“Jurassic World” — the franchise’s fourth film but first in 14 years – follows pretty much the exact same plot as the original “Jurassic Park” but does everything bigger and better (at least in a technical sense). While I wouldn’t have cared if any of the characters got eaten by an Indominus rex, it is unmatched by any previous “JP” film – and very few blockbusters overall – in terms of utter spectacle.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by four scribes, “Jurassic World” finds John Hammond’s park up and running. I believe the “JW” website — which notes the park (on Isla Nublar, same as the first film) is currently experiencing “a security breach involving several of our attractions” – at some point said the park has been open for a decade. That means it opened in 2005, a mere four years after the most recent dino-disaster on Isla Sorna, which saw the U.S. military called in to rescue Alan Grant, et al.
But in this millennium, it’s hard to stoke public outcry for long periods, so I suppose it’s not surprising that the park opened to huge ticket sales soon after that. In “Jurassic World,” InGen is partnered with the Masrani Corporation. Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) tells bean counter Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) he has “spared no expense” in honor of Hammond, who presumably is dead (as one would assume this park would open over his dead body), although that’s not explicitly stated.
In a side plot I’m happy to see included, InGen’s Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) wants to weaponize the dinosaurs. As far back as the end of “The Lost World,” when raptors presumably escape the San Diego-bound boat and at least one pteranodon gets loose, I figured there’d be an epic dinosaurs-versus-military entry in the saga. “Jurassic World” isn’t precisely that movie, but there are tons of awesome battle scenes featuring soldiers taking on the I-rex and raptors. (And for the third straight movie, for god’s sake, flying dinosaurs clearly are on the loose and headed for civilization at large. This HAS to factor into “JP V.”)
In a film that repeatedly gives “Jurassic Park” fans what they want, we also see the pteranodons-versus-helicopter fight that was originally storyboarded for “The Lost World,” an aquatic dinosaur (mososaur), and a general sense that the camera doesn’t have to cut away when the money or technical know-how runs out.
The first three films were spectacles for their time, but with “JW” I got the sense that if Trevorrow and his team dreamed something up, it would be on the screen. There are only 15 minutes of dinosaur footage in the original film, but “JW” – after a slow opening where we marvel at the park itself – is almost wall-to-wall dinos. The fight scenes are of high quality and quantity, and bits of cleverness spice things up, such as a raptor being slowed down by a hologram of a spitting dilophosaurus. I also like the ‘roided-up Sea World riff of the mososaur eating a shark. “JW” is stiff, but it’s not entirely humorless.
Aside from the scientific absurdity of cloning dinosaurs – which we just have to accept in order for these stories to exist – “Jurassic Park” was a smart film. The sequels stumbled a bit with the boat scene in “The Lost World” and Grant’s bizarre escape from the raptors at the end of “JP III.” But “JW” again is sharply written. It’s not merely that the I-rex escapes his pen; the park workers discuss the way it escaped, and that factors into subsequent scenes.
Some smart ideas are grafted on to “JW.” In addition to the military angle, we get Owen (Chris Pratt) training velociraptors, a concept that was introduced in the Topps “Raptor” comics in the 1990s. Owen gives these four raptors names, and they mostly follow his commands, because they have imprinted on him since they were hatchlings. If “Parks and Recreation’s” Pratt wasn’t cool enough already, his command of raptors adds to his badass-ness.
Yet “Jurassic Park” is still a better overall film than this impressive behemoth of a sequel. Part of it is the originality, of course, but part of it is the characters. I bonded with Grant, Ellie, Malcolm, Tim and Lex, but I didn’t connect with any of the “JW” people, who never do anything I don’t expect them to do. I felt like these folks were on a pre-programmed ride like I was. (By the way, the ageless BD Wong’s dino scientist Henry Wu is the only returning character from the first three films.) Meanwhile, the dinos are anthropomorphized to a degree that will certainly be parodied by someone.
Although I appreciate that composer Michael Giacchino mostly does his own thing (Don Davis riffed on John Williams too much on “JP III,” I think), the music doesn’t add texture to the film to the same degree as the first two movies. And Isla Nublar, filmed in Hawaii and New Orleans, seems bigger than I remember it from the first film.
Also, the dinosaurs – for all their coolness — aren’t scary anymore. Maybe that’s because I’ve grown up and lost some of my sense of wonder. But not so much that I can’t smile every now and then at the thrill ride of “Jurassic World.”