For some, older movies are like a warm blanket: Once you’re wrapped up in it you don’t want to move. My wife and I have a personal combined favorite of “Sixteen Candles.” If we are flipping around on the channels and see it pop up we’ll watch it no matter where we come in. We often quote lines from the film to each other when they happen to fit in the conversation. Personally, I have a warm spot in my heart for 1993’s “Jurassic Park.” While computer generated effects had been used in prior films, Steven Spielberg incorporated them both sparingly and perfectly. The scene where Sam Neill and Laura Dern’s characters first spot the three Brachiosaurus gave me the chills as it appeared to be as lifelike as one could have hoped. Many other scenes of dinosaurs were done with giant animatronic puppets and looked as good as the CG. What really sells that movie is the relationship between Neill and the younger characters he is forced to look over when things begin to go wrong. That gave what could have been a fairly average monster movie a bit more heart. In the franchise reboot “Jurassic World” we once again have impressive creatures running amok and a couple of younger characters in need of saving. In this film, the heart comes more from the relationship between a human and four velociraptors and the movie suffers a bit for it amongst other reasons.
Zach and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are brothers headed out on an adventure by themselves to visit their Aunt Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who manages day to day operations at Jurassic World. Claire and the head of the conglomerate that owns the attraction Simon Masrani (Irfan Khan) are preparing to open a new feature with a hybrid dinosaur called Indominus Rex. The combination of T-Rex and other DNA has created a massive beast bigger than the T-Rex. Masrani wants Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former military man that now works for the genetics company InGen that created the dinosaurs, to inspect the enclosure and make sure it can hold such a beast. Claire and Owen have a bit of history that makes the thought of working with him unpleasant for her. Owen and InGen’s head of security Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) are working on a project to teach velociraptors to follow commands and that appears to be making progress. Hoskins wants to use trained raptors to replace some ground troops and go on search and destroy missions for the military. Owen thinks it’s a bad idea and unlikely to work. During his inspection of the enclosure, the I-Rex can’t be found on any of the heat sensitive monitors. Scratches on the wall appear to show the animal has climbed out. Owen and two others enter the enclosure and soon discover the I-Rex is still inside. Owen survives but the other two men are killed and the I-Rex breaks down a partially opened gate and escapes. Not wanting to cause a panic and hurt future revenue, Claire begins a partial shutdown of the park closest to where the I-Rex is but Zach and Gray break off from a tour in a rolling geosphere and go where they shouldn’t. Owen needs to know more about the kind of DNA used to make the I-Rex but is told the information is classified. Owen can tell by its behavior the I-Rex is far smarter and more adaptable than any other creature and fears all the measures taken to subdue it will fail.
“Jurassic World” makes a valiant attempt at recapturing the magic and wonder of “Jurassic Park.” Showing us the park through the eyes of young Ty Simpkins’ character along with the soaring music of the soundtrack which recycles John William’s original theme initially establishes a nostalgic connection with Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic. Using Chris Pratt as a kind of mashup of both Sam Neill’s dino expert and Jeff Goldbloom’s mathematician is also a smart play. The super popular Pratt as the voice of calm and reason in the midst of either cold-hearted business decisions or deadly dinosaur chaos helps keep the audience grounded in at least a realm of reality in this very unreal situation. Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard work well together and have a chemistry that really shines when they are sniping at each other. The more they fall for each other (as inevitably happens in nearly all movies) their spark begins to die a little.
Initially, the idea of Pratt as the savior and protector of the two boys seemed to be a major plot point based on the first film; however, for most of the movie, the boys are on their own even after the park begins to fall into chaos and that actually works pretty well. They show some smarts and bravery that appears to be lacking in their relationship initially. Zach being the older and a teenager shows the prerequisite lack of interest in his younger brother. When the world begins to fall apart they become closer and while it’s cliché it was also nice to see as these two young actors seem to mesh quite well. Unfortunately, that also leaves Pratt’s main character stuck with playing daddy to four velociraptors.
