Friday, June 19, 2015

Jurassic World Review

I maintain to this day that Jurassic Park is one of my all time favorite movies. It is still the best dinosaur movie out there. I was ten when I saw it in theaters back in the day and it was so scary to me then that I had to see it twice before I actually saw the whole thing; I kept covering up my eyes. I was elated to hear about the new Jurassic World (2015) along with countless other enthusiastic fan boys. While it didn't quite live up to the greatness of that first Jurassic Park, it perfectly catered to my nostalgia for that beloved movie.
Twenty-two years after the original Jurassic Park failed, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond and run by the park's operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). After ten years of operation and visitor rates declining, in order to fulfill a corporate mandate, a new attraction is created to re-spark visitors' interest; the vicious and intelligent Indominus Rex. When the massive creature escapes, it sets off a chain reaction that causes the other dinosaurs to run amok. Now, it's up to a former military man and the park's Velociraptor expert and trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to use his special skills to save Claire's nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Grey Mitchell (Ty Simpkins), as well as the rest of the tourists from an all-out prehistoric assault.
Contrary to popular belief, Steven Spielberg, the director of the first two Jurassic Park films, did not direct Jurassic World, but acted as executive producer just as he had for the third film. Director Colin Trevorrow either took a lot of advice from Spielberg or he managed to replicate Spielberg's style, from the way the camera moves to the gradual rolling out of the big effects. There were many parts of the movie that felt a lot like Jurassic Park which will placate the many fans' nostalgia for the original film. There are dozens of references to the original Jurassic Park movie both subtle and overt. Make sure you watch for them because it made me so happy to see them.
There's a decent cast in Jurassic World. None of the characters are particularly deep, nor do they do anything entirely unexpected. Claire is this corporate, unfeeling ice queen that only seems to see the sales numbers and is completely, intellectually removed from the animals featured in the park she runs. She even refers to the dinosaurs as "assets", as if they were products, not life forms. Owen is also not deep, but is a whole lot of fun. Chris Pratt usually plays comical, goofy characters. While Owen has a couple of humorous lines, he basically serves as this manly tough guy, not unlike Indiana Jones. Owen and Claire bounce off each other really well and have great chemistry. They and other characters aren't very deep, but the whole cast is likable and are at least somewhat relatable.
Jurassic Park had this highly interesting theme of control; we try to control our environment, control is an illusion, life finds a way, etc. I thought Jurassic World would play on that theme, especially since the word "control" is used at least a dozen times in the first twenty minutes of the movie. It does play on that theme a little bit, however Jurassic World was more about consumerism and corporate excess, for which the Indominus Rex was the thematic embodiment. We as consumers are surrounded by wonder and yet we want more, and we want it bigger, faster, louder, and better. In Jurassic World the Indominus Rex is a genetic hybrid animal which was designed based on a series of corporate focus groups. That twisted mutation of nature says something about our greed as consumers and about the desire for profit we see within corporate excess. The Indominus Rex represents that desire left unchecked and it demands to be satisfied. This theme is further illustrated by all the brand names and corporate logos seen throughout the park. Claire represents the corporate excess, her nephews represent consumers who want bigger and better, and Owen represents the ideal harmony between balance the two. This was best illustrated in a scene where Owen and Claire are inspecting the Indominus Rex's containment habitat. Claire explains "Corporate felt that genetic modification would up the 'wow' factor." Owen ingenuously replies, "They're dinosaurs. 'Wow' enough." There also a subtler theme of "those who do not stop evil are supporting and encouraging it," which I also appreciated.
Jurassic World ended up being a great action adventure movie. There were plenty of scares, tension, and surprises. The action and fight scenes were phenomenally well choreographed. The camera moved steadily through high energy scenes without resorting to that irritating and sloppy "shaky cam" gimmick and still captured all the movement in such a way that you could always very clearly tell what was happening. There were surprisingly few jump scares. A lot of the surprises took the form of growing dread. For example, there's a scene where Grey and Zach are in the back of an armored truck with its back doors open and a velociraptor in pursuit at top speed. It's not a question of a surprise attack, it's not a question of will it attack, the raptor is going to attack within a few seconds and they can do nothing but watch it get closer and closer. There is lots of tension and it makes for an exciting movie. It's still PG-13, most of the implied gore takes place off screen, but this still might be a bit too intense for younger audiences no matter how much they want to see a dinosaur movie. You might end up taking your kid to see it more than once just so they can see the whole thing as was the case for me twenty-two years ago.
There were certainly aspects of Jurassic World I didn't appreciate so much, but I think the only thing that truly bothered me was the use of John William's original Jurassic Park theme song at the wrong time. When we first hear this song it is accompanied by Jurassic Park's main characters (and the audience) seeing a heard of dinosaurs for the first time. Nothing quite like this scene had ever been done in film before, The magnificence of the scene as captured by Spielberg's camera work, coupled with the brilliant technical achievement of special effects, was only perfected by the dramatic swelling music provided by the iconic movie composer. This same song was used as we and Zach and Grey simply see the park for the first time. Sure, the park looks good, but the majestic, dramatic music almost seems cheapened by the fact that we're just looking at the entry of a theme park, rather than a never-before-seen cinematic achievement.
Jurassic World offers one-dimensional characters with nonsensical motivation, a decent cast, retrograde gender politics, some silly pseudo-science, and a whole lot of fun. It combined enough nostalgia, technical wizardry, and over-the-top thrilling moments to make fans of the original feel like kids again. Let us just take a moment to reflect on the fact that Chris Pratt rides a motorcycle to lead a pack of velociraptors to take down genetic monster which is terrorizing tourists. That preposterous situation alone is so ridiculously awesome that you can't help but enjoy it. As a fan of Jurassic Park, I loved Jurassic World. It did some lousy things here and there, but it also did lots of the sort of thing I wanted to see from a Jurassic Park movie. The 3D effects were even good. I highly recommend seeing this on the big screen, and it's very much worth getting a copy when it hits blu-ray.

What is the best non-Jurassic Park dinosaur movie out there? Comment below and let me know!


  1. The Land Before Time! Shout out to Disney's Dinosaur as well. I know everyone hated it, but the animation still holds up today.

    1. Yeah, that first Land Before Time movie was pretty good, but the franchise got pretty bad after number seventeen or whatever they're up to now. Actually it went bad after the first one.
      Okay, I didn't hate Disney's Dinosaur, but the story left something to be desired. You're right, it boasted some stellar animation!
      Thanks for your comments!