Jurassic World (2015)
Overall Score - 85%
Despite shallow characters with unforgivably poor judgement, Jurassic World is a worthy successor to the franchise and succeeds as an exciting "popcorn thriller." The big climax might be a tad over-the-top and get some eye rolls, but fans of the original will notice the countless nods to the original film sprinkled liberally throughout Jurassic World, giving this edge-of-your-seat movie an aura of nostalgia. The bottom line is that Jurassic World introduces our favorite, fearsome Cretaceous monsters — and the very well-done Indominus Rex — to a new generation while foreshadowing a fresh new direction for the franchise moving forward.
When I was studying archaeology at the University of Mississippi, my classmates and I would sometimes find ourselves needing to blow off some steam, which we’d do by getting together at one of the modest apartments we had between us and watching Jurassic Park. In fact, it became a drinking game: Every time John Hammond says, “Spared no expense,” drink. Every time you see Samuel L. Jackson with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, drink. When you see a lawyer get eaten while he’s sitting on the crapper, drink.
The beloved Jurassic Park was a phenomenon, nothing short of a technological miracle. It showed us dinosaurs like we never thought we’d see them without some sort of time-traveling device. Watching the film today, the dinosaurs still look so real that they could walk right out of the screen. Although the groundbreaking classic spawned two sequels by 2001, neither of them could capture that je ne sais quoi of the original.
A fourth movie had been planned for a 2005 release with Steven Spielberg’s level of involvement fluctuating, but it soon fell and remained in development hell after the lukewarm reaction audiences had to Jurassic Park III. Spielberg remained attached, but the film passed through the hands of various writers and directors until the key plays were finally nailed down in 2012 with Spielberg saying that, on the strength of the script, Jurassic World had the potential to be a stronger film than Jurassic Park.
At long last, Jurassic World was released in theaters two days ago on June 12, 2015. It’s been one of the highest-anticipated films of the year and probably of the last decade. In fact, the piece I published on some of the earliest Jurassic World details in October has remained one of the most popular articles on my site. Instead of repeating all the production details that I went over in that post, I’ll skip right to the good stuff here. Without further ado, here’s my Jurassic World film review and perhaps an answer to the important question: Is it as good as Jurassic Park?
Jurassic World: The Premise
As you’re most likely already aware, Jurassic World is set twenty years after the events of the first film with the park, renamed Jurassic World, not fully functional and operational. The films begins with Zach and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), the nephews of the Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), heading to Jurassic World to visit their elusive workaholic auntie and to enjoy the spoils of the park.
We, the audience, experience John Hammond’s vision come to fruition alongside Zach and Gray: With a page taken from Orlando Studios CityWalk, the center of Jurassic World is an elaborate thoroughfare along which there are restaurants, shops, buildings containing science exhibits similar to the main building of the original park of the first film, and a monorail on which visitors travel around the lower half of the island that contains all of the exhibits/dinosaurs. Some of the exhibits include a “Gentle Giants” petting/riding zoo where visitors can ride baby triceratops and brachiosaurus, the mosasaurus exhibit that you’ve seen in the trailers and is much like the killer whale exhibit at SeaWorld, and the Gyrospheres, which are circular vehicles in which visitors can drive around the fields and get up close to colossal herbivores.
The upper half of the island is for personnel only and contains things like Owen Grady’s (Chris Pratt) velociraptor training facility. This is also where a new attraction, or a “new asset” as Claire calls it, is being kept: A genetically-modified hybrid, essentially a secret cocktail that was intended to produce the biggest, scariest dinosaur that never existed.
We meet Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), who’s essentially the new John Hammond and who retains childlike reverie for the dinosaurs while also wanting to push the envelope, finding something even bigger and better. Masrani and Claire head via helicopter to visit the new asset called the Indominus Rex. It’s containment area is having its walled extended upward as a precaution, and we find out that Indominus Rex—the brainchild of Masrani and Dr. Henry Wu, who you’ll remember from the first film—had a sibling, but she ate it. Masrani tells Claire to have Owen, the velociraptor trainer, give the Indominus Rex’s containment area a good once-over to make sure it’s sufficient and the Indominus can’t escape.
