In short, a damn fun film.
It has been entirely too long since a new Jurassic Park film has graced the silver screen. The first one was phenomenally groundbreaking in the technical sense. It used CGI like no film had done before and has become a cultural icon. The second film was a hack piece of work and I have trouble believing that it came from the same director. The environmental and anti-corporate messages were terrible and hypocritical. The third one was stupid, but it was honestly stupid. There were no preachy messages and it just wanted to show CGI dinosaurs chase people. The third film was so bad that it killed off the franchise for over a decade.
There is now way that Jurassic World can live up to the first film. Part of the reason that the first film was so successful was that it showed us something that we had never seen before. Modern action films are so saturated with sparkly effects and CGI that it has become commonplace. There is no way that Jurassic World can wow audiences in the same way.
That said, this film does manage to be plenty entertaining. I do not want to spoil the film for anyone who wants to see it but I have to write about the whole thing. The first half of this review will be spoiler free and I’ll just talk about my thoughts on the film. I’ll mark where the spoilers will be.
I am not spoiling anything when I say that the plot of the film involves dinosaurs getting loose and wreaking havoc across the island and terrifying the people. What else would happen in a Jurassic Park film? Any more details will have to wait until further is this write up.
The sets themselves look impressive and functional. The basic design of the park that we saw in the first film did not feel like it would work. The idea of relying on animals with large territory to stomp around it be close to an electric fence for visitors to routinely see them is unrealistic. The visitor center from the first film does not look large enough to accommodate large crowds. Also, how feasible would it have been to build a huge tourist park on an island in the middle of nowhere?
Jurassic World shows us how all of that could work. We see large ferries bring passengers from the Costa Rican Mainland and bring them to the island. We see hotel rooms for the guests. We see a monorail system transport people across the island. The best set in the film is a main street area flanked by shops. Dinosaur skeletons are mounted in the open for people to see. The new visitor center has holograms displaying the different dinosaur species and other interactive activities for children. This is where the Mr. DNA cartoon character from the first film makes a brief appearance.
The design of the buildings is much more modern. The safari-theme from the first film is done away with in favor of a sleeker more Sea World-like aesthetic. This is hammered home when we see an amphitheater built on the side of a lagoon where visitors see a mosasaur chomp on a shark and splash the audience like Shamo.
The way that the dinosaurs are presented to the public is also more believable. We see a dinosaur petting zoo where children can feed the dinosaurs, hug baby sauropods, and ride a baby triceratops if they are under a certain height. We see a group of people packed onto a large safari car driving alongside a herd of gallimimus. The T. rex is contained in an enclosed area where visitors can watch the beast feed on goats behind thick glass. The oddest contraption is a gyrosphere, a large hamster ball-like vehicle that protects passengers as they role alongside large herbivores.
The characters are a mixed bag. Chris Pratt works well as Owen Grady, an animal trainer whose current project involves training a pack of four raptors. He dresses like a scuzzy outdoorsman with a knife sheathed on the back of his belt to suggest that he’s tough. Owen is sufficiently snarky with plenty of badass moments like you’d expect. He quips out one-liners and rides a motorbike like no other.
Bryce Dallas Howard is Claire Dearing, a businesswoman who is involved with gaining sponsorships from other companies. Her acting is serviceable and nothing really stands out. She is introduced with a close up of her shoes that slowly pans up her body before settling on her face. She dresses formally in whites and pale colors that give her a sterilized appearance. She gradually loses layers of clothes as the film progresses and the dinosaurs chase her. The script does not give her much to play with aside from looking wide-eyed at dinosaurs and running from them. I will say that she is amazingly capable of running while wearing some tall heels. The film even snarks about that at one point.
There’s a sort of romance between Claire and Owen that feels a little tacked on. I do not want to say that it detracts from the film but it does not feel like it adds anything. I guess the writers wanted the opportunity to add some innuendo to their dialogue.
