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Josh Reviews Jurassic World

June 28th, 2015

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I was excited when I first heard about Jurassic World.  I absolutely adore the first Jurassic Park.  I think it’s one of Steven Spielberg’s very best films.  (Click here for my thoughts on Jurassic Park’s 3-D re-release, and here for an earlier review when I was re-watching various middle-career Spielberg films.)  I love the world of that film so much that every time I re-watch it, it continues to leave me hungry for further exploration of that world.  Neither of the two sequels satisfied me (I think The Lost World is one of the worst films Steven Spielberg has ever made, and I like Jurassic Park III a lot but feel it ends much too abruptly — it’s a solid film missing the last twenty minutes).  This makes Jurassic Park a franchise I am eager to see additional sequels to, because I want to see another great Jurassic Park movie and I haven’t yet.

When I read that they were returning to this series after more than a decade away, I was excited because I thought for sure that meant they had a new idea for this series, a way to better the two mediocre sequels we’d already gotten.

Unfortunately I was wrong, they had exactly the same idea.

One of the inherent problems with all three Jurassic Park sequels is that they have all, basically, told exactly the same story as the first film.  This latest sequel, Jurassic World, is in fact the closest in structure to that first film, in that it’s about a theme park of dinosaurs where the dinosaurs get loose.

But I’ve seen that story already.  And each of these re-tellings — including this latest, Jurassic World — just wind up being a pale shadow of that first film.

On a superficial level, there are a lot of things to like about Jurassic World.  The film certainly looks great.  There are some gorgeous visual effects, and some really wonderful sequences of dinosaur mayhem.  I like the idea of the twist on the original film that while that park was still under construction, the park we see in Jurassic World is a fully-operational, top-of-the-line theme park that is open for business.  I love the design of the park and its rides and everything we see of John Hammond’s original vision come to life as an actual theme park island.  That is all very cool.

But the problem with Jurassic World is that the characters are both incredibly, unbelievably, jaw-droppingly stupid or totally flat and uninteresting, or both.  The magic of that first Jurassic Park was its wonderful characters.  Within the framework of an exciting adventure story were interesting, fun, complex characters who we rooted for and cared about, characters who had personalities and distinct points of view, and who grew and changed over the course of the film.

Jurassic World has none of that.  Characters do incredibly stupid things for no other reason other than to move the plot forward, and often have completely different personalities from scene to scene because that is what the plot requires.

Let’s take Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard.  She apparently is the person in charge of the day-to-day operation of the park.  And yet she is staggeringly clueless about the dinosaurs she is in charge of and oblivious to any possible dangers of cross-breeding dinosaurs to create new super-dinosaurs.  But OK, maybe I can roll with that, and buy into the idea that she’s just a suit brought in to oversee the business side of the park, and that her story in the movie is that she will grow to respect and fear the dinosaurs.  But that doesn’t really happen.  Her attitude about the dinosaurs doesn’t change at all.  (Speaking of arcs this character could have had but doesn’t, it’s set up that her two nephews are visiting and she doesn’t really care about them. One might have thought that, like Alan Grant in the first film, she’d learn to care for those kids over the course of their life-and-death adventure together.  Except that doesn’t happen either!  She’s concerned about the boys and doesn’t want them to die, but not much more than that.  The film sort of tries to set up that the boys bond with Claire’s hunky not-boyfriend Owen, played by Chris Pratt, but that doesn’t really go anywhere either.  Owen saves them a few times, and they have one short scene together where Owen introduces the boys to his velociraptors (more on that ludicrousness in a moment), but that’s it.  We don’t see any bond there at all beyond the basic human decency that Owen doesn’t want them to die.)  But getting back to Claire’s cluelessness, when she suspects the Indominus Rex has escaped its paddock, she doesn’t think to check the location of its tracking beacon before sending human beings rushing into its enclosure?  Come on!  And then her behavior after the I-Rex breaks out is even more insane.  She is supposed to be in charge of the park, but she immediately leaves the control room to go after her two nephews, leaving absolutely no one in charge of dealing with the crisis situation of an escaped dinosaur in a park of 20,000 innocent people.  Are we supposed to think that action is heroic?  Its’s mind-bogglingly stupid and selfish.  Claire is supposed to be one of the two heroic leads of the film, but the blood of hundreds of innocent people is on her hands by the end of the movie.  I don’t get it at all.

The other heroic lead is Owen, played by Chris Pratt.  Chris Pratt is a wonderful actor and he does the best he can with this Indiana Jones-type role.  He’s certainly fun to watch.  But his character is flat as can be, with no arc whatsoever.  Owen is always right.  He doesn’t learn anything and he doesn’t change.  He’s right in every way about how to handle the dinosaurs, heck, he’s even right that Claire should be dating him.  Despite the charisma that Chris Pratt brings, this is a boring character.  And what’s worse, the character is sort of insane!  I mean, he’s presented as the only one who knows how to handle the dinosaurs, as opposed to clueless Claire and evil Hoskins (more on him in a moment).  But what does Owen do?  He’ s a velociraptor whisperer!  He’s trying to train velociraptors!  Why is Owen’s thinking he can control these dinosaurs heroic, while every other character in all four Jurassic Park film who has thought he/she could control the dinosaurs is either a hubristic sap or outright evil/crazy?  Owen is a hero because that is how the film is written, but really, his scheme of domesticating raptors is totally nuts!

