Over twenty years after the events of Jurassic Park, InGen and everyone associated with the company have failed to learn anything from the experience. The original island is now home to “Jurassic World”, an immensely successful theme park featuring live dinosaurs. Hordes of visitors stream through the gates every day, peering out at grazing ankylosauri from glass bubbles and gathering excitedly for feeding time with prehistoric predators.
But apparently, even dinosaurs are no longer enough to capture the fickle attention of today’s youth. After a decade of trying to revive flagging numbers with new species, Jurassic World is running out of types of dinosaur. Only one solution presents itself (to the people who still think dinosaur theme parks are a good idea) – breed an entirely new attraction, making a better, stronger dinosaur than any that ever existed.
In a twist that will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever seen any film ever, let alone the Jurassic Park series, things go wrong. Containment fields fail, tourists flee in panic, vulnerable children get lost and have to be tracked down by the other protagonists. Slowly, the park descends more and more into chaos, as life finds its way once more.
There are sub-plots, obviously, which slowly wrap into the main ideas – the aforementioned children have to learn to trust adults, the park’s director has to learn to be less uptight, and Chris Pratt has to train raptors for the military. The first two are pretty standard character arcs, and the third is Chekov’s dinosaur.
The first impression is one of size – not the dinosaurs themselves, but the whole film. There are a lot of slow, sweeping shots that establish the island as both massive and busy, trying to impress upon the audience the scale that the film is working with.
It’s a big film, with big monster on a big place with a large number of people. Lots of separate events take place, lots of little diversions away from the main plot. The main plot itself is complicated, with countless separate steps before reaching the climax. Overall, Jurassic World is not small-scale in any way.
That’s fine, really – it’s not necessarily better to have an incredibly pared-down, focused film. My issue with Jurassic World is that it seems over-stuffed, that the actual meat of the film, and the interesting aspects of the characters/narrative are obscured by a lot of fluff and a focus on showing the viewer how large it is, rather than anything else.
The plot is more complicated, I felt, than it needed to be – there’s already talk of sequels, but Jurassic World looks as though it will be hard to top without becoming ridiculous. It’s already got an entire theme park being threatened, and the mass escape of all of the dinosaurs, and genetically-modified super mutant lizards. It is a film that drips with bells and whistles, and seems a little weaker for it.
It didn’t need all of that – unless I am a total anomaly, no one was clamouring for Jurassic Park dialled up to eleven. A film on the same scale, a small group against a normal containment failure with normal dinosaurs running free would not have disappointed anyone.
As it is, the film lacks punch. There’s so much going on, but none of it hits fully home. The film is fun, but it isn’t scary, it isn’t often tense. The characters don’t get enough screen time to be fully hated or adored, the dinosaurs are switched between so often that you never get the chance to build up the same fear that the Tyrannosaurus Rex had in the original, or the facehugger did in Alien. You can’t wield the same power and impact with thirty monsters that you can with just one – if you jam too much in, everything feels a little more washed out.
Added to that, various aspects of the plot are just ridiculous. Years and years ago, I read a proposed concept for Jurassic Park IV, one in which the raptors were special operatives with the US military. I always assumed it was a joke, and can’t find the original article now. Weaponised raptors is a step well beyond my willing suspension of disbelief, and I thought that no director would allow such a travesty. Yet here, admittedly cut down from that first outrageous concept, that same idea reappears. The raptors are being trained to follow orders, and they are eventually used as part of an operation.
Again, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the film, but that it goes far over the top, and didn’t need to. It’s an unnecessary plot arc that could have been altered to make a stronger narrative. The plotline’s inclusion makes Jurassic World a little too close to such ridiculous monster films as Sand Sharks – the production values and acting are much better, but the narrative drags it down.
It takes a long time to get to the dinosaurs, which struck me as an odd choice – the island is lovingly shown, but the first glimpse of the dinosaurs is almost out-of-hand, unimpressive. You get to see the more monstrous ones a little more, but to my mind, the film ignores one of its strengths: dinosaurs are cool.
