Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Colin Trevorrow. Screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow; story by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver; based on characters created by Michael Crichton. Produced by Patrick Crowley, Frank Marshall. Music by Michael Giacchino; “Jurassic Park” theme by John Williams. Photographed by John Schwartzman. Edited by Kevin Stitt. Production designed by Ed Verreaux. Costumes designed by April Ferry, Daniel Orlandi. Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan.
Believe it or not, it’s been fourteen years since audiences last took a trip to the dinosaur-infested universe of Jurassic Park. After the smashing success of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic, Spielberg himself returned for the uncharacteristically cynical 1997 sequel The Lost World, and then director Joe Johnson took over the reins for 2001’s competent-but-forgettable Jurassic Park III. That last one seemed to close the book on the franchise, but never underestimate Hollywood’s ability to jumpstart old properties. Here, at long last, is Jurassic World, which seems poised to carry the series into perpetuity, and whether it was worth the wait is difficult to answer. It’s definitely no equal the original Jurassic. But it is solid fun.
It’s necessary to reflect going in that arguably nothing can recapture the lighting in a bottle that Spielberg achieved in 1993. Adapting Michael Crichton’s bestselling novel, Spielberg essentially took a B-movie and elevated it through formidable (yet effortless) craft and truly revolutionary special effects. Ever since, the Jurassic sequels have gradually upped the ante and knowingly embraced schlock, perhaps realizing that the original’s sense of awe and wonder was a one-time-only. World marries the Jurassic premise (dinosaurs brought back to life via genetic engineering) with the theatrics of a disaster movie, imagining a thriving, open-for-business dinosaur park that finds itself in a crisis that worsens due to corporate greed. Call it The Towering Jurassic.
In a movie like this, the characters are barely sketches, but the heroes are nice, the villains are hiss-worthy, and there’s maybe time for a few to switch teams. Certainly when we meet Bryce Dallas Howard as Jurassic World’s senior operations manager, she seems to be begging for dinosaur-guided karma: she’s an all-career woman who refuses to spend time with her two visiting nephews (Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins), has no reverence for the prehistoric behemoths, and is such a stick-in-the-mud that she rolls her eyes at Chris Pratt’s romantic advances (Howard does the best she can with a character mired in rickety gender politics). Pratt, a snarky expert dinosaur trainer who is in the middle of semi-domesticating a pack of velociraptors, is called in to inspect the Indominus Rex, a newly-minted hybrid dinosaur who has been engineered to give the crowd’s waning enthusiasm for dinosaurs a shot in the arm (Pratt, tellingly, sees it as an abomination). But the Indominus is too clever by half, and engineers a jailbreak that becomes the first link in a chaotic chain of dinosaur escapes.
What we come for in a Jurassic Park movie is for what happens next: scenes of characters being menaced, growled at, and occasionally eaten, with some dinosaur vs. dinosaur fights adding to the oomph factor. There’s nothing new here, but they’re fun to see, because many of us can still commune with our nine-year-old selves who adore dinosaurs and want to see them do their thing. Highlights include a pterodactyl attack on civilians that recalls Hitchcock’s The Birds, an intense assault on a tour vehicle that riffs on the original’s signature tyrannosaur scene, and a last thirty minutes of escalating action that, in moments, is genuinely frightening (like all Jurassic movies, parents should be judicious in bringing kids to see this; it’s rated PG-13 and it means it).
What World adds to the franchise is sly, self-aware humor. The actual park hub is a huge mall, which partially fuels a rich running joke on product placement and corporate sponsorship run amok. (The Indominus is officially dubbed “Verizon Wireless Presents the Indominus Rex,” which causes many of the geeks in the control room to gag). And there’s a speck of cultural commentary in the way that half the park attendees are blasé towards dinosaurs, spending more time on their phones than appreciating the spectacle until violence happens (the more you think about this, the more the movie’s self-reflexivity might make your head spin). The director and co-writer, Colin Trevorrow, making only his second feature (after the indie Safety Not Guaranteed) imbues the material with a surprising dose of personality, and he even arrives at something resembling a theme: the choice between aloofness and connection, and how the latter can make one both vulnerable and stronger. Not bad, all things considered.