WRITTEN REVIEW – Jurassic World (2015)
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins & Vincent D’Onofrio
Music: Michael Giacchino
Release Date: June 11th 2015
In 1993 world-renowned director Steven Spielberg adapted the 1990 Michael Crichton book “Jurassic Park” into a blockbuster epic that was a front-runner in terms of special effects and big-budget spectacle that incorporated endearing and likeable characters. It was also a cautionary tale about how human-kind should not meddle with nature to such an extent that they attempt to revive the extinct dinosaur race and that they especially should not try to package them up into a marketing deal such as theme parks and merchandising opportunities.
After the park failed in 1993, two sequels centred around rescue missions in the abandoned park on the secluded islands where these dinosaurs were left in peace and relatively undisturbed. But after 20 years since Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond welcomed his private guests to Jurassic Park only to have his creations run amok…the park is once again open and the whole world is invited to ‘Jurassic World‘.
Taking place over two decades after the events of ‘Jurassic Park‘ (more or less ignoring ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘ and ‘Jurassic Park III‘), “Jurassic World” is a hugely successful theme park revolving around dinosaurs which have been revived through scientific experimentation. The park is managed by Claire Dearing (Howard) who needs to keep the park successful and thriving in the face of dwindling consumer interest. As a result, the scientists of Jurassic World create their first genetically modified hybrid; the Indominus Rex, which manages to escape captivity. It falls on Velociraptor trainer Owen (Pratt) to take down the Indominus before it harms the innocent civilians while also preventing his Raptors from falling into the hands of Vic Hoskins (D’Onofrio), who wishes to militarise them.
As mentioned above, ‘Jurassic World‘ seems to be a direct sequel to 1993’s ‘Jurassic Park‘ ignoring its 1997 and 2001 sequels and starts off with the premise that the park that John Hammond wanted to create in the original movie is actually up and running and is successful. Anyone with an attachment to the original movie, while knowing that it’s only a matter of time before “nature finds a way”, must get some sense of awe and wonderment from the opening act of ‘Jurassic World‘ and seeing John Hammond’s dream fulfilled. Jurassic World seems like an awesome place to visit with a dinosaur petting zoo (populated by Herbivores, of course), gyrospheres which allow park guests to roam around the habitats whilst protected, a SeaWorld type attraction as a huge audience gets to watch a massive Mosasaurus devour a comparatively tiny shark whilst getting splashed, it all looks awesome! Jurassic World is a place that I would like to visit.
But make no mistake, despite the fact that the once-extinct Dinosaurs are now on display for the world to see, the movie does accurately depict Jurassic World as a conventional theme park in many respects. Whether it’s the $7 sodas, the minimum-wage teenage staff members who look bored out of their minds and also the fact that the logistics and costs of running a park eventually overshadow the initial wow-factor and good intentions.
Fun fact, according to the Jurassic Park Fansite, the costs of running a real-life Jurassic World would amount to $23,432,400,000 just to set-up and $11,907,000,000 to maintain annually. Of course, the specific running costs aren’t stated in the actual movie.
However, that “wow-factor” is one of the movie’s biggest missteps. See, the initial motivation for the management staff at Jurassic World creating the Indominus Rex is that Dinosaurs are no longer interesting to the general public. Claire says that, nowadays, children see a Dinosaur the same way that they would see an Elephant at the zoo. It’s this consumer fatigue along with a need to continue to keep up attendance that forces Jurassic World to go bigger, scarier and more dangerous.
Except the movie itself doesn’t support that.
The Jurassic World that the audience see in the movie is a thriving park. The park is PACKED and 99.99% of the people there are having an awesome time! The only person who isn’t having a good time is the teenage boy Zach who is there with his younger brother Gray and the two of them are the nephews of the park’s manager, Claire. There’s a great moment where Zach is on the phone to his mother while at the T-Rex attraction and doesn’t even look behind him as the Dinosaur consumes a meal, but one lone teenager not caring about dinosaurs does not justify the mentality that everyone is getting tired of the attractions there. Like I said, the park is packed, the kids are LOVING the dinosaurs, the parents are enjoying it with them, at the SeaWorld-esque attraction EVERYONE is cheering and there’s not a single unoccupied seat. Even Zach, after a bit of contagious enthusiasm from his younger brother, starts to revel in the excitement.