The two boys are where a lot of people will find fault with the film. The plot involves their parents sending them to Jurassic World so the boys will not be around for divorce proceedings. Claire is their aunt and uses her pull at the park to give them a comfy hotel room and rides passes and whatnot. Makes me wish that my parents got divorced so they would be easy on me, but no, they’ve always been happily married, mumble grumble…
I enjoyed watching the younger brother Gary, who looks to be in elementary school. He has this wide-eyed wonder for the dinosaurs and rattles off his knowledge of them at every opportunity. I know that a lot of people will probably find him annoying, but I found him kind of charming. Mainly because if I were ten years old and in a real Jurassic World, I would act exactly the same. Hell, I’d probably act like that at my current age.
The older brother Zach is a little grating. He is much more worried about not being with his girlfriend than about seeing dinosaurs. Watching him angst as he notices girls his age gets annoying but it thankfully does not last long. Part of the plot involves Zach leading his brother into a restricted area despite the fact that they know that there is an evacuation going on. I wanted to punch the kid for his idiocy. This naturally involves running from dinosaurs. He shows some competence when he is able to fix a twenty-year old jeep to get them to safety and he and his brother use a huge shock prod to fend off a velociraptor, so there’s that.
I would be remiss if I did not include the dinosaurs as characters. Most of the shots that we see of them are CGI, like what you’d expect from a modern film. I could not tell how good or bad the CGI was, probably because I saw it in 3D, but it works.
The main antagonist is a new dinosaur called the Indominus rex, and yes, Owen snarks at the name. The story is that the Indominus is a hybrid of different animals so create a scarier dinosaur to attract more visitors. The beast is a large theropod comparable to a tyrannosaurus. The scales are a pale gray that give the animal a deathly look to it. The hands are much larger and have four digits each. A pair of carnotaurus-like horns stick out above the eyes.
The design of the Indominus is fine but I sort of hoped that they could do something a little more inventive if they were combining other animals into one. Give it a spinosaurus sail or an anklyosaurus club or ceratosaurus horns or something like that. Perhaps the artists were worried that the animal would not be believable if it looked too outlandish.
The other main dinosaurs are the four raptors, Blue, Charlie, Delta, and Echo. The shape of the raptors looks that same as in the first movie, but each one is a different color to help differentiate them. They act much like you expect Jurassic Park raptors to act. They are super-fast and super persistent when it comes to killing and eating humans.
The film does not build up the suspense around the raptors like it does in the first film. We are shown the raptors early in the film and it is established that they are dangerous animals when they almost kill one of the workers.
Some fans complained about the raptors being tame, but the film clearly shows that they are still dangerous animals. Owen tries to work with their instincts by being the pack’s alpha. He has them trained to pay attention to him, but barely. We get the see the raptors do their thing and use their claws and all that.
The secondary human characters are nothing to write home about but they work.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays Vic Hoskins, the head of security with InGen. (But not with the park.) I guess InGen has branched out into private security, now. He is the human antagonist for the film and it feels like he should have more presence on screen than he actually does. His story involves wanting to weaponized the dinosaurs in place of drones and modern military animals like dogs. Yes, InGen is now Weyland Yutani. I wonder if the Jurassic Park films and Alien films are set in the save universe.
Irrfan Khan plays Simon Masrani, the park’s affable owner. It seems like he was written to be this film’s John Hammond. He is the sort of manager who cares more about customer satisfaction than profit. They try and give him some eccentricities by having him training for a helicopter pilot’s license. There’s a moment when I think he was supposed to be presented in a badass light when he pilots a helicopter in a dire situation. It does not quite come off but I do not think it detracts.
B.D. Wong reprises his role in the first movie as Dr. Henry Wu. He does not get much screen time despite being the mastermind behind creating the Indominus rex. His role is largely to exposit some science-y stuff involving the cloning process and how the I. rex got its abilities. There is also a subplot involving a secret deal between Wu and Hoskins that sets up material for a sequel. If a sequel does happen then I expect to see him again.
There are a pair of tech nerd types in the park’s mission control room. They monitor the park’s progress on computer terminals. They get a few good moments and I like the fact that this new park actually looks sufficiently staffed than the previous park.
The product placement is very evident but feels natural. The phrase, “Verizon presents Indominus Rex,” is said in the movie, albeit in a snarky way. We see Chris Pratt drink Coca-Cola. Google is mentioned in passing. Some of the shops on main street are real franchises. The marketing is obvious but fits into the setting.
