No one really asked for it, yet here it is, “Jurassic World,” the fourth installment of the dinosaur-centric film franchise famously started by Steven Spielberg in the early 1990’s, based on a best selling book by popular novelist cum film maker Michael Crichton. Are you okay with more rampaging dinosaurs and scared kids running for their lives and only half-lively banter between a pair of normally very likable leads? Then we got the movie for you.
“Jurassic World” starts with a pair of brothers, high school aged Zach (Nick Robinson) and younger wide-eyed Gray (Ty Simpkins) getting sent off to a fully functioning “Jurassic World,” the official name of the theme peak carrying out the dreams and ideals of its founder and featuring a couple dozen dino species in the forms of different rides and exhibits, and the reason they can apparently go is because their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) works there as the theme park operations manager. And Claire does the movie-typical thing of letting work come first so she offloads the kids to some assistant so she can conduct some business while the kids check out the park. For no apparent reason they ditch their chaperone and check out some rides on their own.
In the meantime, a giant genetically modified and improperly raised dino-monster escapes from its enclosure and makes its way to the park. Bad timing.
Claire recruits velociraptor whisperer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to find her nephews and track down this genetically engineered monstrosity known as the Indominus Rex, and along the way many people and dinosaurs get killed. This requires the involvement of the owner of this whole endeavor, good old InGen, the long time stand-in for corporate greed and lack of regulation and oversight in the world of Jurassic Park. This time around the face of InGen is some guy named Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) who has a raging desire to turn the dinosaurs into military weapons, constantly talking about millions of years of extinct being boiled down into these dinos, and he sees the Indominus Rex on the loose as a way to experiment with the raptors they have been training. So we bounce around between the kids surviving in the jungles and trying to get back to the rest of the park and Claire and Owen trying to find them, while all the same time everyone is trying to figure out what to do with the Indominus.
And this Indominus Rex thing is a pretty cool idea, a bigger, crazier dinosaur that also acts as an overt metaphor to franchise filmmaking in general, what with audiences’ desires to see bigger and crazier movies. And they had a good way to set up why this thing would be so crazy and mean spirited and kill crazy, so knowing that this insane creature is stampeding along out there somewhere the whole time adds an appropriate level of menace and danger to the whole movie. But it would have been nice if the dinosaur looked at all real at any point. As a matter of fact, there may have been only two or three scenes where it looked like they may have used animatronics or puppets to create a practical effect that looked good; otherwise all the dinosaurs are just like most other big budget CG creations, in that they are very close to photoreal but not quite, we can still tell that these things are not existing in the same plane as our actors. Just watch the original “Jurassic Park” and check out those practical effects – there is a reason why the T-Rex and Raptors in that movie look more realistic than the CG versions of the same animals in this new movie.
“Jurassic World” is much like the Indominus Rex. It is indeed designed to be bigger and badder, but that does not automatically equal better. And it has some cool ideas but something keeps it all from coming together properly. Maybe it is the weirdly defined relationship between Owen and Claire? They are set up as having known each other previously from one disastrous date, which isn’t much of a past history to build upon, and then when the movie gets to a point where they predictably kiss, it feels unearned, like they really didn’t do any bonding or sharing out there on the island. Also the brothers who spend the whole movie together have a weirdly defined relationship. The older brother is at that stage where he is girl crazy, so he spends most of the time eyeballing girls around the park, while his younger brother wants to enjoy the park and talk about dinosaurs all day. Well except for that one scene in which he talks to his older brother about their parents impending divorce, and the movie gets strangely heavy for a few seconds as he cries and his brother struggles to comfort him. What the fuck was that? They don’t have a strained relationship, and while the older brother would rather be with his girlfriend or something, it is not like he’s treating his brother like a total dick or ignoring him completely – they even have a bit of a bonding moment as they marvel at the huge mosasaurus – so I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be hoping for or looking out for in this movie with them, other than just watch them get chased by dinosaurs.
It is not enough to just make a movie featuring dinosaurs, we’ve been there, done that by now, and a new Jurassic Park centric movie needs more than just bigger, badder dinos. It needs a real reason to exist. I do feel like this movie had the right idea in going with the story of a park being fully operational and filled with people when a dinosaur gets loose, that just makes sense in a logical progression sort of way, but the characters used to fill out this story just weren’t interesting enough to follow around. And it didn’t help that they went ahead and tried to make some surface level commentary about militarization and corporate greed and then really did nothing with this stuff. Either find ways to really say something about these issues or leave them out entirely. If they had cut D’Onofrio’s whole “weaponizing dinosaurs” thing and the vague allusions to the evilness of the corporation behind the whole thing in terms of making money at any cost and their crossing of ethical and moral boundaries, maybe they would have had more time to develop their four main characters and give us more of a reason to cheer them on. It isn’t enough for us to see Claire as an absent relative, we need to know WHY she cares so much about how her relationship with her family turned out, but we don’t see or know that, we just know she hasn’t been the best sister or aunt. But she’s also working on a world class resort on an island off of Costa Rica and her sister’s family lives in the Mid West somewhere, so its not like she can just drive over on a Sunday afternoon for a backyard barbeque.
This movie is okay enough and I am willing to bet kids would really like it, so whether we asked for it or not, “Jurassic World” is here, and a “Jurassic World 2” (or “Jurassic Park 5“) is not out of the question. I am sure someone will find someway to tell another story based on these elements, making this one of the most unlikely of film franchises ever. The continuing adventures of the misappropriation of science (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dinos).