There was nothing in the story of Jurassic Park which demanded a sequel. Despite altering the novel’s original ending of napalming the entire island, the movie still ended the way one would hope that a weekend at an amusement park would: complete, satisfying, nothing left undone, and no requirement to return. After all, any story about a theme park with dinosaurs can only turn out one way (spoiler: something goes wrong and the dinosaurs kill people).
Yet Steven Spielberg’s original adaptation roared through the box office so thoroughly and deservingly that a sequel became necessary for profits alone. Now that the summer movie season has reached the point where any property which proved profitable in the past is primed for a remake, reboot, sequel, or any other type of continuation, the rapidly diminishing and completely unnecessary Jurassic franchise is given its inevitable resurrection. Unfortunately, as with dinosaurs, the series should have remained extinct.
It’s entirely fitting that Jurassic World is a film about large, lumbering, dumb creatures that once ruled the world but died out to eventually become industrial fuel and idealized versions of themselves. Everything about Jurassic World harkens back to a different time in filmmaking, even outright copying images and setups from its predecessors. Like the dinosaurs which serve as the main attraction of both the movie and its fictional theme park, whatever material wasn’t taken from the original was basically spliced in from other, similar ancestors. In this case, elements from several better Spielberg (or Spielbergian) adventures fill in whatever holes were left in Jurassic World‘s summer blockbuster DNA. The movie itself becomes its own hybrid, but without the adaptive qualities of the one presented on-screen.
Simply put, Jurassic World feels old. Whether this means familiar and nostalgic or outdated and derivative is entirely up to the viewer but, for me, it was impossible to escape the feeling that every element of the movie had been done better before and usually in films directed by Spielberg rather than only produced by him. Of course Jurassic World is going to be beholden to the original, and it smartly acknowledges its place as sequel by mentioning the mistakes made of Jurassic Park while avoiding mention of events from either sequel.
In fact, one of the few jokes which actually works is off Jake Johnson’s vintage t-shirt. Johnson himself is one of the highlights in how his character goes against the troupes so prevalent throughout the rest of the movie. Unfortunately these attempts to up-end the cliches are completely overwhelmed by the amount of music swelling panorama shots, jaw-clenched and squinting hero poses, and surprisingly poor effects.
That’s right, the main attraction of any Jurassic movie is actually one of the worst parts of Jurassic World. Whereas Park used computer generated imagery to augment its animatronics, World seems to take the opposite approach, and it shows. Scenes of animatronic dinosaurs, particularly of the raptor siblings, are incredibly detailed as nostrils flare and cheeks puff. In probably the most effecting scene in the entire movie stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard comfort an injured apatosaurus in a very tactile way, making the audience feel for the creature. Unfortunately this is almost the exact same thing as the sick triceratops in Jurassic Park. Such smaller scenes, as well the close-ups of other animatronic creations, work very well.
But when World opens into large expanses, be it more dinos or the park itself, the effects fall sadly short. The disappointment is only compounded when several of these open action shots are direct parallels of those done better more than 20 years ago. It’s always a stretch to buy a computer-generated villain as a threat, but it’s much more difficult when the lighting makes that threat look like it exists on some separate two-dimensional plane. Against the island of Kauai, with its spectacular mountains and valleys, the fictional theme park looks like the hazy background of a 1950’s pulp science fiction cover. If nothing else, between Mad Max: Fury Road and Jurassic World, the 2015 summer movie season has demonstrated the superiority of practical effects over computer generated ones, at least for now.
While the dinosaurs may attract the audience, what really drives any film, even creature-features and summer blockbusters, are the human elements of character, emotion, and story. These are all where Jurassic World really lives in the past. Pratt and Howard have proven fine actors in other roles, but in this film neither is given much to work with. They are stereotypes plucked directly from every 1980’s adventure film where the adventurous scoundrel (Pratt) gets the uptight professional woman (Howard) to symbolically strip down to her tanktop while still running in three-inch heels. Pratt’s character of Owen Grady is a badass… and nothing more. Meanwhile Howard’s Claire Dearing is every career woman who never had the time for the family she really wants and is inevitably won over by her predestined opposite. The two boys, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, are riffs on the brother and sister from Jurassic Park, Vincent D’Onofrio is the obvious bad guy, and Irrfan Khan is an updated version of Richard Attenborough. There is nothing original that happens on screen, so much so that it’s possible to predict who will die a second after the character first enters. Even the jokes are old. World may not be an actual remake, but in all practicality it’s Jurassic Park over again, without the wonder or innovation which made the original a classic.
All of this said, Jurassic World isn’t a bad movie. There are some exciting scenes – although there are an equal amount of eye-rollingly hokey scenes – and the practical effects we do get are really good. Anyone too young to have enjoyed the original in the theater will probably enjoy this one (there was much applause from the kids in the audience). But for those of us who have seen the original and don’t work in the industry, Jurassic World is unnecessary. It’s another entry in a franchise that only had one possible story; the resurrection of a once awe-inspiring sight that died off and is no longer suited to live in the current world. Sadly, unlike in nature, in business nothing profitable remains extinct.