When I was eight-years old my dad took me and my four siblings to the drive-in to see ‘Jurassic Park III’ and ‘The Fast and the Furious’, from which I developed a penchant for B-movies. After having watched the original Jurassic Park and The Lost World, I read the much darker respective Michael Crichton novels. While I was watching ‘Jurassic World’ in the theatre with my Dad with a surprisingly quiet young kid beside me, (his brother not so much) it occurred to me how dark and violent the series is and how that kind of tonal balance between adult and kid-friendly is something Spielberg does well that’s hard to replicate. Jurassic World helmer Colin Trevorrow, despite frequent imitation is no Spielberg.
I can see the trends of modern blockbuster filmmaking sewn into Jurassic World. You hire an indie director with an admirable style who has made at least one good film (Safety Not Guaranteed) and you get them to transplant their style to a much larger scale; applying their relevant skills, while the producers and studio execs run the show. It is what was done for World War Z and The Amazing Spider-Man series, Marvel has been doing it for years, and it will continue to be done for the next few years as its more favourable to hiring a plain old studio director like a Brett Ratner or Joe Johnston type.
The fallback of that plan is that there are inherent weaknesses. Though Trevorrow can point and shoot he doesn’t show great experience directing action. Because the ‘Indominus Rex’ is not clearly shown on-screen for much of the time and in part due to its camouflage, the size and proportions of the dinosaur are hard to judge. This makes it difficult to get a real (or film) world sense of danger. A recent common criticism I have with modern blockbusters is temporal precision. This is something Spielberg does effortlessly, but here with egregious CGI it is hard to tell where the characters are relative to one another in the world. Part of the tension resides in how close the escaped dinos are to the people, and an attack on the park causing many characters to suddenly meet up feels like it had to happen out of Hollywood contrivance rather than natural storytelling. This is my biggest complaint about modern Universal Pictures movies compared to their predecessors. In Fast & Furious 6 and the previous Jurassic Park films, the lack of CGI with real world stunt work and animatronics by default gives audiences and actors consistent spatial reference. It’s a bigger problem than just here, and maybe for another article.
Other minor elements that Trevorrow tries to Spielberg; the broken family home, and a sense of wonder don’t really work. However the pacing, even if its a little fast is never exhausting and the 2 hours does fly-by without carrying anything on its back.
As for the cast, Chris Pratt’s fine as Owen Grady, an animal trainer for a set of Raptors; Blu, Charlie, Delta and Echo. Who are showcased best in their opening scene. Pratt is taken seriously and his study of animal behaviour comes off as a more practical excuse for the necessary action and plot compared to previous leads Paleontologist or Mathematician. Owen Grady is an active force rather than an expository wall. As for his love interest and female lead Bryce Dallas Howard, she does well in a stock role that mirrors Dr. Alan Grant’s parenting progression in the first film while becoming less of a pencil pushing careerist and more of a badass heroine. Finally, in a small role that is my favourite Jake Johnson plays a control room goon who gets the biggest laugh providing nice comedic fodder when Pratt isn’t quipping.
As for the rest of the cliché characters, the less said the better. The older kid is so annoying I’ve wanted to punch that stupid blank expression off his face since he’s appeared in Kings of Summer. He’s established by staring at girls (despite having a girlfriend) and texting. A believable older brother and fitting to the themes, but not a compelling or likable character. They should have kept to the one younger kid who was fine. Now I have seen Irrfan Khan on-screen enough times to know he’s playing himself, only as a billionaire. Same as bad guy Vincent D’Onofrio riffing on military greed and the ominous Dr. Wu for science messing with nature. These would all be more interesting if they were more fleshed out. Spielberg managed to figure out how to balance character development and dinosaurs. This movie purposefully opts against being smarter in favour of being a blockbuster resting in the footprint of the original. Maybe a future sequel will provide that crucial next step in the franchise evolution.
Overall: An okay movie. After 14 years since the last movie it is not exactly a satisfying wait, but for your average modern B-movie blockbuster, it does its job to a generous low-end.
Pecking Order: Jurassic Park > The Lost World > Jurassic Park III > Jurassic World