A very expensive piece of junk, Jurassic World features a surfeit of dinosaurs rendered with incredible, photo-realistic detail, whether they’re running, chomping on people, or chomping on each other. Yet it’s likely reassuring for the technophobe that they still look incredibly artificial when placed on screen with human beings; the most advanced technology in the film world still can’t make us believe that dinosaurs can be brought back to life.
Perhaps that’s for the best. As long as the dinosaurs are stomping around the picturesque scenery of an island in Costa Rica that’s been transformed into a giant theme park, Jurassic World may convince younger viewers that it’s presenting something new and/or different. The film’s resolute insistence on not only rebooting the basics of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park but also trading heavily on nostalgia for its appeal grows tiresome, however, especially because the characters are so thinly drawn and soaked in such a wistful, juvenile fantasy for how men and women should behave.
The film imagines that Isla Nubar, first visited in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster (itself based on Michael Crichton’s bestselling novel), has overcome its past, er, “troubled” history and become an incredibly successful attraction, drawing thousands of visitors daily. Apparently this is largely due to the largess of billionaire Masrani (Irrfan Khan), described as the seventh wealthiest individual in the world, who accepted the torch from benevolent founder/funder John Hammond before he died. Masrani mouths platitudes about doing good for mankind, but is too busy with his other business interests to know what’s going on behind the scenes.
In that, Masrani is not alone. Indeed, for a park as successful as Jurassic World, it’s rather amazing how few people that work there actually know anything about dinosaurs. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who runs things, appears to have walked on from a 1930s screwball comedy. Masrani has blithely authorized the creation of a new breed of dinosaur that is more fearsome, lethal, and intelligent than any animal on Earth, and Claire’s main job appears to be … what? It’s never made clear, except that she barks orders as though she’s in charge, except for when she acts like a damsel in distress around Owen (Chris Pratt), the hunky “man’s man” who has somehow trained a pack of velociraptors to respond to his commands.
Owen, too, appears to have walked on from a past historic era. His skills as a “dinosaur whisperer” are meshed together with his status as the Only Park Employee Who Can Handle Himself When Things Go Wrong. Again, given the park’s past history with “dinos gone wild,” it’s as though all the employees were hired because they know nothing about that history, yet were willing to move to Costa Rica to work there. (As an aside, despite the location, none of the employees appear to be locals. Perhaps the locals were too smart to work someplace where they might be eaten?)
The setup is that Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) have arrived for a long overdue visit. Zack acts too cool for school and checks out all the young chicks, while Gray alternates between childish bliss and juvenile despair about their mother (Judy Geer) and father. (The true purpose of the trip is to get the boys out of town while their parents work out a divorce settlement.) Claire is too busy to spend time with them when they arrive, so she sends them out with her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath).
Claire is busy because she is dealing with three overbearing men: Masrani, her boss; Owen, a dinosaur trainer she dated once; and security chief Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio). Business at the park is down, which explains the creation of a new dinosaur, which has been kept secret. The dinosaur is smarter than it looks, of course, and soon escapes from its compound and threatens every living thing on the island.
Like the leads, the supporting cast, which includes casually evil scientist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), Owen’s loyal assistant Barry (Omar Sy), and two command center button-pushers who function as comic relief (Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus), is certainly competent, even though the material often fails them.
Plot machinations and stick-figure characters aside, Jurassic World exists to showcase dinosaurs running free in the modern world, and it certainly delivers on that promise. If Jurassic Park and its two sequels have faded from memory, the creatures will be a welcome delight to behold. Spielberg’s film was built on two strong pillars: the novelty of CGI dinosaurs, which was magnificent at the time, and Spielberg’s superior ability to stage and film extended exciting action sequences.
Colin Trevorrow, who made the refreshing indie Safety Not Guaranteed, directed and also co-wrote the screenplay. He does a competent job with his action scenes, but he’s hampered by the predominance of CGI in all of those sequences. And, of course, CGI is now commonplace, so that particular thrill is gone. Veteran editor Kevin Stitt stitches together a plentitude of quick-cut sequences, and Michael Giacchino’s musical score certainly helps to keep the excitement level as high as possible but the threat level to key characters has been tamped down; it’s easy enough to guess who will survive to the inevitable sequel(s) and who is expendable.
The score samples extensively from John Wiliams’ score for Jurassic Park, especially in the early going, and why not? Like numerous other nods to the original, Jurassic World is conscious that it’s following in the giant footsteps of a beloved modern classic, and so it reboots with great respect and careful obeisance to what came before, without ever establishing its own identity.
Unfortunately, that means Jurassic World tastes like leftovers that are no longer fresh. It’s not quite garbage, but it smells like it.
The film opens wide throughout Dallas on Friday, June 12.