Jurassic World

 

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Vincent D'onofrio, Omar Sy

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

by Jericho Cerrona


Like a lumbering, dino-rampaging happy meal, Jurassic World is an assembly line product providing popcorn thrills without ever stopping to realize that all legitimate popcorn thrills need to be earned. It's a film, incidentally, which also fawns over Steven Spielberg's original 1993 picture while completely disregarding it's subsequent sequels, 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park and 2001's Jurassic Park 3. Aping the gee-whiz Spielberg template while simultaneously wallowing in the greed-inducing corporatization the movie seems to be warning us against, Jurassic World is the kind of processed junk food that keeps on giving. To appropriate a seminal line from one cigarette chomping character from 1993, you better "hold onto your product placement."

Director Colin Trevorrow (who made the modest 2012 time-travel flick Safety Not Guaranteed and seems way out of his depth here) is given a screenplay credited to a throng of writers attempting to touch up what is essentially a shameless remake of the first film, minus the sense of wonder and slowly ratcheting sense of dread. The characters here are predictably paper-thin; two plucky brothers with a parental divorce looming (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), a power-hungry corporate drone in high heels (Bryce Dallas Howard), a motorcycle-riding ex-military velociraptor "trainer" (Chris Pratt), a bewildered CEO (Irrfan Khan) with a discernible lack of helicopter flying skills, etc. There's also a token African American park worker (Omar Sy) given nothing much to do, a disheveled control room lackey (Jake Johnson, providing the film's few modest laughs), and an InGen security officer with malicious intentions (Vincent D'onofrio). Truthfully, the original Jurassic Park had fairly silly characterizations, but it also took care to showcase their arcs and motivations in a way that felt at least believable under the circumstances. Here, the characters seem culled from comic book fan fiction and plopped down into a universe lacking in any kind of contextual framework. It's almost as if the screenwriters just pulled out a detailed map of Spielberg's 80s and 90s filmography and grafted on a modern twist.

The main hook, and it's infact a clever one, is that the revamped Jurassic World theme park on Costa Rica's Isla Nublar is in need of something bigger, badder, and more terrifying. The fact that children and their parents have now become bored by seeing dinosaurs up close in personal speaks to our techno-obsessed age, and is a nifty metaphor for the film itself. Unfortunately, all of the winking and pandering to fans of the original film means that Jurassic World resembles an ungainly mess of conflicted impulses. On the one hand, it wants to be a thrilling action adventure with an ironic smirk toward product placement and our insatiable need to be impressed by larger-scale spectacle, while on the other, it indulges in the same kind of big budget Hollywood cash-grab mentality that its trying to satirize. There's also a lot of convoluted plotting that wants to create the anticipation for what we all know is coming, but it forgets that what worked so well in the first picture (namely, a sense of quietly building suspense) is crucial in getting audiences invested in the proceedings. Banking on the fact that as an audience we have also become bored by dino shenanigans, Trevorrow and company simply stage louder and more expansive set-pieces once the creatures are unleashed upon the theme park's helpless residents. Poor security, slow closing paddock doors, and backroom deals are the predictable onset for the malevolent dinosaur attacks, resulting in a series of frantically staged action beats with occasional forays into Spielbergian sentimentality.

Of course, no one comes to something like this see nuanced character development or plausible narrative developments, but this where Trevorrow's film really disappoints. Instead of cleverly obscuring the limitations of CGI-induced imagery, Jurassic World revels in vomiting out all manners of computer-generated mayhem in which the human characters running for their lives are laughably placed against green screens in nearly every scene. Instead of building tension through confined spaces, ala the raptor kitchen scene in the original film, we get a genetically engineered crossbreed of T-Rex and raptor known as the Indominus Rex stomping onto the scene like Frankenstein's monster. It's a ridiculous creation; meant to portray the folly of man at playing god and the desire to give patrons something to overcome their apathy, but it simply looks like a badly rendered video game creation. Even scenes sans dinosaurs where Pratt's Indiana Jones-wannabe and Howard's capitalist turned plucky heroine look out onto the vast stretches of Costa Rican landscape, look like actors staring off into green screen oblivion. This makes set-pieces which initially have promise, such as a moment where the two young boys are trapped inside a rolling sphere, feel strangely impersonal. Clearly meant to be a call back to the starkly brilliant sequence where two children are sandwiched between a crushed jeep and a snarling T-Rex in the first picture, Trevorrow never builds the sequence step by step like his idol Mr. Spielberg; instead launching into chaos right away and relying primarily on CG in order to deliver a faux sense of peril. In trying to wow audiences by blowing up the world rather than making the panic intimate, Trevorrow misses the essential element that makes the original Jurassic Park such a beloved fixture of escapist entertainment.

Jurassic World wants to have it both ways. Nudging fanboys of the Universal Studios branding machine with copious product placement in one scene, and then decrying our obsession with consumer products in the next; the film is strangely schizophrenic about whether or not it's dumb and knows it, or is simply dumb in spite of itself. Even though the dinosaurs are back in full force, Trevorrow doesn't trust the audience's sense of awe at seeing these magnificent creatures on the big screen after 14 years again, and this cynicism backfires by giving his picture a self-aware smugness that caters to our current state of ironic detachment. Fan-service and Spielbergian imitation simply isn't enough anymore. One needs a different spin on dated material in order to provide a reason for existing beyond nostalgia, and an homage, now matter how lovingly crafted, only reinforces why we would rather be visiting the original park in the first place.