If ‘Jurassic World‘ wanted to portray an alternate reality where people were getting tired of dinosaurs and that this park is becoming less popular over time, they failed. Pretty spectacularly.
But anyway, the movie is attempting to comment on ever-increasing audience demand for spectacle and how things need to be bigger and badder in order to satiate appetites. How our entertainment, such as movies, need to be louder, have more spectacle and just seeing dinosaurs on film isn’t a big deal anymore. Of course, the movie is, in a sense, the very thing it’s drawing attention to but I feel like the self-mockery works in the context of the Jurassic Park universe because we’ve spent two decades re-watching that classic and knowing that a park like this should not be created. So of course things will go spectacularly wrong on a much bigger scale if you follow-through with the misguided ideals of creating such a park.
And things do indeed go wrong as the hybrid creation that will “give the parents nightmares” ends up escaping and the Indominus Rex (the iRex. GEDDIT!?) goes on a killing spree across the park. If ‘Jurassic World‘ was a slasher movie, then the iRex would be Jason Voorhees as it kills without much prejudice and often does it because it can. Chris Pratt’s Owen, who has a bond with the Raptors inside the park and has a more emotional understanding of the dinosaurs then the other staff members hypothesises that the reason the iRex is so volatile was due to its upbringing as it was raised in captivity, in solitude and is seeing the outside world for the first time while simultaneously discovering where it is in the foodchain.
The iRex gets an awesome build up as Claire explains what happened to the Indominus sibling that was also raised in captivity. “She ate it.”, Claire coldly communicates. But the iRex is a genuinely intimidating and scary creature and the movie is paced and structured in such a way that it made me think “How the hell are they going to stop this thing!?”. She’s bigger then a T-Rex, has more teeth then we’ve seen from any other creature in the franchise, has abilities unseen from a Dinosaur due to some unintended side-effects from the gene-splicing and the fact that she has strong, fully functioning arms means that this is a genuine threat to every Dinosaur in ‘Jurassic World‘ while also a danger to every guest with the misfortune to visit on that fateful day.
Two of those guests are Claire’s nephews, Zach and Grey, who have been sent to Jurassic World as a way to bond with their estranged aunt who is becoming a workaholic. It’s hard to ignore the fact that Zach and Grey are mainly included in the movie as device to escalate the tension as they get into trouble and need to be saved (as well as extend the movie’s 2nd act) but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t care for the two a little bit. Actors Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins (you may remember Simpkins from ‘Iron Man 3‘) have a believable brotherly connection with Ty in particular having a surprising amount of range and also playing the more interesting character as a young child who may have some form of autism (though it’s never explicitly said).
While I did root for the two to survive and I enjoyed their comradery, some of their plot-threads felt set up but with nowhere to go. There’s a scene about halfway through that comes right the hell out of nowhere involving Ty being upset that his parents might get divorced, but it’s dropped almost instantly and plays no role in the plot at hand or either brother’s character growth. And Zach has a strange, almost Christian Grey-esque tendency to stare at teenage girls creepily. His first scene in the movie has him saying goodbye to his overbearing, if caring and sincere girlfriend and then he spends around 40% of his screentime ogling other girls.
Like the divorce sub-plot, it plays no role in his character growth or the plot of the movie. It’s needless extra weight.
However, one sub-plot that I actually think works very well (and isn’t getting enough credit by audience members and other critics, IMHO) is the character growth of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing. Despite Chris Pratt getting top-billing and him appearing in most of the promotional material, ‘Jurassic World‘ is 100% Claire’s story and chronicles her growth into understanding the ramifications of what has happened to the park and the LIVING creatures that inhabit it. She starts the movie only exposed to spreadsheets and statistics as opposed to seeing the park in operation for itself. When asked if guests are enjoying the attractions, she cites off “audience approval” statistics. She sees the dinosaurs in the park as numbers on a spreadsheet and that distancing effect in her life has served her well, but when some responsibility comes her way then she drops the ball. She leaves her Nephews with a careless assistant and her need to boost the statistics she’s so enamoured with causes the creation of the iRex.
