A Year of Unlimited #20 – Jurassic World

This is the latest in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”, which isn’t perhaps the catchiest way to put it, but encapsulates my attempts to blog about every film I see while I’m signed up to the Unlimited service. I’m not linking to every one, so go and find them yourselves!

Ask any 90s child or 80s teen about dinosaurs, and they will mention Jurassic Park. I was a dinosaur-obsessed six-year-old when it was released, and while I wasn’t allowed to see it at the cinema (probably a wise decision) I had comics, toys and eventually the VHS, which I watched far too much. I even started typing out a scene-by-scene “novelisation” of it on my mum’s work computer, though I only (mercifully) got as far as the second scene!

In the 14 years since Jurassic Park III and “the dinosaur ate my phone”, most people now have an even higher opinion of the first film. It’s quite surprising to me though that this new film, so deficient in so many areas, has been so popular (this has made a billion dollars in two weeks). I liked a few things about Jurassic World, but can’t help thinking the series should have stayed extinct.

The park, on the same island as the first, is now the shiny, corporate safari park/zoo it was intended to be. Obligatory annoying children Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are sent to Jurassic World by their divorcing parents, because their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is in charge of the park. The park’s new benefactor, billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Kahn) has enlisted original Jurassic Park scientist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, the only returning character) to carry on his genetic work creating brand new dinosaurs, which concerns ranger and raptor trainer (!) Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). Carnage predictably ensues, with InGen employee Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) waiting in the wings with a plan for some of the reptiles.

This poster neatly presents everything wrong with the film
This poster neatly presents everything wrong with the film

The movie cynically uses the original’s music and other elements to hit us with nostalgia, and it works – the first time you see the park and hear John William’s famous theme, you can’t help feeling excited. These little throwbacks are reminders of how much better the original was. Overuse of CGI removes any threat the dinosaurs pose to the characters, especially in a ridiculous final half hour. The original was so good because, like a horror film, it suggested more than it showed (probably due to the lower standard of CGI). Who wasn’t blown away by a five metre tall T-rex animatronic, or full-size raptor puppets – they were real, water pouring off them as they moved, or breath coming from their snouts. They’re better than anything here.

The park’s depiction is quite clever, as such a place would have shops and sponsorship everywhere, and visitors bored after the novelty wears off. Its corporate drive forces the owners to innovate and experiment, with deadly results – and I saw this as director and writer Colin Trevorrow’s witty look at how the park has become just another investment opportunity, with profit margins and a need for new attractions. All of that said, the acting and characterisation is quite honestly crap.

Howard’s Claire is the stereotypical ice queen who eventually comes to terms with her selfishness – another terrible female character – and Pratt’s Owen is the buff macho idiot who takes charge and saves the day (criminally misusing the actor’s comedic ability, giving him lines like “She is learning where she fits in the food chain…and I’m not sure you want her to figure that out” followed by a stern expression). Their interactions are exactly what you expect when it comes to flirting and “will they, won’t they” – it’s so stupidly predictable and pointless.

The two kids are as infuriating as the original’s Tim and Lex, but I imagine that was perhaps the point, while Khan’s billionaire owner is more slimy and aloof than Richard Attenborough’s kindly, misguided old man, and as such fairly interesting. Wong’s appearance is a nice nod to the original, and I liked that we got to see what his work on genetics – and the things he has brought back to life – have done to a man who survived Jurassic Park. D’Onofrio is saddled with a stupidly moustache-twirling role, and like Pratt his abilities are totally wasted on this film. The two men are respectively great at complex and comical characters, but here they’re archetypes. Jake Johnson’s hipster technician Lowery made an impression though, with his “the first park was so much better” and “we should really be careful” schtick that everyone obviously ignores.

The first film had so many quirky characters, but with the exception of Lowery, I didn’t care about what happened to anyone in Jurassic World. The stronger reliance on humour is great, and makes some scenes better, but even this can’t save us from the exposition dump (where characters basically explain the plot to each other) – this film is FILLED with them. Let the viewer work out what’s going on rather than spoon-feeding them what’s going to happen next.

As for the raptor training stuff – just take a look at the poster above. The most dangerous and exciting dinosaurs from the original are reduced to trained monkeys – other than some scenes, where we remember how dangerous they are, it’s just stupid. The good old T-rex is reduced to a cameo, while every other dinosaur shown is more or less a blur of pixels running or flying past. The new dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, is interesting as an idea, but ultimately disappoints. The music is more or less totally forgettable beyond the Williams themes, which is unfortunate for composer Michael Giacchino, but then anyone following his music would struggle.

Maybe I’m guilty of comparing this to Jurassic Park too much – but surely that’s why most of us will have seen it! Jurassic World has some good ideas, but it’s everything that’s naff about modern blockbusters. It’s a sequel that wasn’t really needed; it has crap characters; it relies way too much on special effects; it seeds future sequels with no subtlety; it misuses great actors; and it raises your hopes based on nostalgia before dashing them.

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