There are few other characters in the film to speak of.  The two boys in peril are fine.  They aren’t annoying kiddie characters, but neither did I care much about either of them.  (Again, compare those two flat kid characters to Tim and Alex in the first film, characters who you totally invested in by the end.)  Vincent D’Onofrio was so great in Marvel’s Daredevil series but he is stranded here, playing a moustache-twirling villain who wants to use dinosaurs for military action.  (I wish the film clarified the relationships of any of these characters.  In the corporate structure of the park and In-gen, what is Hoskin’s relationship to Claire, who seems to be in charge of running the park, or Irrfan Khan’s characters Simon Masrani, who seems to be the wealthy backer behind the park?)  Speaking of Masrani, Mr. Khan is great as always, but his character is ridiculous and completely inconsistent. In one minute he  is speechifying to Claire about how he wants to carry on John Hammond’s dream of bringing joy to the world, then in the next he’s unwilling to destroy the vicious, enormous I-Rex on the loose because of the money invested in its creation.  And then he feels he’s the only one who can fly the security forces into battle against the dinosaur?  When we see all sorts of other security/military personnel on the island?  Why on earth does he do that?  Out of guilt for the deaths caused by the escaped dinosaur?  That would make sense, but the movie never gives us any indication of that.  This character doesn’t have anything approaching that kind of depth.

The film is filled with mystifying decisions and story points that go nowhere.  We see that Zach Mitchell is dating a girl but eager to cheat on her while at the park.  But does that go anywhere?  Does that get him into trouble in the film? No it does not.  Claire’s assistant Zara is not a villain, she’s just an assistant caught up in the mayhem.  And yet she is given the film’s most horrible, prolonged on-screen death.  Do the filmmakers thing audiences would be cheering that, or enjoying it in any way?  That’s the death that should be reserved for the film’s main villain, not a young girl whose only crime is that she’s maybe not thrilled about chaperoning the teenaged boys that her boss was too self-centered to look after herself.  (Her boss, by the way, who also is guilty of not wanting to spend time with those boys, is Claire, one of the two main heroes of the film.)

I was also surprised by how similar the film’s plot wound up being to Jurassic Park III.  Once again the film tries to introduce a new dinosaur that is bigger and badder than the Trex, and once again the film shows us the T-Rex fighting that new dinosaur, thus taking the “villain” dinosaur of the first film and recasting it as the hero.  Seriously, guys, you already made that movie — it was Jurassic Park III!  Why are we telling that EXACT same story again??  I am left scratching my head.

Other comments:

I had written in my reviews of both The Lost World and Jurassic Park III about my surprise that those films were set on a second island (a story idea from Michael Crichton’s The Lost World novel that was necessary because the original island was destroyed in the book, but not so in the films) and how I felt both films would have been better had they been set on the original island.  And so I was pleased that, finally, this sequel is set back on Isla Nublar, the island where the first film took place.  It was fun seeing characters stumble across a few locations from that first film.

I loved seeing Mr. DNA again, briefly!

Nice to see Dr. Wu again as well, the only character from the first film brought back here.  I liked that he got a few meaty scenes, though unfortunately like all the characters in the film, I felt Dr. Wu wasn’t fleshed out as much as I would have wanted.  Did he really think what he was doing was noble, or was he just in it for the money?  I have no idea!  And don’t think I didn’t notice that he seemed to escape from the mayhem scott-free, a pretty clear set-up for a future sequel…

Interesting to see this film picking up on the idea from Jurassic Park III that the raptors could talk to one another.

I like both Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus and, as I felt about most of this film’s supporting characters, I wish they had more to do in the film.  (Any other Firefly fans enjoy seeing how M. Johnson’s character decorated his work-station in a very Wash-like manner??)

Look, I certainly had fun watching this film in the theatre.  It’s a big goofy spectacle that is fun to eat popcorn to.  But my hopes were for so much more.  Why can’t anyone make a halfway decent Jurassic Park sequel?

Some people think that you should just shut off your brain and enjoy the spectacle, but I think that is a ridiculous argument.  Click here for an amazing article written by Devin Faraci of Birth.Movies.Death that addresses this exact point in response to his own negative review of Jurassic World, and the “What were you expecting, Citizen Kane??” responses he received.  This amazing post crystallizes exactly my feelings about Jurassic World, and about the way I approach watching and thinking about movies in general.

For now I will just say that I would still love to someday see another great Jurassic Park movie.  I am afraid this isn’t it.  I guess it’s time to just go back and watch Steven Spielberg’s original.

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