Review: Jurassic World

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I adored the original Jurassic Park. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. How does the new one compare to the original? Find out after the jump.

The best way to understand what happened to Jurassic World is to read the “Production” section of it’s Wikipedia page. This is a movie that’s taken 14 years to be made and over that time it went through script after script after script. There was actually something of a kerfuffle over the writing credits on this movie, with the final pair of writers claiming that they’d started over with a fresh slate and owed nothing to their forebears but it’s pretty clear in the final product that there are a lot of barnacles that were left on this boat after the cleaning.

And to some degree that’s a shame because the central story about the escape and rampage of the Indominus Rex could have been really entertaining if it was unencumbered by various ideas that got picked up somewhere in the development process.  Vincent d’Onofrio could have been given a lot more screen time to be the bad guy and have something vaguely resembling a plan, for example. As it is, it seems like his only mission is to set up another sequel.

Remember his noble, if utterly illogical, sacrifice.
Remember his noble, if utterly illogical, sacrifice.

All the best scenes come out of this central plot which is really more of a Godzilla movie than a Jurassic Park movie. When two or more dinosaurs face off against each other, that’s when the movie shines. The humans are mostly there just to be threatened and killed. Indominus against the Ankylosaur is a too-short highlight. Unfortunately, towards the end it gets into Godzilla’s silly 1970’s period where the monsters talk to each other and have team-ups like wrestlers.

Chris Pratt is our hero. He’s got a lot of Muldoon from the first movie, with some of Grant and Malcolm as well. Unfortunately, while he gets to make some dark pronouncements like Malcolm, he doesn’t get many witty lines like Jeff Goldblum enjoyed. Pratt does a good job as a serious action hero, but they don’t give him many chances to play to his funny and charming strengths.

Versions of Pratt’s character, all around the idea of a guy who trains a pack of raptors, have been in this script for a decade. You can see why people like that idea and while the trailers gave me horrific flashbacks to Mutt Williams, King of The Monkeys, the raptors with the motorcycle scene is actually pretty cool in context. Unfortunately, they really didn’t do anything in terms of realistic pack dynamics. Not to spoil anything, but packs don’t have committee meetings where decisions are made through meaningful dialogue. This whole aspect feels like a few “cool” ideas grafted onto the movie but not really thought about or developed in a meaningful way.

It helps that it's dark.
It helps that it’s dark.

The scientists from InGen cloned Julianne Moore from the Lost World and created Bryce Dallas Howard’s Aunt Claire. Much like Pratt’s Owen, Claire feels like a couple characters, namely Hammond and Ellie Sattler. They have her ape a lot of lines that Hammond originally said, and she’s also the relative of the two children in danger like Hammond, but she lacks any real passion for her work. Not that she isn’t working extremely hard, but she sees the dinosaurs as widgets. But along the way there is a moment where she more or less instantly changes from white suit Hammond mode to tough and capable Sattler mode, as denoted by staining, unbuttoning and tying her shirt to look like Sattler’s.

transformation
Ladies, you can up your survival skills by 200% by wearing your shirt like this.

Where things really fall apart is with the two kids, Zach and Gray, who are very much dead center of the movie and a lot of dead, wasted screen time. They suffer the worst from the feeling like their subplot is actually a collage from several scripts. For starters, their relationship with their aunt is very weird. She is a cold, distant relative that they’ve barely ever seen. She can’t remember their ages and pawns them off on an assistant too stupid to realize that you have to unbutton and tie your shirt if you expect to live. Yet, the kids seem strangely attached to her in a way that suggests that there may have been earlier versions where Claire was their mother or at least there was some unexplained backstory that got lost in the process.

Everything with the kids is false starts. Zach is initially shown with a girlfriend for no apparent reason. He obviously doesn’t care about her at all and, in fact, the family evilly makes fun of this as they drive away from the poor girl in a really strange moment. He starts staring at and sometimes chatting up the ladies the second the pair are on their own. You’d expect a moment where he deserts his little brother to go chase a girl or something but there is no such payoff. So, the net effect is basically just making him look like a terrible person. Likewise, Gray at one point randomly declares that their parents are divorcing. There is a long, painful scene about this but there is no mention of it anywhere else in the movie. It’s an orphan scene from a subplot that seems to have otherwise been cut, much like these two kids should have been cut so that the leads and, especially, the villain could have been given more development.

One thing I liked was the inclusion of InGen’s Dr. Henry Wu who comes out and flat out says the dinosaurs aren’t real dinosaurs, they’re imitations made to look like what they expected dinosaurs to look like. That’s why they don’t have feathers, etc..,. This may seem like a cop out, but in the context of the series it makes a lot of sense.

The Mosasaurus got a lot of hype in the trailers but, for me, it’s just too cartoony. The breakout prehistoric beastie from this movie is Dimorphodon. We don’t know much of anything about pterosaur behavior, so the film makers took the bold direction of assuming that they behaved like zombies and, once freed, they would immediately begin attacking every living thing until someone shoots them. It’s a novel survival strategy, that’s for sure. And among the swarm, I’m sure many in the audience were delighted and confused by the appearances of Dimorphodon, which looks exactly like a pterosaur with a tiny T. rex head stuck on it, merrily biting away for no apparent reason until they’re shot. Let’s not even get into the physics of what the pterosaurs do in terms of how they fly and the kinds of payloads they somehow are able to lift and why they hate innocent personal assistants so much.

Just bask in his awesomeness.
Just bask in his awesomeness.

I’ve seen several comments about the nostalgia and callbacks in the film. There are a lot of them, but I didn’t find them intrusive or forced except to the degree that the four core characters (Owen, Claire and the kids) are derivative of characters from the original.

So, all that said, is it a good movie? There are a lot of fun moments and you can definitely see a good movie hiding among the clutter of a decade of other ideas. As deeply flawed as it is, it’s still better than the two prior sequels, and it’s worth seeing on the big screen. But it can’t hold a candle to the original. There are some movies that simply should never have had sequels, like Jaws, and Jurassic Park is one of them. There will be more, that’s certain, but none of them will ever match the original.