MOVIE REVIEW: Jurassic World



Merriam-Webster defines the word "spectacle" in a few ways.  Its full definition reads "something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining; especially an eye-catching or dramatic public display" and "an object of curiosity or contempt."  In its simplest form, the site boils that definition down to "a very impressive show" or "something that attracts attention because it is very unusual or very shocking."  When a Hollywood studio dares to flex its hubris to deliver a long-gestating sequel two decades of developmental hell in the making, a "spectacle" is what you're going to get.

Spectacle defines "Jurassic World" perfectly.  Just as the dictionary definition states, the blockbuster is unusual, notable, and entertaining in an eye-catching, dramatic, and very public way.  It is big, loud, and dumb, but, hot damn, it sure is fun.  More discerning tastes will definitely gravitate to the "object of curiosity and contempt" version of the definition and they wouldn't be wrong in doing so.  In the end, the simple definitions seal "Jurassic World" too.  It is an very impressive monster movie and it will indeed attract attention and shock.

Set 22 years after the endangering events of the legendary 1993 Steven Spielberg original, “Jurassic World” occupies a present time where the visions and goals of the late John Hammond have come to successful fruition after initial disaster.  Hammond’s chief benefactor and InGen steward, new owner and CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan of “Life of Pi”), has built and marketed a fully-functioning and wildly popular exotic theme park and resort known as Jurassic World from the ashes of Jurassic Park.  The on-site executive in charge of Masrani’s wishes is park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard).  Naturally, because two precocious pieces of prey that will be required for saving later are needed, Claire’s two nephews, pre-teen Gray (Tye Simpkins of “Iron Man 3”) and full-blown pre-adult Zach (Nick Robinson of “The Kings of Summer”), are visiting the park over the weekend.  The corporate bottom line has become as paramount as the cutting edge scientific research.  Original chief geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (a returning B.D. Wong) has warped those two goals into pushing the scientific and ethical limits by genetically modifying and combining dinosaur species to create a planned new hybrid, a 40+ foot carnivore named the Indominus Rex, as the answer to focus groups that want more teeth and scares. 

More teeth and scares is exactly what they get from a predator that has only known the oppression of captivity.  When Claire brings in Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a velociraptor trainer and former military man, to inspect the Indominus enclosure, the frighteningly intelligent monster creates a diversion to burst its way to a violent escape.  Up against an animal with few weaknesses and composed of a genetic cocktail of all the nightmare traits possible in a dinosaur, Claire and company cannot handle this “asset containment” and now the park guests are encircled in this threat.  That brings in the military guys of InGen, led by Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) who shoot first and ask questions later, which reeks of more ulterior motives and causes even more problems for characters we are asked to care about.

No one in front of the camera is winning any Oscars here.  Chris Pratt leads the way quite effectively.  He already had his coming-out party last summer as a matinee idol with “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Jurassic World” adds another notch to his badass action hero swagger towards his ‘Future/Next Indiana Jones” portfolio.  Don’t think for a second executive producer Steven Spielberg isn’t taking notice.  Likewise, Howard is far less annoying and loud than Tea Leoni and Julianne Moore from past lackluster “Jurassic” sequels as “the girl” and Sheridan and Johnson avoid the same fate of over-annoyance in their rescue bait roles of “the non-listening kids.”  Jake Johnson, a buddy of the director, steals a few zingers as the resident geek where a previous lesser-known Samuel L. Jackson stole them before.  Finally, Wong’s presence is a perfect nod to the original, along with many other visual Easter eggs planted throughout the film.  The rest, including D’Onofrio and Omar Sy, are forgettable. 

As aforementioned, “Jurassic World” is big, loud, and dumb, but that’s just what the doctor ordered.  In a Hollywood landscape of superhero films and Michael Bay-blasted robots and ninja turtles, this was the “Jurassic Park” sequel you were going to get in the information age and Millennial attention span time period of 2015.  Despite the presence of the smart writing team from the two recent “Planet of the Apes” prequels/reboots (Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) and a keen, introspective indie director (Colin Trevorrow of the criminally underseen “Safety Not Guaranteed”) stepping up the blockbuster playground, we weren’t going to get the science, wonder, awe, and slow-building suspense to chew on of this source’s Spielberg-ian past successes.  We're way past that two decades later, which isn't always a good thing.  The closest little sprinkle of that wonder comes from composer Michael Giacchino dialing up a consistently nice homage to John Williams’s legendary musical score.  The rest is a monster romp and creature-feature in true genre and B-movie fashion. 

We were going to get the over-the-top roller coaster no matter what.  If you can be at peace with that (as this writer was), then the spectacle’s tangential definition of contempt goes away and you can be entertained by the rest of the show.  For this writer’s money, “Jurassic World” was a far better as a spectacle than “San Andreas” earlier this summer and is way better than the plodding “Godzilla” from last summer.  Go ahead and order this gaudy banana split ice cream sundae with a 3D IMAX cherry on top and lick the bowl clean.  Take in a few extra cinematic calories.

LESSON #1: THE ERROR OF MAN MEDDLING WITH SCIENCE—This is the preeminent life lesson of all “Jurassic” movies.  Precisely as author Michael Crichton intended, the mistake that triggers the narrative and moral action, conflict, and comeuppance is man attempting to harness science that he can’t control or shouldn’t control.  Control is a big theme in this film, both good and bad, for the characters involved.  Between Claire thinking she can run a park on her own, Dr. Wu’s twisting of genetics, Owen understanding his limits of training velociraptors, and Hoskins’s militarized opposition to Owen’s wisdom, control is the power struggle at the center.

LESSON #2: TAKE AND HEED EXPERT ADVICE WHEN IT IS PRESENTED TO YOU—Stooping low underneath the lofty morality from Lesson #1 is the classic and clichéd lack of common sense that is rampant in a roller coaster, monster, creature, or summer blockbuster film like this one.  The stupidity and failures to listen or learn are all over the place in “Jurassic World.”  No one, young or old, male or female, listens to boundaries, rules, orders, directions, logic, or common sense until it is too late or after they learn their lesson the hard way.  That too connects to control.  Not everyone survives the hard way in a rampage like this. 

LESSON #3: CONSUMER AND CORPORATE EXCESS ARE TANTAMOUNT TO THE FLAW OF HUBRIS—John Hammond’s dreams were big, but his hubris kept them from being properly fulfilled.  His contemporaries, here 22 years later, haven’t fixed that.  They’ve only made everything bigger and worse with the completed Jurassic World park and resort and grossly unethical scientific advancements.  A perfect sign of that excess was the misguided thinking of “bigger and better” that led to the creation of the Indominus Rex.  Owen says it straight-up.  “They’re dinosaurs, wow enough.”  Those rooted in excess are always looking for more.  Part of that push is what ascended the rich and innovative to greatness.  That’s well and good, but there is always a limit and a line between successful and excessive.  That’s another lesson people don’t learn until it’s too late.