Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, BD Wong
Directed by Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed)
The creators of Jurassic World (opening everywhere Friday), want you to forget about the past two Jurassic installments. It has been 22 years since the ground-breaking, box-office shattering Jurassic Park, and 14 years since the previous film, Jurassic Park III (sandwiched in the middle of these was the 1997 sequel, The Lost World). Surely, there is no evidence that either of the last two films existed according to Jurassic World, where we had last seen a flock of pteranodon flying off the coast of Isla Nublar, the island near Costa Rica that was home of the original Jurassic Park. The implication was that we had unleashed dinosaurs into the wild. But forget about all that...this fourth installment feels much more like a direct sequel to the first film. And if you can get past the idea that the last two never happened, Jurassic World will be more than satisfying. In many ways, the true brilliance of this new chapter is that it provokes the same sense of excitement that the original film did. It is a wondrous Summer blockbuster, the sort of film that you hope for every time you buy a ticket and the kind of film that makes you love going to the movies.
The first film, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a mega-hit in part because it was more than just a popcorn movie. Sure, it had exhilarating action sequences and never-before-seen special effects, combined with a cast of memorable characters that provided both laughs and heart. But it was great because it was able to work on many levels. Children could see it. Average movie-goers looking for an entertaining diversion could love it. But intellects could also engage: There was depth and deeper meaning to the age-old themes it presented. Man vs. Nature. Our innate human instinct to want to create. The consequences of greed for commercial gain. The idea that we shouldn't tamper with the circle of life.
Jurassic World works because it paid attention to all of this and more, and it is better because of this. It's not only a follow-up, it's very reverent of the first Jurassic Park film. But it also directly addresses the many flaws that are associated with returning to an island of dinosaurs this many years later. In 1993, we were all blown away, because we had never seen a realistically "alive" dinosaur. We were experiencing the park as wide-eyed first-timers, just as Park creator John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough) had intended. There was a wonderment and a child-like fascination with what we were witnessing on screen.
But now, years later, dinosaurs and special-effects are yawn-inducing. Ho-hum. Children are now used to CGI creations, heck, many have grown up with them. This indifference is represented in many of the characters of Jurassic World. And this time away from the original Park also shows up on the corporate side of things. Sure, people died when the original Jurassic Park experiment went sideways. But the whole idea of a dinosaur theme-park is just too profitable of an idea for corporate greed-mongers to pass up. And in today's post-9/11 world, creating dinosaurs in a lab may now have an even greater potential: If they can be trained or reigned in, they would make one hell of a military weapon.
So now that it's 22 years later, John Hammond's concept of Jurassic Park has manifested as Jurassic World...an actual "Disney World" theme park that is home to millions of visitors each day. There are restaurants and hotels on the island, monorail systems that attach the different "lands" within the park, and rides galore, ranging from excursions through dinosaur infested forests, to triceratops rides for the kids. There is even a Sea-World-esque arena that showcases some of the prehistoric creatures of the deep. Like EPCOT at Disney World, Jurassic World also features educational opportunities, in what is now known as the John Hammond Center (a statue of Attenborough as Hammond can be seen in the background of many shots).
Even with the theme park's success, corporate handlers are looking to squeeze every dollar they can out of the vacationing tourist population. New rides and new attractions equal more visitors, so Park owners decide that their newest attraction will be to create a new species of dinosaur: A genetically-enhanced "Frankenstein" built from the DNA of several other creatures. This being - called the Indominus Rex - will surely bring in millions in revenue once they can discover how to wrangle it.
It should be noted too that all of this is not meant to be a knock on Disney...the Jurassic films are owned by Universal, who has a few giant theme parks of their own. If anything, it just shows the true nature of the beast...pun intended.
Bryce Dallas Howard plays (Claire), a rigid, uptight head manager on the island who is tasked with looking after the progress of the Indominus Rex handlers. Elsewhere on the island, a Raptor trainer, Owen (Chris Pratt), has actually been able to create a bond with the deadly dinosaurs, and through this bond has been able to train them. A co-worker Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) sees this potential as his ticket to the big-time...if he can show the government that these Raptors can actually be used in a military setting, his future looks to be quite bright. Meanwhile, older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) and younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins) have bent sent away on vacation to stay with their Aunt Claire (Howard), while their parents go through the legalities of divorce.
As one would expect, things don't go the way they planned, and the Indominus Rex gets loose. Owen, the film's hero, does his best to take the beast down before it can totally destroy Jurassic World and all of its inhabitants.
Hearkening back to its roots, the movie is full of exciting action and moments of laugh-out-loud levity (a control operator on the island, played by New Girl actor Jake Johnson, supplies many of them). There are also continuous reminders of what came before. Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Ian Malcolm does not appear in the flesh, but a book he wrote is present. Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), a researcher and engineer seen in the original film, does return and his role is expanded. While off-course and lost on the island, Zach and Gray actually stumble upon the iconic Jurassic Park gates, and inside they discover some items that will please long-time fans. Even the musical score feels familiar and new all at once. Director Colin Trevorrow - unlike several other "remake" artists in recent years - does not look to destroy what was before him...he aims to build upon it.
And that he does. There are some plot holes and some annoying flaws, but all is forgiven by the time the film ends, with a heart-pounding, epic finale scene that is a pay-off to end all pay-offs.
Jurassic World has it all. There is romance, comedy, thrills, scares, brotherly love, sisterly love, good vs. bad, superficial joy and thought-provocation. It's everything you would want and expect in a Summer blockbuster. There is a reason why they call it a formula, but usually, there is some imbalance with the ingredients. Like the new dinosaur it created for this instant-classic adventure, Jurassic World is a near-perfect specimen: Not infallible but damn worth the price of admission.
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