Jurassic Park was a remarkable film—an absolutely thrilling adventure movie with real characters, a believable plot (once you swallow the whole dinosaur bit) and stirring performances from a talented cast. It perfectly struck the balance between scary and child-friendly, making it that movie that every second grader talked about whether they had seen it or not. Steven Spielberg built his career toeing this line, and all of his best films (ET, Jurassic Park, the Spielberg-produced The Goonies) toe the same line between suspenseful horror and family-friendly adventure. In our late postmodernist era, a remake of Jurassic Park seems almost unavoidable—it could have been on a Buzzfeed list called "10 Movies 90's Kids Will Pay to See No Matter How Bad They Are." Sadly, this film lives up to none of the achievements of its extraordinary predecessor and does so with a sardonic nostalgia that makes it feel derivative and unoriginal.
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Producers: Patrick Crowley, Frank Marshall, Steven Speilberg
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly, Michael Crichton (characters)
Music: Michael Giacchino
Cinematographer: John Schwartzman
Editor: Kevin Stitt
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Nick Robinson, Jake Johnson, BD Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus
US Theatrical Release: June 12, 2015
US Distributor: Universal Pictures
The setting is the same Isla Nublar where the first film took place, but this time rather than an exploratory test journey, Jurassic World is a full-blown amusement park with everything from a Sea World-esque mosasaurus show to a triceratops petting zoo to a great plain full of roaming apatosauruses and stegasauruses explorable by a fleet of gyroscoping plexiglass balls. Somehow, though, the wonder of living dinosaurs is quickly wearing off on the world, and in an effort at perpetual capitalist expansion, the park is developing new genetically engineered hybrids, most notably the Indominus Rex, a fiercer, smarter breed of carnivore bigger and meaner than a Tyrannosaurus Rex. (They bred two, but one ate its sibling.)
The references to the original Jurassic Park are constant, though none are interesting. The Jurassic World tour begins by passing through the gates that were "part of the original park" and the film features everything from Jurassic Park-branded early 90's Jeep Wranglers to logos and t-shirts (a staff member is scolded for wearing one because it is seen as in bad taste given the tragedy that befell the first park). All of these references feel less like homage and more like grasping attempts to stay pertinent, as if tongue-in-cheek references are all that Jurassic World needs to be as great as Jurassic Park.
The film's story ostensibly follows a pair of brothers, Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), who go to Jurassic World to spend time with their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park's "Director of Operations." (How her job relates to actual operations is never clear, since we only see her attending high-powered executive meetings or courting potential donors, duties that seem more fitting for a Director of Development.) Gray is a dinosaur-obsessed grade school kid and Zach is a girl-obsessed teenager, putting their motivations at odds as Zach constantly lingers to stare at girls instead of dinosaurs. Also on staff at the park is former Navy man turned velociraptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), who is also an ex-lover of Claire's. His team of raptors has been trained like a pack of dogs, following commands and respecting him as their "alpha," a fact that he never neglects to point out. ("Who's the alpha?" "You're looking at him.") This harmonic capitalist enterprise collapses when the new and untested Indominus Rex escapes from its cage and begins rampaging across the park directly toward Gray and Zach, leaving a pile of corpses, both human and dinosaur, in its wake.
But wrapped up in this video gamey plotline is a heavy-handed and distressingly old-fashioned moral statement about women. Nearly every character who interacts with Claire tells her, if given the chance, that she should stop working so hard and have kids--that as a woman motherhood is her purpose, not working in business. From Gray and Zach's mother (Judy Greer) to Owen, everyone seems to be telling Claire that without giving into maternalism, her life is worthless. And this seems to be narratively tied to her sexuality too, since as this movie transitions into an action thriller and she learns to care about her wayward nephews in a motherly way, her costume transitions more and more from business appropriate to playboy bunny. By a final climactic dinosaur fight, Claire is literally lying in a pinup girl pose as two giant dinosaurs wrestle above her. Hollywood is certainly not a place known for progressive gender politics, but pushing such a deliberate agenda through a family-friendly actioner is off-putting and antithetical to the film's origin--Jurassic Park and The Lost World were both fairly progressive films, featuring female scientists who could do a lot more than wail for Chris Pratt to save them.
And then there's the setup, which differs from the earlier films. Instead of an empty park, this one is packed with thousands of tourists, ripe for the slaughter by rampaging dinosaurs. Instead of raising the stakes, these thousands of nameless victims make the film seem trite—a byproduct of the mid-2010's obsession with apocalyptic narratives. Despite all these lives at stake, Owen and Claire (and the plot) focus exclusively on the fate of Zach and Gray. Yes, we are introduced to them early in the film, but why do they matter any more than the thousands of other kids at the park? We see dozens of people die, but it's never clear why Zach and Gray (who are never really fleshed out beyond initial sketches of "teenage boy" and "preteen boy") matter more than any single one of them. This is the same flaw that marred San Andreas, and it does no better here with characters just as bland.
Owen's characterization seems to be entirely based on his Navy background and a high-machismo scene in which he rides a vintage Harley through the jungle while his pack of raptors trot along at his side. (Teenage Zach tells his aunt, "Your boyfriend is a badass" after that one.) Claire's internal motivations are a mystery, but all she seems to do is worry about the financial efficacy of the park or scream for Owen to help her. She transitions from loathsome business type, like a Rob Lowe character from a 90's movie, to an inactive female lead lying in a seductive pose as dinosaurs gnash teeth overhead. The boys remain just character sketches, occasionally standing in for members of the audience to ooh and aah at the dinosauric mayhem around them.
This is no fault of the actors, who do their best with the atrocious lines given to them, but a screenplay issue. Chris Pratt has certainly shown that he can stand as a masculine action hero, but he's always had some of the goofball charm that defined his first major role as Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation. As Owen he has no charm at all, and doesn't smile once throughout the entire film. The plot hurries from one chase sequence to the next (as if it's worried if it dawdles too long we'll notice that there aren't any characters) and the whole thing lacks the suspense that was so impressive in Jurassic Park. The supporting cast doesn't do much to help, with a team cobbled together from primetime TV. B.D. Wong (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) and Vincent D'Onofrio (Law And Order: Criminal Intent) serve as the non-reptilian villains and Jake Johnson (New Girl) and Lauren Lapkus (Orange is the New Black) provide vague comedic relief, but none of them can withstand the dreariness of the script.
This film is not completely valueless. The score is terrific: a modernization of the original Jurassic Park theme that sacrifices none of the original's majesty. It's well shot and well edited, and the CGI is clearly very expensive (though something in its flawless high gloss sheen makes the dinosaurs feel less present than their animatronic cousins did in the original). All the CGI in the world can't do much with a story this poorly put together. There are no characters or suspense, just a lot of money thrown at the screen. Jurassic World will certainly be a financial success, likely the biggest one of the summer, but it will do so as a poorly written, boring, derivative film that peddles antiquated misogyny. We can, and should, expect more from our $150 million blockbusters.