There is some satire on how the park’s visitors want to see the dinosaurs bigger and cooler and this is what leads to the creation of the Indominus rex. A lot of people see this as commentary on how the movie-going public wants to see more spectacle on screen.
The film is not nearly as preachy as the first two movies were and I love it for that. The luddite attitude from the first film has been done away with. There’s no moaning about the evils of technology or the morality of cloning dinosaurs. No “Though shall not meddle in God’s domain” bullshit or “The natural world is being raped” baloney.
There is concern over how the dinosaurs are raised, however. Owen criticizes the handling of the Indominus Rex and how raising the animal in captivity with minimal contact with people and other dinosaurs has hurt its psyche. The I. rex’s rampage is largely explained by saying that the animal is exploring the world outside of its cage for the first time and does not know how to respond to it. Minor spoiler alert: It responds violently.
The paleontology is about as accurate as the paleontology in the first film was. That is to say, it would be fine in 1993, but in 2015, a lot of it is outdated. We now know that raptors had feathers and their wrists were not flexible. They were probably not pack hunters, either. Modern theories suggest that they may have congregated together like birds and crocodiles do, but there is no hierarchy or coordination between them.
There are some other inaccuracies. The mosasaur in the film is about twice as long as it would have been in real life. The pteranodons don’t have fur and can unrealistically lift a human into the air. That last one reminds me of the Monty Python quote, “A five ounce bird cannot carry a one pound coconut.” A 70lb pterosaur cannot carry a 170lb human.
Paleo-nerds like me are generally bummed about some of the inaccuracies. The first Jurassic Park film created a sort of dinosaur renaissance and changed how extinct animals were seen in the public eye. People were used to seeing dinosaurs portrayed as big lumbering Godzilla-style creatures played by people in suits and stop-motion puppets.
There is a sort of explanation for the inaccuracies, however. A scene with Mr. Masrani and Dr. Wu explains that all of the dinosaurs have some changes to their genome to make them more marketable. This is rather similar to a conversation that Dr. Wu had with Hammond in the book, where the geneticist suggests that they make the animals slower and sluggish to live up to the public’s expectations. The dinosaurs in Jurassic World are not genetically accurate dinosaurs to begin with. This is an explanation that I can get behind and I can forgive the film for not having feathered theropods because of it.
Here be Spoilers:
A lot of awesome things happen in this film and I have the instinctive urge to get them into words. So, here goes:
The events that lead up to the disaster are kind of convoluted. It starts when the Indominus rex gets out of its enclosure. The main characters think that the beast gets out because the enclosure’s sensors cannot detect it and there are claw marks on the wall suggesting that it climbed out. Now, every dinosaur in the park has a tracking device implanted into them but instead of checking the tracker to pinpoint its location, they moronically decide to go into the enclosure. This gives the Indominus the chance to escape and wreak havoc throughout the park. So, yeah, moronic animal handling leads to human deaths.
The Indominus has some spiffy abilities aside from being huge. The genes from a frog help to regulate its body temperature and turn invisible to infrared sensors. Cuttlefish genes allow it to change the color and texture of its skin so it can camouflage. The camouflage effect is neat when we see it, but we only see it once. I feel like the Indominus could have been a lot scarier if its abilities were used properly.
The idea of a stealth dinosaur seems like mad science and this is brought up in the film. It is strongly hinted that Dr. Wu deliberately made the Indominus mean and camouflage capable as a way to test the viability of creating dinosaurs for military use. This sets up bait for a sequel.
There is also a scene where the Indominus is hunted from a helicopter with an automatic gun and the dinosaur runs for cover aviary where the pterosaurs are kept. This causes a bunch of pteranodons and dimorphodons to fly out and attack people. I was torn on this because on one hand, it was established earlier that the Indominus killed a bunch of apatasauruses. Why the newly released pterosaurs would go straight for the live humans and not the hundreds of tons of fresh carrion is a mystery to me. It was like watching a row of domino tiles spaced far apart improbably fall down on one another in the most contrived way possible. On the other hand, I dressed up as a dimorphodon for Halloween one year so seeing them on screen was another bonus.