But she grows and changes over the course of the film to appreciate the dinosaurs as living creatures which is highlighted in one of the best scenes of the movie involving a great animatronic Apatosaurus. Her arc on its own personifies the message that Michael Crichton was trying to get across in his original novel more than the two inferior sequels did in their entirety. She (along with the other marketing board members just like her) wanted to create a monster with no regard to the animals that were also inhabiting the park.
Incidentally, there’s been a lot of talk online about her character wearing heels the whole way through the movie. Apparently it was a creative decision that Bryce Dallas Howard fought for and it was her choice. If that’s the case, then I’m fine and I support her reasoning. But that’s another discussion for another time.
In terms of character growth and evolution, the character who goes through the least change would be Chris Pratt’s Owen, who starts the movie as a perfect specimen of a man and ends the movie that way. Despite last year’s runaway success, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘, the jury was still out on Chris Pratt as a leading man in an action movie. Could he repeat the success or was it beginner’s luck? Well, ‘Jurassic World‘ demonstrates that Chris Pratt is the real deal as he is awesome in the movie. He has flares of comedy (his passive interactions with the dangerous Raptors) while also being very stoic at times and a badass when appropriate. He’s also great at the exposition when it relates to the iRex’s motivations and the battle tactics when facing off against it.
The tactics in question; using the Raptors and riding a motorcycle into the jungle alongside them as they hunt for their prey. Yes, the movie knows that it’s a bit ridiculous, but it works in the context of the film and even Owen seems to know that it’s a badass moment as he knowingly smirks as he rides across the island.
You do buy Chris Pratt as a sympathetic, but capable animal trainer as he has a wry, natural charm while also having a great physique. Pratt was a terrific casting choice and I look forward to seeing if his character will undergo a change should he appear in future sequels.
As for the supporting characters, Vincent D’Onofrio plays a stereotypical bad-guy, but like the spectacle of riding a motorcycle alongside Raptors, the movie seems to know this so he’s firmly in the “love to hate” camp. Irrfan Khan plays the CEO and owner of Jurassic World and while he makes for good comic relief, it is questionable how his character changes from scene to scene. One moment he says that profits don’t matter, but in a scene later on he says that they’ve spent billions on the iRex so they can’t just kill it. B.D. Wong is the only returning actor from the first movie and he’s been given a much bigger roll as a power-mad, but believable scientist who did as instructed when creating the iRex. There are a few scenes in the movie where you can tell that there were some hasty re-shoots with him and D’Onofrio’s character in order to include sequel-bait so it would seem that Wong’s character will return in future.
Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus also get small, but memorable roles as park technicians who get some funny moments together. Not much, but it adds a nice human touch. There are actually quite a few nice touches to each character to flesh them out more and prevent them from being stock archetypes, such as a story D’Onofrio’s character tells about a wolf he once knew, or Jake Johnson’s attraction to Lapkus’ character. Moments like this almost feel like a Steven Spielberg touch, despite him only being an Executive Producer.
Despite Spielberg not being in the director’s chair, Colin Trevorrow is more than up to the task. Whilst he’s predominantly known for directing the low-budget, quirky comedy ‘Safety Not Guaranteed‘, Trevorrow is able to bring that self-aware sensibility to ‘Jurassic World‘ but with a big budget. ‘Jurassic World‘ is a very different beast to ‘Jurassic Park‘ in terms of tone and scope, which is for the best especially when you take into account the themes at play in ‘Jurassic World‘ about audience appetites. As a result, Trevorrow, while still honouring the original film’s legacy and paying tribute to it in subtle ways, make ‘Jurassic World‘ very much its own thing in both tone and approach. Although the 2nd act has a lot of needless fan service to the original movie by revisiting the original park’s site for no good reason.
Also, speaking of the 2nd act, the Aviary (where the flying dinosaurs are kept) really needed to be introduced earlier in the movie. It comes very much out of nowhere and only shows up when the plot requires it to show up. It felt a bit slapdash.
While the special effects aren’t top of the line, they’re still very good and the dinosaurs are very well animated. The movie even gives a very clever reason as to why the dinosaurs look the same to their 1993 interpretation despite more recent scientific findings supporting the theory that many dinosaurs were feathered creatures. Apparently it’s what consumers wanted and they looked scarier so that’s what they created in their experiments. While it would have been nice to see more animatronics involved, the dinosaurs still look good and we see a larger variety of creatures on-screen then ever before. There’s a lot of action in this movie as well, whether it’s dinosaur-on-dinosaur action (such as the iRex taking on an Ankylosaurus), intense chases involving humans or the mind-blowingly awesome finale which delivers in terms of legitimate fan-service and pulse-pounding spectacle.
Oscar nominated cinematographer John Schwartzman does an awesome job bringing awe back into the franchise, along with using clever camera tricks and shot composition to get across the scale of Jurassic World. The score is less impressive with Michael Giacchino really understating everything and not leaving much of an impact. John Williams’ iconic musical motif is present but it seems like Giacchino’s score is dedicated to serving and building up that motif as opposed to finding a musical life of its own.
One aspect of the production I found very obnoxious was the excessive product placement.
I understand that sometimes big-budget movies need product placement and that sometimes it’s not a bad thing and can sometimes make sense in a film’s universe. I understand that a theme park would probably have a Starbucks in the background. But it seems majorly hypocritical for the movie to lambaste excessive product placement and to not practice what it preaches.
There’s a scene early on where Claire is trying to gets sponsors for the park’s new hybrid attraction. Ultimately settling for “Verizon Wireless presents The Indominous Rex”. Jake Johnson’s character then notes how stupid and ridiculous that sounds and jokes that they should have the brands name the dinosaurs now. For example; Pepsi-saurus. Okay, that’s funny and a biting piece of criticism about turning natural wonders into marketing opportunities. But in that scene Claire is holding a Starbucks cup (which she NEVER takes a drink from, so you know it’s just there for product placement. It’s a dead giveaway). There are no less than THREE SCENES where the first frame has the Mercedes Logo in the centre of the frame to show what car Claire is driving. One scene has Chris Pratt’s Owen drinking from a Coca Cola glass bottle and notice how friggin’ LONG he takes to drink it so it’s clearly a pre-designated amount of time the filmmakers were contractually obligated to show the product for.
Now, there’s a difference between satire and imitation. When it comes to product placement, ‘Jurassic World‘ is the very thing it’s mocking without a hint of self-awareness.
And I know people are going to say “You’re deliberately LOOKING for the product placement so you can complain about it!”, but like I said earlier, three scenes OPEN with the Mercedes logo front and centre. It’s impossible to NOT see it. And the big issue here is the hypocrisy. ‘Jurassic World‘ mocks extraneous and blatant product placement despite being plastered with logos and clearly having product placement fund a substantial amount of the film’s budget. It cannot have it both ways without diluting its own purpose.
‘Jurassic World‘ is a very flawed movie. Many character arcs go nowhere, some characters a bit too simplistic, the structure is iffy and the product placement hypocrisy as well as the basic set-up of an unpopular but somehow thriving park means that the movie’s commentary on contemporary entertainment and audience member’s demands feels very muddled and sketchy. HOWEVER, it’s a lot of fun with enough self-aware winks and nods to fans of the original and viewers just out for a good time to make it an endearing watch. It’s certainly the best film in the franchise since Spielberg’s 1993 original and a strong launchpad for a new line of sequels. Its characters were also likeable, for the most part, and I’d like to see more of them in the near future even though it would seem that the theme park itself is closed forever.
I give ‘Jurassic World‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews
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Posted: 26th Jun 15