Directed By: Colin Trevorrow
Release Date: June 12, 2015
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio
On June 11, 1993, Jurassic Park changed my life. I was just three months shy of my fourth birthday, and my mother took me on opening day because it's all I talked about. I wasn't alive in 1977 to have my world changed by Star Wars, or in 1981 when Indiana Jones became a hero kids all over the world wanted to be. Those movies - and others - played a huge role in my childhood regardless, of course, but they weren't "mine" in the way that kids (and even adults) in '77 or '81 were able to claim by simply being there from the beginning to see them reshape pop culture and grow as a franchise. But in the summer of '93, I got "my" movie.
To say that Jurassic Park matters to me more than any other film would be an understatement. It instilled in me a passion for storytelling, for writing in the hopes that – one day – I could sweep even just one person away on an adventure in the way that this story did for me. As a film and as a franchise, I love it, warts and all, and I spent the next decade consuming everything about it. I devoured Michael Crichton's original book, as well as its 1996 sequel. I played almost every video game I could, whether it be Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues on the original Game Boy, the before-its-time Trespasser on PC, or the addictive park builder that was Operation Genesis. I owned the soundtracks. I wrote stories set in this universe, dreaming of sequel possibilities. I spent time on fan sites in the early 2000s leading up to the release of Jurassic Park III in 2001 and after, though in the years that followed, the franchise dwindled away, as a fourth film went from a sure thing to a pipe dream.
It took fourteen years for the series to spawn another entry, the result being, obviously, Jurassic World in 2015. That same year, the Star Wars franchise was making a much-anticipated comeback with The Force Awakens, something I - like the rest of the world - was awaiting with bated breath, but at the end of the day, my highest level of excitement was aimed squarely at the return of the franchise I'd spent nearly a decade and a half hoping to see brought back from extinction, hoping that relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow – tapped to direct with only one feature under his belt, 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed – would deliver on years of expectation. Seeing it opening night was an overwhelming experience; my packed audience clapped and cheered, while my nostalgia amped up every second of the film, allowing me to get swept away simply because I'd waited so long just to step into this world again.
I saw the film two more times in theaters, as well as a number of times since, and through those repeated viewings, I've been able to set my nostalgia aside and see Jurassic World for the imperfect beast it is. In the three years that have passed since its release, I've seen many people attempt to rewrite the film's overwhelming success as a fluke, painting the movie with such hyperbolic labels as "the worst blockbuster ever," and that's fascinating, one reason why – on the eve of the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – I've decided to dive back into the film and break it apart.
Now, if you're one of the three people who didn't turn out to make it one of the highest grossing films in history back in 2015, let's catch you up: 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar is now home to a thriving second theme park, the titular Jurassic World. Visitors from all over the world flock to the island to see living, breathing dinosaurs, but - according to corporate - people want something more. Something bigger. Something scarier. And thus a new, genetically-engineered hybrid is created: The Indominus Rex, a beast so intelligent that it manages to set up its own escape and go on a rampage across the island.
Caught up in the chaos is the park's operations manager, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has to cope with what the Indominus' escape could mean for the future of the park as well as worry about the fact that her two nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), who have been sent to visit her and the park while their parents work through a divorce, are out in the park. There's also the park's resident velociraptor trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who has managed to assert himself as the tenuous alpha figure for a pack of four dangerous velociraptors; Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the park's surprisingly well-intentioned owner; and Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), the park's head of security operations, who is working behind Masrani's back with geneticist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, reprising his role from the first film) to create weapons out of hybrids like the Indominus and Owen's trained raptors and uses the Indominus’ escape as an excuse to put his own plans into motion.
For the most part, the characters that populate Jurassic World are serviceable, undone in some cases by a lack of characterization, the film never quite delivering someone like the original trilogy's Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm. One character that seemed like a sure bet to meet that bar, Owen, feels like a waste of Chris Pratt's talent instead. He's a likeable enough guy, and some of the film's best moments involve him interacting with his raptor pack, but he's an otherwise blank slate of a character, oscillating between stoicism and the occasional one-liner in a relatively generic way that the franchise's previous two leads managed to avoid because there was more to their personalities, like Malcolm's initial rockstar attitude, or to their arcs, like Grant's exhaustion with kids melting away thanks to circumstance actually forcing him to spend time with them.
