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JURASSIC WORLD (2015) review

June 12, 2015

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written by: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (screenplay/story) & Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (screenplay)
produced by: Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley
directed by: Colin Trevorrow
rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril)
runtime: 124 min.
U.S. release date: June 12, 2015

 

Many of the moviegoers who saw “Jurassic Park” in theaters during the summer of 1993 can now take their children to see the third sequel, “Jurassic World”. That’s what Universal Pictures is banking on (among other things), at least. The draw will find parents hoping to revisit the awe and wonder of that first blockbuster with a morbid curiosity to find out which scenes will frighten their offspring – or maybe I’m projecting, since that’s pretty much how I approached this new monster movie. Having screened this bloody sequel before viewing it with my 8 year-old daughter, I’m not so sure she could, or should, handle it. Don’t tell Lego and Hasbro.

The studio is also counting on you forgetting what happened in the previous two sequels, as director Colin Trevorrow has openly stated “Jurassic World” is a direct sequel to Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking first movie. That doesn’t always work out so well, though.

Remember when Bryan Singer wanted you to forget about the sequels that came after “Superman II” (as if we hadn’t already on our own) with “Superman Returns”? In many ways, “Jurassic World” is a lot like Singer’s reboot/sequel. Both try to capture the tone and feel of the original film, while employing impressive special effects, but unfortunately forgetting that story should always come first. Both have moments of human behavior that completely derail the whole production. While there are some firsts for the franchise in “Jurassic World”, it mostly feels like the screenwriters updated the original recipe, but forgot it’s most important ingredient – characters.

 

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“Jurassic World” brings us back to the island of Isla Nublar, one of five tropical islands in Central America, where the never-completed Jurassic Park from the first was located. This makes it clear why we’re supposed to forget what happened in 1997’s “Jurassic Park: The Lost World”, when a transplanted T Rex trashed San Diego. There’s just no way anyone would visit any of these islands, let alone revisit them.

Much has changed – or evolved – in 22 years though and we now find a fully-functional theme park, named Jurassic World, has been running smoothly for years. It’s so much more than John Hammond could’ve ever imagined. As we travel the immense prehistoric experience on monorails, we see a safari ride through Gallimimus Valley and the guest-controlled hamster ball-like gyrospheres (complete with a Jimmy Fallon tutorial) that ride alongside brontosaurus and baby triceratops to ride on (saddle and all). You can even kayak your way down a river near a pack of grazing stegosaurus. Don’t worry, you’ll wear a life vest. Park attendants of all ages can interact with dinosaurs (tamed or trained), watch eggs hatch and video segments from Mr. DNA – all brought to you by Samsung, Mercedes Benz, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, etc.

If you get tired, you can rest your dogs at the Mosasaurus feeding show – first ten rows get soaked! Or you can shop and dine at the likes of Oakley, Columbia Sportswear, Pandora Jewelry, Brookstone and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Like Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, this park has it all. What more could you want?

Well, as it turns out, people want more. The stats on park attendance, according to the workaholic operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), show that people are bored with dinosaurs. They want something bigger, faster and scarier with more teeth and, well, cooler. So, that’s what chief geneticist, Dr. Wu (BD Wong, the only returning cast member from the first film), has cooked up under the authorization of park owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, “Life of Pi”), who wants to ensure that both park attendees and the dinosaurs enjoy their stay. The result is the Indominus Rex, a 50 foot tall genetically modified dinosaur, created with a T Rex base and a mix of classified this and that dino DNA- a clever girl – all set for her park debut.

 

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Busy with the preparations involving the debut of the park’s newest asset (that’s what the call the stars of the park), Claire is visited by her two nephews, the pubescent hormonal Zach (Nick Robinson) and his younger brother, Gray (Ty Simpkins, “Iron Man 3”), who have arrived to spend some quality time with their estranged aunt. Bad timing. Aunt Claire pawns the brothers off to her British assistant, Zara (Katie McGrath), to babysit the kids as they explore the park. What’s the likelihood of them ditching the hot sitter and veering off on their own?

Claire’s priorities are potential investors and whether or not this new asset is ready for her close-up. At the insistence of Masrani, Claire has former Navy guy and current dino wrangler/trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), give the I. Rex an exit review to see if she’s ready for public viewing. Meanwhile, Owen’s boss and head of security operations for InGen, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), has his eye on Owen’s trained velociraptors for potential military use – because it makes so much sense to use an army of raptors instead of drones. Predictably, their Frankenstein creation easily escapes its pen and cuts a fatal path across the island, killing anything in her way as she makes her trip to the theme park where thousands of unsuspecting vacationers await. Masrani’s recovery team and Hopkins search and destroy squad desperately race to prevent the deadly I. Rex from devouring the tourists, but it’s obvious how it’s all going to play out.

