It’s impossible to ignore the expectations that have been set for Jurassic World. After the worldwide acclaim and massive success of the original Jurassic Park trilogy (sequels notwithstanding), the problem seems obvious. How could a new film, from a new director, with entirely new characters, and brand new genetically-modified dinosaurs possibly capture the tone of the original?
Early interviews with director Colin Trevorrow revealed that he was experimenting with horror elements for Jurassic World early on, as well as “elements of romantic adventure and screwball comedy.” To loyalists of the original spirit of both the films and the books, this raised a few alarms. The mixture seemed unstable. Foolish. Dangerous.
All of the “this film has a lot to live up to” banter and bio-engineering humor aside, Jurassic World was a thrilling, clever, and truly frightening film that drew screams from the audience and caused this critic, a person not known for yelling at screens, to cry out “OH F***” during a climatic sequence. My popcorn never stood a chance.
In Jurassic World, we see the gates open on a brand new, glistening dino-amusement park. The only problem is that nobody is amused. When Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) are sent to the park to spend time with their aunt, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a leading member of the Jurassic World brass, Zach declares that the park is for babies. Gray, a kid himself, agrees.
It’s a reflection of our disposable culture that finds innovations to be marvelous one year and commonplace in the next. Miracles like dinosaur resurrection are so nineties after all.
Jurassic World plants itself into this foundation and builds a story out of it that’s both fun and thoughtful, one that boldly separates itself from others by mixing a gruesome, terrifying tone with a humorous, somewhat meta layer about what audiences expect out of entertainment in the age of digital distractions.
It seems like a concept that’s hard to screw up. The park is open. The dinosaurs are getting bigger. Scarier. Corporate is receiving pressure to train and militarize the velociraptors. They’re forced to create new dinosaurs to boost the park’s dwindling ticket sales. Then everything goes wrong and dinosaurs eat everyone. Cut to black, credits.
The truth is, everything in Jurassic World (the film) could have easily gone wrong if Trevorrow and co. hadn’t clearly worked so hard on the world-building necessary to pull it off.
From the 18-year old kid responsible for the velociraptor gate to Claire’s clear distaste for product placement on her “assets,” Jurassic World is head-to-toe created by intelligent design. It’s not just a story placed in the Jurassic Park world, it is the Jurassic Park world.
With Jurassic Park, you came for the dinos and stayed for the philosophy about scientific discovery and the arrogance of man. With Jurassic World, we’re forced to examine the price of our obsession with “bigger” and “more teeth” and how audiences have become bored by “just dinosaurs,” forcing the geneticists of the park (including Jurassic Park veteran B.D. Wong) to improvise in order to keep the park in the black.
In one of the film’s more carefully crafted dramatic scenes, B.D. Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu calls the Indominous Rex a monster, not a dinosaur. But then again, he also reasons that since Jurassic Park scientists have always filled in the missing genome with the DNA of some other animal (in the original it was from a frog), the dinosaurs have been monsters from the beginning, genetically modified to satisfy Hammond’s original impression of them.
For just a taste of the thought that went into the resurrection of the Jurassic Park universe, check out their official viral site where you can download a park map, a safety guide, and even catch a live feed from the T-Rex paddock. These guys aren’t messing around.
The film stars a number of other human characters, including but not limited to Chris Pratt as an ultra-badass ex-military type that trains velociraptors. Yeah. Just let that sentence swish around in your mouth for a second. If that’s the type of thing that makes you want to yell in astonished joy at a giant IMAX screen, then you’re in the right place.
Anyway, human stars aside, it only takes a few scenes to learn that our real protagonist in this film, the character that drives the action forward, is the freaking Indominous Rex. Once Claire tries to introduce Owen (Pratt) to the terrifying part-everything hybrid, the film launches into full-blown freak-out mode, bringing back everyone’s T-Rex inspired nightmares, but with a twist. This dinosaur is basically the Superman of dinosaurs, and half the fun is figuring out exactly what biological function he’ll whip out next.
For the second half of the film, the action is relentless, punctuated only by moments of unexpected humor from the behind-the-scenes players of the park, and laced with classic Jurassic Park nostalgia.
In fact, the only weak point is that the fun occasionally tilts into the too-cheesy territory, taking air out of the more bravura moments.
It also occasionally deflates under the weight of its own “action movie” dialogue, and the ambition of some of the CGI is beyond the reach of the budget that they bid to the special effects houses. The practical-effect/visual effect line that was so carefully toed in the original Jurassic Park is a little (motion) blurred here and there, but remnants of the old animatronic techniques remain in a few soon-to-be-iconic moments.
It isn’t hard to see how people will eventually nitpick the movie, either. If you don’t buy Pratt as a badass for instance (the film certainly convinced me), then a few sequences will be difficult to manage. If you dislike the idea of dino-communication and dinosaur-human relationships, then that may be a fairly large pill to swallow as well.
Luckily, the film expertly sets up these far-reaching moments, making them all necessary elements of a ride that’s well worth taking. I won’t degrade it by saying that it’s a film you need to just “turn your brain off and enjoy.” The world feels lived-in enough to warrant off-screen explanations, and the ride is exciting enough to make you forget the depressed thoughts that you had when you saw that first trailer.
It felt like a sequel 22 years in the making.
Jurassic World hits theaters this Friday, June 12, 2015.