Jurassic World (***): Scare, rinse, repeat

Jurassic-World

Jurassic World – 2015

Director Colin Trevorrow
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dalla Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Judy Greer, Andy Buckley, Lauren Lapkus
Screenplay Rick Jaffa, Amanda, Silver, Derek Connolly and Trevorrow

There are moments of technological wizardry in Jurassic World. There are times where the steps taken feel at once risky and the right idea for the time. Many of these moments involve 4 raptors that are under the care of Owen Grady (Pratt). Their names, Charlie, Delta, Echo and Blue. Who is the alpha? Well, they let Owen occupy that spot. “Let,” is the operative word. Things are going swell on Isla Nublar. The place where the original Jurassic Park opened over 20 years ago is now a very popular vacation destination, complete with a hotel, new technology, new rides and even a new petting zoo.

Things as they are, the shareholders can’t be satisfied with the things as they are. As a result, there have been new dinosaurs introduced. One even that has never existed in any form in history. This dinosaur has been created by original geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu and it’s quite silly name is Indominus Rex. His introduction is sold to some investors looking to get in on the sponsorship of the park. The person doing the selling is, remarkably, the same person running the park – in high heels, no less – Claire Dearing (Howard).

Claire and Owen have a dating history. How this is seems just a contrivance of the plot. The chemistry between the two comes across as Pratt asking a mannequin “How you doin’?” Putting the major female character of the film in Howard’s hands is a risk that does not pay off. She does not have the requisite acting skill to pull off a plot that exists only to get the major predator out in the open and killing, at the price of minor characters. Really, though, there is not a strong history of women heroines in the series, with Dern holding her own in the first film and only a teenage female gymnast in the second coming anywhere close to her relevance.

The construction of the park is ridiculous. The petting zoo with a triceratops is one thing, but to have people sailing in boats along side stegosauruses seems like a tail swoop away from disaster. There is a pterodactyl sanctuary that is unseen until it comes time for the Indominus to break through it, allowing them to escape. And what’s the deal with the pterosaur that looks like a T-Rex? How in the hell does that fly? Mosasaurus

That said, there are several critically cool moments in Jurassic World. Even with the Indominus Rex opening that incredibly large, the biggest and best new dino is the Mosasaurus, which amounts to a whale crossed with an alligator. The first moment that magnificent beast clears the surface is a somewhat self-conscious reference to the original King of Summer Blockbusters, Jaws.

The raptors themselves are wonderful characters. In many ways, they are the most animated beings presented on the screen, outside of Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus, who play two delightfully eccentric control room employees. The end of the film might have been a complete laugh fest were it not for the continued development of the smartest of the dinosaurs as conceptualized by Amblin Entertainment.

The two kids are closer to regular this time around. We don’t have the Little Jimmy complex to deal with. Little Jimmy is a screenwriting gimmick where lazy screenwriters give child characters a skill or talent that no one else can do, that saves the team in a crucial moment. This is meant to appeal to the “kids are people too,” segment of the population. It’s braver and scarier to have a kid seem more vulnerable and even lucky in scary situations. Kids should be imperiled when beasts thought to be extinct for 65 million years are running amok. It’s certainly not a time to make them feel better about how they contribute to the team.

D’Onofrio suffers the worst fate of all the actors cast in the film. His Vic Hoskins gets the ass-end of character. He manages to take a good idea (weaponizing Raptors) sound like the worst just because the nature of the script is that everything is rushed and that all disasters need are followed up with bad decisions. It’s amazing to think of an actor with such skill taking a role that completely undercuts his talent. His is a role that should have been occupied by one of the FBI guys from Die Hard.

He’s not the only problem with the story. For a hero, Pratt’s Owen takes part in some really stupid behavior. First and foremost is the decision to go into the cage where the Rex is being held when infrared sensors come up empty. In an age where there is a video camera in every intersection, they can’t afford to buy a set of cameras at Costco for, say, $1000 to search the entirety of the compound?

His search for the kids with Howard is equally laughable. It seems more an effort to get Howard in the position to flex her ego. Apparently the producers of the film don’t have an idea what happens to women who wear high heels on soft turf. The pacing of the film is rather odd as well. It seems like more an opportunity to have the I-Rex show up at the right time, even in places he’s been before. This is counter to the verbal messages all along when we are told that he is moving towards the heat source of thousands of spectators at the park.

There are more positive ticks than negatives, though. The use of animatronics harkens back to the original film. The computer animation holds out until the last act, when the action becomes so fast that it looks a bit cartoonish. It is cool, though, to see Pratt break out the rifle and start firing away at near point blank.

The success of this film shows that the public has missed dinosaurs and they still love Pratt. Depending on how fast they develop a sequel with him in it, they could get a repeat of the success. Those looking to further our understanding of dinosaurs should hold their expectations, though. These films are just going to be a series of amusement park rides Let’s leave it to Dr. Ian Malcom to put it best:

Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.

With each successive ride, however, the amusement wanes, until the public cries out for more. More, what? Story, I suppose.

(*** out of *****)

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