“Jurassic World” is one of two sequels out this summer that want you to forget about some or all previous sequels (hint: the other sequel has a Terminator in it). That’s ridiculous since I like Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” (1997) and Joe Johnston’s “Jurassic Park III” (2001) just fine (in fact, recent viewing found them holding up quite well), but playing on the fickleness and short attention span of moviegoers, the goal here is to provide a bigger, better, meaner sequel – kind of like the creature that was created in this movie. In that sense, “Jurassic World” has a very ‘meta’ vibe and it hopefully won’t be lost on viewers how capitalism and commercialism has trumped any kind of environmentalism or moral ethics.

There’s a lot going on in “Jurassic World”, from a slew of characters, both human and dinosaurs, to one too many plot points. It has expectedly impressive CGI dinosaurs (this is actually the first “Jurassic” movie without the late Stan Winston’s special effects involvement) with some truly harrowing and exciting sequences. The movie has a couple glaring problems though.

 

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One being that Colin Trevorrow just wasn’t ready to tackle a project of this scale as his sophomore effort, following his clever “Safety Not Guaranteed”. He’s a good director and I’ll still be interested in anything he does, it’s just obvious he doesn’t have the benefit of Spielberg and Johnston’s experience. By the time those two had directed a “Jurassic” movie, they had enough experience to know how to build a suspenseful scene. There are a handful of times in “Jurassic World” where there is just too much going on during a suspenseful scene. A good example is the I. Rex escape where Trevorrow goes from a fleeing Pratt to the monitoring control room and then to Claire screaming into her cell phone as she drives in the opposite direction of Pratt. Going back and forth to two different locations could make sense and maintain the heightening suspense, but three different places/characters kind breaks up the needed momentum of the scene.

The other problem is the movie’s most glaring one and that is the way in which the humans are written, both in their characterization and the stupid things they do. You can say that these movies are all about the dinosaurs, but if you look back at the previous films, they had some interesting, multi-dimensional characters with some great, memorable lines. Many of those characters were doctors and paleontologists who knew a thing or two about their situation. That kind of intelligence is sorely lacking in the characters here and the dialogue is as obvious as “She’s killing for sport!” or “This may be our only chance!”. Ugh.

Pratt’s Owen is the only guy aware that dinosaurs are animals and not assets or weapons, but his raptor training is limited to “Stay” and “Sit”. That’ll only do you so much good. While he has respect for the creatures, the character seems so familiar and yet forced upon us as a “hero”. He doesn’t seem to be any different from Thomas Jane’s shark wrangler in “Deep Blue Sea”. Howard’s Claire fares worse. From the moment her cold and clueless character is introduced, we see where she’s going. Her character offers zero surprises even though she has an arc. It’s hard to believe in a woman wearing a white skirt-suit and high heels (throw some shoulder pads on her and she’d be 80s Career Girl) making her way through Central American jungles, let alone running away from a T. Rex.

At least one or two of the characters in the previous movies had an understanding of how the dinosaurs behave and think and would then act accordingly in order to survive, but here we have to watch these two characters get all flirty (unsuccessfully) and stop to kiss while the park is in a panicked state of chaos. In short, I like Howard and Pratt as actors just fine, I just couldn’t tolerate their characters here, especially Claire. After a great turn on “Marvel’s Daredevil”, D’Onofrio unfortunately goes back to the annoying ticks that he usually relies on, granted his character is also a one-note casualty. It’s characters like these that make you root for the dinosaurs.

 

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So, the screenplay, written by two duos – Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (who worked on the two rebooted “Planet of the Apes” movies) and Derek Connolly and Trevorrow (both of whom co-wrote 2012’s “Safety Not Guaranteed”) – gives us two main characters in Pratt and Howard who are so one-dimensional it’s hard to hold interest in them.

Surprisingly, the best characters in “Jurassic World” have the least screen time and they’re played by Jake Johnson (who worked with Trevorrow on “Safety Not Guaranteed”) and Lauren Lapkus, who stay in the control room throughout the entire movie. Their characters offer some levity, but react naturally – confused and nervous – just from witnessing horrific casualties on video monitors. These two also have the best lines in the movie too, showing a little of the humor Connolly and Trevorrow brought to their previous film. It would’ve been fun to see more of them, maybe shake their heads at the stupid behavior displayed by everyone around them.

I can dismiss flimsy characterization for a good time seeing dinosaurs terrorize tourists in a humans-meet-their-comeuppance approach, but I want to be invested in the humans and/or rooting for them, instead of rolling my eyes at them. In the end, when the original recipe T. Rex comes trouncing out to clean up the mess the humans made, it’s a telling lesson for the screenwriters here that – bigger, faster, scarier and more teeth – doesn’t mean better.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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