When Owen arrives at the Indominus Rex containment area, we realize that nobody on the island except Claire, Masrani, and the geneticists are aware of the Indominus Rex’s existence. Owen voices his opinion on the matter, saying that breeding dinosaurs for the express purpose of being bigger and more verocious is an incredibly dangerous and bad idea. However, he doesn’t get to see the Indominus because it doesn’t appear to be in its containment area. Even using infrared detectors they don’t see her in there; Indominus appears to have escaped.
Claire leaves and calls what is, for all intents and purposes, the islands control center—a room comparable to that in the first film in which operators sit at computers and control all the park’s happenings, but in Jurassic World it looks more like NASA’s mission control—to have them activate the microchip in the Indominus so they can locate it. As Owen and a couple workers explore the Indominus Rex’s containment area to try to figure out how it got out, Claire learns that they’ve activated the microchip on the Indominus and it’s telling them that she’s still in containment. This informs us of two important characteristics of the Indominus: She can camouflage with her surroundings and she can control her infrared emission. She’s also smart enough to fake her escape, ambushing Owen and the others and forcing them to open the enclosure’s door to escape. Indominus escapes the enclosure behind them.
Initially, Claire wants to try to catch the Indominus without any of the park’s 20,000+ visitors being any wiser to the dangerous situation. However, they have all the attractions shut down—including the Gyrospheres, where Zach and Gray are currently exploring the herbivores—and have all the visitors congregate at the main thoroughfare. When the first confrontation between the Asset Containment Unit and the Indominus ends badly (and bloodily) and the Indominus edges closer to the center of the park, Claire and the others realize that they are not in control of the situation.
Thoughts and Impressions
Like most others, my first impression of Jurassic World was something along the lines of oh-my-god-oh-my-god-Jurassic-Park-is-back-I-can’t-believe-Jurassic-Park-is-bad-oh-my-god-oh-my-god. I was only 5 when my mom took my older cousin and me to the movies to see Jurassic Park—although she had to cover my eyes a few times—and I absolutely loved it. Aside from The Wizard of Oz, there’s not another movie that I could watch over and over and over again and my love for it seem to grow after every viewing.
Let me first say that the writers and producers had a very large task on their hands. The second and third movies of the franchise weren’t able to live up to the first although it wasn’t for lack of trying. Jurassic Park worked on so many levels; it was visually compelling, the plot was impeccable and believable, the characters had dimension and depth. It goes without saying that when your goal is to come up with a film that rivals Jurassic Park, the odds are stacked against you.
Watching the film, you can tell that Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) had a lot of love and respect for the source material. There are many shots in Jurassic World that are a mirror image of shots in Jurassic Park, which will definitely give you the warm-and-fuzzies. They also reused much of the original’s score, which was a welcome addition and really helped to tie Jurassic World in with the franchise. One reason the audience is going to love this film is because it’s a Jurassic Park movie and they’d love any film set in this world.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. In the original film, a big theme was no matter how hard we try to control nature and bend it to our will, we’re very much under nature’s control. In the books, chaos theory was an important aspect of that theme, but in the movies it was “Mother nature always finds a way.”
In Jurassic Park, the proverbial shit hit the fan when Elliot double-crossed John Hammond, stealing dinosaur embryos and shutting down the park’s systems in order to escape. At that point, the Tyrannosaurus Rex escaped containment and all hell broke loose. Therefore, you could say that the primary drivers of the first film’s plot was nature overcoming human control, which was put into motion by indirect human sabotage. Yet despite Elliot’s actions, the events of Jurassic Park never felt like Elliot’s fault. It really felt like John Hammond was trying to control uncontrollable forces.
