Colin Trevorrow’s addition to the Jurassic Park franchise is a bloated, superficial and uninspired effort by a director seemingly incapable of dramatic invention.
I remember the awe that met Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur adventure Jurassic Park when I first witnessed it. It was blockbuster season 1993 and I was a pre-teen getting my first real taste of the big screen. I understood enough to know the story’s antagonists were a fictional realisation of the past; creatures long since dead and fossilised. But Spielberg, as is his way, makes the unbelievable believable. A mixture of brilliant animatronics and in-camera special effects with efficient use of state of the art computer animation brought John Hammond’s dino-world to life with a glowing sense of tangible authenticity.
The director also populated the drama with ordinary folk in extraordinary situations. Okay, okay, they were all bona fide geniuses, but even they had their distinctive flaws: Ian Malcolm, the staccato-worded, lanky nerd with a mathematician’s approach to flirting and Alan Grant with his phobia of children. There was something unheroic about our “heroes” – the personification of Chief Brody on Isla Nublar.
Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, the latest addition to the franchise, is everything that Jurassic Park is not: bloated, superficial and uninspired. It’s the quick-fix Hollywood product, a commercial entity relying on past glories (and short term memories) to make a fast buck. It even uses a big star name – this time Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt – to encourage audiences to experience cinematic sewerage. Its conception is also horribly naïve, pandering to our appreciation of the franchise by insidiously branding a remake as a trumped up sequel.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently, Jurassic World is the result of studio execs haggling over restarting a franchise 20 years after the original and trying to appease the majority who’d argue, quite rightly, Jurassic Park is remake-proof. By the looks of the film’s critical and box office performance, Trevorrow and gang have managed it; they’ve pulled the wool over our eyes.
The result is a mess; a stale cinematic experience lacking an original bone in its genetically engineered body. Like the creatures on show, Jurassic World is a copy of the past. The problem is, unlike the fact we weren’t around a gazillion years ago when the dinosaurs roamed, most of us were around in 1993 when Spielberg first took us on this ride.
Worst still, Trevorrow isn’t content picking the bits he wants to “homage” in Jurassic World, he’s more than happy nicking the ideas of his contemporaries. Whether that’s in the construction of an action scene (the security team’s vital signs diminishing ala Aliens; Bryce Dallas Howard’s velociraptor escape mimicking Raiders of the Lost Ark), a borrowed line (Pratt can’t deliver Michael Biehn’s anguished “it will absolutely not stop” dialogue from The Terminator half as well), themes (weaponising largely unchartered species for warfare ala Alien), or a nod to the videogame crowd (with head-mounted cameras giving us a first-person shooter).
Yet, it isn’t just Jurassic World’s stagnant execution that’s at fault. The plot is fundamentally flawed, its cavernous holes so monumental they’ll potentially invoke vertigo. For instance, I’m sure you’ll remember the destructive, predatory nature of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park? For World, Pratt’s zookeeper – an “expert” on the species apparently – has tamed four of these beasts, giving them names and treating them like pets. I wonder how those in the profession who deal with dangerous species like tigers and lions would look upon this “bond”? I’m guessing a raised eyebrow wouldn’t be the only reaction. Regardless of your appreciation of this interaction between man and beast, from a dramatic perspective it immediately saps these fascinating creatures of their mysterious, marauding might.
Okay, so let’s pretend to forget any issues we could possibly have with the realities of a working theme park on the original island where people were killed. Let’s not think about insurance problems, health and safety of the workforce, getting contractors to actually operate amidst dangerous species with a legacy of slaughter, or hiding past events from the public in order for them to flock in their thousands to enjoy the delights of an island where humans are usually on the menu. We’ll put that to one side. However, we can’t possibly ignore the colossal stupidity of the people who populate this theme park – from the so-called genius biological engineers to the well-armed, presumably well-trained security force and even the big-money men who’ll put the bottom line ahead of their own vulnerable posterior.
Trevorrow actually perfectly describes his film – and unwittingly reveals its own flaws – in a conversation he had with an Australian journalist when discussing the Indominus rex, a synthetic hybrid dinosaur designed to make the theme park more attractive to visitors who’ve grown tired (in less than ten years) of seeing actual, real life extinct species! Quick, ask the world’s biggest and most popular zoos if they’ve thought about creating an elephant with a giraffe’s head to get the punters in.
Anyway, Trevorrow talked about the new dinosaur as being symbolic of consumer and corporate excess. Would you believe it!? He didn’t stop there. “We’re surrounded by wonder and yet we want more, and we want it bigger, faster, louder, better. And in the world of the movie, the animal is designed based on a series of corporate focus groups”. Replace the word “animal” with “Jurassic World” and Trevorrow could quite easily be talking about his movie. In fact, he doesn’t stop there, uttering this prime nugget: “There’s something in the film about our greed and our desire for profit”. Yep – you got it! The latest addition to the dino-franchise represents the worst component of Hollywood, that moment when the magic of cinema, and the creative spirit that makes it so wonderful, is pillaged and exploited for the betterment of the commercial product. Note also the relentless product placement throughout.
In the interests of fairness, I should note what I did like. There’s a moment when a species of ocean-dwelling dinosaur wows spectators in an amphitheatre similar to the type of exhibit you’d see at Sea World. When the crowd think the show is over, the tiered seating mechanically drops below the water level to show eager eyes the creature in its natural habitat. The inner child thought that was cool. That’s about it.
Chris Pratt brings his charismatic persona to the role of velociraptor trainer Owen Grady, and Vincent D’Onofrio is perfectly slimy as the security contractor keen on turning the park’s deadliest inhabitants into weapons for warfare, however, both are hampered by the script. It paints them in a single dimension, providing not an ounce of the intelligence required to make their individual efforts credible.
Any other positives Jurassic World might have are lost in its insulting disregard for those audiences that were wowed by this franchise for the first time in 1993. New audiences might not find the flaws distracting, others may be happy to ignore the total lack of originality, scarcity of dramatic invention or the curious absence of satisfying plot twist. Indeed, the film will gain favour from those able to suspend their disbelief to extortionate levels, to applause the homage-tinged introduction of an “old friend“, and the transformation of predators to incarnations of Lassie, but I’d be surprised if anyone could say with a straight face that the element of peril presented by Trevorrow is anything but mildly diverting (like an itch on the end of your nose). Even when things get hairy, I’m not sure anyone will care which character gets his or her head bitten off. Like so many franchises, the sequels get less and less entertaining on their chronological journey. This is no different. Yes – give me Jurassic Park 3 ahead of this anytime.
Written by Daniel Stephens
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B. D. Wong
Country: USA / IMDB
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Jurassic World is released on DVD & Blu-ray in the UK October 19.