Thursday, June 11, 2015

"Jurassic World"

 3 / 5 

Let's imagine that Jurassic Park, the theme park that ran famously amok way back in 1993, were to re-open.  Let's say you were hired to run the place.  Let's say you had at least a passing awareness of the incidents that took place on Isla Nublar so many years ago.  Might you consider the need for heightened security measures?  Might you recommend against measures that would encourage another event of mass carnage?

Well, you might, but then what kind of fun would that be?  Jurassic World, a sequel to the 1993 original that pretends the last two Jurassic Park movies didn't happen, is a movie that can't exist if everyone in it isn't relentlessly stupid.  Even the smart people are stupid, because if they weren't, nothing would happen, and that wouldn't make a very interesting movie.

Perhaps there was a way to work around this little problem and come up with a story as tightly focused and carefully controlled as the first movie and the novel on which it's based.  That movie needed only a handful of characters and the barest of bare-bones plots.  Jurassic World is neither tightly focused nor sparingly cast.  New characters just keep on coming, and there's one action-driven set piece after another.  It's bigger than Jurassic Park was, just not necessarily better.

That's not to say Jurassic World is bad.  It's a completely serviceable, at times even impressive movie that nicely emulates the visual style and tone of Spielberg at his finest.  Director Colin Trevorrow, who made the enormously underrated and impossibly charming Safety Not Guaranteed, loves that silky-smooth, ultra-polished style, and he uses it to great effect here.

Likewise, the actors are all fine, especially Chris Pratt, who at times seems to be auditioning for the rumored Indiana Jones reboot -- based on the evidence here, he'd be great at it.  He can flirt, wink, charm and rescue women and kids.  Bryce Dallas Howard comes across as a little too cold and distant, but her character is in over her head in every possible way: As the operations manager at Jurassic World, she's more focused on amping up the profit than worrying about making sure dinosaurs don't escape.

Most of the time, she's too busy counting the number of guests in the park and making sure that the lines don't get too long at Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, Margaritaville, Brookstone or any of the other dozens of real-life retailers who must have spent a lot of money to get a few seconds of screen time.  But she's quite proud of the newest addition to Jurassic World, a genetically engineered dinosaur called the Indominus Rex.  No sooner has she introduced the park's velociraptor trainer (yes, really) to the I. Rex than the giant beast manages to escape.

Very little stands in the way of the I. Rex and the 20,000 people who are in the park.  And for the next two hours, Jurassic World is essentially a remake of Jurassic Park but with bigger dinosaurs.

Throughout, Jurassic World seems almost obsessed with referencing the original film.  In one key scene, some of the characters find the original entrance pavilion from the first movie, now overgrown with prehistoric flora, and it seems cute and clever for a moment -- but, why go to such lengths to constantly refer to the better movie?  Jurassic World pales by comparison.

Those insistent references to Jurassic Park never completely undermine Jurassic World, but they do serve as reminders that in 1993, computerized dinosaurs were something no one had ever seen before.  Now, we have.  And as Howard's character notes, the public grows bored and jaded too easily.  They need to see something bigger, bolder, and more exciting.

Jurassic World is bigger, no doubt.  And it's a completely satisfying bit of summertime entertainment, a harmless and often fun way to spend a couple of hours out of the heat.  But it suffers from exactly the same problem that its titular theme park does: We've seen it all before.

On the other hand, at least the people in it are stupid.  They do stupid things and make stupid decisions, as if they learned nothing from the first go-round.  Thank goodness for that, because if they were any smarter the I. Rex would have remained locked in her enclosure and the only thing to watch would be hordes of hot, tired tourists waiting for an iced cappuccino at Starbucks.  As it is, Jurassic World has got a lot of smart dinosaurs and a lot of stupid people, which is a pretty good combination for a summertime movie, especially if you're in a particularly non-critical, generous sort of mood.

Viewed June 11, 2015 -- DGA Theater


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