Warning: Some plot details from Jurassic World will be disclosed.
Believe it or not, it has been 22 years since Jurassic Park premiered in theaters. For many, that film stands as a landmark cinematic experience. Never before had computer-generated characters been so convincingly portrayed on-screen. The technology manifest in Jurassic Park went on to reshape the film and television industries, empowering creators to build whatever they could imagine, for better or worse.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park debuted four years after the original. Despite being again directed by Steven Spielberg and again based on a novel by Michael Crichton, the sequel failed to capture the same magic. By time Jurassic Park III came around in 2001, the good money was on the franchise’s demise.
But if there’s anything Hollywood loves, it’s a comeback story. In an age of belated sequels and franchise reboots, Jurassic World has emerged as an unprecedented hit, making half a billion dollars in its opening weekend, the largest debut haul in film history.
There’s clearly been a long-harbored desire to return to Isla Nublar. The question remains, despite its commercial success: is the film any good?
True Sequel to the Original
Perhaps it would have been better for all parties concerned if the second and third Jurassic Park sequels had never happened. Indeed, Jurassic World pretends they didn’t, referencing nothing from either film. It’s telling that no such references are necessary.
Jurassic World proves to be a true sequel to the original film by building off its events and advancing its themes. Entrepreneur John Hammond’s dream of an attraction sans illusion was never fully realized, cut short by the tragic fulfillment of Ian Malcolm’s chaos predictions. Here, that vision has finally come.
Though he takes too long to appear, once he does, Chris Pratt commands the screen. After his breakout role in Marvel Studio’s Guardians of the Galaxy, observers have been looking to Jurassic World for an indication of whether Pratt has persistent star power. The verdict is in and, as observed by an admirer in the film, he’s a badass.
Early glimpses of the banter between Pratt’s Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard’s uptight Claire Dearing raised concern that we were getting another version of Star Lord. That’s not the case. While Grady and Peter Quill have a similar sense of humor, the former proves much more reliable and mature. Grady plays an amalgamation of Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm, fusing practical expertise with a sense of humility before nature. Unlike Quill, Grady’s the voice of reason here. And Pratt sells it.
Evolving the Franchise
Jurassic Park was built from ambition outpacing caution. Jurassic World proves no different, made worse by years of apparent success. With the public (and we the movie-going audience) no longer in awe of living dinosaurs, the park’s corporate masters demand ever more shocking attractions. That leads to the creation of the Indominus Rex, an amalgam of monsters both modern and prehistoric.
Jurassic World continues to ask where man should stop meddling with nature. Whether the application is entertainment or something more nefarious, should humans play Frankenstein with the building blocks of life?
Like the original’s Barbasol can full of embryos, Jurassic World leaves a fairly obvious opening for follow-up films. Given the monstrous success seen thus far, and Pratt acknowledging he’s been signed for additional films, we can bank on seeing where things go next.
And now for the cons….
Mediocre Character Development
The performances in Jurassic World range from adequate to occasionally compelling. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t provide the actors with much to work with. They serve their role as set dressing and appetizers for the real stars of the show, Isla Nublar’s resurrected dinosaurs.
That’s not to say the characters land completely flat. Claire Dearing progresses from an aloof and disconnected workaholic, to damsel in distress, and finally to an awkward but able heroine. Her nephew Zach progresses from a jaded teenager into the big brother the younger Gray needs.
Aside from those arcs, the most compelling drama occurs between Owen Grady and his pack of velociraptors. The vicious yet highly intelligent bipeds find their relational loyalty challenged by raw instinct.
While the hybrid nature of the Indominus Rex provides some freedom for the filmmakers to get creative with its abilities, the twists emerging from that freedom fail to overcome an otherwise predictable set of circumstances. The final confrontation with Indominus can be seen coming from a mile away, as can each beat within.
While predictability doesn’t necessarily preclude enjoyment (we all knew the boat was going to sink in Titanic), it does preclude the kind of scares we experienced in the original. At no point in Jurassic World does a kill or reveal take you by surprise. It’s as if the dinosaurs enter on cue and hit their marks, like you’re on one of the park’s rides, a perception that ruins any sense that these wild animals could kill anyone at any moment.
Lacks Sense of Wonder
It’s a tall order to recreate the sense of wonder inherent in the original Jurassic Park. Indeed, Jurassic World smartly sidesteps that challenge by portraying a world where dinosaurs have become routine. The teenage Zach, in particular, stands in for our indifference toward these once wondrous creations. Like Zach, we might respond briefly to sights like the mosasaur emerging from its deep lagoon. But there’s never a moment quite like Alan Grant shakily peeling off his sunglasses upon first beholding a living brachiosaurus.
So how would I score it? Find out on the next page.
Impression / Score
Some have said that Jurassic World forgoes character development in favor of people getting eaten by dinosaurs. Of course, you could say the same thing about Jurassic Park. Our memories of the original film remain couched in our awe at seeing believable dinosaurs on the big screen for the first time. However, when you take that away and just look at the narrative and structure of Jurassic Park, does anyone truly remember that film for its character development?
Jurassic World may not be as good a movie as its progenitor. But it doesn’t have to be. In a way, it concedes from the outset that it won’t be. The Indominus Rex stands as a metaphor for the film, an exaggerated expression of things seen before. In lieu of fine art, isn’t big dumb fun what we expect from a summer blockbuster sequel?
5 Stars – A Masterpiece
4 Stars – Great Film
3 Stars – Entertaining
2 Stars – Not for Everyone
1 Star – Complete Waste of Time
Jurassic World scores three out of five stars, a worthy tribute to the original film showcasing Chris Pratt as a rising star.