. He’s one of the most likable movie stars of the moment and he raises the script above its low aspirations, but I can never remember his character’s name. I’m not even going to look it up for journalistic integrity, so let’s call him Raptor Bloke. Raptor Bloke appears to be a tough badass in the mold of Bob Peck’s deceased gamekeeper Muldoon, and he has a kinship with the deadly Velociraptors who, when the plot demands it, treat him like some kind of alpha. Not only does this weaken their fear factor for me, but this character trait is the only noteworthy thing to say about him. Raptor Bloke has no backstory to uncover, never develops beyond Action Hero, and is perfect in a way the original trilogy’s characters weren’t.
He also has a romance with a red-haired Operational Manager (Bryce Dallas Howard). The mindnumbingly obvious “arc” of them getting together is the closest this flick gets to character development. Howard is game with the material, but never once do I buy this cripplingly insecure lady as someone who would be given so much responsibility. Really, in a time of pronounced political correctness, her role in the plot as a screeching damsel/love interest seems strangely antiquated, and while she may hit on the solution to defeat the film’s antagonist (more on him in a moment), it is spoiled by the laughably-improbable sight of her outpacing a T-Rex in high heels. Compare her to Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler, a self-sufficient heroine who once put John Hammond in his place when he suggested leaping into danger instead of her (“We’ll discuss sexism in survival situations later”). This means a film made in 1993 is more “woke” than one made in 2015.
The lack of truly good characters leeches all of the tension out of the scenario, and considering the amount of people onscreen in this one, Trevorrow keeps the body count to a suspense-free minimum. Tone is a big issue, generally, with humour undercutting the serious bits like a hacky Disney flick. Jurassic World feels very light, resisting the temptation to inflict any injury on our good guys. You just know a film is tone-deaf when the most brutal killing is given to a nice lady assistant who barely gets any screentime and didn’t do anything to anyone. Shouldn’t the sight of someone being picked up by a Pteranodon before being eaten by a Mosasaurus be reserved for, well, the Token Scumbag? Vincent D’onofrio is a good pick for anyone’s Token Scumbag, but there’s no points for guessing how he will die when his military-approved bid to weaponise Raptors backfires on him. This plot point so clearly swiped from the Alien franchise is at least proof Trevorrow has a good Blu-ray collection… if nothing else.
But this is a film about dinosaurs, so it’s just as well they try to keep us awake by presenting a new breed of beastie. I go back-and-forth on whether or not this was necessary. The attempt to introduce something new should never be poo-poohed, but ultimately, there is nothing unique about the way the synthesised Indominus rex operates. It’s just another big dino going around eating people. He at least leads to the picture’s one true highlight; the battle with the original film’s Tyrannosaurus (look closely and you can see the scars given to him by the Raptors all those years ago). It is undoubtedly a fist-pumping moment but one that leans entirely on your nostalgia bone for effect.
The other highlight is the score by Michael Giacchino, a man who has carved out quite a career for himself since he began as a composer on The Lost World video game back in 1997. Giacchino is one of the few musical maestros in 2018 who is unabashedly old school, and the soundtrack dutifully hits all the notes Trevorrow is unable to. Listen to it independent of the movie and you might be alarmed that such sterling work could be attached to such mediocrity.
Jurassic World is easily-digestible blockbuster tripe that audiences around the globe lapped up. I wish I could turn my brain off and accept it for what it is, but when you start a franchise with a masterpiece that gives you both thrills and intelligence, it is disheartening to see a reboot so calculated, unadventurous and… bland. To paraphrase the great Dr. Malcolm, World is one big pile of shit.
- For the season two Parks and Recreation DVD, Chris Pratt made a behind-the-scenes video. In the video, he reads a fake text from Steven Spielberg about being cast in Jurassic Park 4 long before it actually happened.
- The gyrosphere was Spielberg’s idea. According to Colin Trevorrow, Spielberg “wanted to create a way for people to get up close and personal with the animals, to make it a self-driving, free-roaming experience. It loads on a track, but once you’re out there, you actually get to navigate around the valley,” in contrast to the confined Ford Explorer tour cars from the first Jurassic Park.
- New Orleans has an abandoned Six Flags theme park which has been used for other film productions. Jurassic World created a 300-foot by 200-foot main street and boardwalk in the amusement park’s abandoned parking lot. They shot on the set for two and a half weeks.
- Dr. Ian Malcolm can be spotted on the cover of a book that is read by Zara on the monorail ride in to the park. A copy of the same book, titled “God Creates Dinosaurs” is later shown on Lowery’s desk in the control room when he is first introduced.