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Clever Girl… JURASSIC WORLD Review

June 23, 2015

Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.

Dr. Ian Malcolm

Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) made that prophetic analogy in Jurassic Park, a film released twenty-two years ago. In truth, Jurassic Park never made it to the tourist phase in any of the first three Jurassic films. Jurassic World brings the analogy to actuality, introducing us to a full-fledged theme park that entertains twenty thousand guests a day, and cooks up new attractions every few years. Jurassic World is the fun-house reflection of Disney World, Epcot, etc., obnoxious product placement and all.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

The stakes are increased dramatically here. One way this is demonstrated is in the call-backs to the terrors from the earlier films, only now the terror has been distilled into anodyne theme park attractions. The aviary from Jurassic Park III is back. Tour groups roll through a Gallimimus stampede like they’re whale watching. The T. rex and Velociraptors are back, but they are far more cooperative this time around. Jurassic World even thumbs its nose at JawsA great white shark would normally be the pièce de résistance of any marine exhibit. At Jurassic World, the shark is actually just dessert for a truly monstrous Mosasaur.

The park is certainly more impressive than ever, but that isn’t the only way World expresses its direct relationship to Jurassic Park. Early in Jurassic Park, Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) needed to buckle up during a turbulent helicopter descent. To his chagrin (and Malcolm’s delight), he had two seat belt buckles, rather than the usual complementary parts, and had to tie them together in a bit of nifty improvisation. Whether the take away from this was that “sparing no expense” is no substitute for common sense, or simply that “life finds a way,” both suggest that you can never truly bring order to chaos (cool it, Malcolm).

Jurassic World presents a similar microcosm in the first act. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), catches a sloppy technician’s (Jake Johnson) falling drink cup in a waste basket. This was a clever way to implicitly one-up the corresponding scene in Park. Dr. Grant’s little improv suggested that old-fashioned know-how was needed in a chaotic world. Claire’s foresight piggy backs off the lessons learned from Jurassic Park, positing that preparing for every inevitable breakdown just may be possible. Not settling for mere state-of-the-art, Jurassic World is overcompensating to allow for a little chaos. It’s an interesting twist on the hubris shown by Hammond in the first film.

As for the movie itself, Jurassic World is mostly a bigger, shinier retread of the 1993 film. The park may be more advanced, but the story hits most of the same beats. The cast boasts Chris Pratt, and Bryce Dallas Howard as the new leads. Pratt is playful, trains raptors (pretty successfully too), and is presumably a former SEAL. I have to wonder if the Navy connection was a wink to Pratt playing a member of SEAL Team Six in Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Howard is the park’s operations manager. She’s high strung (understandable given her job), and a little shrewish, but she musters a heroic streak in the end. The two characters have history, and the actors playing them have good chemistry. The only returning cast member is B.D. Wong, who reprises his role from Jurassic Park as the geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu.

With the terrors of the previous films toned down a notch, the new monster showpiece is the genetically modified Indominus Rex. It’s larger than the Tyrannosaur, and has been engineered from a proprietary cocktail of predatory mutations, making it the deadliest creature ever conceived of. The fearsome test tube dino cuts a swath of destruction through the park right up until a thrillingly preposterous climax ripped straight from the original film.

In spite of the Indominus, and all the commentary on technology and corporate influence that came with it, I felt comforted by the decisions made by director Colin Trevorrow & co. If you remember, the first trailer for Jurassic World was a bit of a mess, but fortunately, it was not representative of the surprisingly thoughtful finished product. Previously known only for his indie hit, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), it’s safe to say now that Trevorrow has a bright future and has likely found allies in Steven Spielberg and his fellow Amblin-ers. With Jurassic World, he knew and appreciated that, at the end of the day, the people ultimately wanted to see the raptors and the T rex. They have always been the lifeblood of this series, and getting away from the T. rex in JP3 only helped prove that rule. As much as the characters in Jurassic World may claim the opposite, there’s really nothing wrong with getting back to basics – provided those basics are dinosaurs.

I’ve called 22 Jump Street a self-loathing sequel, and it’s easy to see some of that same DNA in Jurassic World. The cynicism isn’t quite as grating as it is in the 2014 cop comedy, but it does flirt with going a bridge to far. Jake Johnson’s character wears a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt, swearing by the legit-ness of the original park, even in poor taste. It’s simultaneously a nod to, and an admonishment of, the contrarian (or hipster) crowd. I mentioned obnoxious product placement earlier, and corporately-sponsored park attractions are the butt of several jokes. Even the movie’s centerpiece, the Indominous Rex, is underwritten by Verizon. The jokes are funny and effective, but there can come a point when the script, as a whole, begins to flout subtlety (usually a screenwriter’s friend, no?). There is a thin line between thoughtful satire and rubbing the audience’s nose in a joke. Jurassic World may not leap over that line like Jump Street, but it muddies it up a bit. I appreciate the desire to preserve the audience’s suspension of disbelief, and understand the desire to pre-empt the sniping from critics, but sometimes I fear that the art of “hanging lampshades,” is threatening to replace the art of, you know, just, writing.

I saw Jurassic World at a drive-in on a double bill with Pitch Perfect 2. Watching both in one sitting was an exercise in examining the current film zeitgeist. Pitch 2 played first and there were some unexpected parallels. Jimmy Kimmel appeared in Pitch 2, and Jimmy Fallon in Jurassic World. But more to the point, I felt a little let down by the a capella sequel. I imagine the core audience pretty much got what they wanted, but I felt distinctly outside of that audience. Jurassic, on the other hand, seems to have been made for everyone, as evidenced by it’s half-billion dollar opening weekend. The same people who filled the seats week after week for Avatar and The Avengers, which is to say “an awful lot of people,” are coming out for Jurassic. It’s that lucrative blockbuster crowd again. Working even more in the favor of Jurassic, is that its built-in audience has been building for 22 years. That means multiple generations of the blockbuster crowd are coming out for Jurassic, not just those weaned on the MCU. In hindsight, it’s no surprise that Jurassic has augmented the meaning of success at the box office.

What’s next for this franchise? I know there are probably better writers than I trying to figure that out as I type this. While I can’t see another reasonable park-based scenario playing out, I can see a battle over the embryos. The military would certainly be interested such assets, particularly after the events of Jurassic World. Perhaps there will be a military outfit dispatched on a mission to recover the embryos that plays out like Aliens. Jurassic War maybe? You heard it here first… Whether Trevorrow remains a part of it or not, I’m confident that the brain trust in place will take good care of Spielberg’s baby.

Based on the reports, you’ve probably already seen this movie (over $1 Billion as of today!). On the off chance you haven’t seen it, I don’t think you’ll be let down.

 

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