‘Jurassic World’ flawed but still fun
It’s never corny the first time. That’s the problem facing so many of today’s remakes and long-awaited sequels: our collective sense of nostalgia tends to gloss over any less-than-stellar moments in our most beloved movies. That’s doubly true for action movies, which tend to age like a bartlett pear. Revisit a 1990s blockbuster today and you’ll usually find yourself laughing at primordial CG renderings or AOL representing the pinnacle of communication technology. This was a major hurdle for the Jurassic Park franchise, which began with one truly stellar film, descended into two that-which-we-do-not-speak-of sequels, and has now been revamped with all fixin’s of a modern blockbuster. Thankfully, Jurassic World gives us a sequel worthy of the original masterpiece.
It’s present day and the infamous Isla Nublar has gone from disaster site to world-renowned theme park, complete with copious corporate sponsorship. The park has upgraded from the classic Apple computers of the original film to a multi-screen control room that would be right at home in The Hunger Games. The colorful Fords that would have guided tourists around the paddocks in the 1990s are now clear, plastic, gyroscopic cycles that allow tourists to get right up close to the action. The museum-like T-Rex skeleton in the visitors’ center is now an interactive hologram that creates 3D models of some of the park’s most popular animals. Jurassic World even boasts genetically-modified, customizable dinosaurs that come with their own corporate sponsorships. “Verizon Wireless presents the Indominus Rex.” In fact, the only thing that’s stayed the same on the iN-Gen-funded island is Henry Wu (BD Wong) splicing DNA in the park’s dino laboratory.
Enter Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), two boys heading to the island to visit their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the cartoonishly uptight director of operations at the park. Claire, much like Alan Grant before her, doesn’t seem to have a parental bone in her body, and quickly pushes the boys off on her assistant, who proceeds to take them (and us) on a tour of the renamed and rebranded facilities. While Gray is impressed with dinosaurs, his older brother would much rather play on his phone and look at girls—and it seems he’s not alone. The park struggles to keep visitors captivated with bigger, scarier, and more impressive dinosaurs, or risk dwindling numbers.
In a world where CGI is so commonplace that we now have three Sharknado movies, it’s certainly a message that hits home. The original Jurassic Park showcased a mixture of practical and CG effects that had never before been seen—and it still stands up to this day. Every big, CG-filled action movie since owes a debt to Stan Winston’s dinosaurs, but nowadays we’re so flooded with digital creations that it’s easy to forget just how significant Jurassic Park really was. “Nobody’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore,” Claire notes during an early scene.
The boys take in the newest attractions, including a SeaWorld-style tank where we meet the Mosasaurus, who devours a Great White shark in a single bite. We also get the first of many throwback moments that are sure to give audiences a few nostalgia pangs: a galloping Gallimimus herd, a monorail that passes through the iconic gates of the original Jurassic Park, a bronze sculpture of the late John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough), even a quick appearance from the animated Mr. DNA. These little references are so delightful that you’re willing to overlook the underdeveloped characters and glossed-over science. Even the heavy-handed message about GMOs feels like a nod to Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) warning that “life finds a way.”
Much like the original film, nobody listens to the experts. Previously it was paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). In Jurassic World, it’s motorcycle-riding, leather-vest-wearing, Raptor whisperer Owen, played like a dino-taming Indiana Jones by Chris Pratt. Claire and the execs at the park think of the dinosaurs as “assets” more than living things, a categorization that doesn’t sit well with Owen, who considers himself the pack leader to a group of highly intelligent Velociraptors. On top of the “animals as entertainment” controversy, we also have Vincent D’Onifrio coming in as Hoskins, who aims to turn the trainable Raptors into living weapons, because today’s action movies always have to have some military guy who wants to use something for warfare.
They get warfare of a different kind when Indominus breaks free of her paddock and starts heading toward the 20,000+ visitors at the park, destroying any and all living things in her path. The park’s elaborate security protocols are no match for her, and Owen and his Raptor buddies might just be the only hope.
Yes, Jurassic World suffers from a pretty heavy cheese factor. With Pratt’s one-liners and Howard wearing stilettos through the entire film, there are definitely some mockable moments. What saves this movie is all the references to the 1993 classic we all hold dear. As I sat in the theater, I noticed some eye-roll-worthy lines, I didn’t buy the almost dragonlike Indominus, and I knew it couldn’t touch the original, but seeing the nightvision goggles, the classic Jeeps, and the famed “When dinosaurs ruled the earth” banner made it all too fun to not enjoy. I’m sure the original Jurassic Park had all those negatives too, but my nine-year-old self just won’t let me question any aspect of it. And that’s the great thing about this franchise: people who were kids when the first movie came out are old enough to share the Jurassic experience with kids of their own. Who knows, maybe 22 years from now, we’ll have another installment to pass on to a new generation of moviegoers.