Jurassic World either thinks it’s a lot more cleverer than it is or is actually a lot more clever then we give it credit for. It’s usually a fine line between the two. Regardless Jurassic World essentially remakes Jurassic Park lacking the Spielbergian touch and iconic tension building scenes he gave us. There are no shaking glasses of water or torches flashing the eyes of a monster as it looks directly at you. The closest we come is raptors running alongside a hero on a motorcycle. Like all sequels World goes bigger not better but it also playfully acknowledges dare we say criticises these conventions. The every man scientist replaced here by a Navy hero, the corporate career woman takes centre stage in the finale not a side plot, the hubris of the CEO here leads to an action scene not a quiet moment of regret and the signature monster of the piece is both the cause of so much carnage and also a reflection of our own unhealthy desires for corporate excess and new unnecessary products, the kids are not just smart and cute but kinda hurting due to their parents divorcing, the treacherous human here is neither the instigator of the crisis nor in it purely for profit but he is far more evil as well. There is also restraint displayed in the use of the dinosaurs with a handful of species gradually coming into the narrative for their respective scenes, only the popular raptors and chief monster star throughout. That last minute reveal made me break out in a grin. The plot might be uninspired but the riffs on the original formula are and create some good will towards the film. What can I say? I liked it and so did the world. The film currently holds various opening weekend records and is the 3rd highest grossing film of all time. The Force Awakens might give it a run for the money but the film’s comparative success would suggest it’s time to tap into 90s nostalgia far more so than 70s or 80s nostalgia themed vehicles. . Alas nobody told Adam Sandler and Arnold Schwarznegger.
As the trailers intoned The Park has opened twenty years after the disastrous events of Jurassic Park. In fact it’s been running for some time without incident but wouldn’t you know it-all hell is about to break loose. Claire Mitchell is the operations manager of the park with her two nephews Zack and Gray being dispatched there for a holiday under her care while their parents’ divorce. I’ll allow that they probably correctly predict emotions will boil over from the negotiations in the law offices and wanted to spare their kids while giving them a distraction before the hammer falls. Not my idea of how to play it but I’ve never experienced the trauma of divorce first hand so as plans go maybe it’s a good idea. The park, the only of its kind in the world, is seeing dwindling interest in the phenomenal and unique novelty of dinosaurs existing in the modern world!!!!!!! So they genetically engineer a monster dinosaur called Indominus Rex or I-Rex for short (that can’t be coincidence and kudos to the writers) made out of all of the demands of focus groups who want a bigger meaner deadlier dinosaur for the sequel-I mean park. Thankfully Burt Macklin, FBI himself is on the island training raptors and looking positively bad-ass with a leather vest, rolled up sleeves and a motor bike. I won’t spoil the break-out but you know one is coming. The film thankfully sets things up in a call back to old school blockbuster by leaving the first act relatively action free. We get introduced to the characters and their relationships to each other. Then we get a sense of the scope of the park and then we are suitably unnerved by the new monster that immediately seems like a bad idea. Once all those things are ticked off the film lets the proverbial hit the fan. If there is one criticism I can’t shake it’s the lack of an immediate lock down the second a dinosaur is on the loose but distance from the break out and the main park gives the powers that be confidence they can recover the creature with minimal PR damage. I guess. Look if your business relies on patronage and you’re sitting in a control room with dozens of employees who are aware of your decisions in a crisis I’d be putting the customer’s safety first but maybe that’s just me. Maybe even a 10 second phone call to the nephews to make sure they’re secured even if you don’t care much about the general populace no?! Yes I know that would kill the plot but I don’t like dumb decisions from characters I’m supposed to being rooting for. By the way, notice how cool Chris Pratt looks when he sensibly says “Evacuate the island.”
Jurassic Park 22 years ago starred a relative unknown handsome Sam Neil as Dr. Alan Grant making palaeontologists sexy but whose occupation immediately positioned the lead as an everyman albeit one whom had knowledge and enough wherewithal to get through a crisis. By contrast Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady is a man of action whom is both emotionally adolescent around his fellow humans and stoically in tune with the true nature of animals. He hasn’t been studying dinosaurs for years; he’s been training them like a lion tamer for a little while after leaving the Navy. The focus on work over family and the awakening of paternal instincts of Grant are now saddled with the female lead which may seem stunningly retro until you consider that nobody would cry boo if that arc was handed to a male character. Maybe we all just need to chill.
