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The Park Is Now Open

Universal Pictures
 124 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard 
Jurassic World

Every movie studio has its valuable properties that it seeks to exploit to the maximum extent possible. And every studio faces the same dilemma. Overexpose them and people tune them out (anyone still remember Jaws IV). On the other hand, there’s plenty of money to be had under the right circumstances (as most of the comic book reboots have shown). Disney has been the undisputed master of shrewd timing as it continually raids its vault for one hit after another.


Universal Studios faced this exact problem with its Jurassic Park franchise. The original movie in 1993 was one of the first to take advantage of computer graphic technology, mixed with animatronic creations, to create state-of-the-art dinosaurs. Add to that the presence of Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton, and the results were groundbreaking. It’s no exaggeration to say that the original Park laid the groundwork for every CGI spectacle today. Since then however, two sequels and two decades have passed and special effects are measured by Peter Jackson and Marvel Comics standards.


Universal solved its problem (and by the box office receipts solved it better than could possibly have been imagined) by again using the best technology available, this time enhanced by 3D and IMAX effects, and by again having the genius or Steven Spielberg on hand to supervise the project, although he didn’t actually direct. The studio then added perhaps the most schizophrenic script of recent memory, one that simultaneously acknowledges and pokes fun at the corporate mindset that greenlit this movie while, at the same time, wallowing in the hoariest clichés of the genre. The result is Jurassic World, unquestionably the most successful reboot of all time.


Jurassic World is set on Isla Nublar, the island off Costa Rica that housed the original Jurassic Park. While the original park resembled a wild animal safari, World is a full fledged theme park with monorail, aquatic stadium, kiddie rides, and even its own Margaritaville. The new park has been open some 20 years but needs new attractions to keep visitors coming. Since the supply of new dinosaurs available for cloning is dwindling (archaeologists still bring in fossils with, literally, new blood) and quite similar to what’s already in the park, new owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) decides to help Mother Nature along by genetically modifying his existing supply of dinos to make them much more terrifying.


The result of this genetic fiddling around is Indominus Rex, sort a T-rex on steroids that is highly intelligent, highly aggressive, and able to camouflage itself. What Masrani doesn’t know is that his security chief Hoskins (Vincent d’Onofrio) has been doing some behind-the-scenes manipulation to produce a creature that can be used for military purposes, sort of a drone with teeth.


Anyone who’s ever seen any of the Jurassic Park movies can guess what’s going to happen next. The I-rex gets loose, and starts wreaking havoc throughout the theme park. In the earlier movies, the dinosaurs were almost as dangerous as the I-rex, but there were few humans around to serve as dinner. Jurassic World, on the other hand, takes place in a theme park with 20,000 patrons, so the opportunities for carnage (and spectacular set pieces) are much greater.


In order to keep the I-rex from getting to the theme park patrons, the park’s administrator Claire Daring (Bryce Dallas Howard) reluctantly turns to one-time fling Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) for help. Grady serves as the park’s animal wrangler and the film’s voice of doom (replacing Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm from earlier films), who lists all the mistakes Hoskins, Claire, and the rest of the staff have made. Eventually, he agrees to help, first by going with Claire to rescue her nephews (Nick Donovan and Ty Simpkins), who were spending their Christmas break at the theme park with (or most of the time, without) Claire. Then Owen takes his semi-trained raptors and goes after the I-rex.


The screenplay of Jurassic World is a combination of very clever and very obvious elements. The characters are all paper-thin, with transparent motivations. The relationship between Owen and Claire seems like an updated version of Rhett and Scarlett in Gone with the Wind. Claire is the prototypical asexual career woman who puts thoughts of romance and family aside until she sees the error of her ways when (a) the park turns into a disaster area in part because of her corporate way of thinking and (b) her nephews might be turned into dino food in part because of her workaholic nature. Owen (whose portrayal by the usually folksy Pratt is surprisingly humorless and one-note) is the rugged man who tames her with one kiss (literally).


While Jurassic World’s views on the roles of the sexes and the family seem to have emerged directly from the 1950s, its views on corporate values seem very 21st century. It’s fairly obvious that the statements about audiences getting jaded by “mere” dinosaurs are just as much of a reference to big movie studios like Universal and their continuing need to dazzle audiences for their blockbuster releases as it is about theme parks. And, in fact, the extremely well thought out production design of Jurassic World pokes fun at inflated prices (a seven dollar Coke) and product placement (naming a new exhibit after Verizon) while allowing the movie to promote its own product placements in the exact same ways. I never tired of seeing the park setup itself, wondering just what clever bit the movie would throw at me next.


Most audiences, however, will be far more interested in seeing just what clever bit of reptilian wonder Jurassic World will next provide, and the film never disappoints. The CGI animation and effects are often stunning, especially in the scenes in which the dinosaurs interact with each other. I found it hard to believe that this was director Colin Trevorrow’s second theatrical film and the first with any significant effects work. Either he’s a very quick study or the hands of Spielberg and a host of gifted second unit people were in evidence. A couple of the shots with actors and dinosaurs onscreen at the same time seemed a bit fake, but for the most part, it’s easy for the audience to buy into the movie’s illusion.


I have to give a special shout out to the raptors in World. The highly dangerous, relatively small carnivores were the cleverest plot device of the original Jurassic Park and World makes a point of including them in most of the action. To make them more lifelike and their interactions with Owen more credible, they are portrayed by actors in motion capture suits, much like Gollum in Peter Jackson’s works. By having a different actor play each raptor, the film achieves a degree of realistic movement usually evidenced only when working with real trained modern day animals.


In sum, Jurassic World throws two hours of visual spectacle at the screen, enlivened at times by some shrewd observations on corporate culture, and frames it in a hoary and frankly uninteresting story device. The screenplay problems are noticeable (the characters’ decision-making process are so flawed the audience sees disaster coming long before the characters do) but are easy to overlook when each thrilling set piece arrives. Clearly Trevorrow, Spielberg, and the other creative minds behind Jurassic World know their audience and deliver what that audience wants for two hours, and, unlike this summer’s earlier megahit, Avengers: Age of Ultron, do so without numbing the audience with excess. Jurassic World, the movie, is thus much like Jurassic World, the theme park, a brilliant and exciting technical creation that’s thoroughly artificial, but whose artifice is easy to overlook. And, of course, the movie is better than the park in one key respect… the audience is unlikely to be eaten by the end of the show.

Read other reviews of Jurassic World:


Jurassic World (2015) on IMDb