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THE LATEST JURASSIC PARK SEQUEL ROARS LOUDER THAN ITS PREDECESSORS
If you like mid-tier fast food, you’ll probably love Jurassic World. Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World largely does what’s promised, but only the minimum requirement to qualify. A park, “Jurassic World”, is built, dinosaurs escape, and the ancient beasts not only fight humans but target each other. It’s half monster movie and half Kaiju battle spectacular, directed with less flair than last year’s great but meh-acted Godzilla, although World has a lot more action. The big action scenes are sufficient but rarely communicate a sense of inspiration. Action feels contrived rather than arising naturally, and there’s little creativity on either sides of the camera to supplement the lack of genuine suspense or scares. It’s quantity over quality and an absence of a defining moment, other than the admittedly kickass finale that’s a huge homage to James Cameron’s Aliens, pokes a major hole in the big screen experience. World conjures an actual feeling of adventure, a rare commodity to be sure, but it’s stop-start and the leads lack chemistry. Luckily, World doesn’t try to walk in the T-Rex shaped footprints of the classic, a novel but unsuccessful ambition I’ll get to later. So, really, thank God for Chris Pratt.
Pratt is a wholly believable everyman. Instead of being born into Hollywood royalty or trained in top-level acting academics like graduates from Juilliard, he’s just a really driven guy who happened to become famous. A dude that earned his keep and won it through hard work and a bit of luck. On and off the camera, Pratt is a guy you’d grab a beer with. He reveals the difference between talent and screen presence. It’s talent that got him noticed, but presence is what turned him into a star. Chris Pratt is the kind of actor you’d follow anywhere, from space prisons and baseball fields to being a lovable loser in Parks and Recreation, even into a passively enjoyable monster movie like Jurassic World. It’s Pratt, not the effects, and certainly not the plot that’s so fuzzy it makes TV-snow seem clear, that acts as World’s call to adventure. A lot of the action hinges on absurd, and while the absurdity is part of what makes it fun, Pratt grounds all of it.
His character Owen Grady, an ex-Navy sort of Velociraptor-whisperer in the vein of dog whisperers you see on TV, is unusually pro-nature and open-minded for the typical bag-of-meat hero, but it’s Pratt who gives a soul to a movie easy to dismiss as soulless. Jurassic World will age terribly, a Transformers-esque clunky action movie all CGI that often already looks a few years past its prime. If that’s true, Pratt might be World’s fountain of youth. If he believes he’s running from a gigantic, hybrid, albino T-Rex-like mutant dinosaur, then hell, I do too. If I return to World, he’ll be what makes the sure-to-be-dated effects believable.
The other three principles, Bryce Dallas Howard’s cold-faced capitalist Claire Dearing (who doesn’t want kids) and her nephews Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach Mitchell (Nick Robinson), struggle to find a distinguishing identity. She’s bad with kids and they’re kind of annoying (Gray is the overexcited kid you hope you never have to babysit and Mitchell is a hormonal teen punk), so wanting everyone to get along is a non-goal. And unlike the analog, robust theme park from Jurassic Park, Jurassic World is more than a fully functional worldwide phenomenon. It’s proudly modernist. Lots of glass, lots of stainless steel, but also lots less personality. The already artificial-looking locale of Jurassic World was brought to life with questionable CGI, and the impersonal, anti-tactile aesthetic undercuts the original’s thrilling sense of actually being there. Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg, ever the master of audience manipulation, knew how to activate senses beyond the frame, including the sophisticated arousal of imagining what a gigantic pile of Triceratops shit smells and even feels like.
This is also a message movie but not a very good one. An early version of the title was probably Jurassic World: An Intermittently Fun Cautionary Tale of Capitalism. Evolving from Jurassic Park’s themes of greed, family and the chaotic states of life, screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, and Derek Connolly try to unite World’s many disparate narrative strands through subtext. There’s contrasting examples of wanton capitalist enterprise, the diminishing returns of YouTube instant gratification, and the military industrial complex. Howard’s character ties into that clumsily strewn web through the edge of sexual politics. If that sounds like a sour stew of ideas, it’s because it totally is, and seeing Claire’s anal obsession with end-of-year figures “up 2% from last year” shoulder to shoulder with Vincent D’Onofrio’s security man that wants to militarize raptors—really, that’s a thing—is nothing short of bizarre. If Jurassic Park is full of the “Spielberg face”, where characters gaze offscreen in awe and wonder, Jurassic World might make you experience the “confused face” or the “perplexed face.”
Spielberg handpicked Trevorrow for this gig, a weird fact since Trevorrow apparently saw Spielberg’s masterful original as a pure over-the-top 1950s science fiction creature feature. In many ways it was, but it was also so much more, and straight ‘50s sci-fi is exactly how Jurassic World is directed. True to the politically loud plots of the era, raptors are in demand for counter-terrorism—a remaining thread from an earlier, even stranger version of the screenplay—and in the meantime they run side by side with gun-toting heroes on motorcycles. Jurassic Park is an action-thriller; this is a 1950s fever dream.
*light spoilers for the ending* Even the finale, which shows an unlikely alliance between dinosaurs, exchanges sense for a kind of dramatic point on a theme of ‘bonding.’ *end of spoilers* The ending, while awesome in the true sense of the word, is campier than anything in RKO’s 1933 King Kong.
Jurassic World has the veneer of sexism, an observation that Avengers man Joss Whedon tweeted to some media controversy. “I’m too busy wishing this clip wasn’t 70’s era sexist. She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force - really? Still?” Luckily the finished film might (somewhat) assuage his fears. Claire takes an unusual amount of initiative to save both herself and the chaos-erupting park, and she arguably has a greater hand in saving it than Owen. World’s reversal of gender roles is so subtle it’s blink and you’ll miss it, so while I wouldn’t dare to call this a feminist film, it doesn’t spit in the face of the still progressive Jurassic Park either (which saw Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler as a self-reliant badass). And while some corners call World sexist for having an “independent” female lead that is the typical clinical businesswoman and therefore above having kids, it’s a from-the-headlines statistical fact that in many parts of the world birth rates are dropping partially due to women choosing careers over family. A misguided bid to make Claire feel relevant, perhaps. Still, Jurassic World roars louder than the sequels we'd rather forget.
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