Jurassic World Review: The Franchise That Time Forgot
Keep holding on to your butts.
Let’s get this out of the way… Every person, that’s ever watched a movie, has been affected by Jurassic Park. Whether you’ve watched it once, or 100 times; even if you’ve skated by all these years under your rock of cinematic depravity, and have never actually seen Steven Spielberg’s best movie, a two-hour love letter to nature and theme parks and archaeology, you’ve watched movies that watched Jurassic Park, and exist because of Jurassic Park. But for Jurassic Park to be such a hallowed movie, there’s never been a sequel worth being in the same conversation as the original. Not like most series, where the first follow-up eclipses the original, Jurassic Park as a series just sorta fell off the rails after Jurassic Park III put a tidy bow on Isla Sorna.
With blockbusters of this breed, the problem really and truly becomes escalation, and how each entry takes its turn at upping the stakes. Because, in retrospect, how many times can you actually make a dinosaur outbreak chaotic, terrifying, and… Not repetitive? As three (soon to be four) directors, and countless writers worked with the series… An issue got a whole lot clearer; Whether by way of changing focus or the very nature of a franchise based around dinosaurs attacks, Jurassic Park, as a series, is an unwieldy series to work with. From what I’ve noticed, after rewatch and rewatch, it’s hard to “sequel-ize”, to configure conflict again and again without each movie just being “save the park and the people in it from ‘dinosaur x'”. Wisely, an indie director trusted with an enormous amount of responsibility, Collin Trevorrow, decided to make HIS Jurassic Park movie, Jurassic World, kinda ABOUT escalation. Not just his conflict, but his theme; ALL of Jurassic World (the fourth and sure-to-not-be-final Jurassic Park movie) is ABOUT escalation.
Jurassic Park throws a team of archaeologists in the way of a tyrannosaurus rex, accompanied by a few raptors. Lost World cranked that up to TWO T-Rexes. Jurassic Park III throws a mighty similar T-Rex under the bus, when a Spinosaurus chomps its neck. While all of that was happening, Isla Nublar was being retrofitted as the real deal, the “dinosaur theme park” John Hammond always dreamed of like the giddy, “10-year-old trapped as an old man” he really was. Jurassic World brings us the Indominous Rex, Jurassic World‘s “headliner” as park designers seek to, ultimately, put on a show. For two hours, a few accounts get wove into one. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the park manager looking for a bigger profit since most visitors, according to her, find dinosaurs “boring”. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is the park’s new raptor-trainer-in-training, and Nick Robinson/Ty Simpkins play the part of this movie’s Lex/Tim, tasked with their own “caretaker issues”.. Not to mention the genetically modified dinosaur that’s stalking them.
I’m gonna head back to something there. And during the following excursion, you won’t find any real “critical merit”… Jurassic World has a character in it, whose job it is, to train raptors. If that’s not every six-year-old’s dream job by the end of the movie, then World has fallen short, somewhere. There’s no training montage where Grady learns to be the coolest guy on the island, or how to outrun dinosaurs. As Chris Pratt’s inescapable stardom becomes more of a reality,he brings the charm, while Owen Grady’s motorcycle-riding, smooth-talking (of course) bravado does the rest of the work. Best of all, he’s clearly a guy Doctor Alan Grant would be cool with. It’s a COOL idea, eventually taken to an absolutely crazy place before we get to the real place this movie ends.
It’s also where Vincent D’Onofrio comes in as this movie’s bad guy (aside from the 50-foot-tall hybrid dinosaur at least). D’Onofrio keeps his streak as “America’s freshest villain” going here, with a turn that’s immediately predictable as soon as he gets on screen, but shamelessly satisfies. New Girl‘s Jake Johnson is relegated to the park’s control room (think Samuel L. Jackson from Park, but somehow, with more charm) in the most thankless of roles… Essentially running the park, adding in mid-dinosaur-attack comic relief, AND playing the role of the audience. Wearing his “Jurassic Park” vintage baseball-sleeves shirt he got on eBay, he reminiscences on “the good ole days” of the island, where “fancy effects” weren’t needed to draw a crowd. When dinosaurs could just be dinosaurs, without the need of “out-doing” what came before it.
But what is it we NEED out of Jurassic Park‘s first true spiritual sequel? (Both of the other sequels, Lost World and III, earned their marks as “franchised black sheep”, taking place on another island.) Do I WANT Jurassic World to be a shot-for-shot remake, a course-changing departure from what we’re expecting, or another “theme park translation”? The truth of it is, I’ve already GOT my “perfect rollercoaster movie with dinosaurs”… It’s called Jurassic Park, and while I don’t need World to translate that top to bottom, there’s a part of my adventure-seeking brain that needs a little of those two movies to resemble each other. In a nutshell, I don’t need World to strive for what Park perfected; but I really believe World has a good head on its shoulders.