In Jurassic World, I don’t feel like I got quite the same feeling as Jurassic Park in that sense. Indominus Rex escapes because the doors to its containment area were opened by a scared park employee. When Elliot shut down the park’s systems in Jurassic Park, it shut off the electricity to the fences that were used to keep the dinosaurs in containment. It’s not clear exactly how long the dinosaurs had been living in containment in the first film, but it stands to reason that they’d already learned—probably quite a few times—that the electricity flowing through the fences was preventing them from escaping. It was ominous that the second the T. rex was able to escape, it did. In other words, the moment our guards were down the T. rex escapes of its own accord, plowing through the fence. However, in Jurassic World the Indominus escapes because it runs out the door that an employee opened so the Indominus wouldn’t eat him. It felt more like human error rather than nature triumphing over our control.
And the theme of human error continues throughout the movie, which is something I’m not super thrilled about. Claire calls quite a few bad shots over the course of the film, trying to protect the park’s best interests instead of acknowledging the potential catastrophe she has developing at her feet and taking precautions. In the film’s defense, the theme of human error isn’t overpowering; it’s when you sit back and look at everything and think about what’s facilitating the plot, you realize that it’s almost like Claire is bringing everything down on them willfully.
I also feel like the characters aren’t nearly as compelling as Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm. Granted, maybe the characters of Jurassic Park are so beloved because we’ve spent the past two decades with them and can say their lines right along with them. Maybe I’ll love Claire, Owen, Zach, Gray, and Simon Masrani just as much as the original cast once I’ve spent more time with them, but as it stands, mostly I’m just frustrated with beginning-of-the-movie Claire who seems so blinded by profit margins too realize how bad the Indominus Rex’s scape really is.
I’m also slightly disappointed in the dinosaurs. The velociraptors were scaled down just a bit for this film in terms of size—which I was happy to see as real velociraptors were actually smaller than humans and the Jurassic World raptors are roughly human-sized or just a bit smaller—but none of the dinosaurs looked quite as real as they did in Jurassic Park. In fact, the first time you see Owen and his trained raptors, it’s so obvious that they’re CGI that it’s actually really disappointing. As I mentioned, even after 22 years Jurassic Park still looks startlingly real, and rather than maintain that level of realism Jurassic World actually seems somewhat of a step back rather than an expected step forward.
Finally, the Indominus Rex. According to an interview with Trevorrow, Indominus Rex symbolizes corporate excess and the fallibility of humans who are constantly in search of the next best thing, something bigger and better and more entertaining. In the film, the Indominus was genetically created out of a combination of other species to produce a dinosaur that’s larger and scarier than anything yet seen in Jurassic World. According to Jack Horner (check out his video interview for Wired), who’s the real-life inspiration for Alan Grant and Spielberg’s paleontologist advisor for all the Jurassic Park films, Indominus Rex starts with a dinosaur called Therizonosaurus to get the sheer size and the claws of the Indominus. Then they added some T. rex, some velociraptor, and some cuttlefish, which is what gives it the ability to camouflage and control its infrared signature. The product is a creature that has the body and fluid motion of a velociraptor, but is larger than the T. rex, opens its mouth wide like a snake, is more bloodthirsty and aggressive than they had planned, and more intelligent than anyone could have predicted.
The Indominus is an incredible sight to behold. It’s really a beautiful creation, looking both like something you might expect to exist in real life while having an unnatural and unsettlingly sharp demeanor. The film shows the Indominus, bred and raised in captivity and never having encountered other species and environments, learning where it exists in the food chain and developing a taste for blood. It even kills not for food, but for sport. It gives the characters in the film a run for their money and is more trouble than the Tyrannosaurus ever was, making it look like a puppy by comparison.
Box Office and Critical Reception
Jurassic World is every bit the record-breaking summer blockbuster it was expected to be. It made half a billion dollars ($511.8 million to be precise) globally over it’s opening weekend, giving Jurassic World the biggest opening weekend of all time. And this record-breaking weekend is despite it being projected to barely cross $100 million. It’s still early, but analysts are throwing out figures like $1 billion in terms of its worldwide gross, which is truly astounding.
