After being in “development hell” for over a decade, the fourth Jurassic Park film—the first since 2001—has finally been released. Does it tower over its predecessors like a mighty brontosaurus or fall prey to vicious mistakes like a pack of raptors?
A new theme park with cloned dinosaurs has opened on Isla Nublar, but the park’s latest attraction, a huge genetic hybrid called Indominus rex, has escaped and gone on a rampage.
From the start, Jurassic World has several challenges related to its premise. While the idea of the park opening and being successful is interesting, it still rehashes the original film by, once again, having these dangerous animals break free. Only this time there would be more people to eat. Creating a new breed of dinosaur seems like a lame gimmick to cover up the unoriginality. Think of how Terminator 3 is a retread of Terminator 2, except the villain is a female T-1000. Come to think of it, some would ask, “if the first park was a disastrous failure, why try it again?”
The film does manage to address these issues, for the most part. The new park was established by an entrepreneur to fulfill the dying wish of Dr. Hammond (the creator of the original park, played by the late Richard Attenborough). While it seemed Hammond had learned the hard way in previous films that the park was a bad idea, it could be argued that as he neared death he saw this as the best idea he had and wished to see it come to fruition. Seeing a chance to make a unique moneymaker, the entrepreneur seized upon the idea. In that way, it continues the series’ theme of man’s hubris in his attempt to control and/or manipulate nature. The creation of the Indominus rex (or “I-Rex,” as I like to call her) plays into this theme since she was created to reignite waning interest in the park. In fact, initially it’s only the I-Rex that escaped from its cage, creating a domino effect that freed several other species of dinosaur.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is its pacing and suspense. While Spielberg served only as an executive producer and not as director, Colin Trevorrow does an excellent job of channeling Spielberg’s style. At first the audience is shown only glimpses of the I-Rex as it hides among trees. Then a low shot of the legs. Only when it escapes from its cage and chases Chris Pratt is it fully seen. Not only that, but the scenes where the I-Rex stalks the humans—often coming within an inch of them—while they’re hiding is quite terrifying.
Speaking of the I-Rex, it’s arguably the film’s primary villain. No, I think “supervillain” might be a better descriptor. Seriously, the creature could just as easily fit into an Avengers comic. While its primary genetic stock is that of a T-Rex, the rest is kept top secret, allowing filmmakers to unveil new abilities—or “superpowers,” if you will—as the film progresses. It’s intelligent enough to create misleading claw marks on its cage, it can cloak like a chameleon, it can hide from thermal scanners and it can communicate with raptors. Those are the ones I can remember off-hand. Couple that with being held in isolation all its life (though it did eat its sibling), and the heroes have a large, angry beast intent on putting itself on top of the food chain. However, unlike the original Jurassic Park, which presented the dinosaurs as animals and not monsters, the I-Rex is shown to kill for sport and not simply for food. Why it does this is never explained. Animals don’t do this. It would almost imply a human level of intelligence, but the I-Rex doesn’t display such behaviors. It seems like this was done simply to vilify the creature.
The pacing and the I-Rex’s villainy come to a head during the surprisingly satisfying climax. The franchise’s famous T-Rex, which was glimpsed once before this, and Blue, one of Chris Pratt’s raptors, join forces to battle the I-Rex. The T-Rex, despite being a bit outmatched, manages to get some redemption after its embarrassing defeat at the claws (and teeth) of the spinosaurous in Jurassic Park III. It was a little gimmicky, I admit, but the Godzilla fan in me relished every second of it.
I’ve spent all this time talking about the dinosaurs, but what about the humans? Only one character, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), returns from the previous films, and his is a secondary role. While it takes about twenty minutes for him to show up, the star is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a raptor trainer. He proves to be resourceful, charming and smart, accusing the park owners of tampering with nature and unethical treatment of the animals. Now I understand why many in Hollywood think Pratt could play Indiana Jones. The rest of the characters, of which there are many with intertwining stories, end up in Pratt’s shadow, to an extent.
The most surprising is Vincent D’Onofrio, a powerhouse of an actor who is saddled with playing a cliché military man who wants to use the dinosaurs as weapons. He borders on caricature given the preposterousness of this notion. Not only have the creatures proven difficult to control, since they know nothing of tactics or weaponry, they could easily be defeated by enemy soldiers (heck, one of the raptors is killed by an RPG in the film!). The cast also includes two brothers (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) who are sent to the park with their aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s head of operations. While they give good performances, Howard comes across as a typical workaholic and the boys’ anxiety over their parents’ divorce isn’t quite resolved. The older brother promises to stick by the younger, but aside from reuniting with their parents at the end, the main issue isn’t addressed. Some might argue its better that way since divorce is a common experience for many kids, but I still felt it needed a bit more resolution.
Much like 2006’s Rocky Balboa, Jurassic World makes frequent allusions to the original film in the series and ignores the other sequels, but doesn’t retcon them away. Indeed, it does use nostalgia to bolster itself, sometimes in a borderline meta fashion, but not so much that the film can’t stand on its own merit.
The filmmakers wisely stuck to the Jurassic Park tradition of utilizing practical special effects and CGI, though this film has more of the latter than the previous entries (at least from what I can remember). The most obvious use of animatronics is seen when Pratt and Howard discover a dying brachiosaurus that was wounded by the I-Rex. However, practical effects weren’t used for scenes featuring muzzled raptors, where only their heads could be seen. The creature designs are all excellent, especially that of the I-Rex.
While it has plot and concept issues, Jurassic World still manages to be an entertaining summer blockbuster. It certainly rises above the other Jurassic sequels, but it can’t compare to the original classic.
Final Grade: B