I’ll speak for a lot of eager movie fans here. With the steps we’ve taken, the bridges we’ve crossed, the (sometimes literal) mountains we’ve moved in the past decade in digital wizardry, I’m amazed it took us 14 years to take another trip to Jurassic Park. Shouldn’t that’ve been at the top of our to-do list once we go to “photorealistic” standards of CG? To World‘s credit, there are some effects shots ILM’s team of “dream engineers” where scale, and prowess, just outrun Park. There’s just more happening on screen: more dinosaurs, more ability to give bigger attention, to smaller moments. Sequences put together here, no one would have thought possible, even on paper. So there’s a lot of deserved credit there. And yet, there’s this peculiar mix of effects methods, that more often than not goes off without a hitch. Some scenes are clearly top to bottom CG, others have that feeling that something, somewhere on your screen is actually there. Immersion remains the big focus, but I admittedly miss the hunt for strings and seams on my practical dinosaur builds.
Trevorrow’s movie hit all the beats i needed it to… Danger, dinosaurs (and more dinosaurs, and more dinosaurs, and more dinosaurs), and a dedication to bringing it all together. Walking an even tighter rope, World hits a medium as a loving homage, not too mired in nostalgia. Most of World‘s best callbacks are organized into one tiny, greatly-structured scene in the movie’s ending half. Nothing overt, nothing that’ll make you roll your eyes… Just enough to get all the fans patiently waiting for something made before 1999 to make its way into their Jurassic Park revival. And, it’s punctuated by Michael Giacchino’s score, taking everything that’s great about John Williams’ classic score, and using as some kind of “emotional ammunition” whenever the movie calls on it for backup. Not gonna lie, the closest I’ve ever got to crying during a movie about dinosaurs comes when we get to see what must’ve been John Hammond’s dream, turned movie magic reality. For a guy known for pulling off great score after great score, this could be his most wistful.
Since watching the movie in Nashville Friday night, I’ve racked my brain, thinking about what it is in Jurassic World that works, and what doesn’t. I think there’s a problem when there’s not a whole lot of emotional connection happening with these new characters. I think there’s a lot of untapped potential in having a character as cool on the outside as Owen Grady, but not giving him a scene like Dr. Grant had with Tim and Lex, or even a character like Ray Arnold had, cigarette in hand, controlling every park fence on the island. What I’m saying is, Trevorrow’s movie misses a little of that personality; in a series where there’s a lot of chomping and flying and running, “little moments” for characters, wherever a screenplay can find room for them, go a long way. Picture Jurassic Park without Dr. Grant finding the time to be a dad to two kids he’s constantly asked to save, or Laura Dern’s head being forcibly whipped to the side, so she’ll notice the brachiosaurus going for a walk.
World moves us so quick to our conflict, getting the Indominous out of its cage so the rest of this movie’s dominoes can start to fall, that we don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like, just to enjoy the scenery from the movie’s start On the opposite side of that, thankfully, I don’t think Trevorrow has any trouble tapping into the sense of wonder any Jurassic movie is entitled to. What scenes we do get to marvel at a functioning dinosaur park brought to life, or shake in fear at a genetically-modified killing machine learning its place in the food chain, work so naturally on a “wonder” level. Trevorrow’s at his best, making a movie that feels exactly like a Jurassic Park movie should feel. This feels JUST like the same Isla Nublar, tore down to the ground, and rebuilt again.
Come to think of it, Jurassic World does what two movies, and over four hours of prehistoric play, couldn’t… It’s the first Jurassic worth including in the same CONVERSATION as the original movie. It’s a movie most Jurassic fans have waited decades for, a movie worth comparing to Spielberg’s classic, even if it doesn’t even come close to topping what that man did with a couple of stunt teams and a Tyrannosaurus head. Just like every last action movie ever made, it’s not as good as THE Jurassic Park. But, giving some chase back to the adventure blockbuster genre, it does a great job paying tribute to everything watchable this series made before it, and adding to that lore with material that’s fresh and exciting and fun… Like guys that are paid to train raptors. It may not sound like much, but Jurassic World is finally, the worthy “second place movie” Jurassic Park fans have waited years for. I’m content calling it a GREAT, redeeming follow-up to what happened to be the best blockbuster ever made.