“We need more teeth.”
Jurassic Park is one of the seminal action-adventure blockbusters of all time. It ushered in a new era in digital effects, featured some of the greatest monster mayhem ever filmed, and introduced us to Mr. DNA. Even after two polarizing sequels, the love for the brand hasn’t diminished at all, and Jurassic World is the latest attempt to revive the series. Set 22 years or so after the original film, World begins with the theme park having been successful for the better part of a decade, but in an effort to boost attendance and appease stockholders, John Hammond’s successor, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) enlists Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, the sole returning actor from any previous films) to create a genetically-engineered carnivore, one that will really put Jurassic World back into the spotlight. Naturally, all hell breaks loose, and only Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, and Vincent D’Onofrio can save the day. Hold on to your butts.
Jurassic Park has always been about seeing the animals, genetically modified monsters though they may be, as survivors, innocent creatures who survive on instinct, and who kill because it’s their nature, and the humans, led by Dr. Hammond (a much more benevolent character in the films than the books by the late Michael Crichton) are forced to pay for playing God and trying to defy the laws of nature. While much of these principles remain in Jurassic World, there is no doubt who the real monster in this film is: the Indominus Rex, a terrifying mega-predator made from a DNA cocktail of all sorts of carnivorous creatures. The monster-movie quality of this creature makes for a fresh take on “big teeth versus squishy humans.”
On the squishy side, we have Chris Pratt as the hunky and charming Velociraptor trainer; Pratt is simply great, a very funny actor who knows how to transition from plucky and adorable, to dramatic and intense. Bryce Dallas Howard is the behind-the-scenes bureaucrat who finds herself having to take care of her two nephews, the strongly named Zach and his younger brother, Grayson. Vincent D’Onofrio is the InGen security boss who has his own plans for Pratt’s Raptors, and mission control is filled out by Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus, the comic-relief pair who fortunately never get in the way of the excitement.
The most interesting character is Irrfan Khan’s previously-mentioned Simon Masrani; he perfectly encapsulates Doctor Ian Malcolm’s gripes with the original park. To quote the first film (insert your own Jeff Goldblum dramatic pauses):
“The problem with the scientific power that you’re using here is it didn’t require any discipline to attain. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it.”
In the first film, Hammond’s character dabbling in the dark arts was forgiven by Steven Spielberg’s empathy for him; new director Colin Trevorrow offers no such respite to Masrani, nor to the mad scientists he works with. While Hammond was naive at worst, Masrani is naive at best, and irresponsible to the fullest definition of the word, truly wielding the destructive power of science and genetics like, to quote Dr. Malcolm again, “a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.” It’s nice, as a fan of both the book and the movie, to see both iterations of John Hammond fully realized on screen.
Although the Indominus Rex may be the scariest predator the series has yet seen, the film is able to avoid what was my biggest fear leading up to release, that the movie would be too scary. While there are a couple of scenes that feel like they could be ripped straight out of Aliens, Trevorrow, or perhaps editor Kevin Stitt (Jack Reacher, Payback) knows when enough is enough and when to cut away, obscure, or otherwise end the terror before it becomes too much for the younger ones. It’s a dance so deftly performed by Spielberg in the original film, before tripping over his own toes in The Lost World. That being said, special mention goes to one minor character’s death scene during the Pterodactyl attack heavily featured in the trailers; it’s so prolonged and violent, I bet there are multiple deleted scenes, which portray the character in a far more negative light than the fairly neutral non-presence displayed in this final cut of the film, which would somewhat justify the downright brutal death scene. As it is, it feels like the one spot of poor taste in a film that otherwise so deftly maneuvers the obstacle course of making a scary movie for little kids and adults without traumatizing half of the target audience.
The only real flaw in the picture is the cleanliness of the overused CGI. There is one scene in the film with a clearly animatronic dinosaur, a long-necked Apatosaurus, and it is the best scene in the movie, both visually and for the characters involved. I suppose we expect CGI overload at this point, but the reason the dinosaurs looked so real in the earlier films (even Joe Johnston’s underrated Jurassic Park III) is because they usually were. Men in suits, Stan Winston’s animatronics, and all of those wonderful techniques from a bygone era were only replaced with digital effects when it was absolutely necessary. In Jurassic World, 95 percent of all the dino action is CGI. It’s admittedly great CGI, especially on the Indominus Rex, but there’s no substitute for the real thing, the real thing in this case being the original film’s 17,000 pound animatronic T. Rex. As is always the case, the CGI looks its best when it is juxtaposed with a tangible actors fleeing in terror, as opposed to when there is nothing on-screen that isn’t computer-generated. Partly because of this, the scenes with the aquatic Mosasaurus all tend to fall flat.
Breathe a sigh of relief, dinoholics; Jurassic World is good. It’s even great at times. The sense of wonder and adventure promised by John Hammond all those years ago is fully realized. Of course, the chaos and comeuppance promised by Ian Malcolm are equally realized. These two elements were a large part of what made Jurassic Park an instant classic, and they make Jurassic World a worthy successor that lives up to its name.