Hold onto your butts, its time for the Jurassic World review!
Twenty two years after it did it the first time, nature (and Universal Studios) has found another way to exploit our love for all things dinosaur. The first Jurassic Park has gone down in movie history as a classic, but the sequels have never really managed to live up to the promise of their predecessor, becoming steadily more forced as time went on. So, here we are after nearly two and a half decades with the storyline that everyone has really been waiting for; a fully functioning park, filled to the brim with dinosaurs that the public flock to see. There are all the old staple characters in place as well, the man who understands dinosaurs better than everyone else, the strong female character who is willing to put her life on the line to save others, the overly optimistic billionaire who has created the park, and inevitably, a brace of kids to up the stakes when everything eventually goes to prehistoric hell. I don’t think its a spoiler to say that things don’t end well for everyone in this movie, and its probably fair to say that most people who are paying for tickets aren’t there to see the park in standard operation, they are there to see people running for their lives whilst things with big teeth chase them.
It’s worth saying at this point that this is a film which suffers deeply from not knowing exactly what sort of story it wants to be. The initial twenty minutes is all about setting up the geography of the park, the main characters and the initial threat of the new, genetically modified, dinosaur that will be the main antagonist for the rest of the movie. After that the tone veers wildly from family adventure movie, to horror story, to action film over into thriller territory and then back round the houses again. It feels as though there has been quite a lot of combining and recombining of previous drafts of the script. Ideas which could be used as thematic foundations for entire movies are regularly brought up and then virtually ignored for the rest of the film. Trained Raptors that could be sold for military use? Interesting! Mentioned once or twice, but never explored. For me I found that this was not only quite jarring in a few places, but also brought a lot of the characters’ motivations into question. I know at lot of you have just rolled your eyes at the idea of character motivation being a problem in a big, summer blockbuster that focuses on the problems about genetically recreating dinosaurs in an amusement park, but if you go back and look at the original Jurassic Park you will see that all the characters there had a reason to do what they were doing, and it meshed with the way the story was told. This is something which seems beyond this film’s grasp as most of the characters are introduced with painfully clunky lines that point out their main traits, “She works too hard”, “He’s a dreamer” etc. Unfortunately for a lot of characters this is everything that they get in the way of development and the rest of the film is a mish-mash of them doing things that often seem utterly ridiculous.
Luckily the main cast do a grand job of selling the idea that they are up against real dinosaurs and are in real danger, despite a lot of the writing not making a huge amount of sense. Chris Pratt as Owen does a tremendous job of selling his character’s interest in looking after and training the velociraptors. Bryce Dallas Howard is fantastic as Claire, the Aunt who is so consumed by her job that it takes a dinosaur killing spree to make her realise that her family is important. Irrfan Khan is great as Masrani, the dreamer who now heads up the park between his helicopter piloting lessons, and Vincent D’Onofrio makes a wonderfully short sighted company man who wants nothing more than to make the dinosaurs into candidates for military contracts. The problem comes with the fact that there are about three or four main storylines packed into this film and none of them are fully developed to actually fill out the movie. Instead we get a mix of lots of different ideas and never really get the time to focus in on any one of them properly.
It feels as though the director, Colin Trevorrow, who does a brilliant job of making the film feel truly spectacular, has tried to cover the underlying weaknesses of the script and characters with great performances and a huge amount of nostalgia. There are a gigantic amount of references to previous films in the series that true fans will pick up on, and the longing for the feeling of magic that the original film had is constantly in the background of the first half of this movie. These references are often quite entertaining, but also make you question why on earth anyone would go to a park that was built on the site of something that went so hideously, and apparently publicly, wrong. Either way, the classic music swells and we are shown vistas of the park itself, but the majesty of the first time that Dr Grant saw a Brachiosaur in 1993 is never replicated. The film seems to know this as it is actively referenced throughout with people constantly saying how the public are bored of dinosaurs. This seems to completely undermine the whole point of the film and makes you question why the park is so damned busy if no one is interested in the animals that the park has to offer?
At this point I may seem to be quite down on this film, but that really isn’t the case. There are some spectacularly entertaining set-pieces to be had in this film. The scenes of the park working as it should make you wish that this place existed in real life. This is what we imagined when Jurassic Park first hit our screens in 1993, and other than the vast quantities of product placement, this is exactly what everyone in the cinema would love to visit if they could. Soon enough though the excitement of seeing a park that is fully open and catering to paying patrons is replaced with many variations of “chompy-chompy-chasey-chasey”. Of course the dinosaurs themselves are the stars of the piece and once they get loose they have never had such freedom to maim and destroy in the pursuit of entertainment. The sheer scale of some of these scenes is impressive in itself with many teeth versus guns moments backed by screaming and tourist panic galore. These are things that true fans of the series have been waiting for since the idea of the first film planted the seeds of the possibilities of full on dinosauric warfare in their brains. The main problem again comes with the fact that none of it really makes any overall sense in the story. It is also worth mentioning that although there has been a lot of talk about sticking to the series’ roots of practical effects there is a huge amount of CGI on show here. Luckily most of it is fantastic, but the problem now comes that when it is put up against the practical models it either overpowers them or underperforms. This means that you are often very aware of what is a practical model and what is made purely in a computer and that undermines a lot of the weight of the action scenes.
Overall this is a film that tries to reference and recreate the wonder and joy that the first movie gave us, whilst also trying to outdo it with grander spectacle and more dinosaurs. As a whole it is let down by being a bit of a meandering mess of a story that is not quite saved by standout performances by the main cast. Its great fun in a lot of places, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a story.
Three Moons out of Five. Good Fun.