Director Colin Trevorrow tries to fill dinosaur-sized shoes with digital science and a bigger scope in his next-generation take on the $800-million Jurassic franchise
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, BD Wong
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Running time: 124 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
By Katherine Monk
Some things change. Others evolve. And some things are cooked up in a lab as genetically modified sequels to something original.
Jurassic World definitely lands a giant footfall toward the latter, but it contains a little bit of everything, which is both good news and bad news for an entire generation of young people weaned on the scaly teat of T-Rex.
A stereoscopic mash-up of monster movies, director Colin Trevorrow shows his fluency in the genre with nods to everything from Alien to Frankenstein, and while most of it feels like a self-referential collage of previous scenes sampled from Steven Spielberg’s twin decks of ‘90s dino-gold, the sophomore feature director creates a few new tracks of his own.
They aren’t immediately visible in the dense foliage of dinosaur cliché. In fact, you really have to stare into the details and the epic dental work to find where Trevorrow, the director of the truly, madly and deeply lovable feature Safety Not Guaranteed, etches his mark in the renovated hallways of this expanded Jurassic landscape.
Starting with a dependable stock of characters that includes a rugged ex-military man turned velociraptor whisperer (Chris Pratt), an uptight head of park operations (Bryce Dallas Howard), an eccentric billionaire who cares about people and animals (Irrfan Khan) and a swaggering private contractor for the Pentagon (Vincent D’Onofrio), Trevorrow’s whole approach starts in two dimensions.
We can see where these cardboard cutouts are going to go, especially once we meet the uptight operator’s two nephews (a cool teen and a smart kid), but we bite on the plot bait anyway because we want to: Jurassic Park was figuratively, and literally, a fun ride that started close to 20 years ago with the 1993 release of Spielberg’s original.
Using the latest technological whistles and bells, Spielberg gave flesh to fossilized remains, and made us believe we could walk among the dinosaurs for the first time in human history. The seduction was almost primal as it presented us with an animal that could challenge our place atop the food chain, and give our arrogant intelligence a good old-fashioned licking – as well as chewing.
T-Rex was the jewel in the $800-million franchise crown, but as the surprisingly benevolent corporate voice in the film explains, times have changed. “People don’t care about dinosaurs anymore…. It’s like seeing an elephant.” Indeed, when this movie picks up, the incidents at Jurassic Park have already been tucked away as part of history. It’s even reached the point of playful irony, as one of the characters in the control room boasts a period ‘Jurassic Park’ T-shirt that he bought for $150 on eBay. “I know people died, and everything,” he says as his peers give him the “too soon” stare-down.
Jurassic World is supposed to be immune to the disasters that befell the original park because they’ve implanted trackers and aversion therapy shock devices into these new test tube beasts.
Containment is job number one, but by the end of the first act, we’ve not only been introduced to a whole new breed of genetically designed dinosaur, we’ve watched her escape into the general dinosaur population, and crash the theme park gates.
This laboratory experiment can camouflage and suppress a heat signature, and she’s bigger than T-Rex. She’s a menace cut from the same creepy carapace as HR Giger’s alien queen, but she’s got a lot of other toothy smiles to compete with, and an entire chum bucket of cheap references to Jaws to chew through before she gets her close-up.
By the time the grand finale arrives, it feels like we’ve watched about a dozen scenes hatched by Toho Corp. because this Jurassic owes more to Godzilla than anything else as it argues the place of technology.
Unlike the previous films, Jurassic World doesn’t argue with cloning and genetic science as an abomination of the natural order. The movie tries to draw a line between responsible dinosaur breeding for the pleasure of it, and profit-oriented research and development that seeks to weaponize living creatures.
It’s a thin strand of DNA that separates the two, and the script doesn’t do a great job with any of the arguments, but it does offer a few goofy character moments that feel entirely fresh – such as a young boy looking to hold hands with his older brother, and a dud romantic interest for the office nerd.
Thanks to his comic timing and commanding quads, Chris Pratt carries all the action-hero charisma the movie needs, and while there’s no chemistry with the seemingly miscast Bryce Dallas Howard as the romantic interest, the two pull off some gentle screwball comedy.
They aren’t big enough moments to reframe the Jurassic franchise, but at the end of the day, this isn’t the kind of movie that demands reinvention. If anything, Jurassic World proves we’re quite conservative at heart: We want things to stay the same even when evolution demands change, which leads to the inevitable conclusion, and no doubt the big reason why T-Rex’s teeth pierce so deeply into the collective psyche. We’re in an age of mass extinction and we’re at the top of the pyramid: We are the next dinosaurs.