Although some have complained about some plot holes and the two-dimensional characters, the reception to Jurassic World is largely positive. It currently holds a 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which calls Jurassic World a “popcorn thriller” that “can’t quite match the original,” but “works in its own right” and is “visually dazzling.” Metacritic gives the film a low-ish 59 out of 100 based on the reviews of 48 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews.” However, audiences appear to be really enjoying the film. According to CinemaScore, audiences are, on average, giving Jurassic World an A-rating on a scale from A+ to F. Critics have praised the film’s pacing, the right amount of Spielberg-esque visuals and styling, the performances of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the Indominus Rex. However, many feel Jurassic World can’t quite stand up to the original, lacking the “sense of wonderment” and the strong plot of the original.
Jurassic World had some very, very large shoes to fill. Jurassic Park remains one of the most-loved films of all time. Additionally, it’s almost expected for sequels to be inferior to the original, so it goes without saying that making a sequel to Jurassic Park that matches the original in intensity, quality, and entertainment value is a tall order. However, generally speaking all audiences want from Jurassic World is something that evokes the same sense of awe-struck terror that you get from watching the first, and on most levels I feel that the film succeeds in that sense.
I agree with some of the critics who are calling the characters shallow and two-dimensional. Maybe we just need more time to form a bond with these characters like we’ve been doing for the past 22 years with Alan Grant and John Hammond, but I just didn’t feel like the characters of Jurassic World were quite as compelling. Having said that, Claire and Owen were great in their own way and their chemistry brought a lot of humor into the film, which was a welcome reprieve from the action happening throughout. They aren’t exactly bad characters, but again, when you compare them to those of the original cast—which can’t be helped as it comes with the territory—they don’t quite have the same allure.
The film has tons of references to Jurassic Park sprinkled liberally throughout as if it’s paying tribute to its predecessor. In fact, the two brothers in the film stumble upon the original park from the first film, hidden in the jungle in a state of total disrepair with vines having grown over it and looking something like an overgrown Mayan temple. It’ll bring tears to your eyes to see some of these places revisited in Jurassic World, making you as a viewer feel like these new characters have stumbled into your territory. And actually, the movie was able to invoke nostalgia while also feeling brand new, which is something that’s not easily done.
Overall, Jurassic World is everything I had hoped, but not quite everything I wanted. Part of that, though, is my fault. As I mentioned above, the first film was, in short, about nature breaking free of its chains to shows us that it controls us and not the other way around. There’s a touch of that in this film, but it’s overshadowed by other themes: the risk inherent in basing our decisions on corporate greed and profit margins and the ever-present danger of human error. I guess with this film being about a fully-functional park, if nature was able to simply break free of its cage after 22 years we’d wonder why it took 22 years for that to happen. In that sense, it almost had to be human error than started it all, but when you’re comparing to the original—which, as I said, is inevitable—the message here doesn’t have the same power.
Despite the shallow characters and the plot being moved along by their repeated poor judgements, Jurassic World is definitely a worthy successor to the franchise. The original film was designed to be the ultimate “popcorn thriller,” and in that respect Jurassic World succeed swimmingly. Everything builds up to a beautiful showdown at the end that might get some eye-rolls for being a bit unrealistic even in the Jurassic Park world, but it makes perfect sense and will certainly keep you in the edge of your seat. It definitely sets up for a sequel, though I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t yet seen the film, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Jurassic World is the first in a second Jurassic Park trilogy as it was reported initially. With this film being such a box office monster, I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t make more Jurassic World films despite some of the mixed and lukewarm reviews from critics. The audience is loving Jurassic World, and that’s what it’s really all about, right?
The park is open. See Jurassic World now at a theater near you.
The Jurassic World Blu-ray/DVD release date has not yet been confirmed for the US, but the UK release date is October 19, so it’s likely to be either the same day or within a day or two or the UK release.
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