Drew: One of the most difficult and important tasks a sequel has to tackle is forging its own identity. The best sequels are able to build upon their predecessors while carving out their own bits of originality. That’s one of the reasons why so many people are immediately dismissive of remakes; they often rely too heavily on past successes instead of creating something new. If there’s an overarching problem at the heart of Jurassic World, it’s that it’s a remake that has deluded itself into thinking it’s a sequel. Thanks to a slavish admiration of the first movie (it doesn’t help that this film is practically selling itself as the real Jurassic Park 2), numerous callbacks and copied story beats, it’s tough to judge Jurassic World as the continuation of a story instead of a redo of a classic film.
Travis: The fact that World borrows heavily from Park in terms of basic premise and structure doesn’t bother me at all, really. It’s to be expected that the film will run a similar course, delivering the thrills and beats that audiences want to see. It just has to be bigger, of course. And bigger it is. Smarter it ain’t. In a past article, I praised the central concept: what might it look like when John Hammond’s dream comes true? Jurassic World succeeds in providing a very real simulacrum of the dream, but it also stomps the dream to death. The reality of Jurassic World (the park and the film) is that it had to have a Margaritaville. It had to be real. It’s an intelligent and ruthless concept, but frankly it belongs in a smarter film.
Let me counter my less than ecstatic opening with what I liked about the film. Director Colin Trevorrow has proven that he has what it takes to make a big budget movie. The direction of Jurassic World is top notch, especially when it comes to the action. It’s always a bummer that we have to highlight action directors who don’t fall victim to chaos cinema tendencies these days, but even if that wasn’t the norm, Trevorrow’s direction would still merit acclaim. Two outstanding sequences involve a flock of flying dinosaurs terrorizing a panicked crowd (my favorite moment in the movie involves someone being stabbed in the chest by a pterodactyl beak. Brilliant.), and the final showdown which features some applause worthy dinosaur brawling. It’s in these moments that Trevorrow nails the appeal of dinosaur mayhem both tonally and visually.
While I didn’t think the action was exceptional, I never found myself recoiling at a particularly bad moment of action. The bigness of the action doesn’t really do much for me — the bigger and more chaotic the action gets, the less personal it is. The relative frequency of the action beats kept the pace up, and an Aliens-esque sequence with raptors in a dark jungle was pretty fun. The film is breathless, even more so than the flighty Jurassic Park III. It makes the pacing of the original film seem downright leisurely.
Something I found immensely pleasing (though it’s up for debate whether it’s good) is that this film is aimed squarely at a younger audience, but the levels of violence are possibly the most brutal in the entire series. These films have always embraced their inherent monster movie roots, and I was happy that Jurassic World managed to maintain that essence without devolving into unpleasant darkness like The Lost World did.
I don’t know about the level of the violence. There are a few surprisingly nasty spatters of blood, but they’re very quick. The big difference here is that we see violence happening on a much larger scale, with lots of nameless tourists and soldiers getting munched, stomped, and pecked. It’s not more explicit, there’s just more of it. When it comes to being a kids’ movie, you’re absolutely right, though there’s one crucial difference that separates this film from its predecessors. The three previous films featured children as unwelcome visitors in an adult world. Gray and Zach, however, are in their element here. Jurassic World is for children. That part of Hammond’s dream came to fruition. Now, the adults are the ones out of place. That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it makes for a better film. When it comes to brilliant moments, I can only think of one, and it happens when a character’s cell phone suddenly vibrates during a dinosaur attack. It’s a smart use of an infernal device, because throughout the rest of the film, characters are frequently talking on their phones. When Claire finds a character’s smashed phone, she fears the worst. A phone represents a person — that’s a sad thought.
Okay, now comes the harsh stuff. I was shocked when I saw that this script was written by the same duo who wrote the last two Planet of the Apes movies (granted, there was a rewrite done by Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly) because those are films that have a strong sense of character. Jurassic World is so lacking in this department that it’s undeniably noticeable. With the exception of Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the carefree billionaire who has taken over for John Hammond, none of the characters are indelible or compelling. Most of the actors portraying them are actually quite good, but it’s impossible for them to make anything substantial out of what they’re given. Chris Pratt’s natural charm is buried underneath a stereotypical alpha male (he even says he’s an alpha in the film. It’s in reference to his relationship with the raptors, but come on) and Bryce Dallas Howard feels more inconsequential as the film chugs along. The two young brothers (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) are positioned as the protagonists, but feel just as sidelined by the time the movie ends. There’s also a villainous character shoehorned in (an absolute waste of Vincent D’onofrio) that should have been the first casualty of a second draft. All of these character issues are compounded upon by keeping everyone separated for most of the movie, never allowing any kind of kinship or camaraderie to develop.
The film’s characters leave a lot to be desired, but they feel like victims of circumstance. The core of this film, both structurally and tonally, is a workplace romantic comedy. Think about it — Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is a thinly drawn caricature of a flustered girly-girl who’s simply too busy for love! The other characters around her are introduced so bluntly and broadly as to flirt with parody. Within seconds of meeting any major character (and some minor ones), they start spouting ham-fisted lines that tell us everything we need to know about them. She’s all business! He’s all testosterone! What happens when they’re forced to endure the sci-fi disaster movie that breaks out around them? Claire and Owen’s romance is totally inert, yet it practically holds the rest of the movie hostage. Regarding Zach and Gray, they’re par for the course when it comes to JP kids. Robinson and Simpkins deliver fine performances (especially Simpkins), but several of their beats are incredibly contrived. They need to fix a car that hasn’t started up since 1993? Piece of cake! Turns out they fixed up Grandpa’s old Chevy way back when. They need a moment to reinforce their bond? Have one of them talk about an important moment from their distant past that hasn’t had a smidgen of influence on their dynamic for the last seventy-five minutes. Problem solving through contrivance!
