Jurassic World, the now fully functional dinosaur theme park has been running successfully for twenty years, but in an age where instant entertainment and endless information is always accessible in the palm of your hand, spectacle like this just doesn’t cut it anymore. With profits dwindling, the company decides that the best way to boost ticket sales, gain media attention and increase revenue is to present audiences with something they’ve never seen before, something that has never existed before. Enter the Indominus Rex, a genetically engineered dinosaur hybrid, part T-Rex and part something mysterious. In the meantime the highly intelligent and highly deadly Velociraptors have been domesticated, being gradually trained to follow basic human commands and instructions like trained reptilian dolphins. The park sees this as an opportunity for a new attraction but the forever sinister InGen corporation sees it as a way to utilize them as military weapons. As always greed gets in the way of common sense and the new ferocious creation breaks loose wreaking havoc throughout the park.
The burning question on everyone’s lips is “Is it better than the original?”, so I’ll get that out of the way up front, No. Is it better than the third one, Yes. Is it better than the second one, about the same and with that out the way now I’ll tell you why. With all sequels I worry that rather than telling a fresh story that further develops the characters or builds upon exploring the themes and ideas presented in the original, the sequel will instead just be greatest hits. A retread of the original, hitting the same notes and presenting the same things in slightly different ways and when you step back to look at it as a whole, Jurassic World is a cleverly disguised version of the latter.
For a movie that has been in development for fourteen years these two story elements really seem to be the only new ideas here. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the new things that director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) brings but those alone didn’t appear to be enough to warrant a two hour running time and so the filmmakers felt they needed to pad it out with subplots that unfortunately bring it down. Even worse is these aren’t even new subplots to the series. A character so focused on their job that they don’t have time to even acknowledge kids but through the adventure comes to realize children and a family life aren’t so bad (Jurassic Park). A child with parents on the brink of divorce but through that child being in peril they come together, overcome their differences and reunite as a family (Jurassic Park 3). A jaded boyfriend and his ginger girlfriend working together to escape the island (The Lost World).
A good intentioned millionaire trying to bring awe to the world but seeing his dreams turn to disaster (Jurassic Park). A greedy money grabbing military corporate type thinking using dangerous wild animals for profit is a good idea, but then animals get out of control and kill everyone (Well that’s all of them quite frankly). Like what the hell, did none of the four writers on this movie stop to think “hey, haven’t we done this before?”.
So with subplots copied and pasted, it’s up to uptight park operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and sexy dinosaur trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) to save her two vacationing nephews, wide eyed Gray (Ty Simpkins) and sullen teen Zach (Nick Robinson) and there lies one of the movies main problems. Those descriptions are the complete depth of the characters. In fact every character can be summed up in a brief stereotype trait, Masrani (Irrfran Khan) is the good natured eccentric park owner, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) is the creepy head of security bent on using Raptors for war no matter the cost , Lowery (Jake Johnson) is the geeky computer operator, Karen (Judy Greer) is the worried Mother and Scott (Andy Buckley) the indifferent Father and so on. Whereas Alan Grant, Ian Malcolm or John Hammond felt like real living breathing people, each with their own aspirations and view points, people who felt like they had come from their own lives to the events of the movie and then were returning back to them after too. Perhaps this was the advantage of being adapted from a novel but here every character feels like they exist just for the movie. In any other movie that would be a minor nitpick but when comparing itself to the original I was hoping for something more. The tiniest mark of a character succeeding for me is when you can at the very least remember their name, so when you relay the story back to friends you say Starlord did this, or Peter Quill said that but when you say Chris Pratt did this and then Bryce Dallas Howard did that then the character didn’t really leave a lasting impression. Not to say the acting is bad, everyone is serviceable with what they have to work with. Pratt takes a more serious turn as the voice of reason, Howard is tough and sassy as the narrowly focused career woman and D’Onofrio as the restrained (by D’Onofrio standards) scenery chewing villain being the stand outs.
