Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic Park is fondly remembered as a watershed moment in movie history, showcasing cinema’s ability to bring dreams to life. But it was also a promise: "This is just the beginning". That was true for filmmaking as a whole, and after 22 years of advancements in special and visual effects, the magical has become commonplace at the movies. But the two sequels to Jurassic Park did not entirely live up to what the audience was craving, opting instead to contrive ways of bringing the protagonists back for more of the same thrills. Jurassic World, however, has finally delivered on the first film’s promise.
indominus-wrecksWhere the first sequel, The Lost World, tried to be the logical continuation of the in-universe story, Jurassic World aimed to also be the natural progression and escalation of the franchise from a cinematic perspective. Jurassic Park had a half-built dinosaur park in the testing phase, so Jurassic World gave us a fully operational dinosaur land. Jurassic Park had a T. rex, so Jurassic World gave us the Indominus rex, a deadlier hybrid dinosaur—itself a continuation of the first film’s idea of genetic engineering. In the same vein, it capitalized on the intelligence of the Velociraptors and featured a pack of trained raptors, an idea that seems outlandish but actually worked. The premise of attendees being bored of dinosaurs and wanting "bigger, louder, more teeth" not only makes in-universe sense (there’s an oft-cited scene of a kid on his phone ignoring the T. rex on display) but also applies to the audience.
Dedicating a good chunk of the first act to following two kids visiting Jurassic World for the first time allowed us viewers to feel like we were attending the park ourselves—a dream come true for many of us ever since we fell in love with Jurassic Park. As kids, we imagined going to a dinosaur petting zoo, riding little Triceratops like ponies, or going on dinosaur safari trips and river cruises. We bought all sorts of dinosaur action figures and mashed them together in epic battles. Jurassic World reached into that part of our minds projected those ideas onscreen for our eyes to behold. It aimed to dazzle us not by breaking new ground, but by speaking to the 10-year-old within us. It’s impossible to replicate the sense of wonder that Jurassic Park elicited back in its day, but Jurassic World tried its hardest, and by taking that route, it came the closest of all the sequels to succeeding.
owen-gradyAs someone who’s been waiting for this movie since 2001, all of the above was enough for me to love Jurassic World. But let’s try to step back and take a more objective look at it.
A couple of the movie’s subplots needed trimming or tightening. I had earlier praised the time we spent with the two kids, but many of their scenes didn’t contribute to the main thrust of the plot and could be seen as minor diversions. And though the two leads are likable, the characterization work for the most part wasn’t very strong. Only one of them goes through a major character arc, and the main villain is rather one-dimensional—though to be fair, the former is also true of Jurassic Park to a degree. However, one of the things that made Jurassic Park so great was a handful of very well-written scenes, such as the memorable lunch debate or the "Remembering Petticoat Lane" scene, and Jurassic World‘s writing did not reach those heights.
That being said, Jurassic World is not a movie for cynics. It’s a flawed film, but it’s so endearing and genuine in its attempts to deliver thrills and make the audience feel like kids again that it seems almost rude to be too cynical about it. If you’re thinking "Did we really need a fourth one?", I don’t think it will win you over. But at the very least, it will entertain you, because for all its flaws, Jurassic World does its job well and works as a fun summer film.
Jurassic World has plenty of action scenes featuring all sorts of dinosaurs on the rampage, and they’re all exciting to watch. It never achieved the level of set piece mastery that Spielberg excels at, such as the suspenseful and perfect T. rex scene from Jurassic Park or the trailer attack from The Lost World, but it kept me on the edge of my seat for the whole ride. It also didn’t exhibit the same sort of jumbled clutter and lack of focus that plague a lot of modern blockbusters, most recently the otherwise awesome Avengers: Age of Ultron. The action in Jurassic World is captivating and often creative—keep an eye out for a couple of notably gruesome deaths and a great third act sequence featuring the raptors.
claire-dearingAs mentioned earlier, the characters aren’t remarkably strong, but they’re all likable (you hear that, The Lost World?). In fact, some of the film’s strongest characters aren’t even human! Chris Pratt had already shown his ability to lead a blockbuster by flexing his well-honed comedic chops in Guardians of the Galaxy. Jurassic World, on the other hand, required him to enter full-on action mode, and it’s almost surprising how easily he slipped into that more serious role while maintaining his trademark charisma. It’s easy to see why so many are calling him the modern-day Harrison Ford. Yet despite the marketing focusing on Pratt, in my eyes Bryce Dallas Howard was this movie’s lead. Her character was the one for whom the stakes were highest and through whom we saw most of the main plot unfold. She was also the one who went through a journey and evolved the most (though her initial frigidity and career-driven attitude have understandably sparked several debates on the problematic portrayals of female characters in fiction). I’d been waiting for Howard to get a proper leading role in a major blockbuster for many years, and she met the challenge and handled herself very well.
Another crucial player who wasn’t even part of the cast was Michael Giacchino, in my opinion the best composer working today. He’s able to evoke the spirit of John Williams’s music without resorting to merely quoting his original themes at every opportunity, instead weaving them into his own compositions sparsely and naturally. Of course, as with the action set pieces, combining even Giacchino’s music with Williams’s themes in the same film reminds us of what an absolute master Williams is, but Giacchino holds his own against him very well in a way few composers can, if any. His own new themes are worthy additions to Jurassic Park‘s musical legacy.
There’s a reason this movie broke the box office record for biggest opening weekend—both domestically and internationally. Jurassic World is a crowd-pleaser, and despite some weaknesses that could detract from several viewers’ enjoyment, word of mouth among general audiences has been rightfully positive. And for fans of the franchise like myself, Jurassic World pushes all of the right buttons.


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