JURASSIC WORLD (2015, directed by Colin Trevorrow, 124 minutes, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC With Jurassic World, the thunder lizard franchise ties Jaws for Spielberg blockbusters that have stretched on now for four chapters. In 1987 this meant Jaws: The Revenge, where there was a half-hearted attempt to lure theatergoers back into the water with the star power of Lorraine Gary (Mrs. Brody in the original) and Michael Caine. Tepid splashing and mild interest ensued. Like Jaws: The Revenge, Jurassic World wants to hide its “Part 4” too but its sequel-y pedigree is too deep in its DNA to disguise. Unlike Jaws 4, Jurassic World is being budgeted and sold as being one of the tentpoles of the blockbuster season but its lofty position didn’t stop the producers from gene-splicing together a stubbornly unimaginative semi-remake of the original.
The franchise has never given us a single memorable character (outside of letting Jeff Goldblum be Jeff Goldblum) yet Jurassic World still demands we spend an hour getting to know the meat puppets we’ll watch run from the dinosaurs. The same basic cardboard cut-outs from all the sequels are in play, there are the characters who work for the park, who disrespect nature and worry about profits over safety and there is a rugged outsider who can see the danger coming but can’t get people to face the truth. Here the manly leather-vested truth teller is played by Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Chris Pratt, a star whose face we’re not tired of yet but who overnight has been replaced in my memory with Patrick Swayze. It’s a very Swayze-esque performance, for better or worse. Ron Howard’s daughter (the one who isn’t Jessica Chastain) is an uptight, emotionally-stunted park exec who is a slave to her phone. We hate her until she begins to worry about her nephews, has her fancy haircut mussed and shows us some cleavage. Then we like her. Vincent D’Onofrio gives us another performance worthy of Kubrick, acting as if it matters.
Where Jurassic World could have been some world-wide dinosaur rampage or a private one-percenter paradise gone wrong, the producers were taking no chance on letting freshness taint the franchise. No, Jurassic Park movies are about people trying to escape an amusement park and any scenario beyond that is just straying too far from where past wallets were harvested. The same trajectory is repeated: the park’s war room staff starts to realize something is wrong, the powerful try to cover it up, and kids and lovers overcome their bickering while trudging on foot through the meat-eaters jungle. Many would say that’s what Jurassic Park movies are, to expect otherwise is like thinking that anyone but a Bush or Clinton is fit to be President, or that it is possible for police can rein in their violence or that our wars in the Middle East can ever end. The film even mocks its own cynicism in its portrayal of the park owners’ capitalist ruthlessness, the same way the script mocks corporate sponsorship while delivering product placement in the same stroke.
But within those narrow confines does Jurassic World meet the viewers expectations? Does it show cool-looking dinosaurs chasing and eating people? The film does deliver a few impressive set pieces. They had’nt shown us flying pterodactyls on the hunt yet, so that’s kind of cool. The Immensosaurus or whatever they’re calling it? Just another T-Rex, chomping heads when you least/most expect it. Trained raptors? Whatever. Last year Hollywood hit an all-time low with only 24.7 percent of their product being based on original material. Jurassic World wears that unoriginality like a badge of honor. But admittedly, the dinosaurs are awesome and they do seem to be eating everything left standing.