Not helping is the fact that he's presented as the hero when, in reality, he doesn't really do much. It's become a joke at this point to ignore Claire as a character simply because she spends the third act running around in heels, but in comparison to Owen, she's the far more interesting character, though she's treated pretty poorly by the film as a whole. Her arc through the first half of the movie rests on the idea of her shifting from seeing the dinosaurs as simply assets to actual beings, and that's fine, but the film also shifts her from stuffy corporate boss to hero. She's more than willing to wade into danger to find and rescue her nephews, but her actions are inexplicably brushed off by them throughout the film. When they are eventually reunited with her, they witness her save Owen's life from an escaped Dimorphodon, only for Zach to immediately focus on Owen. Moments later when she says she's not letting them out of her sight again, the two make it clear they feel safer with Owen despite the raptor trainer having done nothing yet in their eyes for the sake of treating Claire as a joke. She goes on to drive the kids to safety while being pursued by raptors and even frees the Tyrannosaurus to help fight the Indominus Rex, but by the end of the film, which sees her having a goofy smile when Owen suggests they stick together for survival, it doesn't feel as though the film really made a full effort to sell her as the true lead she should've been.
And then there's the film's human villain, Hoskins, who is underwritten to the point where he might as well be twirling a mustache with how much he seems to get off in seeing the chaos the Indominus brings to the park following its escape. In comparison, The Lost World's antagonist, Arliss Howard's Peter Ludlow, was driven by a clear desire to save the company put on his shoulders from ruin following the events of the first film, while Wayne Knight's disgruntled Dennis Nedry was at least clearly motivated by greed born from John Hammond's cutting of corners before the events of Jurassic Park. Hoskins just doesn't really land as a character simply because he's reduced to being a war-mongering trope of an antagonist, which is an unfortunate use of D'Onofrio's talent. The same can also be said for Khan, whose Masrani is a highlight of the film but gets the shaft – via a helicopter crash – in a way that feels downright disappointing, as both actor and character could've had an interesting arc to work with following the events of this movie in future films.
Speaking of future films, Jurassic World also feels like a film that's actively attempting to shift the franchise away from feeling episodic in nature to one that's more serialized. For the most part, the original three films all stand on their own, linked by circumstance but never feeling as though they're actively planting seeds for sequels, their focus more on telling the story at hand. Here, World makes it clear that this story isn't over, with Dr. Wu escaping the island with much of his work to a mysterious destination, and with all the talk of hybrids, the film is shifting the series into uncharted territory.
At one point in the film, as Claire informs Owen about the Indominus Rex and how people apparently aren't impressed with the park anymore unless they're given something new, Owen says, "They're dinosaurs. Wow enough." In a way, Jurassic World feels like a comment on that very idea in a commercialized sense. After Jurassic Park, people wanted to see what it would be like to see dinosaurs on the mainland. The Lost World gave us that with a Tyrannosaurus being set loose on San Diego. People complained about it, and wanted to see characters back on an island full of dinosaurs. Jurassic Park III gave us a very basic story about a group of people stuck trying to survive on an island full of dinosaurs. People complained about it, rightfully, and then wanted to see a movie that theorized what would happen if Jurassic Park had actually opened. Jurassic World gave us that. And people complained about it.
To be fair, Jurassic World doesn't ever lean as heavily into its theme park premise as it could have. Though we see slick attractions and exhibits, like the gyrosphere ride or the Mosasaurus lagoon show, no monorail full of guests gets attacked by a dinosaur, for instance. But it explores its working theme park conceit just enough to never feel like it's outright rehashing any of the previous films, and had it tried to, people would've complained. As such, Jurassic World was put in a seemingly impossible situation: Tell another simple story about people stuck on an island of dinosaurs and risk people complaining about unoriginality or go off the reservation and into a completely different direction and risk people complaining about it being a slap in the face to the franchise. The idea of the Indominus Rex represents a middle ground, the "something new" that sets the film apart from its predecessors without outright abandoning the core concept of people stuck on an island of dinosaurs, and whether or not it "works," it's hard to deny that World successfully managed to sidestep being another Jurassic Park III.
As the fourth film in a franchise, the wonder of seeing dinosaurs brought to life on the big screen was never going to match what Jurassic Park achieved in 1993. Special effects have come a long way since that film broke ground, and when Claire says that no one's impressed by a dinosaur anymore in Jurassic World, it's less a statement on reality and more one on the state of special effects. 25 years ago, seeing the Brachiosaurus for the first time or watching the Tyrannosaurus make its cinematic debut was dazzling. It felt game-changing, unlike anything we'd ever seen at the time. Nowadays, with blockbusters coming out seemingly every month loaded with special effects, it's hard to stand out. And so it is that the idea of the hybrid, of something intentionally designed to be in your face and - as Dr. Wu puts it - "cooler," acts as a meta commentary on the state of the Jurassic Park franchise as a whole by 2015, Jurassic World itself being a hybrid that blends the old era of the island-based franchise with the new era's unexplored concepts in an attempt to stand out simply because there is no way it could’ve ever caught the lightning in the bottle of the first movie.