There are flourishes here of the movie that might have been though and it’s in these all too brief moments that it really shines. The park itself is clever and inventive, from the petting zoo and the river canoe trip to the aquarium and the T-Rex enclosure viewed through a hollow downed tree trunk, this theme park was a place I wanted to go to, safety be damned! Even the seemingly simple aesthetic of keeping the same iconic Jurassic Park logo but turning it blue made it nostalgic yet modern at the same time and the same blue and steel grey color scheme permeating throughout the park was an inspired choice. When I saw the trailers and Chris Pratt was riding a motorcycle alongside his Raptor team I was like here we go, is he going to ride up to that pool and jump the hanging shark too before it gets eaten by the Mosasaurus (giant swimming dinosaur) because this looks ridiculous, but this was one element that I found really worked.
Weaponising these creatures makes perfect sense, they are killing machines evolved over centuries to hunt with no remorse or mercy and here they can be ordered and controlled removing human lives from the equation, they are the perfect soldiers. Using creatures as weapons has been a long running theme in “Alien” movies but never once was it thought through or explained properly across any of its seven films. The Weyland Yutani Company are so desperate to acquire the xeonomorphs as a bioweapon but I have always wondered how would they use them? Once they’ve got them then what? It always seemed like a terrible plan. But here in Jurassic World it seems like an entirely logical possibility. We have seen the amazing things trainers can achieve and the bonds they can make with any variety of animals from domestic to wild. It’s an idea grounded in real world precedents and the reason why this aspect of the movie is at its strongest, is again the reality of it.
There is also lot of humor sprinkled throughout the film some welcome some not so much. When the humor comes organically from the characters personality or the situation it’s great fun especially from Pratt and Trevorrow alumni Johnson but there are some awkward set ups that don’t make sense and stopped the movie in its tracks. But when your favorite part in a dinosaur action thriller is a when a guy awkwardly goes in for a heroic kiss moment and is rejected, you’ve lost your focus somewhere. What Trevorrow brings to this movie I really dug and for his second directorial effort it was a massive undertaking, his mimicry of Spielberg’s techniques mostly work however everything else feels like a committee decision. It’s as though the executive meetings went as follows “We needs some kids in there cos we want kids to see the movie. We need romance cos we want the ladies to like it too. We need a strong female hero cos that’s what little girls want to look up to. We need that funny guy because now he’s funny and ripped so he can be our comedy relief and action star all in the one paycheck. We need some international stars in there too because we want to draw in the foreign market” and so forth. If it was leaner and more focused in the story it was trying to tell it could have been more than just an ok movie. But at the end of the day you’re not here for a deep character study or screwball comedy you’re here to see dinosaurs so how do they fare?
What made the Jurassic series so appealing to me was that these movies were set in the real world, our world. The dinosaurs were just animals, that behaved liked animals. You believed you could unquestionably actually go to Jurassic Park and that set it apart from your run of the mill monster fare. Real convincing animals over generic monsters. Science over fantasy. It’s the edge the Jurassic series had over something like Godzilla, it had that level or grounded reality, that authenticity even if the science was a bit iffy or now disproven. We know these things once really existed and had a good idea of how they moved, slow and lumbering or fast and agile through reference to things in the real animal kingdom. In the original Jurassic Park Lex pleads “Don’t let the monsters come over here” and Grant corrects her “they’re not monsters, Lex. They’re just animals” and they were treated that way, wild and unpredictable. But for the most part the dinosaurs in this movie feel cartoonish not only in visual effects but in character.
It is a testament to the late great Stan Winston, Phil Tippet and the wizards at Industrial Light and Magic that the work they did back in 1993 has still not been outdone even with all the advancements special effects can afford two decades later. A majority of the movie happens in broad daylight which can be very unforgiving in CGI effects, there are a broad variety of classic dinosaurs roaming the fields or traversing the skies and sure the effects serve their purpose, yes there are dinosaurs there but they all seem a little too cartoonish. It’s like the weight and heft has been taken away from them. There are some cool set pieces, like when a Pterodactyl attacks one character by drowning them, repeatedly resurfacing and then submerging them again, it goes on for so long that it becomes comical but turns to fun in a horror movie death kind of way. The only real new dinosaur addition the Mosasaurus is great with some clever set ups and pay offs and then there’s a final showdown that is fun and exciting but incredibly monster movie and over the top. Through the whole film I was waiting for that moment I experienced as a child sitting in the theatre in 1993, when Alan Grant stands up in his jeep, pulls away his sunglasses and stares up in awe at the majestic Brachiosaurus feeding off a tree four stories high or the one of the most thrilling movie moments ever committed to celluloid bar any genre when the Tyrannosaurus Rex stepped out if it’s enclosure and in to cinema history. This movie dared only once to go for that kind of moment and when it did it was incredible. A fallen Apatosaurus (the long neck one) is revealed in a long tracking shot from tail to head lying wounded on the ground, Pratt’s Owen sits beside it cradling it’s head while it needlessly draws its last breathes, it’s a slow heartbreaking scene that takes it’s time to land. He stands up to look over the hill and there lies the rest of its fallen kin several more lying lifeless, this scene is awe inspiring touching and masterfully shot all at once. I just wish the movie was all this.
But the big bad Indominus Rex is the focus of the films special effects efforts and we are introduced to him in short tense glimpses between trees, under cars or obscured from sight slowly building to its final reveal. But after we see it from head to toe the movie continues to only shoot the creature in midshots, it’s arm and legs visible but it’s face constantly cut out of the shot like Grandma’s new camera photo’s. We continue to only get the occasional very brief wide and after a while it becomes frustratingly distracting. Were the special effect artist not confident of its design? Does facial animation cost more? It just seemed like an odd aesthetic choice. In fact the dinosaur showdowns feel more suited to a Transformers movie than a Jurassic Park especially when the finale becomes a tag team wrestling match it belittles the creatures to monsters rather than real animals and when a fan favorite returns you long for just a little bit of animatronics magic. Don’t get me wrong the sequence is exciting and fun and will have audiences cheering but I feel it’s a shame that the movie won’t hold that same sense of wonder for this generation of children. The original managed to awe, terrify and enchant all at once, a feat that still can’t be topped.
There are many nods to the 1993 movie that at times seemed out of place and took me out of the movie, when a film becomes self aware it starts to lose all sense of realism. When the kids come across the original visitors centre, they find key props from the first movie like abandoned night vision goggles, the restaurant mural and even the original Jeeps (which one of the kids manages to magically hotwire and get running even though it’s been sitting there abandoned for twenty years). Would a company so focused on profits really leave all these expensive buildings, vehicles and equipment simply abandoned? It was a nice call back but it poked a hole in the movies logic that just continued to leak onwards. When the Indominus Rex begins to show signs of its top secret genetic splicing, including camouflage and thermal disguise no one is aware that it could even do any of these things before it breaks loose, throughout the movie it is stressed that it’s top secret. But why is there a big mystery to the ingredients of this new dinosaur? Is the secret supposed to be kept from the investors so that keep sending in the money but aren’t aware of the risks? If the investors can pick and choose what they want to add to their investments surely there’s a list of abilities to choose from? Is the instead supposed to be from the CEO? So that he can’t disapprove of the dangerous qualities they instill in it? Because as soon as it first displays one of these dangerous attributes they will know about it straight away, as proven in the movie?