There is a fan service moment where we see the visitor center from the first movie. The building has long since been abandoned and is now overrun with plant growth. We see the remains of the skeletons that the T. rex and the raptors wreaked. The older brother fashions a torch out of a long bone and the remains of the ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’ banner. We also get a glimpse of the night vision goggles. The homage to the first film made the fanboy inside me grin.
Everyone who has seen the trailers has seen the part where Chris Pratt leads a group of raptors with a motorcycle. Yes, the scene is as badass as it appeared in the trailer. Watching the iconic velociraptors run alongside rugged motor vehicles at night with a few green-tinted night vision shots is immensely entertaining. Claire and the boys watch the feed from the cameras fixed to the raptors’ collars and Zach even remarks that it’s badass.
There is a goofy moment when the raptors confront the Indominus and the later somehow becomes their new alpha leader and convinces the four smaller dinosaurs to turn on the humans. It kind of looks like the raptors are conversing with each other with honks and grows. I imagine that I’ll be seeing a few memes on YouTube with added subtitles speculating what the dinosaurs were saying.
The final scene near the end is like the cherry on top of the sundae. Owen manages to reestablish his dominance as the raptor pack’s alpha and convinces the remaining raptors including Blue to turn on the Indominus. The I. rex makes short work of the smaller dinosaurs. The big beasty then tries to get the remaining humans until Claire gets an idea to up the ante.
She runs to the T. rex enclosure and uses a flare to draw Rexie towards the fight kind of like how flares were used to draw the animal’s attention in the first film. My day was made when I saw beast make its grand appearance by smashing through the skeleton of a spinosaurus. I choose to believe that this is revenge for showing the spinosaurus beat the rex in the third movie.
The two massive apex predators size each other up before trying to get their jaws around each other’s throats. The fight is nothing less than impressive. It happens at night so the scene is darker than the daytime mayhem and that masks some of the CGI textures. Watching the T. rex fight the Indominus was everything that I wanted to see in a Jurassic Park movie.
And then it just gets better. The Indominus appears to be winning. The T. rex loses stamina. It looks like Rexie is going to bite the dust…
And then a hissing shriek signals the return of Blue. We get a slow motion shot of the blue raptor running with claws bared towards the fight like a mother fucking hero. The raptor leaps into the Indominus’s flank and start clawing at it. The Tyrannosaurus takes the opportunity to attack the distracted Indominus. The Indominus / Tyrannosaurus / Velociraptor fight is one of the best things that I have ever seen on screen. Seeing three prehistoric beasts battle it out with teeth and claws is plain engrossing. I was fully invested in every second of it.
Even with the Tyrannosaurus / Blue team up, the Indominus is still a tough bitch to crack. The rex throws it against a fence by the lagoon. The fence breaks and the Indominus gets up looking ready for another round. It was then that I was afraid that the fight was going to get too gratuitous. Then the mosasaur lurches from the lagoon and chomps down on the Indominus and drags the fucker down into the depths with it.
And that is when I lost it. I was slapping my hand down on my thigh and laughing in glee. It was the perfect exclamation point at the end of the climax.
The camera lingers on the surviving theropods after the explosive climax. The camera lingers on Blue and the T. rex as they share of sort of bro moment. The audience in the theater applauded at that point. I think that I have been to only two other movies where the audience applauded at something on the screen. That is a testament to the quality of that scene. The carnivores then go their separate ways and run / stomp off into the night.
The film ends shortly after that with the remaining humans at a shelter on or close to the island. The brothers’ parents arrive and we are assured that everything will be all right.
The last shot shows the tyrannosaurus walk up onto a helipad on one of the buildings on the island and she overlooks the verdant green land in a wide shot and then roars to declare that she still kicks ass. (Third film be damned.)
I do have a few qualms. I would have like more build up for the T. rex throughout the film. The older brother is a little grating. The events that involve the Indominus escaping could have been less contrived. The predators are unrealistically persistent in killing humans. You’d think that the raptors would be full after the first dozen humans, but no.
Regardless of that, here’s hoping for another sequel.
I guess I’ll have to settle with Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” to tide me over in the meantime.