Few film properties are as universally beloved as Stephen Spielberg’s iconic Jurassic Park. Arguably the greatest kids’ horror movie of all time, the flick grossed hundreds of millions of Dollars worldwide upon its initial release, followed by a few hundred million more on the home entertainment market. It was re-released theatrically twice in the intervening years (in 2011, in anticipation of the Blu-ray release, and again in 2013 in a revised, 3D format). Again, it stormed the box office.Two sequels followed; the so-so The Lost World, and the often unfairly derided Jurassic Park 3, which, while still considered box office successes, underwhelmed fans. So, why bother with a fourth instalment now, 22 years later? In fact, Jurassic World was almost DOA as, apart from Colin Trevorrow taking over directing duties with just one feature to his name (the low budget indie Safety Not Guaranteed), rumours swirled about armed raptor fighters. Add to this some dodgy, early footage which suggested the visual effects – a massive part of Jurassic Park‘s appeal – weren’t exactly up to scratch. The past few years have been tough on Jurassic World. But, with the park finally open for business, is it all we expected it to be? Or is it even worse than our last visit?
Fans expecting to have their childhoods chewed up and spat back in their faces can relax; once the Amblin logo pops up and that theme drops, we know we’re in safe hands here. Jurassic World opens with a familiarly creepy sequence featuring a dinosaur egg hatching, with an eye firmly focused on us, the audience. It’s a beginning that establishes that this is, by all accounts, a different beast and it starts as it means to go on. As this is a modernised Jurassic Park, the story has been updated to appeal to a whole new generation.Youngsters Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) are dealing with the stresses of their parents’ impending divorce when they’re whisked away to Jurassic World, an interactive amusement park that is overseen by their no-nonsense aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). She has her own troubles as, in an effort to counteract dwindling attendance figures, she’s agreed to the creation of a new, hybrid dinosaur that is even larger and more fearsome than the mighty T-Rex. This displeases Owen (Chris Pratt), a rugged guys-guy who trains velociraptors as pets and believes that dinosaurs should be treated with respect, instead of as lab experiments. As it turns out, he’s probably right.
Jurassic World bravely operates a dual narrative, which sees the kids having an okay-ish time running around the park while the adults bicker over what to do about their escaped creation, until their paths inevitably cross. As Owen notes early on, “They’re dinosaurs. Wow enough”. This approach shouldn’t work, but it does. All of the various parts interlock nicely, thanks to some wonderful directorial flourishes. An accomplished screenplay, from two of the writers of Dawn and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, ensures the familiar Jurassic Park is humour is intact and yet nothing feels rushed, or jammed in. We believe in Claire’s struggle to regain control once everything starts going haywire, we understand Owen’s reluctance to use his buddies as, basically, soldiers to fight against a much larger power and we feel for the two helpless kids who have been thrust into all of this madness.
Surprisingly, Jurassic World has an admirable moral core. There are lessons to be learned here about animal cruelty and genetic mutation. Although Pratt’s Owen dresses and acts like he’s wandered out of Jurassic Park – or, worse, the mooted Indiana Jones reboot, in which he is rumoured to be starring – his integrity is unshakeable and, much like in Guardians Of The Galaxy, he makes for an inspiring hero. Vincent D’Onofrio plays well against him as a sneering, cocky opportunist who might as well tell everyone he’s up to no good at all times. Dallas Howard, who seemed, from initial footage, to be a walking cliché is given the biggest emotional arc and even saves Owen’s ass more than once. Trevorrow was criticised for what Joss Whedon labelled “sixties era sexism”, but his assurances that Claire is actually the real protagonist turn out to be genuine. She isn’t exactly Furiosa, or even Dr. Sattler, but she’s still light-years away from her contemporaries.
However, the real heroes of any Jurassic Park movie are undoubtedly the dinosaurs and it’s in their depiction that Jurassic World really soars. The park itself is awe-inspiring, with each ride cooler than the last. A multitude of dinos are on show, and although Stan Winston’s terrific raptor puppets and massive, animatronic T-Rex are sadly nowhere to be found, the CGI incarnations that have taken their place are incredible. The original VFX still hold up, but the advances in technology in the intervening years mean that the dinosaurs move a bit better now. And, in much the same fashion as Spielberg’s seminal Jaws, or even last year’s Godzilla, Jurassic World teases the reveal of its big bad (the ominously-titled Indominus Rex).
This allows for some terrific, and genuinely terrifying set-pieces, such as when Owen is trapped under a car, hoping to stave off the beast, or when a team of doomed park employees are dispatched to comb the forests for it. In the movie’s most effective sequence, Zach and Gray are stuck in a gyrosphere (like a big hamster ball for humans) while the Indomins Rex flings it around like a cat toy. It’s a sequence that exemplifies just how scary Jurassic World is – and, trust me, it is really bloody scary. The flick is rated PG-13 in the US, as was Jurassic Park, but in the UK it’s been upgraded from that film’s PG to a 12A, which may be symptomatic of our PC-gone-mad society or may have more to do with the fact that it is quite a nasty film.
Not exactly gory, but definitely not bloodless, Jurassic World still appeals to a family market but there are more than a few frights that, as park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) notes early on “will give the parents nightmares”. Unfortunately, as has become customary nowadays, a couple of the film’s best set-pieces are spoiled by the trailer. In particular, the Mosasaurus feeding would be better left until you’re sitting in the theatre, bucket of popcorn in hand, ready to go. However, there are many hitherto unseen delights hiding within that are more than worth the entrance price. The body count is impressively high, too, which is impressive in what is basically a kids’ adventure movie.
Not all of it works, of course. There’s a lot of product placement, for everything from Starbucks to Pandora jewellery, that feels more like it belongs in a Sex And The City sequel than in Jurassic World. The nods come hard and fast – a lab dedicated to John Hammond, a techie guy who shows up in a vintage Jurassic Park T-shirt – and the final act is either going to make you cheer or cringe depending on your connection to the series as a whole. However, these are minor quibbles in what is a thrilling, awe-inspiring spectacle of a movie that will, hopefully, introduce a whole new generation to Spielberg’s original film as well as delighting long-term fans.
Those who are expecting that movie to be bested will leave disappointed (it’s never going to happen, let’s be honest) but those who remain open-minded will discover the strongest instalment in the franchise since Jurassic Park. An accomplished sequel, and a delightful stand-alone picture in its own right, at its core, Jurassic World is cheesy, dumb, balls-to-the-wall crazy fun, as well as a much rougher, nastier take on the dinos we’ve all come to know and love. By the end, it’s a bit exhausted and caked in mud (much like Claire herself) but it’s such an amazing thrill ride that it can be forgiven for being slightly schmaltzy, or silly, or overly self-referential at times. After careful consideration, I have decided to endorse this park.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Colin Trevorrow
Writer(s): Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins
Studio/ Production Co: Amblin Entertainment
Length: 124 minutes
Sub-Genre: Adventure, kids’ horror