Colin Trevorrow’s update on Steven Spielberg’s classic “Jurassic Park” lacks the ideas and intelligence that made the original a hit.
“Jurassic World” grossed over $200 million domestically in its opening weekend, making it one of the highest opening weekends at the box office of all time. It further was one of the all time fastest to surpass $1 billion in the world, and has already earned over $500 million domestically in just three weekends. It would seem Americans don’t echo the sentiment heard early in “Jurassic World” regarding the poor performance of their theme park: “No one is impressed by a dinosaur anymore.”
And yet the film has found fierce criticism from those quick to label it misogynist or even racist, and sharp defenders quick to shut down anyone that could be too PC or too high and mighty of a critic. Matt Singer wrote a piece entitled “Stop Telling Me to Turn My Brain Off During Movies“, a plea for people to have higher expectations of their blockbusters than absolute zero. Like any major, unexpected hit, “Jurassic World” is the subject of a lot of talk.
The critics are right: “Jurassic World” is loud, cliche, badly written, and dumb, dumb, dumb. But it’s also fun, exciting, campy, cheesy, scary, and at times awesome. These are all things blockbusters have been, will be and arguably should be. But Steven Spielberg’s original “Jurassic Park” and Michael Crichton’s novel on which it is based were always stories of ideas. They were full of dreams and ambitions for science, but also fearful of technology, the power of man to wield it and the greater power of nature to put man’s hubris and greed in check. Spielberg managed to put all that into a movie with friggin’ dinosaurs spitting poisonous acid at Newman, raptors opening doors with their talons and a T-Rex eating a man cowered over a toilet.
What makes “Jurassic World” so frustrating and lazy because of all its flaws and in spite of its strengths is that it’s not trying to be anything more than a blockbuster. Colin Trevorrow’s movie isn’t a film of ideas but a copy of a great one and a genetically modified mish-mash of dozens of others. It’s a blockbuster by committee, complete with Hollywood’s biggest rising star, their finest display of special effects, a whole lot of nostalgia baiting, and a healthy dose of product placement for good measure. If it could’ve been all this and been a smart spectacle, then we would’ve really had something.
Set years after the events of the original “Jurassic Park,” Isla Nublar has not only somehow been salvaged from the destruction and chaos brought by the dinosaurs, but it has now been transformed into a thriving theme park far beyond the original vision. Leading the park is Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a by-the-numbers, overly driven business woman with no time for anything but her work, least of all her two nephews coming to visit, the young Gray (Ty Simpkins) and the teenage Zach (Nick Robinson). Claire says that over time people and kids have grown bored of even seeing dinosaurs, and clearly she has as well, because she never sees these amazing creatures as anything more than assets. Her new plan to spike attendance is to create a new dinosaur, the Indominous Rex, a genetic hybrid designed to be bigger, faster, scarier (and presumably cost-effective as well?) and everything the park needs.
Owen (Chris Pratt) is the park’s raptor trainer brought in to survey the development of the new dinosaur, and having developed a rapport with his four raptors, he immediately understands how terrible an idea it is to create an unstoppable super dinosaur with no natural instincts to prevent it from murdering and eating everything that moves. The dinosaur is smart enough to trick the park owners into helping him escape, and still Claire refers to it as “just an animal”. These people are dumb enough that a chimp could fool them, let alone a genetically modified super reptile.
Claire is the worst kind of character type: the workaholic woman who projects confidence but is eventually humiliated by her lack of real-world skills and how she runs around in heels the entire film. It’s silly to throw around any “isms” and to assume ill will toward women by the filmmakers, but her character is beyond old fashioned. Howard plays her in the middle portion of the film as an Old Hollywood screwball type, but later turns into the action star luring T-Rexs with flares.
“Jurassic World” wastes far too much time with science and stockholders worrying about the park’s future in a way that was never filler in “Jurassic Park”. And there’s an absurd sub-plot regarding Vincent D’Onofrio’s plan to weaponize the raptors, with the pipe dream of teaching them to hunt and kill terrorists in the Middle East based on Owen’s command (call it “Zero Dark Raptor”).
A more experienced director than Trevorrow, with just the indie comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” to his name, would’ve realized that we’ve come for the dinosaurs, or at the very least the suspense and build-up required to make CGI dinosaurs interesting. Spielberg managed to withhold the T-Rex and more of the awe-inspiring dinosaurs just as he did with “Jaws”. Trevorrow dilly dallies with exposition and clueless kids venturing where they don’t belong. It can be something of a mess, and the truly great moments, including a pterodactyl attack reminiscent of “The Birds,” a dinosaur scuff-up worthy of Japanese kaiju, and a giant aquatic dinosaur leaping out of the water like Shamu, can feel off in terms of pacing and anticipation.
“Jurassic World” is the perfect hybrid blockbuster worthy of one of the highest grossing movies of all time. But like the Indominus Rex, it’s an unholy mix of elements and bad traits that just makes you wish for something more natural.