“After some consideration, I have decided not to endorse your park.”
Jurassic World hits home media today and the dinosaur-flavoured hubbub that engulfed my Twitter and Facebook feeds reminded me I never shared my thoughts on the film on this site. The original review was done for the lovely people at OnboardOnline, where the majority of my new content can be found.
Jurassic World (2015)
Like many others, I consider Jurassic Park to be a formative film in shaping both my future film tastes and blockbuster expectations. To expect a new release to live up to that, despite it selling itself on that very goodwill. is unfair. I wasn’t anticipating a masterpiece or anything like that, I just wanted to kick back and have fun with it. There’s always at least one big film per year where my opinion differs so greatly from the critical consensus that it causes me to have a small existential crisis. Last year it was the still a load-of-old-toss Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Why did it have to be Jurassic World this year?
Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the original disastrous realisation of John Hammond’s vision. Jurassic World is a fully-functional theme park that has been attracting visitors for a decade. Dinosaurs and the concept of a prehistoric park are as commonplace as visiting the zoo. We follow two brothers, sulky teen Zach (Nick Robinson) and excitable youth Gray (Ty Simpkins) as they prepare to visit Isla Nublar and their park operations manager aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Visitor numbers have been in decline and the park’s lab scientists have cooked up a bigger, louder and scarier hybrid dinosaur they dub “Indominus Rex” in an attempt to boost ticket sales. Predictably, this proves to be a terrible idea and the double-tough I-Rex escapes, endangering the lives of thousands of park patrons and staff alike. Claire enlists the help of ex-Navy man turned dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to find the Indominus Rex in the park’s vast lands before any lives are threatened.
I liked the first half hour or so of the film. Seeing a fully functional Jurassic Park is a treat and there’s an appropriate sense of awe when we see sights like the gigantic crocodile-like Mosasaurus leaping out of its aquarium and gobbling a suspended shark whole. There were nice little details that sold Jurassic World as a fun place to visit. Despite being for children, I could easily spend hours in the dinosaur petting zoo alone were it real. John Williams’ iconic theme also went a long way to sell the majesty of it all. However, once we started to get into the main plot, the wheels started to fall off.
The story is the sticking point. The dialogue is flat and the characterisation is confused. Tinkering with genetics with no thought for the ramifications is a series hallmark, but having a wicked smart hybrid dinosaur with superpowers was a stretch too far for me. I don’t think it would have been so bad if the film didn’t use the I-Rex’s abilities so lazily and only to move characters from one setpiece to the next. It has a camouflage ability that it uses precisely once for example. The I-Rex is portrayed as more of a scheming serial killer than a dangerous beast. Midway through the film, it digs a tracking device out of its flesh because it apparently remembers it being planted and knows what it is. It’s funny how my disbelief can be extended beyond creating dinosaurs but comes to a sudden stop when a dino uses a tracking device to ambush a bunch of soldiers. The film is schizophrenic in its approach, dedicating time to explain how the creatures are just animals, but then treating them as legit characters. One scene shows a bunch of slaughtered brontosauruses and Grady remarks that the I-Rex is “killing for sport” like it’s an example of how smart and evil it is. Surely that’s just animal behaviour? If a fox goes on a rampage in a henhouse it doesn’t make it the Jack the Ripper of the countryside.
The film was in development hell for over a decade and it shows. The script has so many different fingerprints on it it’d probably be sticky to the touch. Being a JP supernerd, I know that the film is stapled together from all kinds of sources. Some elements are from the original Michael Crichton novel and others are from the crappy original leaked script that boasted terrible ideas like dinosaur/human hybrids. There are even some pieced from previous films’ deleted scenes, including a sequence involving a helicopter and flying Pteranodons originally scripted for The Lost World. It feels like a connect-the-dots puzzle done simultaneously by four people who hate each other.
The cast are fine and elevate the material somewhat. The trouble is that the characters are stock. Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady is an all-purpose badass who is never wrong and has no character flaws. He has no real arc and it was hard to get involved. Claire has a bit of character development, but it’s a shallow turn from stuffy businesswoman to slightly tough maternal figure. Her arc seems to be just accepting that Owen Grady is awesome and coming around to his way of thinking. The gender politics on display prove that dinos aren’t the only lumbering prehistoric beasts present. Having said that, it didn’t strike me as intentional, it feels like it was arrived at accidentally. It was just some knocked-together filler inbetween the film’s tentpole sequences.
Vincent D’Onofrio shows up as military man Hoskins, who has the crazy idea of weaponising trained Velociraptors. He does his best with what he’s given, but there’s no escaping the fact that he’s a weak villain. There’s one moment where Owen punches Hoskins for no apparent reason other than because the film has arbitrarily decided at this juncture that he’s the bad guy. It’s completely unjustified and like many of the relationships between characters, it just seems assumed. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are alright, although again it’s like their personalities have just been copied and pasted from a list of character archetypes. The cardboard characters led to a lack of involvement on my part and as such, I didn’t care whether somebody lived or died.
I kinda liked the reflexive approach the film takes. Both the park and the film itself are trying to make dinosaurs exciting again to audiences. The film has some truly meta moments when talking about product sponsorships and a heavy reliance on focus groups. It’s two-faced, however. It will slag off commercialisation with one side of its mouth and then have a sleek car driving sequence which resembles a Mercedes advert. Jurassic World wears its Spielberg love on its sleeve, but the numerous references to the original film started to grate on me after a while and reminded me of all the ways the film wasn’t Jurassic Park. Both the Jurassic World park and film are giving the audience what they think they want- wall-to-wall dinosaur action and references to the only good film in the series. These are both hollow joys, however, when the story groundwork hasn’t been done properly.
You can’t move for dinosaurs in this film. In one way, this is fantastic as we get to see some interesting and unique looking species. However, it also smacks of pandering to the short attention spans of young teens. It’s more of an action film than anything else and that saddens me. Some of the sequences are really well done and we get some great humans vs. dinosaur and dino on dino action. The body count in this film is significantly higher than in previous entries and to me, that outlines the problem. Every death in Jurassic Park meant something because we got to know the characters. None of Jurassic World‘s deaths really mean anything. Also, what it the point in having a park full of squishy, bite-sized humans and only having one sequence where flat-out carnage happens? The only semi-memorable death in this one actually struck me as needlessly nasty and karmically unwarranted. With this line, I’ve realised I’ve turned into my parents as we had this same issue with the original film 22 years ago, but people with young children eager to see it may want to hold fire on a viewing. It’s pretty damn violent in places and I can’t imagine the kiddies being too happy when the cuddlier, less toothy herbivore dinosaurs start kicking the bucket.
I started to get on board with the film’s goofier charms towards the end, but by then it was too late. I was mentally checked out and deflated. It’s probably the best of the sequels, but that’s not saying much. I really wanted to like the film, but the unfocused script lets it down with stupid contrivances, inconsistent motivations and huge logic leaps. If they wanted to (needlessly) prove that dinosaurs are exciting again, they’ve done their job, now they just need to work on making it all mean something deeper than just colour and noise for the already in-production sequel.