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The story is well known by now, as the marketing has done little to hide the plot. But in case you were in space for the last six months, the island of Isla Nubar, home of the originally movie, is now a fully-functioning dino park with daily visitors reaching into the tens of thousands. Problem is, attendance is down because since the park has been open for more than ten years, dinosaurs are about as interesting to people as elephants are. So, the lab coat lab rats cook up a new beasty with a few bits of DNA from some rather special animals that give their new monster a set of nasty skills, which cause a whole host of chaos for the people on the other end of his chompy teeth.
The film is directed by Colin Trevorrow, best known for the brilliant, quirky and under seen Safety not Guarenteed (2102). Trevorrow doesn’t break new ground cinematically speaking, sticking with two basic tenants of film making: A) Cram as much as can possibly be crammed onto the screen and B) Whatever is crammed onto the screen make sure it is framed as squarely as possible. He knows the reason why people are going to the theater, and so, makes sure everything is crisp, clean, and well-centered. This isn’t so much a complaint as an observation. There are no moments of “awe” that are born of the director’s vision, but do arrive is other ways, mostly in the later half. They stem from some well-crafted plot points (see next paragraph) and a blast of nostalgia that can be see from 65 million miles away but when it comes is still the single best moment in the movie. Predictability may have its setbacks but when it’s done right, as it is done to perfection here, can be exactly what is most satisfying even though one might never openly admit it. I’m openly admitting it now.
As for that well-crafted plot point, the best of the few plots in the film involves Owen (Chris Pratt) and his band of velociraptors, four man-sized dinosaurs named Blue, Charlie, Echo, and Delta who have imprinted on the beefy Alpha dino-whisperer. He has been training them, and works as their leader, commending them to follow simple orders, which pleases the film’s main human antagonist, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) a military type employed by InGen, the owner of the dinosaur DNA, who has grand plans to put these raptors in the service of the Army, believe it or not. Terrible idea. Owen agrees. What, in the movie’s teaser trailers reveal to be rather odd, with Owen standing in the middle of a pack of raptors, apparently controlling them, comes to life in a much more thrilling way in the actual film, and indeed, is just plain bad ass when he lets them loose, utterly, spine-tingling ridiculous as it is. That right there is just about worth the price of the show. Owen as a character may be a bit flat and obvious, but Chris Pratt is hands down a bona-fide superstar and is just so much fun to watch.
The film stumbles mightily with some of its characters, especially, unfortunately, the children. The two brothers featured are wholly unwatchable, with the elder playing teen angst to epic levels of nausea while the younger is just plain annoying. Naturally, the younger one, by a default it would seem in these movies, is an expert on dinosaurs (his bedroom is like a dino gift shop exploded inside), although that expertise does nothing for him but allow some opportunities for exposition. The older boy is so blasé about the idea of seeing living breathing dinosaurs, he mopes around as if he was turned down for his prom by every single girl in his school, and the school in the next town. At one point they elude their chaperone, of course, who is taking them on a VIP tour of the park and . . . well, go off and tour the park by themselves. It’s just stupid and puts them in a control of that (very cool) Gyro-thingy in the trailer where they discover a hole in the fence and well, you can guess what happens next. There is a cute (horrifying?) homage to the T-Rex attack on Lex and Timmy from the first movie, though.
There are other missteps as well. The talented Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, aunt to the boys, and the park’s operation’s manager, who is strictly by the numbers and is rigid as a steel beam. She is categorically unlovable, shocked by a hug from the nephew she hasn’t seen in years and, unsurprisingly, a mismatch for Owen when they had their first date. The problem is the way the movie makes her, as a female in charge, seem wrong for being in charge. The park’s owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) mocks her for not being able to assess the park’s success based on how the people and animals appear rather than the obvious statistical records she so rightly has collected. She is also mocked by Owen, who belittles her for being stiff and it feels uncomfortable as he suggests she should be more open to such things as drinking more and casual sex, inferred by a hand gesture that is rather debasing when speaking to a woman you are interested in romantically. But maybe I’m old-fashioned. The real issue is that, with her sterile white linear outfits and plastic-looking helmet hair and high heels, she looks (intentionally) absurd running along Owen as they flee from one dangerous situation to another. Isn’t it 2015? She does get to unleash the big finale by telling someone to push a button, so there’s that at least.
So, on to the Indominus Rex, the new dinosaur that is the film’s (and park’s) big new moneymaker. Yes, it is better than the Spinosaur from Jurassic Park III. The creator’s of the movie crafted a very striking looking and frightening creature with some real personality. I won’t spoil much about it, but it is a worthy adversary, even if it shows up most of the time in very convenient if not coincidental places considering the enormous size of the park and plethora of things to eat. Like all Jurassic Park films, the main baddie seems only intent on hunting down and killing the main characters. So it is here as well.
There are other fine dinosaurs as well. A petting zoo is open for kids to cuddle little dinos. Some can even ride baby triceratops. While I question the morality of it, there is the insurance concerns as well that I kept ringing up in my head, but that’s because I’m a dweeb. “Nope, no way any kid of mine would do that!” is all I was thinking. For sheer terror though, there is, as shown in the trailer, a terrifying aerial attack by a massive flock of flying dinosaurs that pick away at the scurrying crowd of thousands, which gives the movie (besides a sweet nod to Hitchcock) it’s scariest moment. The fate of the boy’s chaperone is one that will no doubt delight some but induce a few nightmares for others.
And that brings us to the mosasaur, the giant aquatic dinosaur featured heavily in the marketing. It makes its appearance early in and is revisited a few more times in key places. The most important element of this majestic beast, greatly exaggerated in size from reality for the film, is not what it is but what it eats. Hung far above its tank, the staff at the park dangle a large great white shark (which raises myriad ethical questions that are never addressed about a creature currently on the World Wildlife Fund’s list of vulnerable species). And it is not the shark itself that is important but what it symbolizes. Back in 1975, a fresh new director named Steven Spielberg released a film called Jaws about a great white shark hunting off the coast of a small community. It is regarded as the very first summer blockbuster and began what has become a seasonal tradition of outdoing the shark. Bigger, badder, scarier. Summer blockbusters have become louder, faster, bolder, and dumber as the years go on. Even Spielberg has tried to out do himself with his own Jurassic Park. Now we have what might be the next biggest summer movie ever and the mosasaur has no qualms about proving that it will by devouring the shark.
As fun as Jurassic World is, it is just that. Fun. In 1993, after walking out of the theater, I talked for hours about the Jurassic Park, and it was the focus of conversation for weeks after. It was a magical time because it was the first time. After Jurassic World, I walked out of the theater and went shopping for socks. That’s not the film’s fault. The time of the dinosaurs is just as Claire says. They are as exciting as elephants. If you enjoy elephants, you’re going to love Jurassic World.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writers: Rick Jaffa (screenplay), Amanda Silver (screenplay)
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins
Genre: Action, Adventure