I mean it’s not like all these suspicious mad scientist dealings were done in private, hidden away in some classified area far across the other side of the world by faceless men in the shadows, everything is done on the island from splicing to breeding to rearing and releasing into the attraction. Is there seriously no communication between everyone in the boardroom during the weekly department head catch up? Hell you could even just walk across the office in to the next room and be like “Yo Dr. Wu what’s up this?” I mean come on, we’re to assume that this new genetically modified dinosaur has grown from a baby dinosaur to full size and they haven’t monitored it for signs of what it is capable of? The scientists who made the thing are even coy about how it was made like it’s some big need to know secret. I think everyone from security to marketing would need to know what these cross breeds are capable of or is it that all the scientists are mixing with their eyes shut and just too lazy to care? When the only returning cast member from the series geneticist Dr. Wu (BD Wong) is confronted about the monster he created killing innocent people he twirls his invisible moustache and simply shrugs it off as “that’s unfortunate”. Really? This guy has worked here for over two decades and just from looking at him he’s clearly the shifty criminal mastermind type, has no one noticed that in two decades?! or has he just been acting like a sane mild mannered scientist all this time to finally be like fuck it I’m going to be evil now, it just doesn’t make sense. More and more things tend to make little sense as the dangers unfold.
Finally deciding to evacuate the island they call the very serious sounding real world protocol in to order. Now my office work place has to have a monthly fire evacuation practice just in case the communal kitchen toaster might scorch some bread and set the fire alarm off. Even if that tiny little thing happened the entire building has to be evacuated and go in to lockdown with every one immediately moved five blocks away just in case. Here their entire escape protocol for an island containing the most powerful ferocious killing machines known to man is to stand in a main street huddled together out in the open with no seating for fourteen hours until a cruise ship arrives to take them away? Really? You don’t have like a safe bunker or even a nice big auditorium every one can relax in with at least one door you can close and maybe even lock behind you? Occupational Health and Safety really need to visit this place, and when you so see the security teams and random employees throughout Jurassic World everyone is a blank faced extra. From the medical teams to the control room employees nobody does anything of any real value outside of the six characters with speaking parts. Even then out of those six I have no idea what half of them actually to at the park, like what do their actual job descriptions entail? There are also a lot of moments that force in the classic John Williams score to evoke false emotions. It was like “well nothing is really happening here in this scene, the kid is riding a slow boring escalator but remember how that music queue made you feel in the original? Well let’s put that in here so the audience feels that again now, even though we haven’t earn it through our own film making at all”. Even the set pieces are just call backs to the past films, two kids stuck in vehicle protected only by its glass windows while a predatory dinosaur bites its way in (Jurassic Park). A pterodactyl set piece chasing people down (Jurassic Park 3). The new big bad Alpha dinosaur facing off against the old Alpha dinosaur one on one (Jurassic Park 3) as much as the filmmakers seem to turn their nose up at the lesser acclaimed sequels intentional or not they manage to heavily plagiarize from them. I wonder if there would ever be a sequel brave enough to just be a two hour movie of people visiting Jurassic World and nothing goes wrong, like a drama about a family on holiday in a resort that just happens to be Jurassic World and we see the scientists and vets and trainers at work, hell with universe building all the hype at the moment that could make for a compelling spin off television series. But I digress…
With several subplots, but few with much substance I think it would have been stronger to focus on what worked and make a lean focused and compelling story. Instead we get a fun but kind of messy movie. It’s not that I was bored I was just indifferent to most of what was unfolding, I didn’t care if the kids survived either way, I didn’t care if Pratt and Howard ended up together. At the end of the day high expectations had me hoping for something that would capture that original magic but what it ended up being was an entertaining fluff movie that you’ll walk out saying was good but will never really feel compelled to watch again. Not to say that Jurassic World is a bad movie, but its not the second coming of Jurassic Park’s glory days it was being hyped to be. There is check your brain at the door mindless fun to be had, but considering twenty two years have passed and there has never been anything that even comes close to the reality of that first T-Rex break out to grace out screens it speaks volumes of today’s blockbusters. I just like my science fiction to have a little more thought provoking and a little more heart and it’s in those few rare moments that manage to peek through that I caught glimpses of the movie I really wanted to see, oh well bring on Jurassic Universe I guess.
Jurassic World “Visitors Feedback Card”: Dear Jurassic World, your phone services suck. Your mobiles have poor reception and none of your staff think to text anyone rather than call no matter how important the message. Sort your shit out, you’ve had twenty years to get this working, Kind Regards.
Review by Dylan Boaden