Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow.
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, B.D. Wong, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, Judy Greer, Jimmy Fallon.
When I was about 10 years old my mother took me into our small television room and took out a VHS tape and told me that I was old enough to watch a movie that she had just watched and really liked. I was not to tell my younger siblings, because they would want to watch it as well and it would be too scary for them. I also wasn’t to tell my father, who was extremely religious and strict and frowned upon us kids watching non-sanctioned media. It was our little secret. She pressed play and walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. For some reason I was sitting on the rug on the floor instead of one of the hideous green and white checkered couches in the room, and for the following 2 hours I didn’t move. That movie was Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park. To this day one of the most indelible movie memories I have is the scene in which Laura Dern is momentarily relieved thinking that Samuel L. Jackson has reached her and is with her, only to realize that all that is resting on her shoulder is his severed arm. I was really into animals but not so much dinosaurs at that age (my youngest brother was much more taken with them, even insisting we call him Rex for a few months). And yet this movie took my breath away. Perhaps it’s because at this point in my life I had only watched a small number of live action films of the Disney variety, but those creatures appeared real to me, as real as the actors interacting with them. The movie was funny, scary, thrilling. It was the best movie I had ever seen. I will never forget that afternoon, and nothing can ruin it for me, although the ensuing years sure have tried to. First came the less than stellar The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which was basically a worse remake of the first movie with some of the same cast. Then came the just plain awful Jurassic Park III. At long last it seemed that everyone got the hint and would leave good enough alone. Until this summer.
Even though I know better, I still cannot ignore the release of yet another installment of a movie series whose original means so much to me, and so I made the decision to watch Jurassic World. The film had a few things going for it. 14 years had passed since the last movie, which meant that if the producers were going to bring the franchise back from the dead like its dinosaur protagonists they must have a good idea. Chris Pratt was in it. I loved Parks and Recreation, and his mere likability actually led to me enjoying a comic book superhero movie, something I thought impossible. I really like Bryce Dallas Howard and consider her an underrated actress, and I cannot say enough how much I love Judy Greer (I was very disappointed to find out that she is barely in the movie, though). Steven Spielberg was still involved, not as director, but as executive producer, which meant that he had a lot of clout on set. The negatives? Another sequel, and how good can they be? And the fact that the movie’s director had never directed a big budget film, and I really hadn’t liked his previous film, Safety Not Guaranteed. I was hopeful, but also realistic.
Visually the movie is cool, but it does rely on way too many special effect. One of the great things of the first film was the fact that so many of the dinosaurs were actually built and operated mechanically, allowing the cast to interact with them and have something to actually react to. I would assume that a huge part of this film was filmed in green screen. Also, far too many scenes are complete rip offs of the 1993 original. How many times can we look at water puddles that vibrate with the movement of one of the creatures’ steps. The choice to include, once again, two young actors to heighten the tension proves repetitive and unimaginative. The fact that the female protagonist is in high heels running in the jungle the entire movie? Ridiculous (and yes, I do know that BDH insisted herself that she should wear them, and this has nothing to do with feminism or the like, it just doesn’t ring true that a heel wouldn’t snap or that at any point she wouldn’t change or discard them altogether). The movie has a hard time finding its tone as well. Chris Pratt excels when he gets to be sarcastic and make quips that cause the audience to laugh uproariously, but here he is just kind of smarmy, acts superior to everyone, and the few attempts to be funny land with a thud. He also acts with some sexist tendencies which are incongruous with the overall themes of the movie and where the movie ends up… It all just seems constructed to cause some initial sexual tension between the two leads. Not very successful.
The main point of the movie is that the more you mess with the laws of nature, the more things will backfire and fight back. Human hubris is once again being called to task, but just like Avatar did, it makes the same point that dozens have done before and just hopes that the audience won’t notice and instead focus on the pretty visuals and badass fight sequences. The magic is gone from this movie series, but not its success. I watched it on opening weekend (being gone all summer with little internet access has caused me to have to delay the posting of these reviews), but at this point the movie is the highest grossing film of the year and an undisclosed amount of sequels are in the works, the first arriving in theaters in three years. The Jurassic Park franchise is alive and well, it just doesn’t really have much of a bite anymore.