Jurassic World is more fun than fright

Bryce Dallas Howard in a scene from the film

Review by Timothy Austin

 

I really wanted to like Jurassic World. As a wide-eyed teenager watching the original Jurassic Park (1993) for the first time opened a new world of entertainment. As impossible as the concept seemed, the depiction of humans interacting with long extinct dinosaurs was done with great tact and poignancy by director Steven Spielberg, who is now Executive Producer of Jurassic World, touted as a sequel to Park, and which returns to Isla Nublar some 20 years later.

Ignoring the death and destruction in the original, and anything that happened in the less successful sequels, the new film depicts a fully realized Park where humans and dinosaurs can ‘safely’ come face to face. This is why fans of the first film and the books by the late Michael Crichton salivated over the release of Jurassic World; we would finally see the dream of Park founder John Hammond realized. This the film gets absolutely right.

 

The plot

Timothy Austin
Timothy Austin

The Park is now owned by billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi). His Operations Manager Claire Dearings (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help), puts the Park’s success above her personal life. Her nephews visit her at work and are ignored while she prepares to unveil the latest attraction, Indominus Rex, a genetically modified dinosaur intended to lure more crowds. As fate would have it, her nephews get lost as the highly dangerous and untested Indominus Rex escapes from its enclosure. Claire seeks help from ‘Velociraptor Trainer’, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy). There is also a sub-plot in which the head of the park’s parent company security and greedy opportunist, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio, Netflix’s “Daredevil”) tries to use the deadly Velociraptors as weapons. World remains incredibly loyal to the original, which ironically may have been to its own detriment. While World is one of the best action/adventure films of 2015, it is flawed in its attempt to sacrifice an engaging plot for crowd-pleasing thrills. Here are five reasons why World is big on action but minimal on intelligent story-telling.

 

  1. The dream realized.

Let me start with what the film gets right. What is impressive is the way the fully functioning Park is depicted. From the bare bones in the original, the film has filled in Hammond’s dream, to brilliantly depict a state-of-the-art dinosaur theme park. Awe-inspiring aerial views of the Park from the visitors’ centre give way to a monorail that runs through dinosaur-filled pastures. Park visitors canoeing past grazing herbivores and a petting zoo where kids can interact with baby triceratops are the film’s strongest achievements. Although, a sore point for me was with the way humans interacted with dinosaurs, but more on that later. Unfortunately the overall plot is not as engaging as the visuals.

 

  1. Pratt proves the ultimate
    leading man

Park had some strong performances; most fans still remember Jeff Goldblum’s wise-cracking banter including the line “How do you know they’re all female? Does somebody go out into the park and uh…pull up the dinosaurs’ skirts?” While the one-liners in World are few, Pratt does deliver some strong witty dialogue and is perfectly cast as a man who has crafted the art of training Velociraptors to obey human commands. While I want to argue that the concept of controlling dinosaurs is too far-fetched, Pratt’s performance lends to suspending reality for the duration of the film. His adventurous character is the polar opposite of Howard’s Claire and this leads to hilarious dialogue. However, Pratt stands out as he not only masters the comedic bits but proves to be a powerhouse action star.

 

  1. John Williams’s music and
    all that nostalgia!

Other enjoyable aspects of World were all the links and throwbacks to Park: raptors hatching from eggs in World reminiscent of the pivotal scene in Park, which highlighted how the dinosaurs are cloned. As Claire’s nephews arrive and start to explore, fans of the franchise will immediately recognize the roaring trumpets of John Williams’ original Jurassic Park theme. In fact, the maestro’s music is used by new composer Michael Giacchino to link several key scenes with the original. Another nostalgic moment is when Claire’s nephews stumble on the old visitor’s centre from Park. I will not provide details to avoid any spoilers.

 

  1. Howard is no Sigourney Weaver

However, there is a lot that World gets wrong. Much of the storyline, which starts out well becomes too cumbersome, because Howard does not have the leading lady chops to pull it off. Howard has her fair share of encounters with flesh devouring Velociraptors and a jaw-dropping moment with the Indominus. But her bright red hair and Disney Princess-like facial features do not allow her to measure up to more impressive leading women. This is not to say that I did not enjoy Howard’s performance; as the cold, calculating OM she is absolutely fantastic. She is a great actress. However by the time the climax came, I found myself wishing Sigourney Weaver (Alien) would bust in with her shaved head and implacable face and take care of business.

 

  1. Dinosaurs are visually striking
    but plot lacks depth

World really delivers on its dinosaurs, particularly the Indominus, which raises the bar on the fright factor. I particularly admired how filmmakers gradually reveal the terrifying creature, building tension in the audience until mid-way in the film. A stunning twist reveals the DNA used to create the creature. No spoilers; but the twist adds an entertaining complication to the climax. Other dinosaurs are also visually impressive; the giant undersea Mosasaurus, the winged Pterosaurs and the Velociraptors. The visual effects are a vast improvement over the original, but the plot is lacking. The writers drew parallels between the Park needing new attractions like the Indominus and modern fans demanding more eye-popping thrills. In fact, I have to admit that my interest in World was heightened by Indominus. Films with dinosaurs creating havoc proliferate, hence it was genius to include a new creature as opposed to simply rehashing the familiar.

However, this does not translate to the remainder of the plot. As mentioned before, Pratt’s character’s ability to control Velociraptors, while entertaining, requires complete suspension of reality. I found this too implausible. Pratt uses hand signals and the tone of his voice to stop the carnivores from attacking him. This is far-fetched; humans and dinosaurs have been separated by millions of years and there is no way of predicting interaction. Humans gaining the upper hand seems improbable. The way the Park’s visitors interact with the less dangerous species is also off. Despite the creatures being herbivores, their very mass would prove dangerous; one false move would crush a human. This level of imagination, while admirable puts World in the realm of Disney fantasy, rather than serious sci-fi. I will admit Park bordered on fantasy, but World goes over the edge.

The action sequences also lacked realism. Indominus Rex proved a terrifying villain, but the cartoon-like way in which the action-sequences were directed made it seem that the leading characters were never in any actual danger. Supporting characters are killed in some horrific ways by Indominus, but the leads treated danger trivially and it felt like a Saturday afternoon feature rather than a blockbuster.

The climax can either be deemed ridiculously good or just ridiculous. My reaction fell somewhere in between. There is a shocking cameo by a beloved character from the original. Again, no spoilers, but this is one of the most stunningly visual climatic battles seen on film in recent memory.

I highly recommend this film to moviegoers seeking a good, old-fashioned action/adventure. It is a perfect companion to the original and delivers a visual feast that is sure to please. However, should you be seeking a darker, edgier action film, World is not for you. The film plays to a mass audience avoiding overt violence and maintaining a PG-13 tone. That said, I can guarantee it will provide a magnificent banquet for the eyes.

 

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