When Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was released in 1993, it quickly became a sensation. Even today, it is still remembered as one of the greatest summer blockbusters of all time. But people don’t always remember it for what it truly was: one of the greatest movies of all time.
The original Jurassic Park – an adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel of the same name – was more than just a very good popcorn flick. It was the complete package. It had breathtaking visuals, awesome action, excellently drawn characters and moments of genuine tension. It dealt with interesting themes and didn’t talk down to its audience.
If you go to Jurassic World hoping for this kind of quality then you’re going to be disappointed.
This movie cannot compete with Jurassic Park. In fact it doesn’t even want to try. Realising how difficult it would be to match that standard, it instead fully embraces the role of dumb blockbuster. It takes a while to realise that the film is self-aware about how stupid it is, but once you do it becomes a lot easier to enjoy.
The movie begins with a simple enough premise: despite the horrific events that took place the last time someone tried to create a dinosaur theme park, someone went and gave it another shot and this time it was successfully opened to the public. Not only that, but the fickle public have already grown bored of the dinosaurs and the company is therefore creating new ones. Bigger, scarier, cooler monsters.
As movie concepts go, this one is more than a little meta; it mirrors what the film itself is hoping to accomplish. People got bored of dinosaur films and so they’re trying to revive the public’s interest with bigger, louder, cooler dinosaurs and more CGI. A lot more CGI.
It’s clever. Though it does feel like the writers are pre-emptively blaming the audience for any flaws in the new film. And you could argue that the focus on bigger and badder is what made the other sequels such duds in the first place. But nonetheless, this works as a set up for Jurassic World and that’s what matters here.
The film is at its most meta when Jake Johnson’s character is on screen. He’s one of the theme park’s tech experts, and he wears merchandise from the original Jurassic Park. He waxes lyrical about how those guys were true pioneers, and that they wouldn’t have created dinosaurs that had never existed. He heavily criticizes the new park’s use of product placement (there is also a lot of product placement in this film). There’s even a book by Ian Malcolm on his desk.
It’s as if the film-makers are saying “all you guys complaining about this movie on the internet: this is you!” He’s the audience surrogate for people who think this film is lame.
While the basic concept itself is decent, the start of Jurassic World is actually extremely dull. The movie flicks back and forth between two different stories. The first story involves a buttoned-up corporate type named Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) introducing investors to a new dinosaur creation known as Indominus Rex. She is then sent to recruit dinosaur whisperer Owen (Chris Pratt) to help study this new creature’s behaviour.
We soon find out that the two had a date once, but things didn’t work out because he’s too laid back and she’s too uptight. It feels like the film wants us to take Owen’s side as he ridicules this woman for her fussy habits, but he comes off as a bit of a creep.
The second story involves Claire’s nephews, who are visiting the theme park for the first time. The older brother is an angsty, hormonal teenager who grumbles his way through the first half of the film. But he still manages to be more likable than the whiny, irritating child that he’s dragging along with him.
These kids should have been the perfect way to take the audience on a tour of the park. Through their eyes we could have seen some of the extraordinary sights of Jurassic World. But outside of one fun scene involving a colossal aquatic dinosaur called the Mosasaurus, we really don’t get any impression of what visiting the theme park would be like. Most of the clips of the two kids show them in mundane situations; often travelling from one part of the island to another while having conversations that add nothing to the plot.
Once everything goes to hell on the island and the two story strands converge, the film starts to improve rapidly. The Indominus Rex escapes from its enclosure, because of course it does. It then goes on a rampage, killing everyone and everything it lays its eyes upon. Not just to feed or to protect its territory; someone in the lab apparently thought that what paying customers really wanted to see was a dinosaur serial killer. This thing kills for pleasure.
To talk about how the plot unfolds from this point would take things too far into spoiler territory, but it’s fair to say that things get steadily more ridiculous. Characters act with such a lack of common sense that by the end of the film, none of these feel like real people. Most of the dialogue sounds like it was written specifically for the trailers of 80s B-movies. And rather than using character deaths to further the sense of tension and danger, many of them are deliberately presented as funny. We’re not supposed to mourn these people; we’re supposed to revel in their demise.
By the time the film reaches the half way mark, it’s clear that it’s not taking itself even remotely seriously. Knowing that, I was able to ease myself into the chaos and enjoy the ride. The film never quite becomes good, but instead it realises how bad it is and starts to have some fun with it. Think Snakes on a Plane but with dinosaurs. If you liked that film, then you’re sure to have some fun with this one.
A minor highlight comes when a crowd of pterodactyls terrorises a crowd of tourists. Pterodactyls aren’t carnivores. They’re not trying to eat these people. They’re probably not even trying to kill these people. They’re just being dicks. The scene plays out like a crowd of giant pigeons being unleashed on a metropolitan area.
If you’re still undecided on whether you want to see the film, consider whether any of the following might be for you:
- Chris Pratt leading a herd of raptors into battle
- Bryce Dallas Howard outrunning giant dinosaurs in high heels
- Bryce Dallas Howard posing provocatively beneath two sparring dinosaurs
- Jimmy Fallon hosting a video message on vehicle safety
- A dinosaur bromance (I can’t wait for the buddy movie spin-off)
Ultimately, it’s the way you watch the film that will probably make the difference. If you see it in the theatre with a bunch of friends, you’re likely to have fun. Better yet, Jurassic World is just begging for someone to turn it into a drinking game. But if you see it at home on your own, you’re likely to get bored or frustrated quickly.
It is a pity though. That Jurassic Park has come to this. What was once an incredible film has now been reduced to a joke. By planting its tongue firmly in its cheek from the start, this new installment manages to be relatively enjoyable, even if most of the laughs are at its own expense. But would it have been so impossible to create a movie that was genuinely great? That could have been regarded as a worthy sequel to the original? It’s hard to know. But it would have been nice to see them try.
This movie doesn’t come close to recreating any of those awe-inspiring visuals from Jurassic Park. The CGI does not come close to what Spielberg’s team accomplished with animatronics. The movie doesn’t create any genuine tension, or make you feel strongly about any of the characters.
Unlike Spielberg’s classic, this movie really is just a fun throwaway popcorn flick. In a month you’ll remember almost nothing about it, except that you had a few laughs.
Still, it could have been a lot worse.
RATING (out of 100): 59, “Average”