Bryce Dallas Howard is arguably the main character of the film as Claire. She’s basically running the park and is a successful career woman mostly office bound having to liaise with clients and potential sponsors. It’s not impossible to imagine she would wear heels or find herself still wearing them outfield (albeit I know plenty of career women who always have a pair of joggers under their desk but I digress) but it has certainly been the source of much mocking over this American summer. I’ve run in heels (hey I was a drama student once upon a time) and it is not easy but not impossible as clearly displayed here by Rachel McAdams in Morning Glory. Howard is great in the role, her first real go at a blockbuster since her M. Night Shymalan films really and clunky dialogue aside she grounds the film well. We’re not really given much reason on the surface to like her at first. She’s ignoring her nephews (although I’d say she selflessly took them on for her distant sister who clearly doesn’t understand how busy her job is) and prattling on about sales and assets and not liking Chris Pratt who is sooooo cool but if you stop and think about it for a second long before her closing kick ass moment she’s the most sensible and consistent character in the film. She’s a professional doing her job, she is trying to spend time with her nephews despite clearly big things happening in her workday and she sets out to find them when it becomes obvious the situation is dire. I found the heaving bosom in the pink singlet top distracting but the girl has to breathe and when you fall you might go down on your hips and push up with your arms. If that means you look like you’re striking a swimsuit calendar pose then maybe some people just have a wild imagination. Nobody would complain if Chris Pratt had pulled off his shirt sleeves to dress a wound and showed off the Hammer Brothers but sadly it’s only Claire Mitchell who sheds clothes to transform from buttoned up corporate busy body to Aunty Bear Bad-Ass. Maybe that’s because it’s well established that Chris Pratt is so much more in tune with nature and basic biological instincts that Claire has repressed for too long or so the movie would have you believe. In 2015 maybe we should be more celebratory about a female character that is successful professionally and doesn’t have to be defined by how she relates to children but one female character in one blockbuster doesn’t have to answer every aspiration for her whole gender. We’re all unique and complicated individuals and the move for equality will survive a female character that in the end prioritises family over career especially if she gets to save everyone.
The two kids who the primary audience will identify with are probably not as great as Lex and Tim Hammond from the original film but they feel more modern in a way. Tim and Lex were hanging out at Grandpa’s work, suitably terrified by the turn of events but remarkably capable too. By comparison Gray Mitchell is still wonderfully enthusiastic about his holiday but far more emotional about the reality of his parent’s divorce. Zack Mitchell his older brother like all teenagers coats his pain with outward indifference and frustrated hormones. Leaving a smitten girlfriend behind at home he stares at the smorgasbord of members of the opposite sex on holiday in the park. What a dick you might judge. Except why would a kid value a relationship when his parents are about to throw in the towel on theirs. Plus as the story moves on his real affection for his little brother comes to the fore. Like most older brothers. These kids are hurting with something far more terrifying than a raptor and as the divorce rate stands at 40-50% in the U.S. there are certainly a lot of kids in this film who are going to find it relatable.
Irrfan Khan played by Simon Masrani is both a cheerful and likeable CEO if not a maker of smart decisions and Vincent D’Onofrio is suitably slimy as Vic Hoskins -head of security. A smile breaking out across his face halfway through the film seals his fate and when it comes it is wonderfully satisfying. Vince you can play scumbags any time you want buddy but I do like you as heroes, maniacs and lead villains too. The cast is filled out by very talented actors who mostly get at least one moment to shine but these are the main hitters.
One of the smartest decisions I think the filmmaking team have made here is the characterization of the dinosaurs themselves. The I-Rex keeps pulling out a new surprising capability long after somebody-anybody should have thrown Dr Henry Wu up against the wall and made him spill everything but as monsters go he looms large as a threat for the whole film through several encounters and that is pretty impressive. The Raptors being given names if not personalities (except you Blue, you’re my boy Blue) and getting to be used for good is also a nice development. The film boasts likeable humans thank God but nobody forgot that some good dinosaur on dinosaur action holds massive appeal.
But I’ve dissected the film like an adult looking for double meanings and narrative originality. This is a big kid’s film and after watching an interview with director Colin Trevorrow claiming he directed the whole film as if from a child’s sensibility-immediately the film shot up in my estimates. The repetition of the words Animals and Assets that Honest Trailers picked up, the bickering between the female and male lead at the beginning, the stolen kiss later on, the set pieces, the inexplicable lazy fat security guard for the I-Rex’s enclosure, the overtly long staring at girls from Zack and pretty much every characterisation is informed by this viewpoint and all for the better. In particular the seriousness and lack of silliness in the scenes referencing the divorce become more poignant too. In the American summer of blockbusters this year Jurassic World made more money than Mad Max: Fury Road, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. In my humble opinion those four films are better films and better blockbusters but Jurassic World I suspect made more money for a very good reason. Maybe Jurassic World doesn’t think it’s smarter than it is. Maybe I do. Go see it, only a fool wouldn’t enjoy it.