By Matthew E. Milliken
June 19, 2015
Twenty-two years after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park thrilled audiences with its computer-animated dinosaurs run amok, the franchise is back. Jurassic World is the fourth installment in the series, and for my money, it’s by far the best of the sequels — not that that’s saying much.
(Quick disclaimer: I arrived a few minutes late to the screening. Did I miss anything important? Um, I hope not. I mean, I’m pretty sure I didn’t.)
The story has a lot of moving parts, but it boils down to this: A large, powerful and mean dinosaur breaks loose in a crowded theme park; action ensues.
Yes, yes, yes — it defies all logic, but there it is. Despite the chaos and carnage inflicted by reanimated reptilians in the original 1993 blockbuster, the 1997 follow-up The Lost World: Jurassic Park (which loosed a Tyrannosaurus rex on San Diego, for heaven’s sake) and 2001’s Jurassic Park III, the late John Hammond’s vision of a theme park populated by extinct species has been built. And not only built: This incarnation of his vision has opened for business. It’s adding animals and attractions every few years.
Jurassic World, as this luxury vacation destination is called, is quite popular; it’s raking in buckets of visitor revenue from an easily distracted public. It turns out, however, that in the name of increasing profits, the park’s operators have been pushing the limits of both safety and sanity — not to mention, some human-interest subplots show us, the boundaries of sentimentality, too.
In an effort to goose attendance and revenue, the oily, ambitious geneticist Henry Wu (BD Wong) has been concocting hybrid dinosaurs that will draw the public’s interest. His latest creation is the enormous Indominus rex, which breaks out of its paddock because the park’s clueless corporate drones understand neither how to control the new creature nor how its various genetic splices might endow it with special abilities.
Wu’s partner in shadiness, an oily, ambitious corporate manager named Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), is also interested in monetizing dinosaurs, but for military purposes. The Indominus breakout gives him an opportunity to stage a proof of concept by using a small pack of velociraptor siblings that have been trained to respond to voice commands to hunt the rogue dino — assuming, that is, that Hoskins can elbow park director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a few other rivals out of the way.
One of those rivals is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the former Marine who’s been training the velociraptors with an assistant named Barry (Omar Sy). Grady rejects the inhumane approach that Hoskins, Claire and their corporate management colleagues take toward the dinosaurs; the trainer passionately believes that the massive reptiles should be thought of as living, breathing animals, not assets on a corporate spreadsheet.
Claire has no rapport whatsoever with the dinosaurs. When she gingerly puts her hand on a dying brontosaurus about a third of the way into the film, I had the impression that the character — the director of a dinosaur theme park! — had never touched any of these animals before.
Claire’s relationships with people are nearly as bad. She’s good at reciting spreadsheet data and marketing information, but she has trouble connecting with her boss, the whimsical billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). She brought a printed itinerary for her one and only date with Grady, and she apparently refused to have any tequila during said fruitless rendezvous.
Because this is what happens in these kinds of movies, the deadly dinosaur escapes only an hour or two after Claire’s nephews arrive at Jurassic World to bond with their aunt over Christmas while their parents (apparently) arrange their divorce back in Wisconsin. Claire hasn’t seen her nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), in seven years. Yet that doesn’t stop her from almost immediately pawning the boys off on her vapid assistant, Zara (Katie McGrath).
Of course, the youngsters — Gray is around 11, Zach about 15 — escape from the smartphone-obsessed Zara almost immediately, and naturally, they wander right into the teeth (not…quite…literally) of the rampaging dinosaur. Claire recruits Grady to rescue the boys as the movie kicks into gear, and the audience gets few chances to take its breath from that point forward.
Jurassic World is based on a story by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, a married couple who have co-written a number of thrillers, including the well-regarded 2011 and 2014 Planet of the Apes reboots and at least two of the forthcoming sequels to Avatar. The duo were assisted on script by Colin Treverrow and Derek Connolly, the team behind the highly regarded 2012 independent science fiction feature Safety Not Guaranteed. Treverrow directed both that picture and Jurassic World — this, in fact, is only his second outing as a feature film director. (I’ve seen none of Treverrow’s nor his colleagues’ previous pictures.)
The movie dispenses anodyne blandishments about people (message here: Cherish and nourish your children and those of your loved ones, lest the youngsters be lost and killed!), emotions (message: Don’t be so uptight, you soulless corporate ninnies!), science (Don’t create gene-spliced monsters, you soulless mad scientists!), militarizing biotechnology (It’s a reckless, bad idea, you soulless money-grubbers!), animals (Even reptiles belonging once-extinct species have feelings!) and smartphones (Look up from your shiny palmtop boxes once in a while, you soulless millennial ninnies!). Don’t hold your breath awaiting any critique of how race or ethnicity or class privilege work in our society, however — Jurassic World holds not an iota of interest in those subjects.
Still, the main characters’ narrative lines are fairly well polished, and the core characters — Grady, Claire and her nephews are likable enough. (Or at least tolerable enough, in Claire’s case.) So what if none of the movie’s sentiments are particularly deep or original or nuanced, or if heroine Claire comes off as annoying and two-dimensional throughout the picture (despite her character’s personal growth), or if Howard and Pratt have absolutely zero romantic chemistry? Jurassic World is an action flick first and foremost, and the movie delivers all manner of thrilling dino vs. human and dino vs. dino battles.
Indominus rex is a wily and fearsome predator, and it wreaks an entertaining variety of carnage, defying the will of the smarmy corporate managers. (Like their predecessors throughout this film franchise, the business bigwigs mistakenly think that they have control until it’s too late to correct their errors.) One of the movie’s most outrageous inventions, the notion that Grady might be able to control the pack of ravenous velociraptors that he’s trained since birth, is explored and tested in fascinating ways. While the premise seems ludicrous, the film seems to deal with it honestly.
What’s not honest is the way Jurassic World deals with the human toll of violence: It wants the audience to think they can eat their cake and have it, too. All the individuals who are killed are essentially unknown to the viewer or have been depicted as bad people. The filmmakers want us to be thrilled when a flock of flying dinosaurs are unleashed on a panicked pack of tourists, but the scene is remarkably bloodless for all that.
While Jurassic World is emphatically too frightening for young children to see, it’s a bit more family-friendly than the last blockbuster that I saw. Mad Max: Fury Road involves people being cruel to other people; at least most of the cruelty visited upon people in Jurassic World is inflicted by nature.
Jurassic World isn’t a perfect movie — far from it. But it certainly does deliver a lot of action bang for moviegoers’ bucks.