Again, whether that ultimately works or not is a matter of personal opinion, as the idea of shifting the franchise away from dinosaurs to hybrids is a frightening, disappointing notion, but for this film, it works, and hopefully Fallen Kingdom and any other future films won't lose sight of the fact that - even though the franchise may not break ground in special effects anymore - dinosaurs, not monsters, are still the draw here, regardless of what corporate decision-makers may believe.
That said, it's unfortunate, then, that for all the dinosaurs that populate the film, only one animatronic is used, which is the upper neck and head of a dying Apatosaurus that Owen and Claire come across halfway through the film. The original trilogy made fantastic use of animatronics and CGI, the two elements complimenting each other because of the clear effort to make that happen as seamlessly as possible, and to this day, Jurassic Park still holds up because of it, with the genius move of showcasing many of the dinosaurs during nighttime helping mask the CGI's weaknesses in a way that has helped the overall effect age gracefully. Here, many of the dinosaurs are seen in full sunlight, such as during Zach and Gray's gyrosphere trip into a grassy plain full of herbivores, and three years on from the film's release, the effects are already beginning to look dated. For its part, the Indominus looks great, as do the raptors, particularly once the film shifts to night late in the film, but for all the secondary dinosaurs that populate the periphery of the film, it feels very much like a page out of John Hammond's own book, distracting us with the notion that no expense was spared to bring these dinosaurs to life but, in actuality, cutting corners for the sake of cost because it's cheaper to create fully-CGI creatures than create a fleet of animatronics for a few seconds of screentime.
Also, one thing that Jurassic World does with its dinosaur cast is classify them as heroes, villains, and monsters. With the exception of the relentless, seemingly psychopathic Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III, the dinosaurs in the first three films were always presented as animals through and through, monstrous only because of the danger that they presented to humans via their natural instincts. The Tyrannosaurus "saves the day" in the original film, for instance, but it was never a hero with some sense of morality, nor were the velociraptors ever true villains; smart and scary, yes, but predatory and territorial. In World, the Indominus is very clearly defined as a monster, one that kills for sport, one that the movie actively tries to make its audience root against simply because it's a bastard in both existence and attitude, while the raptor Blue is cast in an outright heroic spotlight by film's end, something I'll call - for the sake of argument - the Godzilla-fication of the franchise, elevating the status of these animals into personifications of "good" and "evil" in a way previous films never quite did.
Had the film given us the chance to sympathize even a bit with the Indominus, I think it would have added more to the idea the film pushes that these creatures are more than just "assets." The Indominus is an abomination of sorts, yes, but it's still a living being, and World could have played into it simply being scared and lashing out, for instance, rather than just painting it broadly as a super-intelligent psychopath. The film has some fun subversion throughout its runtime, like having Hoskin's villainous monologue cut short by the appearance of a raptor, but when it comes to the Indominus, it teases things that never get paid off that could've lent the beast more weight as a character all its own, such as an early point Owen makes about a crane being the animal's only relationship that seemed like it would come back around later in the film only to never get brought up again. Even its ability to camouflage is shown early on only to never be used (or mentioned) again in the second half of the film, and that's symbolic of the Indominus' role in the story as a whole, a fundamentally interesting idea never realized to its full potential, though - admittedly - the twist revealing that it was part raptor was, and still is, pretty great.
Interestingly enough, at least in my opinion, World's use of the hybrid concept and idea behind Wu maybe/maybe not engaging in "mad science" retroactively changes the context of a throwaway line in Jurassic Park III. In that film, after Alan Grant and the others have encountered the Spinosaurus, he and his assistant, Billy, ponder the fact that the Spinosaurus was never on InGen's list of dinosaurs, something that Grant notes makes him "wonder what else they were up to," which now works as foreshadowing for the events of World for anyone watching these films for the first time. It’s a trivial thing, but – intentional or not – it’s neat that that film has now been recontextualized a bit, especially since it’s always been the franchise’s worst, most pointless installment.
