Last Thursday (June 11th) marked 22 years to the very day that the Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park hit the big screen for the first time. Universal’s decision to use this date to release it’s much anticipated and hyped sequel was merely the first of several cheeky nods to the original film and it’s importance not just in terms of being a classic summer blockbuster, but also the first film to use CGI visual effects on a large scale. As a massive (MASSIVE!) fan of Jurassic Park I made sure to watch the new film, Jurassic World, on it’s first day of release – and just 4 days later here we are and the film has already had the world’s largest grossing opening weekend, already raking in over $517 million!
The Jurassic Park franchise was one of the most popular (and profitable) to emerge in the 1990’s but with the last (and most underwhelming) film being released 14 years ago, Jurassic World only came about after years of development hell and as a result expectations have been sky high, not least because the relatively newbie director (Colin Trevorrow) promised a true sequel to the original film – taking the action back to the original setting of Isla Nublar and in the process unlocking some of the secrets of the years between Jurassic Park 3 and present day in this alternate timeline. After years of reading leaked plots and supposed spoilers I was a little worried that my long wait would be a bit of a disappointment, but on the whole it is fair to say that Trevorrow has done a very good job in producing an entertaining and action-packed summer blockbuster which is fit to carry on the Jurassic Park lineage.
Anyone who has access to a computer or television has likely some idea of the plot of Jurassic World without doing any proper research; unlike the previous sequels which have been set on a nearby island also filled with genetically engineered monsters, JW is set in an alternate future where an actual theme park has been launched and turned into a world class visitor attraction – fully realising the ideas envisaged in the first movie. Of course not all is rosy and danger is on the horizon in the form of the newly developed Indominus-Rex, which is of course bigger and badder than fan favourite Tyrannosaurus Rex, and when it escapes it goes on to wreak havoc in the now fully functional park, before our small group of heroic main characters manage to restore equilibrium and escape.
But you already knew or guessed all of that right? Well although it sounds a lot like the plots of previous Jurassic Park films I actually found it an overall different experience, probably down to a mixture of differing expectations before I sat down and the fact that film-making has changed dramatically since 2001, let alone when the first film came out in 1993. Call it formulaic, but the earlier films tended to follow a set pattern which sat well with me – first of all a mysterious attack where the dinosaurs remain an unseen threat, then our main character/s meet with a rich kook who sends them to a far off island. Awe and amazement follows but then a threat emerges and shortly after there is an attack from a big dino (always in the rain), followed by an ongoing struggle and eventually a show down with the smarter raptors and a big finale with the big dinosaur. Maybe that is a little simplistic and doesn’t cover everything that well, but I came to the cinema expecting/hoping to see something along those lines, just with a bit more CGI thrown in.
Jurassic World starts not with a creepy dinosaur attack but instead with the kids…who are always an important part in the Jurassic films but who here are given more screen time initially to help us acclimatise properly to this idea that rather than going to see Mickey Mouse and chums, the new tourist destination of choice is this crazy zoo off the coast of Costa Rica. It’s a nice touch which allows us to experience a bit of the awe which the younger sibling Gray (Ty Simpkins) does when returning to the island we always wanted to go back to anyway. I was less fond of the older Zach (Nick Robinson), who seems to do nothing but check out female tourists and ignore his little brother, oh and of course is glued to his smartphone and social media…maybe an accurate representation of a modern teenager but c’mon surely you’d be a little excited right?
The boys are visiting their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a seemingly unemotional senior manager at Jurassic World who is more concerned with securing funding for their new dinosaur than bothering with her nephews, whose ages she can’t remember (and lets be honest who cares). As with her nephews, Claire lets us see the island through her eyes including the hi-tech control room filled with techies – one of whom is a massive fan of the original park and even has an Ian Malcom book (Jeff Goldblum’s character from the first 2 films). As a less than sympathetic character I suspect that if the late Michael Crichton had written the screenplay then she would not have lasted until the end credits, but quickly we meet her former love interest/male lead Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). The chemistry between Pratt and Howard is reasonably decent as a couple who is more like Indiana Jones and Willie Scott in the second Indy film, and of course they get together by the end of the film.
The rest of the film is filled out by reasonably minor characters but then that doesn’t really matter I guess; there is dinosaur bait British PA Zara (Katie McGrath) who meets an interesting/horrific end, charasmatic Indian billionaire and rubbish helicopter pilot Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), villainous Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) who wants to sell the trained raptors to the military, a couple of nerds (Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson) who have a hilarious parting meeting and interestingly Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) who is the only returning character bar the T-Rex from the original film (apparently). Anyone who has read the Jurassic Park novel will know that geneticist Wu meets a sticky end at the hands of the raptors, but in the original film he appears very briefly as the guests are visiting the lab. But whereas before he was merely a way in which to communicate to viewers about the dinosaurs all being female, here he is in Jurassic World as some sort of demented Dr. Frankenstein – modifying the dino DNA for personal gain and in cahoots with pantomime villain Vic.
