JURASSIC WORLD Movie Review – Come for the Dinosaurs, Stay for the Dinosaurs
Pop-pulp novelist Michael Crichton might be gone — he passed away seven years ago at the relative young age of 66 — but his fictional works live on (and on), most notably the Jurassic Park series/franchise, first brought to animatronic and CGI life by Steven Spielberg (entries I-II) and later, to significantly less commercial and critical success, by Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Rocketeer). Not surprisingly, the series slipped into suspended animation for more than a decade, but where there’s exploitable IP, there’s a movie studio eager to kickstart a series or franchise back into box-office-generating life. With Spielberg involved only as an executive producer, Universal tapped Colin Trevorrow, an indie filmmaker with the well-received, lo-fi sci-fi Safety Not Guaranteed to his name, to direct the fourth, soon-to-be-profitable entry, Jurassic World. It’s everything that Jurassic Park was, but with infinitely more CGI, IQ-challenged plotting, and caricature-level characters.
Jurassic World opens in a post-Jurassic Park world (so to speak), where the disastrous events of Jurassic Park have been willfully ignored for the (re)creation of the island-based them park envisioned by the park’s late owner and founder, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). The new owner/CEO, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), claims to care more about people than profits, but he didn’t get to become the 8th wealthiest billionaire without following the abiding principles of corporate capitalism: Build a state-of-the-art theme park, populate it with one-of-a-kind, made-in-a-lab scientific wonders (dinosaurs), and watch relatively well off tourists pour in by the thousands (20,000/day by one character’s near breathless count). Still, a theme park like Jurassic World thrives on the new and the novel (or so we’re told as justification for the corporate and scientific hubris that follows), compelling Masrani’s dinosaur-making scientists to resurrect extinct species with some regularity. For all that, Jurassic World turns Masrani into a benevolent billionaire, explicitly interested in creating a “fun,” safe experience for the whole, upper-middle class family than separating every last dollar, British pound, or euro from said family.
While Khan’s status as Indian movie royalty and the positive potential for international box office he represents obviously played a role in Masrani’s semi-pure motives, there’s another, in-film reason for the contrast: Masrani’s second-in-command, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a clichéd, regressive representation of the modern businesswoman. Claire has given up a personal life, up to and including marriage of the heterosexual kind, an heir, and a spare (or two), in exchange for an ultra-lucrative, senior executive level position in Masrani’s mega-corporation. Not surprisingly given Jurassic World’s gender politics, Claire’s all-business, all-the-time makes her a joyless, authoritarian type, incapable of relaxing or changing out of her business uniform (including a pair of seemingly unbreakable heels she wears throughout Jurassic World). A date with Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an ex-soldier turned raptor trainer and perpetual leather-vest wearer, never went anywhere, the result of Claire’s apparent inability to cede any measure of control to Owen’s hyper-masculinity.
Claire, however, isn’t the typical villain, set up to die a semi-justified death for her profits-over-people transgressions. In fact, she’s Jurassic World’s protagonist, the only character with a recognizable arc. It’s part and parcel of Jurassic World’s gender politics — her arc involves suddenly caring for her two visiting nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach Mitchell (Nick Robinson), stranded in the wild when all heck inevitably breaks loose — while blatantly ignoring her central role in the deaths of hundreds or possibly thousands when her latest attempt to keep the island park in the green (dollars or other international currency of choice), a genetically modified, high-IQ, 50-foot-long dinosaur, dubbed the “Indominus Rex” for branding purposes, escapes its paddock to wreak havoc on the island’s unsuspecting dinosaur population and clueless human visitors.
Claire inevitably takes a back seat (or passenger seat, to be more accurate) to Grady when she enlists his aid in rescuing her nephews. Grady doesn’t get a character of his own, but he does get a pack of raptors, trained from birth to follow his commands as their alpha leader, to help him track down and neutralize the escaped dinosaur in Jurassic World’s latter half. Grady gets a human, corporate villain of his own, not in the soon-to-be-redeemed Claire (she’s present mostly for “damsel in distress” and obligatory romantic interest duties, as well as the “corporate execs have souls too” character arc), but in Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), a high-level private security exec who’s taken exactly the wrong lesson away from obsessively watching the Alien series: He sees the raptors as bio-weapons, as potential soldiers in the perpetual, highly profitable battle against evil of the undefined kind (Afghanistan gets a brief shout-out, apparently for semi-topicality’s sake). Like too many characters in Jurassic World and its predecessors, Hoskins exists primarily as a plot device, the “idiot” in “idiot plotting” the late Roger Ebert warned us about years ago.
Jurassic World, of course, is more (or less) than the sum of its subtext, themes, and ideas. It exists in large part for the same reason the fictional version exists: To entertain, to enthrall, and otherwise enrapture moviegoers interested in purely visceral, surface pleasures that Steven Spielberg delivered more than two decades ago. The wonder and awe of long-extinct dinosaurs, brought to almost, but not-quite believable life by CGI (minimal animatronics this time out, alas), in and around one of the most basic, if still highly effective plots: Dinosaur(s) escapes, dinosaur(s) create chaos, panic, and pandemonium, humans flee for their lives (with a few casualties [watch out if you’re a self-involved, narcissistic Brit, though]), scrapes and escapes, and finally, a welcome, cathartic return to the status quo, with the survivors temporarily wiser for their experiences, until, of course, Universal executives give the okay to another sequel where, once again, someone, somewhere will think it’s a low-risk, high-reward idea to open and operate an island theme park with newly resurrected dinosaurs as the main attraction.