By Marty Mulrooney
Jurassic World is a science-fiction adventure film directed by Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) and produced by Steven Spielberg. The fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise, it wisely chooses to serve as a direct follow-up to the ground-breaking Jurassic Park, not so much ignoring its sequels as completely sidestepping them. The year is 2015 and John Hammond’s original dream has finally become a reality – twenty-two years after the Isla Nublar incident, Jurassic World is a fully functional dinosaur theme park located on the same island, with 20,000 visitors per day. Eager to revitalise waning interest from both investors and the general public (regular dinosaurs are so 1993), the park creates a new, genetically modified dinosaur-hybrid: Indominus rex…
Jurassic World begins with the tiniest of cracks forming in the shell of a large white egg, spreading slowly. The crack widens and gets bigger. Now there are two eggs and many cracks, but the genuine miracle of new life coming into this world is somewhat offset by the razor-sharp claws breaking free and the abnormally large eye peering out with menacing calm. This doesn’t feel like a natural birth, even for a dinosaur – and it isn’t. Just what kind of dinosaur has Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, the only returning cast member from the original film) been cooking up in his lab?
That final shot, Jurassic World appearing onscreen for a few moments like a bad omen, is all that’s needed to allow the rest of the opening, dinosaur-free moments to hold your interest – it’s a relationship based on trust. Joining brothers Zach and Gray Mitchell (played very naturally by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) as they go to visit their aunt Claire Dearing, the park’s operations manager, is probably as close as you’ll ever get to visiting a real-life dinosaur theme park. After saying farewell to their parents (who are on the brink of divorce, very Spielbergian), they catch a flight to Costa Rica then journey to Isla Nublar by boat.
Even without an extinct creature in sight, the sprawling park itself is an awe-inspiring triumph of visual effects and design (especially in IMAX 3D). It feels like a real place, with a futuristic monorail system delivering visitors to such attractions as the ‘Gentle Giants Petting Zoo’ and the ‘Mosasaurus Feeding Show’, where the food is a great white shark. Claire Dearing is too wrapped up in her work to spend time with her teenage nephews, so they’re given VIP access to the park and a reluctant chaperone, Claire’s assistant Zara. It’s a brilliant plot device for the filmmakers to show off the park in all its glory – the sprawling centre of the park, Main Street, comes complete with bars, restaurants and shops, along with a new Visitor’s Centre – before tearing it all down again when the Indominus rex inevitably escapes.
Still riding the wave of success following his career-defining turn as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy (and quite rightly so), likeable everyman Chris Pratt stars as Owen Grady, ex U.S. Navy and the park’s resident Velocirapter expert and trainer. The raptors aren’t tame by any stretch of the imagination – an unlucky member of staff is only saved after falling into their enclosure by Owen’s confident use of hand signals that have been used repeatedly in training drills to signify him as the ‘alpha’ of the pack – yet head of InGen security (and token villain) Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) is determined to use them for military purposes. The Velocirapters, along with the rest of the dinosaurs, look absolutely incredible. CGI is used in Jurassic World a lot more than animatronics (although they do appear), but it’s miles ahead of the competition in terms of believability, tangibility and weight. Colin Trevorrow has made dinosaurs believable, awe-inspiring – and in some cases, absolutely terrifying – again.
Yet surprisingly (based on certain expectations after the numerous trailers), this is park operations manager Claire Dearing’s film. Played by a kick-ass Bryce Dallas Howard, her character arc is very nicely played, with her overly work-focussed attitude even commented on by her charismatic boss, Simon Masrani, CEO of the Masrani Corporation and owner of Jurassic World (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi). Once the dinosaur shit hits the fan, she drops everything immediately and goes after her nephews – nothing else matters. Tropes are often presented then flipped: the children, initially in need of rescue, prove to be resourceful and more than capable of saving themselves and Owen, a motorcycle riding badass, is saved by Claire on more than one occasion.
The action sequences are shot so everything is easy to follow and understand (there’s no shaky cam to be found here, hallelujah), with the Indominus rex scenes in particular evoking some genuine ‘hold your breath’ moments. There’s even a nice homage to Aliens via the control room camera monitors. In a cinematic landscape where we’re used to CGI showing us ever bigger and supposedly better spectacles, Jurassic World succeeds because it always feels grounded by real-life actors, sets and locations. Great care has been taken to make the dinosaurs feel like living and breathing co-stars. The original battle-scarred Tyrannosaurus rex is kept back until the very end and the final action sequence is a heart-pounding triumph that glosses over any small imperfections and does fan service right – it would take the most jaded Jurassic Park fan not to get a buzz out of the ending.
The original is always going to be the best, but Jurassic World is a sequel that has obviously been made by people with a great deal of respect for the Jurassic Park franchise as a whole. The soundtrack by Michael Giacchino (who previously scored the video games Warpath: Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park) incorporates the classic John William’s theme song and score without ever sounding like an imitation, the script injects subtle moments of humour to keep the story from getting too dark and there is some biting commentary on consumer and corporate excess too – a rarity in such a big, studio-funded movie. I imagine Michael Crichton would approve.
In 1993, 65 million years after they went extinct, dinosaurs walked the earth again in Jurassic Park, with a little help from Steven Spielberg. Twenty-two years later, Colin Trevorrow has managed to capture some of that same sense of childlike wonder with Jurassic World. It’s a film that can stand on its own two genetically modified feet, yet still gives subtle nods to the past for those who’ve been there from the very beginning. Admittedly, there are a few slightly cheesy elements – the pantomime villain, some dinosaurs acting a little bit too human – but they’re easily forgiven when the overall experience is so gripping and enthralling from beginning to end. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to endorse Jurassic World. The park is open – get your tickets now!
9.5 OUT OF 10
All Images © 2015 Universal Studios & Amblin Entertainment, Inc.