Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Jurassic World" Review: A Worthy Sequel That Was 22 Years In The Making


There is a quote from a character early on in Jurassic World, the new film and fourth in the once thought extinct dinosaurs versus man franchise, who remarks that people are over dinosaurs, they just aren't that exciting anymore and fail to hold our interest, which is true to some extent.. Everyone wants the next best and bigger thing instead of just accepting that perhaps what we already have is good enough. While there are some none-too subtle allegories in that statement that reflect directly on our own illogical need for sequels and the irony of knowing said sequels will likely never live up to the original, it also serves as a way to justify that need by accepting the fact that some sequels should simply be enjoyed for what they are, extensions into certain cinematic worlds that we love. Case in point is Jurassic World, a film that may not reach the same thrilling heights of the original Jurassic Park but respects its originator enough to not taint its legacy which saves this sequel from succumbing to the same fate as its two predecessors. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: Digital 2D             
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 3 min
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: June 12, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Both the movie and book of Jurassic Park
Likes: Chris Pratt
Neutral:  Domesticated raptors
Hates: The bad taste that both The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 left in my mouth
Like Jurassic World?: Be sure to check out the director's other work Safety Not Guaranteed.


Twenty some odd years after the events that took place on Isla Nublar which resulted in multiple deaths and the shutting down of the original Jurassic Park, the late John Hammond's ill-fated dream has finally come true as the dinosaur theme park Jurassic World is now open to the public with over twenty thousand visitors a day. The park, now owned by the Marsani Corporation, has been a huge success ever since it opened its gates (the same gates from the original Jurassic Park as a matter of fact) but running a theme park is a business after all and business has been taking a hit. With an apparent dis-interest in the park's many attractions hitting an all time high people are starting to tire of dinosaurs and attendance numbers are reflecting that fact.

So, as though they learned absolutely nothing from the first film (or the second and third which are apparently not part of this timeline in the franchise), and still fail to heed Ian Malcom's prophetic warnings, the Jurassic World scientists led by Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, the sole actor reprising his role from the first film) have cooked up a new breed a dinosaur for the kiddies. This dinosaur, which isn't really a dinosaur at all, is basically a cocktail of different dino DNA strands all mixed together which they lovingly call Indominous Rex. The results of this experimental dinosaur, as expected, are predictably bad for everyone, including the other dinosaurs inhabiting the island as well as for the thousands of visitors stuck in the park. This scenario, while not exactly original in any way, serves as the backdrop for what is a surprisingly fun summer popcorn flick that earns back much of the good will this once mighty franchise lost along the way.


Jurassic World is a fantastically entertaining film that not only delivers a bigger and nastier creature than ever before but more importantly "feels" like a true counterpart and extension of the ideas behind the original Jurassic Park. Both The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 were ill-conceived money grabs with Spielberg lamenting years later ever making the second film and the third film having the hapless distinction of being passable only in comparison to the turd that came before it. But Jurassic World understands that what made that first film so special wasn't just seeing dinosaurs run rampant, but more within the context in which they break free of their shackles and remind us that curiosity indeed killed the cat.

Jurassic World and its director Colin Trevorrow (this being only his second feature film after the excellent little independent film Safety Not Guaranteed) have nailed just about every bullet point one could ever want from a sequel to Jurassic Park. One of the most tantalizing ideas that remained dormant and unexplored from the original film was the thought of seeing the actual theme park operational with visitors and Jurassic World fully realizes that vision with spectacular results. During the opening sequences of the film as we get glimpses of how the park is put together and operates it feels like a real place that we could actually go to and visit which sets the stage perfectly for the chaos soon to come.


That one simple idea has proven to be the perfect launching pad for Trevorrow to not only provide some exciting new action set pieces (the gyrosphere sequence being a real highlight) but also to explore some new themes along with ideals carried over from the original. Two decades later Ian Malcom's numerous speeches still rings true today. "Life can't be contained. Life breaks free", the cautionary mathematician once so eloquently said and we see those haunting words come to fruition with not just a handful of lives at stake this time around but over twenty thousand. Plus there is a sinister sort of glee and irony that comes from seeing a theme park ravaged and all its Disney-esque families hunted down by the very attractions they paid to see. Pirates eating the tourists indeed.

While the film satisfactorily expands upon all the fears and concerns brought up in the original film, where Jurassic World truly stands on its own is with the introduction of DNA splicing into the mix of other bad deeds. With the single addition of the Indominous Rex and what it represents the film not only has its big new nasty but also a gateway to a whole new breed of science that makes what Hammond was attempting seem tame in comparison. Aside from a few lines directed towards the inherent dangers associated with gene splicing, this new hot topic isn't explored nearly as much as we would hope but it does help Jurassic World build its own identity instead of simply standing on the shoulders of its predecessors. The topic of breeding animals in captivity also gets highlighted a little but just like the gene splicing the message gets lost along the way in place of the film's many outstanding big special effects sequences.


