Based upon characters created by Michael Crichton
Story by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Screenplay Written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
* (one star)
RATED PG 13
Oh when will they ever learn?
By this time, "Jurassic World," the fourth installment in the "Jurassic Park" film series has become a box office behemoth that has exceeded all conceivable expectations as it it not only the highest grossing film in the series, it is also the highest grossing film of 2015 so far and the third highest grossing film of all time so far. So what a stupendous shame it is that the film itself is terrible.
Truth be told, dear readers, I have not ever been the biggest fan of the "Jurassic Park" series. I don't know if it has to do with my lifelong lack of interest in dinosaurs or not but the wonder of that particular cinematic world never did that much for me. Now that being said, Director Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" (1993), is unquestionably a modern classic filled with imagery and set pieces that have now become iconic and still endure, despite the so-weak-they're-barely-there characters. His sequel, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997), with its slightly better stabs at creating characters was a worthy, if goofier follow up. And for me, the magic, such as it was, ends there as Director Joe Johnston's "Jurassic Park III" (2001), was an inexcusably ridiculous waste of time as it essentially served up a collective of stupid characters doing stupid things just in order to get themselves chomped up.
Regarding "Jurassic World," I have avoided seeing the film util now because in my mind, I just could not fathom where else a "Jurassic Park" movie could even go conceptually. What would the filmmakers do or have the characters experience that had not already been performed three times over? Near the opening of "Jurassic World," as directed by Colin Trevorrow, graduating to the cinematic major leagues after the success of his independent feature "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012), I began to wonder if he would directly tackle the very issue that made me trepidacious with potentially seeing any new installment. Unfortunately, no matter how skilled and handsome of a top flight production the film is, "Jurassic World" is also a film of such vast emptiness that no amount of sound and fury and CGI razzle dazzle can make up for a complete lack of purpose other than to rake in those "Jurassic dollars."
Set twenty three years after the events of the first film, "Jurassic World" returns to Isla Nublar, the mythical island near Costa Rica, where John Hammond's dreams of creating a theme park starring cloned prehistoric creatures has emerged from its tragic ashes into its fullest, and highly lucrative, fruition. Essentially the new Disney World, the now open and operating Jurassic World has become a phenomenon, running ten years straight, exciting and enchanting audiences far and wide.
Chris Pratt stars as Owen Grady, a Jurassic World trainer, velociraptor expert and love interest for Bryce Dallas Howard who stars as Claire Dearing, Jurassic World's chilly operations manager who is set to entertain her visiting nephews Zach and Gray Mitchell (played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, respectively), yet pawns them both off onto her assistant as she is busy attempting to obtain new corporate sponsors.
Disaster strikes when a new, genetically engineered dinosaur, with DNA culled from several predatory dinosaurs and modern day animals, called the "Indominus Rex" breaks free, and Jurassic World, filled to the brim with staff and patrons, erupts into chaos. With Zach and Gray lost within the jungles of the theme park, and the power hungry Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) wishing to weaponize the velociraptors and the Indominus Rex, it is up to both Owen and Claire to save the day...that is, if they can avoid being culinary casualties!
On the surface, Colin Trevorrow's "Jurassic World" fits perfectly alongside the previous three entries of this film series. It is a glistening production, filled from end to end with seamless, lifelike special effects that shake and rumble confidently as well as a film that showcases Trevorrow's directorial confidence and ease with working within the mega-budgeted arena of filmmaking. So sleek is the film's overall presentation that it could nearly pass for one of Steven Spielberg's own directorial efforts, from the visual sheen all the way down to Composer Michael Giacchino's copycat John Williams-esque score. Yet, all of those compliments serve only as faint praise as "Jurassic World" only confirmed my worst suspicions and then spiraled downwards from there.
