Director: Colin Trevorrow
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson
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Everything looks different when you’re older. Big things seem small. New things seem tired. 22 years on, Jurassic Park, that awesome summer blockbuster, seems more like a project management nightmare. Mankind was so keen to play God that it forgot to consider what might happen. There were no procedures or protocols in place, especially for things going wrong.
What a difference two decades make. John Hammond’s dream – renamed Jurassic World to distance itself from the deaths in the 90s – has now been realised. The park is open. And there are more than enough protocols to cater for every eventuality. This time, though, that’s exactly the problem.
We pick events up as two brothers (Gray and Zach) take a trip to the park, courtesy of their Aunt Clare, who manages the place. With her too busy to spend time with them, they are palmed off with VIP wristbands and left to explore under the eye of a useless assistant. It’s a smart move from the screenwriters, who take care to abide by Spielberg’s Law: monsters are scariest when chasing children.
We’ve seen this all before, of course, which is Jurassic World’s biggest obstacle. The script, though, wittily turns that problem into the film’s central theme: while Gray (Simpkins), the youngest, is excited by the ancient beasts on display, Zach (Robinson), the eldest, is bored by them. When the T-Rex inevitably stomps onto the screen, he’s no longer the main attraction: he munches a goat in the background, while our teen is more interested in what’s on his phone.
And so, just as Jurassic Park was aware of its own cinematic status – InGen’s groundbreaking clones representing Hollywood’s game-changing CGI, merchandise for sale channelling the commercialism to come – Jurassic World’s meta-concept sees its owners trying to recapture the fun of 1993 for the jaded modern public.
“No one’s impressed by dinosaurs anymore,” admits Claire (Dallas Howard) to a gaggle of corporate guests, each hoping to sponsor the next attraction. And so they genetically engineeer their own creature by splicing together bits from old favourites. If that cocktail of familiar hits proves equally applicable to the whole movie, it fits right in with the post-modern tone: of course, the dinosaur is going to escape; of course, the scientists are the real monsters; of course, there’s a rugged hero who stands for the opposite of everything the corporation represents.
That would be Owen (Pratt), whose job is to train velociraptors in the hope of using them as hunting dogs. It’s not about control, he tells Claire, with whom he has a token will-they-won’t-they romance, but mutual respect. That respect, which was so lacking in Spielberg’s first film – where scientists needed no discipline to obtain their knowledge – is even more absent here. Dinosaurs are called “assets”, while Vincent D’Onofrio’s two-dimensional villain, Hoskins, thinks of them as potential weapons rather than animals. BD Wong returning as Dr. Henry Wu only adds to the sense of moral irresponsibility.
Hammond’s spirit lives on in the park’s wealthy owner, Masrani (a childlike Irrfan Khan), who flies about in his helicopter, talking about how he hopes guests will be humbled by their visit. While it would be so easy for a director to stroll in without such humility, Colin Trevorrow inherits his ancestors’ universe with the utmost respect, from cheeky nods (Jake Johnson’s loyal nerd, Lowery, wears a Jurassic Park t-shirt) to set pieces that literally follow in the (giant) footsteps of the franchise. Crucially, Trevorrow’s bigger, “cooler” monster is withheld for much of the runtime, a predator (in the John McTiernan sense) only captured in glimpses before its full reveal. Others, meanwhile, are disposed off by blasé soldiers.
As the park attempts to handle the disaster, there’s a growing realisation that its back-up measures and security forces are inadequate. That’s because they’re based on the same lack of respect as InGen’s careless first attempt; some things, even in 2015, haven’t changed.
That balance between trust and fear drives the narrative’s tension – a juggling act handled superbly by the charismatic Pratt, who interacts with his CGI raptor counterparts like they’re in the room with him. His trademark goofiness may be absent, but Jurassic World also understands that Spielberg’s series began life as a horror, not a comedy; one sequence inspired by Aliens, using heart monitors rather than blood to depict the death of troops, is chillingly effective.
Dallas Howard, meanwhile, enjoys slowly shaking off her cold, businesswoman role, a clichéd journey, but one that ties the peril facing her nephews to the overall story: as mankind must learns to respect nature, she must remember to respect other people.
And what of the park itself? Jurassic World is lavishly brought to life, from glistening monorails to staff members dealing with customer complaints. You’ll want to go there immediately. It’s a great piece of world-building that re-establishes Islar Nubla as a contained environment within which our critters can run riot – a fact that drives hunter and prey towards each other at a constant pace.
Can all this recreate the thrill of 1993? Of course not. But Jurassic World cleverly acknowledges that, spending its entire runtime knowingly trying to turn us from the cynical Zach back into the wide-eyed Gray of our youth. That effort erupts in an affectionate climax that carries some of the awe of the recent Godzilla movie: a combination of fear and respect for the original classic that makes you forget, if only for a couple of hours, that old things can still seem as amazing as they did 22 years ago.