I understand that, to some extent, that mirrors the themes of the film – Jurassic World is at least partly about a society that is bored of dinosaurs, that has lessened and commercialised the wonders of defeated extinction. But Jurassic World is critical of that worldview – it shouldn’t also be displaying it. The characters don’t want to see the dinosaurs, but the audience does – I’d far rather have seen grazing stegosaurians than an aerial shot of a theme park, and it would have made the eventual dinosaur deaths more impactful if we’d ever seen them alive for more than a moment.
When the dinosaurs are the focus, they’re well done – the director has followed the pattern of all the best monster films, and refrains from showing too much of the film’s main monster at the start. There’s one noticeable moment when the dinosaurs look extremely rubbery, but after that point the film dispenses with such lingering close-ups of static saurians. I was pleased to see ankylosaurus making an appearance – it’s one of my favourites.
The film makes some odd choices with characterisation – every single character is presented in a negative way, almost immediately giving the audience something to dislike about them. The park director is cold, the teenager is selfish, the owner is reckless and the trainee raptor trainer is an idiot. Even the main children’s parents are, in their few minutes of screen time, shown to be more passive-aggressive than anything else.
It has to be deliberate – it’s too pervasive not to be, and I don’t really get why. The film gains nothing and loses engagement by having no characters to cheer for at the start – for the first half-hour or so, you find yourself hoping that the characters, all the characters, will get devoured.
The sole exception to this is Chris Pratt. He doesn’t make much progress as a character throughout the film, but he starts off far more well-adjusted and sympathetic than any other character ever gets. Part way through Jurassic World, I realised that if they are going to remake the Indiana Jones films (and I bet they will), he’s one of the only actors that I wouldn’t mind taking it on. He’s not a perfect fit, but his role in Jurassic World is a similar one, albeit less grizzled and more idealistic.
The genetically-modified monster was a weak point, I felt. It’s built up as utterly fearsome throughout, which brings two problems. Firstly, it’s too powerful – it just tears through everything constantly, solving every problem and plot hole with the mention of another spliced set of genes. It’s Alien and Predator and Tyrannosaurus Rex all rolled into one, plus the villain from Monsters Inc.
Secondly, it’s too weak; the monster is built up constantly, given all these abilities and strengths, but repeatedly evaded and circumvented. It steamrolls situations that should be challenging, and struggles with tasks that should be facile.
My favourite part in the whole film was the pterosaur escape – I don’t feel I’m giving too much about the film away by saying that they do so. Not because it’s an amazing scene, but because it demonstrates an incredible work ethic on the part of the newly-released pterosaurs. Unlike any other animal ever, when chased by a predator and offered escape, the pterosaurs do not opt for either fight or flight. Instead, acting as one, they cause gleeful and purposeful havoc in one particular area, simply because that is what the plot requires at that moment. Every instinct would demand a different course of action for them, but they want the film to succeed, and so they torment tourists light-heartedly for a while. Piranhas 3D, a film I’m rather attached to, has a similar moment – I do enjoy it when the CGI animals have a better sense of dramatic necessity than the actors do.
I could go on for a while with various issues and positives – the internet erupted over Bryce Dallas Howard’s footwear (a minor yet noticeable issue that could have been fixed with a second of additional footwear), and I personally take issue with the ending – it breaks already established rules, but going into that would necessitate ruining the ending, which is bad form for reviews. Notable positives that don’t warrant their own paragraphs were the casting of Bryce Dallas Howard (excepting shoe choice) and Irrfan Khan, as well as the raptors. The actors were consistently strong and relatable (despite the narrative trying to make them unpleasant), and the raptors were both sympathetic and sufficiently dangerous-looking.
Overall, as I’ve said above, Jurassic World is fun. It isn’t scary though, even when it wants to be. It’s too big, too fast, and too chaotic, a mishmash of genres and styles. At times, the old Jurassic Park shines through – at others, it’s all Alien, or a superhero-less superhero film. It isn’t that Jurassic World doesn’t know what it wants to be, it’s that it wants to be all things to all men, and that cannot be but confusing.
I did enjoy it, and I’d recommend watching it – it’s currently in cinemas, and DVDs will doubtless be out soon enough. I don’t think it will be a classic, and I think that the original will be watched long after this one will be forgotten. But that is always the way – Jurassic World is entertaining and fun and loud and has explosions and monsters and dinosaurs. There’s nothing wrong with that.