While at first, it seemed as if "Jurassic World" just may be strong enough to erase the bad memories of that horrible third installment from my memory, it was ultimately not to be. In one of the rare moments of cleverness, I enjoyed an early scene where Claire expressed her desire to keep adding new, fresh attractions to the theme park, consequences be damned, because "nobody is impressed with dinosaurs anymore." In that one line of dialogue, it felt as if Trevorrow (and possibly Spielberg, who returns as Executive Producer), were confronting the issue with generating a fourth film in the series head on, because, as I have previously stated, what could possibly be done that the filmmakers have not already accomplished in three films? Beyond just asking the question, it seems as if Trevorrow and his team performed absolutely none of the heavy lifting involved to ensure that "Jurassic World" would be a completely unique experience. Familiar of course. But vibrantly new as well. Essentially the film exists not solely as a direct sequel but also as somewhat of a re-boot as it has been a full 14 years since the previous installment and we do have a new generation of young, savvy movie goers to impress as they may regard the original film as old hat. Just the sight of a CGI T-Rex isn't enough anymore. But even more so, having more and larger creatures, even grander special effects and wilder cataclysm and carnage isn't enough either. Not by a long shot and Trevorrow should have known better.
"Jurassic World" is one of those films that boasts a team of four writers, two of them responsible for the excellent and poignantly grim "Planet of The Apes" remakes, and yet for some inexplicable reason, not one of them could arrive with any interesting motivations, situations, dialogue or even characters to speak of. It is a film universe that makes several nods to the original 1993 film in visual "Easter Eggs" and even within the dialogue, yet it also marches forwards as if the characters have no knowledge of what previously happened in the events over the last three films. From businesswoman Claire and the militaristic Vic to the characters of Jurassic World owner Simon Masrani (played by Irrfan Khan) and even chief geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (played by B.D. Wong), who incidentally appeared in the first film, it just made no sense to me whatsoever that aside from Owen Grady, no one felt that creating genetically engineered dinosaurs was a bad thing...until it was always too late. In doing so, Trevorrow just takes the audience on the very same ride of the hubris of man and our downfall from that hubris over and over again and then, has the audacity to have his characters exist in a ridiculous state of shock when things inevitably go destructively wrong.
Like the third film, "Jurassic World" is essentially a film of stupid people doing stupid things solely to get the audience from one set piece to another. Hmmm...we can't seem to see the Indominus Rex through the glass window? Well, let's just walk inside the enclosure completely unprotected and look for him. Hmmm...we're riding through the wildlife of the theme park in a gyroscope and we've received a warning to return immediately? Let's not follow that command and just roll right through this other path that goes straight into the deepest, darkest most dangerous part of the jungle. Having Claire racing around from end to end in those damn high heels notwithstanding, I just hated how the characters went from being cornered and nearly devoured by the creatures to ultimately escaping and instead of just running away, they would all stop, turn and regard the prehistoric carnage wondrously before again being spotted by the dinosaurs and then deciding to run, get cornered, escape and regard all over again. The sheer idiocy was rampant, which of course, diminished any and all sense of tension. But if you just keep those special effects coming...
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are more than capable actors, as they each carry a warm and engaging screen presence as well as a safe PG 13 styled sense of sex appeal. They do make for an attractive screen couple. But that being said, would it have been trouble for any of the film's (again) four writers to have bothered to have given them, and everyone else, any discernible characters to play or a storyline to sink their teeth into?
The "Spielberg-ian" fractured family, which consists of Zach, Gray, their careerist Aunt Claire and their potentially divorcing parents (played by Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) and therefore must be reunited by film's end, is so prefabricated and inconsequential that it is almost presented as an afterthought. The character of Vic Hoskins is really nothing more than a paper thin mustache twirling villain as well. But going to the main relationship between Owen and Claire, I was more than a little dismayed at a certain clumsy and even regrettable regressive sexism on display.
