The year was 1993 when Jurassic Park made its groundbreaking release in theaters, as it presented a new standard for visual effects and blockbuster filmmaking. Director Steven Spielberg wowed audiences by truly bringing dinosaurs to life on the big screen with satisfying results in both spectacle and terror. The film has aged phenomenally, while its sequels pale in comparison. Nonetheless, Jurassic Park as a franchise has been a part of many people’s lives, and so it was only a matter of time before it would return to theaters. Jurassic World is set up to be like the sequel of every fan’s dream. As the poster’s tagline says, “the park is open:” it’s essentially putting the characters right at the center of complete chaos. Director Colin Trevorrow is the main creative head behind this film, along with Spielberg serving as executive producer. Before beginning work on Jurassic World, Trevorrow had only one feature film on his resume, which is the Sundance indie hit Safety Not Guaranteed. So to transition from that to one of the biggest movies of the year is a big, risky jump. It doesn’t help that Jurassic Park has yet to have a sequel that is worthy of standing next to the original. Jurassic World has a lot going against it, and if done wrong, it can massively disappoint fans hoping for a proper follow-up to the original. Luckily, even with its many flaws and lack of Spielberg touch, Trevorrow manages to make a very enjoyable popcorn film that will satisfy many of those who grew up with the franchise and those new to it.
Jurassic World features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park that has become one of the most common tourist spots on Earth, equivalent to the Walt Disney World resort. Given how this park has been culturally ingrained in the public’s minds for so long, the idea of seeing a real-life dinosaur has lost people’s attention in recent years. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager, acknowledges this drop in interest, so she and the many scientists who help run this park create a brand new species of dinosaur known as the “Indominus rex.” This new dinosaur intends to be a refreshingly terrifying attraction for guests, but even though this might finally be what the park has been looking for, it’s completely prone to disaster. This is pretty obvious to Velociraptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), who seems to intimately understand these dinosaurs through his practice. Soon enough, the Indominus rex escapes from her enclosure and is on the loose, and the park staff frantically moves out to stop her before she reaches the guests. To add more conflict to all of this, Claire’s nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) are there at the park to visit her for the holidays and security head Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) is trying to militarize the park’s dinosaurs. In other words…this is a Jurassic Park movie.
Trevorrow’s main challenge here is not to change or improve the franchise’s formula, but to keep it fresh for an audience who has either seen every Jurassic movie or not a single one. At its core, the original Jurassic Park is a horror film, especially in how it puts its characters in incredibly vulnerable situations. For the most part, Jurassic World has many scenes like this, but it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. The Indominus rex is just as destructive as you can imagine, and the death count in this movie arguably breaks a new record for the franchise. Though what’s missing in all this carnage is some well-directed suspense and tension. This movie is all show and no subtlety, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not what made the original so great. Spielberg’s use of off-screen space, near misses, and claustrophobic staging made for some really impactful sequences in Jurassic Park. Although Trevorrow does make use of those techniques, he never expands on them as much as he could. It’s also a real shame that even though the set pieces in this film are very entertaining, there is much more CGI than there is animatronics. Animatronics are what made the dinosaurs look as real as they did in Jurassic Park, as they were mainly used for close-ups and distinguishing their gigantic size compared to the humans. Jurassic World is way too dependent on CGI, as there are many moments where animatronics could have been used, but they opt for the easy way out instead. Fortunately, the action scenes here are still very intense, even if they don’t look as real as they could have been, so the film delivers a moderate amount of thrills.
I probably wouldn’t have minded the mediocre handling of the dinosaurs as much if the characters were stronger. Although they’re more likable than the ones we got in the other sequels, the characters of Jurassic World remain predictable archetypes. This doesn’t hurt the film completely, but given that this is the fourth Jurassic Park movie, something different would’ve been nice. Chris Pratt continues to justify his status as a movie star here, even though his character lacks development and sometimes has some very poor dialogue. Bryce Dallas Howard is good in the film as well, but deserves to be a much more interesting character than what she actually is: an uptight scientist who must learn to loosen up and potentially find love (lame, I know). The rest of the cast is all pretty decent as well, with Jake Johnson as the comic relief being my personal favorite, even if their roles lack dimension. It’s pretty clear that the main issues with the characters, along with other story elements, are found in the screenplay, written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and later re-written by Trevorrow and his writing partner, Derek Connolly. The movie desperately wants to make commentary on how society today lacks a sense of wonder and create unpredictable characters, but for the most part, this is your typical summer blockbuster fare, albeit better than the most cynically made studio films. Other than having some surprisingly over-the-top action, this is basic 2010s big-budget filmmaking. It doesn’t really have the intellectual themes of the original movie and it never wants to hold back its biggest tricks for a more effective payoff.
Even with all my critiques, don’t get me wrong: Jurassic World is a fun movie. It’s just not as smartly crafted as the original and even a few segments of the other sequels. That’s not to say that Trevorrow isn’t a smart director. He proves himself as a talented storyteller in the things that do work in this film. In fact, many of Jurassic World’s problems are in the other sequels as well. These movies forget that the best parts of Jurassic Park are when characters are literally trapped by their circumstances. Jurassic Park isn’t lauded for having gratuitously violent action scenes; it is loved for having contained, realistic ones. As long as there is a solid focus on putting relatable and sympathetic characters in real trouble, a huge-scale movie like Jurassic World can have these types of cleverly tense scenes. Though instead, the film is a noisy but certainly amusing CGI showcase. I know it may seem that I came out of this movie rather negatively, but I honestly felt my time was well spent at the theater. This is the ideal summer film for the average movie going audience, and I could totally see why many people might like it way more than I did. As long as we can agree that it doesn’t come close to the original, I don’t think there’s any shame in liking Jurassic World.