Though World itself doesn't ever directly acknowledge the events of the third film - or the second, for that matter - it does provide loads of Easter eggs to find for fans of the prior films. A book written by Ian Malcolm can be spotted a few times throughout. The first film's animated Mr. DNA makes a fleeting cameo. When the Tyrannosaurus makes its triumphant appearance to do battle with the Indominus, it bursts through the skeleton of a Spinosaurus, a nod to how disappointed people were when the Spinosaurus killed the rex in the third film. And that's just for starters.
Even further, the film cribs unused material from Crichton's two novels. The Indominus' ability to camouflage was also something a raptor had in the first book and a pair of Carnotaurus had in the sequel. The slick sequence of Owen riding a motorcycle amongst his raptor pack was clearly inspired by a sequence from The Lost World in which Sarah Harding chases after raptors on a motorbike. Even the idea of exploiting the dinosaurs for more than theme park fare is something that was touched upon through the villainous character of Lewis Dodgson in The Lost World, and though the way it's presented in Jurassic World through Hoskins - who, again, wants to use them as replacements for human soldiers - is a little ridiculous because we know it's ridiculous, as well as the concept of genetically engineering hybrid creatures, it's not that far-fetched all together as something Crichton himself could've written to illustrate mankind’s lack of humility in the face of nature.
All added up, World does a decent job of assembling elements of the franchise as a whole in its effort to bridge the original run of films with wherever the franchise goes next, and one last way it does that is through Michael Giacchino's score. Thanks to his work on all six seasons of Lost from 2004 to 2010, as well as a number of films throughout the years, I'm a huge fan of the composer, and when it was announced that he'd be working on World, I was excited. It's hard to top John Williams' iconic work, and in lesser hands, the most memorable bits of World's score would have ended up being when Williams' compositions were cited, but Giacchino overcame that with a score I still find myself revisiting. Of course, the classic Jurassic Park theme resurfaces here and there throughout the film, as does a brief but glorious reprisal of Williams' theme for The Lost World during the three-way battle between Blue, the rex, and the Indominus, but Giacchino leaves his own mark with great pieces all his own.
The DNA of Williams' work can be felt in Giacchino's work, the latter staying in tune with the style his legendary predecessor defined for the first two films, employing heavy drums, choral arrangements, piano pieces, and more in a way that feels absolutely inspired by Williams without simply taking the easy route and aping him. Giacchino gives the new park its own theme, the Indominus a simple but heavy musical identity, Zach and Gray their own lighthearted motif, Owen a pretty awesome rhythmic beat that's showcased during the motorcycle sequence, and Hoskins and the InGen security team a slick, militaristic march, all while referencing Williams' original theme at just the right moments, such as when the Tyrannosaur's paddock door is finally opened or during the closing seconds of the film as she looks out over the abandoned park. It's just a really well-rounded piece of work, and if anything, I'm excited to see how Giacchino builds upon it going forward.
And ultimately that's what is going to define Jurassic World in the years to come: What happens next. As I said, it had the unenviable task of having to bring back a dormant franchise in a way that felt fresh and justified its existence all while having to straddle a line between frustrating people for being too familiar and alienating people for not being familiar enough, the result being a film that's far from perfect, almost playing it too safe because it had to attempt to appeal to as broad an audience as possible in reinvigorating the franchise in an accessible way that would bring in fans old and new. Most of its characters are wafer-thin, the roster lacking someone on par with the personalities we associate with the original trilogy. The effects work misses the heart that the first film achieved by making its animals tangible. Its foray into a world of hybrids and weaponized dinosaurs is a little worrisome for a franchise that's otherwise been "grounded," at least in the first two films.
But again, World pushed us into a new era of the franchise because it had to. Love it or hate it, if future films can build on this foundation in a way that continues to respect the road that led up to it, then I think World might be remembered more fondly, but if it's set us down a course of further sequels that forget why this series became so iconic in the first place, then World's reputation will only continue to be diminished. For this lifelong fan, World was a welcome return trip to the franchise, a far more satisfying film than Jurassic Park III was, with some solid action, a fantastic score, and just enough charm to get by as a film I enjoy revisiting, even if it never comes close to hitting the highs of Jurassic Park or The Lost World, the latter a sequel which many dismiss but one I'll defend (and have!) to my dying breath. Much of the film's strength comes from the nostalgia - I still get goosebumps when the triumphant sound of Williams' theme plays when the paddock doors open and the original film's Tyrannosaurus finally enters the film, for instance - but that's okay in this single instance. World set a new foundation for the franchise upon which to build a set of films that can, hopefully, flesh out its characters more and take the time to slow down and world build, taking a few risks along the way, all while remembering that corporate was wrong: Dinosaurs are wow enough.
Pick a Month: