There’s a perception of Hollywood at the moment that everything is remakes, reboots, re-hashes, sequels, threequels, and so on. Even if that isn’t the whole story, it’s true that the mainstream propensity for revisiting old material is at a particularly high level. 2015 alone has already seen new entries in a number of franchises, and there are many more to come.
A certain generation, of which I am a part, probably felt trepidation towards Jurassic World, the fourth entry in the series started off in such exemplary fashion by Steven Spielberg in 1993. To allay those fears from the off: this doesn’t feel like a shameless cash-in, nor is it a failure. Director Colin Trevorrow has put together a fun, mostly solid family blockbuster. It lacks the transcendent brilliance of the original, but has enough bite to be worthy of recommendation.
Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson star as Gray and Zach Mitchell who, after a brief introduction to their family life, are whisked away to Jurassic World, the now fully-functioning park that John Hammond dreamed of creating in the first film, where their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) works as operations director. Claire is overseeing the park’s new “asset”, a genetically-modified dinosaur called Indominus Rex, a splicing of the DNA of a T-Rex and a secretive second species. Claire is instructed by park CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) to bring in velociraptor expert (and trainer) Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to help inspect the new creature’s enclosure. Very quickly, it gets out, and the park is sent into meltdown.
Colin Trevorrow (whose only feature prior to Jurassic World was indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed) was a pretty leftfield choice to helm a project this big, but the majority of the film’s issues come from script and plotting rather than the director’s chair. The film is credited with having four writers (following a legal dispute over accreditation) and, while we’ll never know exactly how much of the script came from where, it does feel like a lot of ideas and plot strands have been contrived into the same story. There’s a family element which is fairly well established but then mostly abandoned; there’s a never entirely convincing military storyline headed up by Vincent D’Onofrio; a strand about raptor training which sort of works, but strains credibility, particularly in the final act; and a romantic subplot which feels entirely incidental.
Trevorrow does a pretty good job of holding the slightly rickety structure of the film together, though. At times, he captures the sense of awestruck wonder that Spielberg brought so convincingly to the first film, and there are some nicely constructed set pieces. What he can’t gloss over is the fact that these new CGI dinosaurs, while they are well done, actually feel less effective – less believable, less scary – than the extraordinary, primarily-animatronic creatures of the original. The dinosaurs also lose effectiveness because none of the characters or relationships are given enough time to develop. There is some effective sibling stuff between the brothers early on, including one genuinely touching moment, but Zach and Gray get less and less to do as the film goes on. Chris Pratt gives a solid performance as the rugged, raptor-training Owen, but often looks like he’s looking for more interesting things to say. Bryce Dallas Howard gives the strongest lead performance – her guilt over the breakdown of the park, and the fact that her nephews are caught up in it, is one of the few personal motivations that convinces all the way through.
There are a lot of nostalgic nods to Jurassic Park in here, from a glimpse of the cartoon DNA character from Hammond’s theme park ride to an uncovering of old props. These are nice touches, but Trevorrow and his crew might have reined in the nostalgia a little – throughout, there are shots and situations designed to mirror events from the first film a little too closely, though to be fair, for a kid going to the see this as his or her first Jurassic Park film, this might not be an issue. Where the nostalgia really does work is in the slightly reworked versions of John William’s classic theme tune, which tinkle and boom when the action demands.
To give the script its due, there is some considered material in here about the workings of the park and about the treatment and nature of the creatures. It isn’t just a dumb blockbuster, and the production designers obviously had fun piecing together how Jurassic World looks and feels. There’s gentle criticism in here of consumer culture and profit-making – similar themes to the first film, and they still work.
It won’t stand the test of time the way its predecessor did, but neither is Jurassic World an outright misstep; indeed, it’s better than Jurassic Park III and close in quality to The Lost World. If its primary function is ultimat ely to remind all the oldies how brilliant Jurassic Park was, and simultaneously to inspire a new generation of kids to go and check it out, then that’s surely a good thing.