It cannot be easy in the theme park trade these days, with Alton Towers in the news for accidents more fitting of the Final Destination series, SeaWorld receiving torrents of abuse daily for its unethical treatment of its captive orcas and the internet full of stories of unopened parks in China that are now home to packs of wild dogs and nomadic farmers, something more positive is needed to reinvigorate the industry. So imagine how it feels to be chief operations officer of the most awesome and ground-breaking park in the history of the world, responsible for boosting attendance when growth becomes stagnant?
Enter Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard of The Village and Spider-Man 3) who is answerable only to the owner of Jurassic World, the charismatic Simon Masrani (played affably by Irrfan Khan, most recognisable as the elder Pi Patel from Life of Pi). Having to juggle social and corporate responsibilities is a task in itself, but in addition she and her team have to come up with new and exciting additions to Isla Nublar in order to obtain sponsorship which requires radical thinking outside the perimeter fence.
And so the tourists and the audience are welcomed back to the park twenty two years after the events of the original movie (it is not made clear if the events of the second and third are regarded as canon in this timeline) just in time for the imminent unveiling of a brand new, genetically modified dinosaur attraction. Named the Indominus Rex, part Tyrannosaurus Rex, part classified others, this hybrid is the new kid on the Jurassic block and Claire is preparing to unveil her latest star attraction even as her two young nephews arrive on the island, supposedly under her care for their visit.
Across the island, Owen Grady (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s roguish Star-Lord himself, Chris Pratt) the resident badass gamekeeper is putting the Velociraptor pack through their paces, training them in a series of trust exercises. An ex-military man, formerly of the Navy, one presumes in some kind of dolphin training capacity, Owen resents the InGen philosophy put forward by the pushy Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio, best known for Law & Order and last seen in Daredevil) that there are military applications for the raptors if they can be used as supersoldiers, a project he claims would reduce human casualties.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Jurassic Park film if time wasn’t spent showing boardroom squabbles (who on Earth would ever sign off on public liability insurance applications is inconceivable) and once Claire’s nephews show up and make short work of ditching their intern sitter the action proceeds into the formulaic thrill ride of escaped beasts interspersed with exposition and moments of forced tension and comic relief.
And that is the problem, very much the same as Claire faces herself, that it has all been seen before. Similar to the recent remake of Poltergeist, this is a reimagining of a vision of Steven Spielberg vision, though whatever failings Jurassic World exhibits it does not come up that spectacularly short.
With the original Jurassic Park a textbook example of how a blockbuster movie is executed and marketed, from the way the hype for the movie was built to the ground-breaking effects, both practical and digital, and a wonderful story that whilst veering slightly from the novel adapted well to silver screen, perhaps due to Michael Crichton’s parallel career as a screenwriter and director.
Giving this project to relative novice Colin Trevorrow is something of a mixed risk for Universal, as such a well-known and beloved franchise is always going to bring revenue in as audiences will want to see the film for themselves regardless of reviews, and rather than opting for a maverick they have assigned someone safe who has done what has asked of him by the studio yet not added more of his own personality.
Substantially reusing John Williams’ memorable score, Michael Giacchino has done little to earn his credit on this movie, and whilst Pratt, Howard and their co-stars are certainly popular stars, and yet they don’t bring the depth Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill managed in the original and even the justly maligned sequels. Particularly poorly written are Hoskins and D B Wong’s geneticist Doctor Henry Wu, a role reprised from the first film, both of their characters having their motivations expressed solely in dollar signs.
The cinematography borrows heavily from the original, the “money shot” of Claire stood waiting for the T-Rex, flare in hand, is a prime example of this, and there are also sequences lifted directly from Aliens. Where the original selectively used either digital or animatronic dinosaurs depending on what was appropriate for the shot, here digital has overtaken to such an extent that the opening scene opts for a digital blackbird so badly rendered it is incomprehensible why a real bird was not coaxed onto the set.
A more insidious trope carried forward is the continued prejudice against fat people; in the opening scenes of the original film, Sam Neill’s Doctor Alan Grant picks on the big kid in the school group, telling him how he will be cut open, and later the traitor is the traitor in the park is the overweight tech guy who eventually becomes Dilophosaurus food. Here, the heavyset D’Onofrio is costumed in an unflattering overtight shirt, while the Indominus is released into the park by the incompetence of an overweight guard.
What has run amok along even more so than the digital dinosaurs is the product placement; Samsung, American Airlines, Starbucks, Hilton, Mercedes Benz, Coca-Cola, Kawasaki, Ben & Jerry’s, IMAX, Pandora, Brookstone… all that is missing is a hog roast named Jurassic Pork.
But we have seen rexes and raptors fighting before, and with the amount of nods to previous installments and the standard tropes of today’s action genre, this feel little more than an above average blockbuster attempting to cash-in on the goodwill of the love for its predecessors, much like Terminator Salvation, however gone is the suspense of the original, instead opting for spectacle and star power.
Yet the dinosaurs in this do not feel substantially more realistic, and indeed the newly created Indominus Rex is the second worst Indy seen on the big screen in the last ten years. An over-powered villain with the ability to mask its body heat, camouflage itself, stalk prey and communicate with other related species, it may as well have a shoulder cannon and be called Predator. Ultimately, too busy trying to set up the next sequel opportunity to concentrate on what is at hand, it feels as artificial as Claire’s attempts to boost attendance yet will likely prove as successful to those eager to be pleased.
Jurassic World is currently on general release in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX