Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vince D’Onofrio
After a fourteen year hiatus and a handful of false starts with other directors and screen writers, the much loved Jurassic Park franchise returned to the box office in 2015 with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World.
Just how beloved is the Jurassic Park brand? Well, despite receiving mixed reviews and following on from two lousy sequels, Jurassic World had a record breaking performance at the box office, drawing a truly mind boggling half a billion dollars globally in its opening weekend. Turns out the appetite for dinosaurs at the box office is as big as ever.
A fondness for Jurassic Park and everything it represents lies at the beating heart of Jurassic World. The opening act, in which two young brothers Zach and Gray Mitchell visit the Jurassic World theme park, is filled with nods to the original film. The animated DNA strand from the original park is still teaching visitors about the science of extracting ‘Dino DNA’ and people in the backdrop can be seen reading the works of Ian Malcolm. One of the employees dons a Jurassic Park t-shirt and raves about how cool the original was.
Not only does Jurassic World want you to know how much it loves its source material, it also leans rather heavily on it for inspiration when it comes to its cast. Zach and Gray are pretty blatant facsimiles of Tim and Lex Hammond from Jurassic Park and the film also has its own version of Sam Neil, Dennis Knight and Samuel L Jackson’s characters as well. Poor old Irrfan Khan is given the thankless task of trying to follow in Richard Attenborough’s foot steps in the role of an eccentric park owner. Khan plays billionaire investor Simon Masrani – as wealthy and wide eyed as Richard Hammond ever was but without any of the memorable one liners.
The two leads in Jurassic World are the park’s operational manager Claire Dearing (Zach and Gray’s aunt), an ambitious but soulless career woman, and Owen Grady, a charming, quick witted velociraptor trainer played by Chris Pratt who has selfishly claimed the best roles in all the summer blockbuster films of the past two years.
Its funny to think that in three previous films, no one actually got around to opening the damn park and its here that Jurassic World has some fresh material to work with. The theme park in Jurassic World has been open for ten years and it is everything John Hammond would have wanted it to be. There are dino petting zoos where children can ride baby dinosaurs, vehicular pods that take visitors through fields roamed by gallimimus and a Sea World style attraction where you can watch gigantic sea creatures.
The opening act where we get to see a functioning dino theme park filled with guests provides plenty of material to riff on commercialism and the state of modern theme parks (there’s a hint of Blackfish about the pool attractions). There’s a glut of Jurassic World merchandise everywhere and the guests have stunningly low attention spans. There’s a scene at the pool where Zach misses the moment that the mosasaurus leaps out of the water and eats a shark because he’s busy instant messaging someone on his phone. It’s depressing how utterly credible that scene feels.
In fact, its the attention span of the park visitors that sets in the motion the latest disaster on Isla Nublar. We learn from Claire Dearing that attendance is down at the park because after ten years, people have become used to the re-introduction of dinosaurs and they are beginning to lose their appeal. To reverse this trend, the scientists at inGen (including Henry Wu of the original film) have created a new genetically spliced dino attraction – the Indominus Rex. Indominus is bigger, faster and deadlier than the Tyrannosaurus Rex before it. Only no one knows how deadly as inGen keeps confidential just what exactly they have mixed the T-Rex DNA with. That’s for audiences and hapless park security to find out when Indominus invariably escapes his enclosure.
With Indominus Rex running loose in the park and pressure from investors to keep the venue open and the security breach under wraps, its left to Claire and Owen to try and contain the rogue dinosaur and ensure the safety of their friends and colleagues.
It’s here that the film has copped most of its criticism from the initial screenings. 2015 has been a year that has drawn heightened attention to the roles played by women in film. Avengers: Age of Ultron drew some ire from fans for sidelining The Black Widow and giving her little to do. Meanwhile Mad Max Fury Road has attracted plenty of praise for its unexpected cast of strong female characters.
Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is a rather antiquated caricature of a successful career woman. She’s a humourless corporate shill who is devoid of any real friends and she struggles to connect with her family. Her stiff demeanour is juxtaposed by Chris Pratt’s everyman character Owen Grady. Owen is laid back, intelligent, the only person to truly understand the dinosaurs and the man to bring the vigour back into Claire’s life thanks to a little bit of romancing. There’s a scene in Jurassic World that is evocative of the cinematic trope where a nerdy high school girl ‘finds herself’ and sheds her glasses and transform into a beautiful woman. After a narrow escape with a dinosaur, Claire realizes the absurdity of running around in high heels. She throws down her designer jacket and then…proceeds to continue wearing the heels for the rest of the film. I’m not quite sure what happened there.
Regardless, for a film series that has had such great roles for Laura Dern and Julianne Moore in the past as characters who are just as capable as their male counterparts, Jurassic World is a disappointing step backwards.
Films should be judged on their own merits but Jurassic World seems to continuously invite comparisons to Jurassic Park. Time and again, characters, one liners and props from the original film pop up. It’s to the film’s detriment as no one in their right mind would think that Owen, Claire and Simon Masrani are more compelling characters than Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler or John Hammond.
So after a promising start where the film really shines as it shows off the theme park, things start to creak and buckle a little as we keep the company of some light weight variations of much loved characters from the original.
Fortunately, the film picks up immensely in its closing chapter. Given that director Colin Treverrow has directed just one prior feature film – the indy hit Safety Not Guaranteed – few people could have foreseen what a solid hand he would be at putting together and shooting action sequences. Treverrow would has done Spielberg proud with the exhilarating PG-rated carnage that unfolds in Jurassic World. There’s a real art to constructing action sequences that are suitable for all ages. Since you have to cut away before any bloodshed, the trick is to ratchet up the tension in the lead up. Treverrow really delivers on this front. I can still vividly remember the ‘oooohhhh’ noise that the audience I watched the film with made when a poor woman had the misfortune of falling into the mosasaurus pool. It’s all about building that suspense and letting the audience use their imagination for what happens next.
The film finishes just as it starts, shining a light onto a much loved character from the original film who has been somewhat neglected in The Lost World and Jurassic Park III. Its a rather shameless piece of fan service and yet I was completely taken by it. Jurassic World has its share of shortcomings and rough edges but that last thirty minutes really restored some lustre to the film. The final scene was a crowd pleasing cherry on top.
Is Jurassic World the best of the sequels? By a country mile. But thats damning the film with faint praise. It’s an uneven film to be sure but upon reflection, I think the positives comfortably outweigh the negatives. It’s proven to be so popular that Universal have scrambled to secure the services of Chris Pratt for a sequel which is all but assured now. Dinosaurs are back in vogue and should become a regular fixture of the silver screen in the next few years. That’s a pretty big positive if you ask me.