DIRECTED BY Colin Trevorrow
STARS Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard
“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” This 19th century adage, often credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson, has been modified by Steven Spielberg and co. to read, “Build a better Jurassic Park, and the world will beat a path to the box office.”
Certainly, Jurassic World will emerge as one of the summer season’s top grossers, but is it really better than the 1993 blockbuster helmed by Spielberg in the same calendar year that also saw him tackling Schindler’s List? Of course not, though it’s easily an improvement over the two sorry sequels that followed in 1997 (The Lost World: Jurassic Park) and 2001 (Jurassic Park III).
Spielberg, who directed the first two installments, turned the reins over to Joe Johnston for the third chapter, content to serve only as an executive producer. He does the same on Jurassic World, taking a back seat while allowing indie filmmaker Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) the opportunity to lord over a billion-dollar franchise.
Trevorrow doesn’t flub the assignment – the film is generally well-paced and contains a handful of satisfying set-pieces – but neither does he imprint it with anything resembling a personal touch. The original Jurassic Park looked, felt and moved like a Steven Spielberg joint; conversely, Jurassic World seems like it could have been made by any Tom, Dick or Colin.
Chris Pratt, newly anointed action star following his turn in last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, tops the playbill here – he’s Owen, who works at Jurassic World as a combo dinosaur wrangler and velociraptor whisperer. Like his filmic forefathers Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum, he’s not sure man should be messing around with nature – in this case, creating a new and improved dinosaur meant to be bigger and bolder than anything that’s ever walked the earth.
Having learned nothing from the lessons imparted via the aborted Jurassic Park – namely, that out-of-control dinosaurs love to snack on humans – the scientists, capitalists and paleontologist powers-that-be overseeing Jurassic World ignore all modes of common sense and soon find their baby, the so-called Indominus Rex (Darth Indominus to its friends), wreaking havoc all over the themed island.
Other dinosaurs also manage to break free, and soon there are fatalities galore – alas, in the depressing slasher-flick manner, the most unnecessarily graphic and needlessly prolonged torture/death is foisted upon a pretty young woman, presumably for having sex before she’s married.
Pratt’s role is thinly written, but the actor invests the character with enough personality to make him an affable hero. Other nicely modulated performances turn up in the supporting ranks, including Irrfan Khan as the JW CEO, Jake Johnson as a talkative techie and The Intouchables’ Omar Sy as Pratt’s best friend and colleague.
Other actors, though, are defeated by the shrillness of their roles. Bryce Dallas Howard, as park operations manager Claire, has to remain in ninny mode for far too long a period, only coming into her own toward the end.
As young brothers Zach and Gray, visiting their Aunt Claire and becoming subject to the most dino-destruction, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins are required to play perpetually irksome kids, the sort of brats you wish will eventually be used by some immoral adult as a bite-size distraction for the rampaging beasts.
And the fine actor Vincent D’Onofrio, who first made his mark as a military grunt in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Full Metal Jacket, here engages in Full Metal Raptor, playing a gung-ho security head who wants to train dinosaurs to serve as soldiers in overseas combat situations. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds, and D’Onofrio’s part requires him mainly to act pompous and spout nonsensical dialogue.
But let’s face it: Audiences are coming to see dinosaurs, not people, and in that respect, the film delivers the goods a decent amount of the time. The lovingly crafted critters seen in the ’93 model have naturally given way to CGI counterparts, but for the most part, the effects work proves to be potent, with enough bravura sequences (the aquatic mosasaurus maneuvers, the pterodactyl attack) to satiate the faithful.
It’s just a shame that, like the recent San Andreas, the movie gets sillier as it progresses. By the time the story hits some unlikely Kumbaya notes in the late innings, we fully expect Barney (of purple reign fame) to appear on the scene and lead humans and dinosaurs alike in a campfire sing-along.