Resurrecting an extinct franchise is a tricky prospect. Can you preserve the DNA of the original to satisfy long-term fans while splicing in enough fresh ideas to delight audiences anew? By honouring the spirit of John Hammond, Steven Spielberg and even Michael Crichton, director Colin Treverrow has…uh…found a way.
Twenty-two years after John Hammond’s first attempt to establish a biological preserve of resurrected dinosaurs, his dream is finally realised in Jurassic World, a world-leading theme park and attraction successfully operating on Isla Nublar. In order to maintain visitor numbers and re-energise public interest, the scientists at InGen have begun creating new genetic hybrid dinosaurs. Unfortunately, not everyone at InGen has the same altruistic ambitions as Hammond and his successor Simon Masrani and their greed is going to endanger the lives of every living thing on the island.
Judging by the buzz generated by the trailers, there will be two kinds of people flocking to the cinemas this weekend: the cynical, too-cool-for-school, negative types like Nick Robinson’s Zach or the wide-eyed, awestruck, barely-contained-excitement of Ty Simpkin’s Gray. One of the clever things “Jurassic World” does straight away is give both camps a character route into the movie. I didn’t really think about it until I was watching the movie but I fall firmly into the latter camp. There’s a scene early on in the film where our two young audience proxies are aboard the monorail to the Jurassic World resort and they’re approaching those oh-so-familiar gates: John Williams’ theme music swells, the gates swing open and the spectacular vista of the park and mountains is revealed. Sitting there in my seat, soaking up the 3D IMAX goodness, I had a lump in my throat and tear in my eye. “Jurassic World” tore right through thirty-odd years and hit me right in the nine year old dinosaur fanatic. For a split second, I was Gray, on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise: “Jurassic Park” is one of my all-time favourite movies, my current record holder for most times seen in the cinema, but it’s a good illustration of how close to the original film “Jurassic World” feels.
Ever present in the Jurassic films are the themes of nature vs playing God and commercial greed overriding ethics and common sense. There’s quite a bit of gratuitous product placement at work here, but it actually kind of works thematically within the world of the film. Of course a park like Jurassic World would have Starbucks concessions amd be looking for corporate sponsors for new species. Even the synthetic dinosaur at the heart of the story, the Indominus Rex, is a satirical comment on the consumer excesses we as a society clamour for. Bigger, scarier, cooler – we’re willingly conditioned to want more, no matter how much we have already.
The film also takes the time to address one of the most common gripes with these films, which is the accuracy of the dinosaurs. As Dr Wu defends his decision to create the Indominus Rex, he points out none of the park’s attractions are actual dinosaurs; InGen have always spliced in other animals DNA to complete the genomes and that if the gene sequences were pure, many of the animals would look quite different. Take that, feather pedants! I have zero problem with the idea of Pratt’s character being something of a ‘raptor whisperer’. It makes sense within the world of the movies, after establishing that the InGen VelociraptorsTM are both intelligent and able to communicate with each other and we have people in the real world who are able to form similar rapports with deadly predators for entertainment purposes. It’s also fair to say it plays out much better in the context of the film than in the scenes spliced into the trailer.
But nobody comes to see a film with ‘Jurassic’ in the title for a reasoned conversation on the finer points of the latest paleontological discoveries. We want to see dinosaurs, red in tooth and claw, as they run amok and it’s here that “Jurassic World” delivers in spades. In fact, it’s probably the most violent and graphic in the series and while it still maintains a semblance of family friendliness by cutting away from the worst of the gore, there’s more blood and toothy chompery in this instalment than the others. Some may feel it takes a little longer than its predecessors to really get going, but it spends this time not so much setting up the characters, as letting you see the park in full operation, sharing in the delight and amazement of the exhibits and rides. But after the spectacle and wonders are done, the film sinks its talons into you and devours the rest of its running time in an explosion of action and adventure.
The special effects and technology this time around is better, markedly better than the previous entry and the model work is up there with the original. The new dinosaurs look great, and there are some new additions to the franchise’s pantheon but it’s a nice touch that some of the dinosaurs are explicitly shown to be the same ones that appeared in the first movie and that some of the events and locations of that film play a pivotal role in this adventure.
The cast perform their supporting roles well. Chris Pratt manages to not be Peter Quill and carves out a new identity distinct from the leading characters in the previous films, even if he, Bryce Dallas Howard and Vincent D’Onofrio are required to hit some familiar character beats. It’s refreshing to see Irrfan Khan play a CEO role which isn’t the clichéd evil boardroom machinator and instead a Richard Branson-style adventure CEO who’s more concerned with the welfare and happiness of his guests and animals than the balance sheet. Trevorrow also takes the opportunity to work with Jake Johnson again after featuring him in his debut feature “Safety Not Guaranteed”, using him as both comic relief and the voice of incredulous reason.
Given this is Colin Trevorrow’s second feature film, he is remarkably assured handling a production this big. He playfully evokes Spielberg’s original film with shots and locations without simply duplicating them and he even throws in cheeky nods to “Jaws” and the Indiana Jones movies. But the visuals are more than a montage of other movies, and there’s plenty eye candy to enjoy as the film barrels along. The 3D is judiciously and effectively used and this is one of the few films where I would wholeheartedly recommend shelling out the extra for the 3D ticket.
It’s not all raptor and rainbows, though. The pacing is a little off at times: there are scenes which could do with a trim here and there. Some of the ancillary plot points are underdeveloped and ultimately unnecessary – Zach and Gray’s parents’ divorce for example – and Katie McGrath (TV’s “Merlin”) is wasted in a pointless role, so much so that she gets ditched early on and disappears for most of the movie. Yes, the progression of the story is a little predictable which is both a strength and a weakness but Trevorrow has come closer than anyone else (including Spielberg himself in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”) in capturing the sense of wonder and excitement of the first film.
This is a movie that understands why we loved the original movies. It understands that no matter what new dinosaurs you introduce, the T-Rex is, and always will be, the Daddy (or Mummy, in this case), it knows that the theme park element is as important as the Cretaceous critters that inhabit it and it’s a film that gives you a secret Marvel thrill of Starlord facing off with The Kingpin. But above all, it’s what we all hoped it would be: a great “Jurassic Park” movie. John Hammond, honoured in the movie with a statue, would be proud.