The idea that these animals could be trained in a way that they would never kill someone they shouldn’t is just one of the film’s logical flaws. That even plays out early on when a worker falls in the raptor pen and Owen must save him. Any time watching the “Walking with Dinosaurs” series on the Discovery Channel or streaming it will show the viewer that the smartest dinosaur ever had the IQ of a chicken. It makes for an interesting subplot but it also could cause you to concuss yourself slapping your forehead with your hand. The entire set up of the park seems to be designed to get people killed. One scene shows families in canoes rowing down a stream next to large plant-eating dinosaurs. One slip on a rock and there’s a multi ton creature falling on a boatload of guests. The lawsuits for wrongful death and injury would bankrupt that place in a matter of days. Also, keeping the pterosaurs in a glass building seems like a terrible idea and it is shown to be in the film. Also, the park is on an island that can only be evacuated in mass by cruise ships. While keeping the creatures on the island is a good idea, getting people to and from the island seems like it would be a nightmare in an emergency situation. Everyone is stuck until a boat shows up. They don’t exactly move that fast and take even longer to get docked. While the island is accessible by helicopter they cannot handle that many passengers and we never see a landing strip or airport on the island for fixed wing craft. As much as I would love to see dinosaurs in real life, if Jurassic World actually existed and I could afford it, I’m not sure I’d want to go.
All that said, I’m making the mistake I encourage others not to by applying too much logic to a movie. It’s a film about dinosaurs eating people and each other and it’s a great deal of fun. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard work well together in roles that don’t really ask much of their abilities. They breathe a little humanity into their characters when they could have been just Hollywood standard issue action movie leads. Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins aren’t annoying kid characters but characters who happen to be kids. They are allowed to grow and mature a bit as the story goes along and while it is all stuff we’ve seen before they do it very well. Vincent D’Onofrio is slimy from the first frame of film he’s seen in and you know he’s going to be the cause of some trouble. While not the nuanced performance of his recent work in Marvel’s Netflix series “Daredevil,” D’Onofrio gives the movie a bad guy that isn’t a dinosaur. We see his desire for power and prestige and he believes in his cause with a fervor that borders on religious. We know we shouldn’t like him but it’s hard not to be drawn in to his enthusiasm. All these films must have a bit of comic relief and that’s supplied by Jake Johnson, best known as Nick on the TV comedy “New Girl,” who plays a control room operator named Cruthers. He’s trying hard to be the conscience of the corporate entity that runs the park and he’s constantly ignored. His brief appearances are usually quite funny and his character is the everyman who feels unnoticed and unknown. The only character from the original film that makes an appearance is Dr. Henry Wu played by B.D. Wong. Dr. Wu has largely been an exposition machine explaining about how the dinosaurs were made. Now, his character has been upgraded into a borderline bad guy. Wu is a geneticist with no ethics. He’s constantly trying to build a bigger, meaner dinosaur and doesn’t care about the consequences. He sees his research as a boon to mankind that will have applications outside the park. My guess is he will learn he is merely a pawn to corporate greed as we will see him in any future sequels.
“Jurassic World” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and peril. Basically dinosaurs eat people and each other. They chase and attack people and each other. If you’ve ever seen a documentary about crocodiles in Africa waiting for the animals to drink at the river’s edge and then attack them, you’ve seen most of the violence in “Jurassic World.” Foul language is mild and minimal.
While it lacks the awe and wonder of “Jurassic Park,” “Jurassic World” is a perfectly fine summer blockbuster that provides lots of CG eye candy and thrills. Don’t invest a huge amount of thought in what’s going on and the experience will not be spoiled. While ignoring the clichés and some of the sillier aspects of the story might pose a larger challenge, “Jurassic World” will likely provide a couple of hours enjoyment in a cool theatre on a hot summer day or evening.
“Jurassic World” gets four stars out of five.
This week, the trials of being a musical genius, the voices in your head and the making of a 40 year tradition all hit screens and hope you’ll spend your money to see them. I’ll see at least one of them and review it.
Live From New York—
Love and Mercy—
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