Is there any film whose special effects conjured up such a sense of awe and wonder as Jurassic Park (apart, perhaps, from Star Wars)?
Steven Spielberg’s 1993 installment — sandwiched between Hook and Schindler’s List — effectively gave mankind their first fully-rendered look at the fearfully great lizards (or “dinosaurs”) whose existence on Planet Earth preceded ours by some 65 million years.
Based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, the film functioned as both an enthralling sci-fi adventure and a parable about the dangers of tampering with DNA. With its two sequels, including the Spielberg-directed Lost World, having failed to inspire the same degree of adoration, what does Jurassic World bring to the franchise some fourteen years on, long enough that, by Hollywood standards, it might well have been thought extinct?
First and foremost is the amazement. We are introduced to the new and revamped park through the eyes of Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach Mitchell (Nick Robinson), a pair of familiarly archetypal brothers — the quiet, geeky preteen and the slightly dickish older brother who’s glued to his phone.
Having bade farewell to their parents, including a sadly sidelined Judy Greer (Kitty in Arrested Development, Caesar’s wife in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), they’re expecting to spend a long weekend with their estranged aunt, Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who, as the park’s operations manager, is predictably too busy to spend time with them, palming them off on an ill-fated nanny.
Even with its aerial view of the gleaming Disney-esque park and 20,000+ guests, the film holds off revealing its animal inhabitants — the first animal we see is, nostalgically, a holographic Brachiosaurus — until the optimum moment and then… wow.
Photo-realistic dinosaurs are hardly a first for cinema, but Jurassic World definitely serves to remind us how long it’s been since last we gazed upon a Velociraptor — now under the supervision of trainer Owen Grady (a cool, level-headed Chris Pratt), who both respects and fears them.
One of the film’s key themes is that audiences have grown bored with the standard dino fare, demanding bigger and more extravagant thrills. The film certainly provides this in the form of the water-dwelling, Great White-devouring mosaurus and the high-tech gyrospheres — no guessing what happens to one of them — but it also remembers what made the original such a delight: the balance between thrilling action and majestic imagery.
The controversial main attraction is the genetically modified Indominus rex, a monstrous, mysterious T-rex hybrid (sponsored by Verizon no less) that enjoys lurking in the foliage and crunching InGen employees. It’s escape is both ill-time and, of course, inevitable.
Colin Trevorrow’s film crucially both pays homage to and moves beyond its predecessors. For every shot of the old visitor center — that old familiar banner now lying, of course, in pieces — there’s something new, and even those elements that seem initially silly, like the raptor pack and the villainous Rex, come to feel like natural developments.
As well as the understated chemistry of Howard and Pratt — she’s corporate, he’s a rebel with a trailer, they’re a perfect match etc., etc. — and the impressively un-cloying kids, Jurassic World adds Vincent D’Onofrio’s militaristic security chief, Irrfan Khan’s eccentric CEO (very much of the Hammond mold), and Omar Sy’s wrangler Barry to the list of potential raptor bait. As lineups go, it’s hardly a great leap forward, but there’s enough heart and craft on display to forgive the familiarity.
With its John Williams score and adherence to the formula, Jurassic World ends up almost, if not quite, Spielberg worthy. The dino buddies may be a step too cheesy — to quote Tenacious D., “That’s f***king teamwork!” — there’s a lot to like here. There’s real Spielbergian warmth and spectacle, an impressive cast; everything a film needs to have even the most jaded cinema-goer grinning in their seat.
It’s hard to imagine there’ll be another theme park after this, but it goes to show there’s plenty of life in the old fossil yet.