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June 12, 2015
It’s been over 20 years since Jurassic Park (1993), one of the greatest successes by one of the most important film directors of our time. Too many, given how it’s as much of a cult as Spielberg’s masterpieces like Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), and countless others. You might or might not be a fan of the big dino mayhem saga, which adapted Michael Crichton’s vision of a park populated by replicas of the huge reptiles for the big screen; there’s no doubt, though, that the original chapter was a real game changer.
Jurassic Park revolutionised special effects and sound editing, shaped everyone’s imagination and the way we think about dinosaurs, and told a story rich with cues for reflection, featuring beloved characters and memorable sequences. It also grossed (over time, including a 3D re-release) over a billion dollars, sparking inevitable sequels that never measured up to the original. The Lost World (1997, directed again by Spielberg) was way too cheesy and unrealistic to be taken seriously, and Jurassic Park 3 (2001, directed by Captain America’s Joe Johnston) felt like a shoddy, dull B-movie.
It’s now time for Colin Trevorrow to revive the franchise. He’s only directed one film so far (Safety Not Guaranteed, a 2012 indie comedy starring Aubrey Plaza), but was specifically chosen by now executive producer Spielberg. A hasty move in many people’s opinion; the need to find an easy-to-manipulate newcomer, according to others. Nevertheless, Jurassic World definitely breaks the negative trend set by its two predecessors. If 20 years ago moviegoers were in awe at the first sight of the cloned dinosaurs, after three films, many videogames, and countless merchandise on the market we have come to terms with them. All expectations are now set for the park – a mix of Disneyland, Seaworld, and jungle-themed resort.
Trevorrow knows exactly what we want, and teases us as much as he possibly can before letting us admire what has been a forbidden dream for a few generations. The sequence introducing dinosaurs is crafted with a great deal of attention; one of the best of an otherwise rushed first act where the main characters, brothers Zach (The Kings Of Summer‘s Nick Robinson) and Gray (Iron Man 3’s Ty Simpkins), are sketchily presented (the younger one loves dinos, the older one loves girls) and shipped to Isla Nublar without further ado. That is more or less the standard approach taken in the rest of the film, which seems edited by someone who must have dictated “Cut the crap and show the bloody dinosaurs!”.
Jurassic World is at least 80% action, and proceeds smoothly, albeit quite mindlessly – especially in the finale. It’s rather fast paced, convincing and enjoyable, even more so if you watch it on a big IMAX screen. You might want to leave common sense and rationality at the door when you pick up your 3D glasses, though; I’m not saying this is always the best way to enjoy films (quite the opposite), but for Jurassic World it just works. Sure, much more time could and should have been dedicated to character development; unfortunately, writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (from the Planet of the Apes franchise) have a hard time getting it right: the few times when the dialogue takes over on the action, the film really drags.
The bonding between the young brothers is trite, and the big stars struggle too when it comes to spark a little chemistry. Claire (The Help‘s Bryce Dallas Howard) is the park operations manager, an annoying careerist and control freak; Owen (a particularly stiff Chris Pratt) is the tough, wise-cracking ex-army guy with a motorcycle who trains velociraptors. Yes, you read that right – and that’s not even the most absurd part. InGen is still around, and wants to breed raptors for the American army.
On top of that, the lab has been working on a new “asset”, a mysteriously engineered dino they want to use as a new park attraction to boost attendance. Simon Masrani, the oddly-inspired park owner (Life Of Pi‘s Irrfan Khan, easily the best character in the film), tasks Owen and Claire to work on the hybrid, giving life to the millionth antipodal couple that ends up getting together to survive. When the Indominous Rex inevitably breaks loose, in fact, it doesn’t take long to find out what place it occupies in the food chain.
Here goes the rhetoric question: do these people never learn? In the film’s narrative, the park has been open for 20 years. People have gotten used to the dinosaurs; just like the audience in the cinema, they need more blood and more teeth. This must come at the expenses of common sense and more complex forms of entertainment. Jurassic World philosophises way less on the nature of science and corporate profits than Jurassic Park, but there still is a fat guy screwing up.
There are no Ian Malcolm, no Dr. Grant, no “Hold on to your butts!” or “Where is the goat?” scenes (although references are everywhere) – but boy, isn’t it fun! It might have worked even better with a less in-your-face Indominous Rex: the mind behind Jaws should know how much more menacing a barely hinted threat can be. A less spoiler-filled marketing campaign would also have helped – the trailers definitely gave too much away, although they clearly showed Jurassic World’s potential to improve upon the previous titles. Let’s hope it won’t take three more sequels to get another valid and entertaning entry in the franchise.
Jurassic World is available in UK cinemas from June 11