Jurassic World – Review by David Turpin
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Irrfan Khan, Judy Greer
When it comes to blockbusters, as with dinosaurs, the most ferocious rules. While Jurassic World might take more money at the box office than last month’s Mad Max: Fury Road, in all other departments it’s a frailer beast indeed. While that other fourth-installment-cum-franchise-restarter managed to be blessedly unexpected and genuinely thrilling, Jurassic World trades primarily in nostalgia, garnished with sentimentality, and served with a surprisingly generous side-order of sexism.
Perhaps this is an unfair comparison. The Jurassic Park franchise, after all, appeals to a younger crowd than Mad Max, and Jurassic World is unabashed in its direct appeal to young boys. Director Colin Trevorrow shares with series originator Steven Spielberg a tunnel vision for juvenile thrills, although he lacks Spielberg’s ghoulish touch and unerring sense of where to place the camera. The result is a film that feels very much like a work of homage, with repeated quotations from the 1993 original folded into the narrative to warm the hearts of older viewers – although Trevorrow is treading water with a climactic showdown that is a near beat-for-beat facsimile of the original’s.
Jurassic World finds the park finally open for business, and scrabbling to draw new attendees with genetically modified creatures intended to up the ante on actual prehistoric species. The conceit – that park-goers have become jaded with mere dinosaurs – is a clever one, although Trevorrow wisely stops short of assuming filmgoers share this blasé attitude, with a pleasingly measured build-up prefacing the appearance of the creatures.
The simple story begins when the park becomes a holiday destination for the very Spielebergian suburban boys Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins). The boys also happen to be the nephews of corporate park official Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) – whose lack of maternal instinct is the tiresome fulcrum around which much of the film’s human interest turns.
Claire is one of those movie heroines whose re-education is traced by her hair – the severe bob that has long served as shorthand for female emotional frigidity replaced by softer waves as she learns to put family first, and recognise that when it comes to dinosaurs, men know best. Both lessons are brought home to her when the park’s latest creation – the hybrid “Indominus Rex” – runs riot, necessitating the intervention of plain-spoken-hero-type Owen (Chris Pratt), who comes complete with a posse of semi-tame velociraptors.
Those with a mind to could contrive a drinking game around Jurassic World’s condescension to its female lead, with the bingo moment reached when an elaborate action sequence grinds to a halt so Claire can be shamed for failing to remember her nephews’ exact ages. Howard – always a stiff and actorly performer – fits the thin material, and she is at least rewarded with a valedictorian moment in which she flees a Tyrannosaurus Rex while wearing high heels.
Pratt, however, is weirdly at sea thoughout. Jurassic World is less jokey than his breakthrough film, Guardians of the Galaxy, and what scanned as everyman geniality in that earlier film has calcified remarkably quickly into smarm in this one – most evidently in a cringe-inducing exchange of single- entendres with Howard that is presumably intended to suggest an obstinately undetectable romantic chemistry.
For the most part, Pratt strides through proceedings with a single, jut-jawed expression of heroic determination, while Robinson and Simpkins trade observations on how “bad-ass” he is. Rarely has the gap between performer and tie-in action figure seemed narrower than here.
The supporting cast is fairly inoffensive, although those pining for a shot of racial stereotyping in a Michael Bay-free summer may get a kick out of BD Wong’s turn as a sinister, green tea-drinking scientist. Mystifying stretches of screen-time are afforded to the impending divorce of Gray and Zach’s parents, with a misused Judy Greer popping up in the thankless role of their mother, calling from home to – you guessed it – lecture Claire on the importance of motherhood.
All this would probably be moot if Jurassic World delivered comprehensively on the dinosaur action – but in this department it’s only partway successful. Like Spielberg’s original, Jurassic World mines considerable suspense from the build-up to the dinosaur escape, but strains to find exciting things to do with them once they’re free. There is nothing here to rival the bracingly nasty jeep-crushing sequence of the original, although a well-realised pterodactyl attack does suggest a high-tech, if oddly toothless, reworking of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).
Nevertheless, the creatures are realistically presented, and the Indominus Rex itself is certain to thrill younger viewers. Older filmgoers will be pleased to see that some animatronic creations have been integrated with the CGI – rather more seamlessly this time than in previous series entries. The benefits of the tactile three-dimensional object are evident in a brief scene involving an ailing brontosaurus – an interlude that gives the film its only moment of real emotional weight.
Also effective are a number of gently satirical scenes of the day-to-day business of the park, including a petting zoo stocked with infant triceratops. Perhaps expectedly, the film never significantly draws out the relationship between the physical and genetic indignities visited on these creatures and those suffered by real-world livestock – although a scene of velociraptors immobilised by head cages carries uncomfortable echoes of recent reports on the abuse of rather less lethal creatures in US agricultural research facilities. Ultimately, the hubris to be punished here is that of individual characters, rather than our species at large – a distinction that marks Jurassic World apart from the likes of the similarly themed but harder-edged Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). Fans of John Williams’ memorable “Jurassic Park theme” will be pleased to hear it interpolated often – and loudly – in Michael Giacchino’s original score. To this ear, however, its major scale pomp remains an odd fit for a series that, for all its big-budget trappings, continues to be most successful when it drops its pretences to significance and its lunges at sentiment, and mines for b-movie thrills instead.