Yes, I did feel that it was an obvious tactic on the part of Trevorrow to try and inject a sense of a classic on-screen antagonistic romantic/sexual tension into the proceedings a la Director John Huston's "The African Queen" (1951) or Director Robert Zemeckis' "Romancing The Stone" (1984). But with barely there characterizations, and armed with the most basic, perfunctory and insipid dialogue, their dynamic is just boiled down to a "Man Smart Woman Not Quite As Smart"/push me-pull me dynamic that is less old fashioned and much more insensitive and somewhat offensive. And didn't you also happen to notice that as the film progresses, Claire continuously loses her clothing piece by piece (except for those damn stiletto heels) while Owen remains as fully dressed at the end of the movie as he was at the beginning?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Claire can shoot a gun and drive a truck away from chomping dinosaurs while, of course, wearing a clinging tank top and those ever present high-heels. But Owen Grady is the sole character in the film who truly knows and understands more than any other character, especially Claire, and it is truly only up to him to save her, the children and any other relevant participants for no other reason than he is the rugged, charming, eternally can-do man of action rather through anything as archaic as character development. To just saddle these two actors with these hollow archetypes and expect anyone in the audience to give a damn about their "relationship," let alone their survival, which contains not one ounce of substance or weight, was as lame as it was lazy. Frankly, they could have been two LEGO figures being tossed around...but that would be an insult to LEGO figures.
The presentation of Owen and Claire was downright innocuous compared to one on-screen death by dinosaur that, to me felt wrong to the point of ugliness. The violence of "Jurassic World" is indeed much like its three PG 13 rated predecessors. A lot of rumble rumble through the theater speakers, screams, wide eyes and the inevitable CHOMP and CRUNCH. Quick flashes of carnage and minor gore and then the film moves right along to the next set piece without ever looking back. But in one instance, and for one character, Trevorrow ups the ante to a most distasteful degree.
The character (a minor character at best) in question is Zara (played by Katie McGrath), Claire's British personal assistant who is relegated to babysitting Zach and Gray because Claire is just too busy with her Jurassic World duties to deal with them (my, how 1990's). Anyhow, late in the film, after seemingly every single prehistoric creature has escaped, a fleet of Pterosaurs fly directly into the still human occupied theme park and one creature swoops down and whisks Zara straight up into the sky. OK, fine. That's well and good but what followed just felt to be needlessly mean spirited. While trapped in the Pterosaur's claws, the camera pans upwards into the sky to see a screaming Zara being tossed from one Pterosaur to another and finally being pulled by Pterosaur straight down into a massive water tank. The camera follows her descent and continues to hold onto her as she continues to scream wildly while being attacked by the Pterosaur in the water before again being yanked back up into the sky where she and the Pterosaur are then fully eaten by the gargantuan aquatic creature, the Mosasaurus.
What was the point of that?! To see this minor character, who really did not serve much purpose to the film as a whole go through an on-screen death as graphic as that one felt so profoundly wrong to me. It is a hard thing to really explain in words, in order to fully convey my emotions as I watched this sequence. But, just take a moment and think and when doing so, I feel that you will realize that we have all felt something like this when watching movies, especially ones that do contain varying degrees of onscreen violence. We go with whatever the story is telling us and we are all free to judge whether the violence in question was legitimate or gratuitous, and for me, to watch this woman screaming to her last breath as she was being torn apart by these dinosaurs felt completely gratuitous. Hell, even the film's primary villains do not have any scenes in the film that remotely approach Zara's final moments. And for what? Why her? And for all of the deaths that do occur throughout "Jurassic World," why was the most graphic one starring a female character? I am certain that some of you may be feeling that I am completely over-thinking this sequence and am trying to find something that just may not be there. I completely honor that sentiment. All I can say is that the images presented in the movies are specifically chosen for a reason and I just could not think of one reason why everyone who is torn apart and eaten by a dinosaur in "Jurassic World" was given a swift send-off except for this character who we witness being caught, tortured in the air and water, and then finally eaten, screaming her lungs out all the way. It felt like a slasher movie when it never needed to go down that route. What does that say about the filmmakers who crafted such a sequence and furthermore, what does that say about us in the audience who have clearly paid more than once to bear witness to this movie that has made so much money and still counting? Like Claire herself said, and I repeat, "The sight of a dinosaur isn't enough anymore."
And so, I left "Jurassic World" feeling more than a little ticked off at allowing myself to be snookered enough to not listen to my original feelings and just pass this film by altogether. I know that many to most of you loved the film and if you honestly did, then I do celebrate you as we should always be fully entertained by the movies we choose to see.
But for me, I have had more than enough trips to this repetitive cinematic universe where bigger and louder substitutes for creativity and imagination. When the fifth installment arrives, and it will as it has just been announced, you can just take the next voyage without me.