So, Trevorrow and company have done Spielberg and the 1993 film proud when it comes to expanding on the themes of the original and even providing some interesting new twists to the formula. Sadly the one area that the film still falls short in is with its characters. While the film mercifully lacks little girls killing raptors with gymnastic maneuvers or a mother and father running around a dinosaur infested island constantly yelling out for their missing son, Jurassic World fails to provide even one captivating character along the lines of Ian Malcolm, Dr. Grant or John Hammond. While its true those character's richness comes from Michael Crichton's novel, that shouldn't prevent anyone from writing at least one compelling character for us to follow here. Instead we get a number of character types who only seem three dimensional only because of the added benefit of casting such talented actors in their roles.

As with each of the films before it, there is the lone voice of reason who tries to tell everyone they are playing with fire. That role, which was so colorfully filled by Jeff Goldblum in the first film, is now filled by Chris Pratt, who hot off his newfound stardom from last years blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, does his best with an underwritten but highly skilled character whose key trait is his uncanny ability to wrangle Velociraptors (#raptorwhisperer), the franchise's long running villain of sorts and teach them how to obey his instructions. As ludicrous as that may sound, in practice it is handled much more delicately than one would think and even though we know that raptors, if ever they did exist like depicted here, would rather eat someones face than be domesticated, Pratt makes us believe he can tame the heart of the wild beast, if only enough to suspend our disbelief for the moments where it counts.


Also included on the menu this time around is the operator of the actual theme park Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who as luck would have it has chosen this particular weekend to play host to her two nephews (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins). Aside from just repeating the initial dislike of children and eventual warming up to the idea that we saw Dr. Grant wrestle with in the original film, the character of Claire is probably the films biggest missed opportunity when it comes to creating a unique personality in this new Jurassic World. She is in fact playing God as she sits in her secure control room and the fact that she has little to no understanding of the very creatures she is in charge of seemed ripe with potential for an interesting character study, especially in the later scenes when she and Pratt's character are running around the island after the escape lab experiment and constantly encountering the destruction in its wake. But alas the film is much more interested in seeing how many layers of clothing she can strip off by the time the end credits roll than giving her any sort of an arc to follow.

Speaking of the pairing of Pratt and Howard, the film hints towards a former relationship between the two characters and while that set up is as old as time itself, even that fails to develop over the course of their adventure. While we are supposed to accept that they have grown closer by the end of the film there is no evidence pointing towards where they had the time to reflect about their past indiscretions nor about their current feelings. As a matter of fact, none of the characters have any real arc or grow in any satisfying manner and instead all come off more as perfunctory tools to move the plot along than actual people with real human emotions. Even the subplot involving the two kid's parents and a potential divorce is just swept under the rug at the end. It's a real shame there wasn't more to the characters because the actors were certainly up to the challenge, its just too bad the script wasn't there to back them up.


The most complex and interesting character in the film however is Marsani (Irrfan Khan), the owner of the park. His notion of fulfilling John Hammond's dream and the respect he shows towards the dinosaurs as more than mere attractions makes for an extremely compelling character, but what the film does with that potential is a real disappointment as we feel nothing one way or other about his eventual fate which is a real waste of a great character and an equally great actor. On the opposite end of the spectrum though is the Vincent d'onofrio character, the one individual in the film who is labeled unequivocally as the bad guy from the get go. He lacks the evil mischief of the Denis Nedry character of the first film and even fails to illicit the expected fist pump at his demise simply because he is so cartoonishly bad, but he gets much more screen time than the more interesting Marsani character which leads me to believe these characters were all written as a plot device instead of giving them real logical motivations for their actions.

While the lack of any real interesting characters to follow through, Jurassic World is a real shame (at least Chris Pratt's raptor wrangler is fun and the two kids surprisingly never becoming annoying), it doesn't ruin the fun of the film which is a true testament to how well made and executed the whole production really is. Anyone who thought dinosaurs couldn't be fun or exciting again are proven wrong with a film that simultaneously embraces the ideals of the original film while also treating the source material with the respect it deserves and delivering the expected thrills and chills associated with the franchise. Jurassic World is a logical and extremely entertaining extension of the original film that even the most bitter fan can appreciate.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Universal and Spielberg put a lot of faith into director Colin Trevorrow and their confidence has delivered one of the years best and most entertaining action films that has just enough brains to back up its brawn. If you were to put Jurassic Park and Jurassic World side by side you would have a very satisfying pair of films, with the first film logically flowing into the events of the second in a way that doesn't feel false or like a calculated money grab. If only they would leave well enough alone and conclude it here, but we know after the rampant success this film has seen it won't be long until the park reopens sometime in the near future.

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