The whole Wu/Vic plot line struck me as one of the weaker aspects of the film and one of the most obvious add-ins for any potential sequels. The trainable raptors hark back to an earlier plot idea involving dinosaur soldiers, and oddly it doesn’t seem too out of place here despite the fact that the raptors have seemed highly intelligent and independent in the first 3 films and yet now seem much more agreeable. What confused me here is that Vic works for InGen, the company from the original films and also the one which was supposedly bought by Masrani Corp to create the dinosaurs, yet he seems totally at odds with Masrani’s vision here and is openly trying to steal the dinosaurs with his personal troop of InGen mercenaries, with the apparent blessing of shareholders. I guess it would have been too complicated to reintroduce the rival ‘Biosyn’ company from the first film and both books, but it seemed confusing to have 2 aspects of the company batting against each other, although maybe Trevorrow assumed that we would be more likely to remember the military-esque wing of InGen from ‘The Lost World’ than mild mannered lab techs from the first film. The fact that Wu escapes with some embryos gives credence to the idea of a sequel though, which of course I would not mind at all (and fully expect given the massive money this film made).
Dinosaur-wise I think most people will be fully satisfied with the visual spectacle that modern CGI affords film-makers, but whereas before the action sequences seemed very dramatic and like big turning points in the film, to a degree now they just seem like regular occurrences and not too dissimilar to the kind of thing you would find in a Marvel film – the end scene is a perfect example and although there are some cheeky nods to the endings of all 3 films, there is not the sense of fear and angst which oozes out of the raptor scenes from the original JP. Part of the problem here is that the Indominus Rex comes off as being not quite fully formed; it is extremely menacing in it’s first few scenes, but it takes a long while for us to see the dinosaur in it’s entirety and by then it comes as a little too perfect in terms of it’s abilities to avoid destruction. I get that it’s supposed to be made from lots of different things (including Raptor) but giving it camouflage, heat sensing eyes and the ability to boss the raptor pack around seemed a little much. A new main villain does give a different flavour to the story (and another toy line), but for me I found it too similar to JP3 and would personally have preferred for the T-Rex to be the main star and threat, as opposed to merely another easily trainable dinosaur like the raptors have become. On the subject of those, I didn’t actually find the idea of them being trained too bad like I mentioned before; having them turn on the humans gave for some scenes reminiscent of both books and the second film, but I think I would have preferred them to stay ‘bad’ and a little truer to their villainous past.
Whilst I’m being picky (and believe me I am nit-picking as I did really enjoy the film), I was disappointed with the fact that there was no big ‘vehicle’ scene a la the first two films. The T-Rex paddock scene in the first film is my favourite in any film bar none, and along with the trailer scene in The Lost World was something I routinely used to act out with my toys over and over again (just ask my Mum!), but whilst the sponsorship deal with Mercedes meant that there were plenty of G-Wagens (including a 6×6), Mercedes commercial vehicles and even a new GLE Coupe, none of them were damaged or destroyed despite ample opportunity. I’d even have settled for the monorail system which shuttled tourists around the park being attacked by a wandering I-Rex, but instead we had to make do with it trying to get into the stupid Gyrosphere ball which the two boys were riding in. The lack of rain also disappointed me – I’m aware it would have been a pain to film in but it’s been a key feature of all the other films and it seems unusual that it stays bone dry the whole time.
As I say though I’m just nit-picking and there is plenty I could rave on and on about, but one thing in particular is the continued references to the original Jurassic Park – mainly the film but also in some ways the book/s where plot elements and action sequences take their inspiration from unused portions of the novels. I also loved the way in which the boys found their way to a completely overgrown shell of the original Visitor’s Center, complete with torn ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled The World’ banner, raptor graphics in the restaurant and of course a couple of motherf*cking Jeeps in the garage! What’s more is that they somehow manage to get one started and drive it back to base – a story I used to play out all the time with my toys…although of course I’d have preferred for them to find an Explorer too/instead. I just wish though that a little more had been expanded on in terms of what happened to the original park; it is mentioned as some sort of horrible accident where people died by Claire when she berates her nerdy programmer for wearing a t shirt featuring the logo, but I’d like to have known why the whole north of the island (aka the former park) was ‘restricted’…surely it makes little sense to abandon 1/3 of your private island because of a few old buildings?
Overall though Trevorrow has managed to do what few thought was possible in the hands of anyone else but Steven Spielberg; Jurassic World is an action packed film which the whole family can enjoy and will satisfy fans of the original films as well as those just looking for an easy watch. The success of the film can only be a good thing and hopefully the financial returns will encourage Universal not to wait another 14 years before releasing another sequel! 8.5/10