Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was a cultural phenomenon. It remains an impressive movie that has captured the imagination of every child and adult, dinosaur-obsessed or not. While its sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, didn’t manage to captivate audiences like its predecessor did, it remained an entertaining dinosaur-themed diversion. (Jurassic Park III, on the other hand, does not exist.) So when Universal Studios announced a Jurassic Park 4 was in the works, I could feel Jurassic Park fans everywhere quiver, wondering whether their 1993-born nostalgia would be embraced or crushed like Dennis Nedry’s glasses.
Everyone involved in the creation and production of Jurassic World is smart—that much is evident. They know the age group that’s going to see the film (Millennials who grew up with the first film) and they pander to us; the amount of references to Jurassic Park is overwhelming but never overdone. Some are subtle—you can spot the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner when the brothers discover the original welcome center—while others are in your face (i.e. the statue of Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond). It’s amazing how Jurassic World still feels like its own movie even while filling the screen with these references. The balance between homage and uniqueness works in Jurassic World’s favor.
The film, directed and co-written by Colin Trevorrow and produced by Steven Spielberg, follows two brothers, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach Mitchell (Nick Robinson) as they go on vacation at the successful Jurassic World resort. When one of the park’s newest genetically modified dinosaur (referred to as the Indominous rex) escapes confinement and starts to hunt, their vacation turns into a fight for survival. The story is familiar: a giant dinosaur terrorizes human park guests. Where Jurassic World diverges from its predecessor, however, is how the dinosaur gets out. Unlike the first film, the issue isn’t sabotage or improper safety protocols; instead, the I. rex tricks her captors into letting her out. This deception reveals an entirely different beast than the wild T. rex and its ilk from Jurassic Park.
The scale of Jurassic World is impressive considering Colin Trevorrow’s background in indie comedy (In 2013, he released the critically-acclaimed sci-fi romcom, Safety Not Guaranteed). In his first foray into the summer blockbuster, he employs Spielberg’s infamous Hitchcock-influenced monster movie strategy as he holds off on fully revealing the dinosaur antagonist. We get glimpses of her eyes but, much like Jurassic World CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), a proper look at the I. rex is always frustratingly out of reach. Our imagination, for the first part of the film, is our biggest fear.
But Trevorrow doesn’t replicate Spielberg completely. The reveal of the park in Jurassic World is weak and lacks the same awe that is rife in Jurassic Park. Jurassic World is visually wonderful but Trevorrow displays the world with a more matter-of-fact feeling than it, and the creatures inside, deserves. Weak CGI, though not the worst I’ve seen recently, doesn’t help sell the magic, either.
Many critics have written off the film due to its lack of three-dimensional characters and heavy reliance on CGI. However, this seems to me like shallow way to look at Jurassic World. Every character has a complete arc sans Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), the cartoonish goon of a villain hyper-focused on weaponizing velociraptors for the U.S. military. Hoskins is so consumed with using the raptors for the military that he seems more like a caricature than a genuine antagonist; the only upside to his character is that he makes the new John Hammond, Simon Masrani, look like a good guy.
Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the best part of the movie. but not without some issues. The Jurassic Park series has generally been kind to women and a mutual respect seemed to exist up to this point, so it comes as a bit of a shock that Claire is saddled with sexist character development. Her transformation from a no prisoners businesswoman to a more maternal character is cliché and seems to suggest that a woman isn’t truly complete without children of her own. What kind of message is that? I understand the necessity for Claire to develop into a more nurturing character, but could Trevorrow and co-screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly not have drawn an arc wherein kids aren’t the key to warming the uptight executive’s ice cold heart?
Claire’s demeaning character growth aside, she’s still fun to watch. Trevorrow and his team take the time to show her merit and demonstrate that she is more than her perfectly manicured appearance. Importantly, her survival skills are not limited by her femininity. In fact, Claire scoffs when Owen (Chris Pratt) insinuates that her heels would hold her back in a chase. In this moment she takes a stand for women like her who may express their femininity any number of ways without having that directly impact their ability to make it in an oftentimes dangerous world.
Howard approaches the role with enough depth that she feels far from one-dimensional. As the park descends into chaos, she watches all of her hard work fall to pieces and allows herself to fall apart a little, too. These moments are raw, human and immediately strike as sympathetic. But Claire needs neither our pity nor that of her fellow characters; she is fiercely protective, refuses to let her fear get the best of her and certainly doesn’t let Grady save the day alone.
The film’s composer, Michael Giacchino, also takes heavy notes from his forerunner, John Williams. The music captures the feel of the iconic 1993 score but Giacchino manages to create a new and unique composition to put a bit of distance between his new score and Williams’ looming shadow. This accomplishment is impressive considering how the original score has so deeply permeated our society. Giacchino’s clever riffs on old themes often make up for some of the films other shortcomings.
After the disaster that was Jurassic Park III, I was convinced that the strength of the Jurassic series lay in its source material from Michael Crichton’s novels of the same name. I also believed that it would be difficult for World to sink lower Joe Johnston’s 2001 abomination. On that front, Trevorrow succeeds. He and his team find a way to get around the lack of source material by utilizing most of the original classic’s strengths and ideals – something III distinctly lacked. By going back to basics, Trevorrow has finally supplied diehard fans with a suitable follow-up 22 years later.
Jurassic World is an entertaining popcorn flick. It may lack substance, but for what it is, the film is a highly enjoyable return to the world of dinosaurs run amok. And, perhaps most importantly, Jurassic World manages to step out of the shadows of the pop culture iconography of Jurassic Park and finds its own way. Sometimes that’s enough.
Movie Verdict: Win