The nostalgia surrounding Jurassic Park (1993) is high. It is the same problem that has plagued franchises such as Star Wars or Indiana Jones or The Terminator. Every time a new entry tries to reawaken long dormant franchises such as these, it has such trouble stacking up against nostalgia. So the deck is already stacked against Jurassic World from the start.
Jurassic Park is the millenial generation’s King Kong (1933), an adventure film that redefined special effects and influenced a generation. While it is certainly far from flawless (the characters are a tad one-dimensional, the ending is a deus ex machina), it is an immersive dinosaur extravaganza that still holds up today.
It is just incredibly difficult to follow up however with something that is not just a rehash of the original. The basic premise has always been man undervalues nature and tries to profit off of it, dinosaurs escape and eat people and man learns a lesson about its place in the world. There are no other story avenues really to explore after that. So Jurassic World is trapped trying to find something new to say while remaining true to its predecessor.
The film really tries. There’s genetic mutation, a fully functioning theme park, training raptors, weaponizing dinosaurs for combat… but at it’s heart, the Jurassic Park franchise has always been about running away from dinosaurs, and there is no escaping that. However, the film manages to still be fun.
Set 22 years after the events of the original Jurassic Park (the other sequels are pretty much ignored), Jurassic World focuses on Owen (Chris Pratt) as he attempts to train the park’s Velociraptors, and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a park department head, and her relationship with her two nephews Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson). Working behind the scenes, the park’s scientists, seeking to boost sales, have created a genetic hybrid, the Indominus Rex, a creature they quickly lose control of and who goes on a murderous rampage throughout the island.
The characters are pretty cardboard-cut. Real credit should be given to stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard for getting as much as they do out of the script. The rest of the cast are pretty much forgettable dino-food.
Stronger motivations were needed to really punch up the characters. For example, the hybrid is treated as a rather mundane enterprise for the company. It is just an experiment gone bad. What would have really made things more interesting is if business were dropping. There are hints that people have grown stale with dinosaurs, but this could have been accentuated much further. Perhaps the Masrani company that owns the park is falling apart, and Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan), instead of being a relative nice guy as he is in the film, demands the biggest attraction yet, putting all this pressure on Claire to save the park, which pushes her towards tampering with nature in a way never before tried, raising the stakes for everyone associated with the park, their last chance, only for it to blow up in the worst way possible. This would have revealed a bit more about the characters, especially Claire, showing her obsession with her job and why she never has contact with her nephews or family.
Similarly, Owen is also never really given a reason for his attachment to the raptors he trains. He mentions something about being in the Navy and one date with Claire, but it severely lacks in emotional stakes. Perhaps while in the Navy, Owen does something terrible which exposes him to his animal side, a facet of his personality that he sees he has in common with the raptors (think to Quinn’s monologue in Jaws (1975) that reveals something of his character). This bonds them, and he is left to wonder just what part of his personality is real: the animal, which is symbolized by his remoteness and connection to animals, or the human, his caring for others and ability to have a higher moral judgment. And then this dynamic gives him an arc as he works to save Claire from the monster she has created and reveals his humanity.
Director Colin Trevorrow gets some good action out of the story and there are some tense moments, but nothing on scale to the original. Steven Spielberg has always been able to build up suspense and create a moodiness that few other directors can. Whether it be the vibrating glass of water, a tracking shot of a Dilophosaurus approaching a victim or a Velociraptor slowly opening a door handle, these small moments of buildup really add a lot of terror to the original film. Trevorrow is unable or unwilling to use similar cinematic techniques to raise the suspense of his film, keeping viewers from truly being on the edge of their seats.
The expanse of digital technology has often left current filmmakers under the pretense that since they can construct anything they want in a computer, they should. But the absence of real objects, of dirt and rain and grime, creates a hollow feeling, one that Jurassic World is often plagued with. The park is too pristine, the digital effects too plentiful and the atmosphere too placid. It lacks the characters covered in mud, the rainy moodiness and the beads of sweat pouring off of people’s brows that makes things feel real. It seems to be more of a videogame environment than a real location, and this disconnect keeps the audience from really experiencing the park.
Now, having said all that, the primary purpose of a Jurassic Park film is to entertain, and Jurassic World is nothing if not entertaining. It keys in on the nostalgia of the original film to great effect, playing with the conventions of the monster movie and the action movie, poking fun of and admiring them. There are some truly breathtaking moments, such as the pteranodon escape, the gyrosphere sequence, and, above all, the climax. The last twenty minutes of the movie nearly make up for all its flaws along the way, creating the type of dinosaur slug fest that appeals to the inner child of all of those who worship prehistoric beasts. It is worth the price of admission itself.
So, yes, Jurassic World is a deeply flawed film, but it is also a fun one. It is sad to see so many films coming out of Hollywood that are simply “good enough”, that never strive to be the type of jaw-dropping, have-to-see experience like the original Jurassic Park. Those movies no longer seem to be made. Jurassic World is just another cash grab, cashing in on a bygone era, but at least it delivers something close to wonder and amazement. That at least deserves some kudos.