Sunday, June 14, 2015

Review: Jurassic World

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
This fourth entry into the "Jurassic Park" franchise acts as a satire of blockbuster filmmaking, while at the same time embracing all of the tenets that make such pictures successful. It's a film that wants to eat its cake and have it too. The film has its problems, which I'll get to momentarily, but it's a pretty decent summer spectacle.

It's been 22 years since the original Jurassic Park opened and the island on which it was located has now been transformed into Jurassic World, a bigger, louder and scarier park, where well-known types of dinosaurs (T-Rex, triceratops) share space with genetic hybrids, such as the soon-to-debut Indominus Rex, which, despite its silly name, is a ferocious creature that hunts for sport. And since this is a blockbuster-style film, we know that the Indominus will soon be free and raging across the island.

The film's characters include a dinosaur trainer named Owen, who is played by Chris Pratt as the type of smart ass, know-it-all hero he portrayed in the popular "Guardians of the Galaxy." There are also two kids in tow named Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), whose mother (Judy Greer) has sent them to visit their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is one of the park's operators. And, of course, there has to be a villain - and, in this case, it's Owen's boss (Vincent D'Onofrio), who has some hairbrained scheme to develop the island's velociraptors into weapons of war. Believe me, it's even sillier than it sounds.

It's not the fault of the film's cast, but it's the characters that give "Jurassic World" the most problems. While the persona Pratt gave his "Guardians" character worked, it feels a little strained here. The two kids exist solely to be put in the way of danger and Zach, the older brother, makes bad decisions in the way that only movie characters tend to do.

And Howard's Claire is forced to play out every reductive female lead character trait in the Hollywood book - she's a career woman who doesn't have time for kids or romance and the film treats her as if she's at fault. Claire is also forced to run and hide behind Pratt's character, although there are two scenes later in the film - one during director Colin Trevorrow's obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" - where she gets to prove her bravery, although the sequences are fully in service to the fact that Claire might get the opportunity to act as a mother and romantic partner.

At times, "Jurassic World" is sly, poking fun at exactly the type of movie it often emulates as well as the audiences that clamor for such movies. During one sequence, Howard explains to some visiting sponsors that the public is no longer excited about dinosaurs, similar to how they lost interest in the space program, and that the way to draw them back is by being bigger and louder, which is sort of how Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking works. And all the while that "Jurassic World" is poking fun at this, the film also delivers state-of-the-art special effects and nonstop action and chase sequences.

For my money, none of the sequels come close to Steven Spielberg's 1993 original, but "Jurassic World" is a little better than the second and third entries into the franchise. Further sequels are probably unnecessary, but if the public once again clamors for bigger and louder, I'm sure Hollywood will heed the call.

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