The real star of the film is the new dinosaur, the Indominus Rex. In terms of concept, I like the idea of a genetically modified dinosaur, and there are a few moments where Indominus worked really well (the first attack on the Asset Containment team being my favorite), but it still falls victim to reboot-itis. The series has always been living in the shadow of the first film’s T. rex, and Indominus feels like an idea that’s trying too hard to be cool. It doesn’t help that all of its gene splicing adds up to a creature that doesn’t look terribly unique, especially in comparison to some of the other creatures that are being crafted by Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong). Oh, and that character’s obvious set up for the next installment does that awful thing where we get a sliver of an idea that’s more intriguing than the movie we’re currently watching.
The design of the I. rex isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but I think audiences might’ve disconnected if it was wackier-looking. It doesn’t push the limits of what a dinosaur can be, and I think that’s okay. The big problem with I. rex is something that plagues almost all of the film’s dinosaurs. It’s never given a proper close-up. Trevorrow’s camera doesn’t linger on CGI creatures, you see. He knows that audiences can spot ‘em a mile away. But there’s only one articulated practical dinosaur in the film — the head and neck of an apatosaur. This franchise is built on Stan Winston Studios’ amazing full-size animatronics, and their absence is a gaping void here. As spotty as The Lost World and JP III are, whenever a giant practical dinosaur is on screen at least one thing is going very, very well. “Too much CGI!” is a clichéd battle cry for whiny film bloggers like me, but for a franchise that has always balanced CGI with practical very well, this is an I. rex-sized misstep.
It should be noted that I’m someone who defends the blatant silliness of Jurassic Park III and doesn’t hold this series up to the impossible standards of the original. I was fully on board with the goofy idea of Chris Pratt training raptors and becoming their buddy. Sadly, all of this is played with such seriousness that it sucks any enjoyment out of this setup. Until the last chunk of the movie. For some reason, the filmmakers decided to leave the more outlandish ideas for the very end, including Chris Pratt giving a raptor an understanding nod. If there was more of that peppered throughout this part of the film, I think it would have gone a long way in making me enjoy the raptor stuff more.
I wasn’t sold on the whole tame raptors thing like you were. I think the balance they struck worked well enough. The raptors have been a potent element of every Jurassic Park film, and we love them, but not because they were ever lovable. We like them because they’re scary and beautiful. I think easing audiences into a raptor-human partnership was the wiser choice.
I feel like I should comment on the score due to its legacy (and because you are crazy smart about film scores, Travis), but I found it to be incredibly unnoticeable. Besides the obvious John Williams themes, Michael Giacchino was hardly a presence at all.
On the contrary, I think Giacchino was too much of a presence. This film is overscored like crazy, a problem I also had with Let Me In, another Giacchino-scored film. The first time we hear the return of Williams’ main theme, it’s over a montage of Zach and Gray shuffling through crowds, going up escalators, checking into their hotel… it’s a theme of wonder and majesty, and it’s playing over total mundanity. Sure, that montage pays off when the camera flies over their hotel balcony rail and shows us the park proper, but that’s just as the cue is ending. When we first meet Owen and he’s coaching his raptors through drills, imagine how different the mood would’ve been if the music hadn’t been there. We might’ve sensed the tenuousness and fragility of the relationship Owen has with the raptors. Instead, the score tells us that things are going to be pretty okay. In a film with such an iconic and lush score, Jurassic Park‘s completely unscored T. rex attack is a highlight because the right people knew that scene should speak for itself. Giacchino’s score, while serviceable, intrudes into scenes that could’ve spoken for themselves. That’s not Giacchino’s fault, though.
A small criticism that I feel needs to be mentioned: this movie’s attempts at humor all crashed and burned. There are a couple bits of unintentional comedy (that pterodactyl stabbing a guy with his beak had me stifling my laughter) that all stem from some dinosaur violence, but the actual jokes were dead on arrival.
Like I said, it’s a broad workplace rom-com mashed into a disaster movie. I never thought I’d say it, but the silly and sardonic quips from The Lost World are much funnier. And I know you HATE those.
I kept saying that Jurassic World looked like the blockbuster B-movie sequel to the dumb-but-fun Jurassic Park III, but I was wrong. It’s only a few steps away from being a total remake of Jurassic Park, and that’s a self-imposed burden that handicaps the entire venture. There’s a lot of surface enjoyment to be had from the film (the finale is horribly derivative, but it’s the kind of action figure showdown that ten year-olds will voraciously devour), but there’s little to no substance. Without any lead characters worth becoming attached to, there isn’t much of a reason to sink your teeth into this one.
Jurassic World — despite being a CGI-drenched and unfunny romantic comedy that also happens to feature killer dinosaurs — will work just fine for most audiences. Hell, the audience in my theater clapped when the end credits began to roll. I didn’t quite share their sentiment, but I didn’t actively despise the film, either. It proved a little too scary for two lil’ tykes in front of me, who left with their mom after the I. rex escaped its paddock. One of ‘em was even wearing a Jurassic World t-shirt — they are sold on it, even if they don’t end up liking it.
That is why it will succeed.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars