Film Review: JURASSIC WORLD
Starring Chris Pratt, Jake Johnson, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, B. D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Story by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Based on characters created by Michael Crichton
Produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley
Executive Producer, Steven Spielberg
Cinematography, John Schwartzman
Edited by Kevin Stitt
Music by Michael Giachinno
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Entertainment news, movie news, business news and the news in general during June, 2015, have been filled with stories about the runaway box-office success of Steven Spielberg’s, Frank Marshall’s and Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World,” the fourth film in the dinosaur-centered, cloning- and genetic-modification-themed science-fiction film series, but, interestingly, most of the news has centered on the film’s bizarro box office numbers—and not, it should be noted, so much on the quality of the film.
That’s because, no matter what numbers, receipts, income, revenue or box office numbers are tossed around, and plenty of numbers are being tossed around—notably by the film’s strutting studio suits at Universal—none of those numbers can erase, eradicate or terminate one simple observation about “Jurassic World:” The movie is not a great, exceptional, excellent or above-average film on any level. The movie is simply—and simply is a key word—yet another average big film, or big average film. “Jurassic World” is, in the end, yes, yet again just one more disappointing entry in the ever-increasing long line of disappointing sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots and re-imaginings that continue to clutter and litter worldwide movie theaters. And, in the end, after all of the noise and hubbub have died down, it’s just a somewhat uninteresting, forgettable, unimaginative average movie.
Despite millions of dollars in state-of-the-art digital, computer-generated special effects; some pretty terrifying, realistic dinosaurs roaring and stomping with the sound-effect and sound-volume equivalent of earthquakes, explosions and rocket liftoffs and appearing on the screen with a visual impact that is at times impressive, scary, horrifying and exciting; despite four able lead actors that have some genuine charm, presence and acting chops, most especially the steady, reassuring and extremely likable Chris Pratt and two cute kid lead actors who filmgoers can actually care about; and despite all of the film series pedigree, still, “Jurassic World” ends up falling flat, being generally disappointing, and landing with a horrific thud as loud and obvious as the death of one of the film’s doomed dinosaurs.
And to carry that analogy to a logical step forward, perhaps there’s another inner lesson about regenerating and modifying and cloning and creating new dinosaurs, besides the “Jurassic” film series’ constant lesson, fable, message and moral about the inherent and very real dangers of playing God, and messing with evolution, cloning, history, time and creatures who belong in the past and not in the present: Perhaps filmmakers, in general, should also leave certain figurative dinosaurs, certain filmic dinosaurs, and certain filmic relics from the past (series, brand names, characters, franchises) alone, and not mess with the film gods, with history, with the past, and with filmic evolution. In other words: In film, it is truly best most of the time to just leave certain films and film series solely in the past, and enjoy them as they were in the past.
And that means the “Jurassic” series, too. On all levels, please leave these dinosaurs alone. Please stop resurrecting these dinosaurs. Please stop playing film god. Leave this film series alone, once and for all. Basically, please stop feeding the dinosaurs.
Now, for the numbers, because it is part of the story and it is news, alas. “Jurassic World,” which is clumsily, awkwardly and somewhat amateurishly directed by Colin Trevorrow, opened in the United States on Friday, June 12, 2015. The film promptly notched the biggest opening weekend in U.S. history and in North American history, and also, for good measure, had the biggest worldwide opening weekend in history, according to numerous press reports and Box Office Mojo, a film industry news website. Also, according to several news sources: “World” is the first film to gross $500 million worldwide in a single weekend; is the fastest movie to make $1 billion; is—so far—the third-highest-grossing film of 2015, but it’s on its way to, most likely, being the year’s highest-grossing film, many observers predict; is—so far—already, in less than one month, the eighth-highest-grossing movie of all time; and is, well, the highest-grossing film in the “Jurassic” film series. Additionally, there is a host of other, more specific and detailed box office records. And all of this has occurred during just three weeks, as of Friday, July 3, 2015.
Sigh. Film fans and observers always hope that numbers like these are attached to films that have the quality to match the numbers. As noted, “World” is not one of those films. The film falters mostly on its clunky, empty and goofy storytelling, its clunky and nearly laughable dialogue, and its somewhat stilted and amateurish, at times, pacing, timing and editing. And the film is terribly unoriginal, and is definitely not inventive, clever or groundbreaking in its approach. It’s a retread on an average level, coasting on the same story at the same location with the same approach. And when a film so obviously falters in these areas, everything else crashes down around it, like that “Jurassic Park” sign at the end of the first film in the series, which was directed by Steven Spielberg all the way back in 1993.
“World’s” most obvious failure is its one-note, unoriginal and embarrassingly thin, narrow, close-minded and re-hashed and empty story. The story lacks originality, inventiveness, intelligence, smartness, and there is barely a decent subplot or subplots to offer any real depth. Very simply stated, because it’s very simple, for some, unexplained and moronic reason, yet another re-generated dinosaur theme park is established on an island for tourism. Why? It’s not ever really explained clearly or intelligently why anyone with a sane mind would re-open such a tourist attraction after the original park exploded in destruction, leading to a complete breakdown in not only the park but the dumb and dangerous science behind the park, and leading to the gruesome killings of several people at the park.
Since the first film, and the completely unneeded sequels, which were average-to-poor films themselves, established over and over again that bringing dinosaurs back to life and putting them close to humans is a stupid, failed experiment—why on earth would yet another park re-open and invite people to walk around on a secluded island with dangerous, really depraved and lunatic cloned, or genetically-modified, crazy dinosaurs? The question is never answered or even explained in a satisfying manner, thus getting the film off to an awkward start that the movie never really recovers from as the film moves forward.
But there it is, nevertheless: the Jurassic World theme park. Robotic-like humans take ferries and boats to the island, oohed and awed by the new re-generated actual dinosaurs displayed in zoo-like enclosures and animal park-like fields and valleys and forests; holographic and other visual displays in huge lobbies of visitor center-like buildings; actual dinosaur-themed water shows like those horrible displays of idiocy at Sea World and similar dumb aquatic show attractions, and plenty of money-grabbing, capitalistic gift and souvenir and food shops. If the filmmakers had been more clever, original or inventive, these horrific tourist-trap attractions, that steal peoples’ money for little in return but dashed hopes and dreams, would have been the darker, more horrific true center of the film, the story and the messages: With a bit more satire, parody, cleverness and dark, morbid comedy, the idea of just how these tourist traps deceive people, rip off people, delude people and fool people, would have made a great satirical black comedy with macabre sci-fi and horror overtones. “World,” though, is not that movie.
The story is simply this: the dinosaur park is open; people visit; dinosaurs escape and eat people; evil scientists still want to experiment on dinosaurs behind the scenes, stupidly, despite the destruction and death going on around them, which makes no sense yet again; kids run off away from everyone else, disobeying orders and rules and basic common sense and intelligence; and the studly hero tries to save the day, save the kids, prevent more dinosaur dinners, and somehow get the girl who everyone hates anyway. That’s it. There is not much more to the story than that.
There are no real smart, deep subplots that carry the story away from an overriding feeling of sameness.
As for plot points and aspects of the plot and story that should be there to move things forward, without revealing anything for the nine people who haven’t yet seen the movie, most of the plot points are below-average, just dumb, really. Constantly, like in similar bad sci-fi, horror and fantasy films, the viewer sits there wondering just why on earth many of the characters are doing what they are doing—because none of it, even on a fantasy and storytelling and fun level, makes much sense—in the context of the sci-fi story, of course. It’s no wonder some of the characters end up as dinosaur chow—they’re just dumb, and it’s inevitable that being gulped down by a crazed dinosaur is their fate.
As for the dialogue, it’s actually terrible. The dialogue could literally have been lifted from five-hundred other similar, unoriginal monster movies. Never, not once, believe it or not, is there anything approaching a literary, probing, deep, analytic, intellectual discussion about the obvious issues—scientific, academic, historic, cultural, sociological, psychological, religious, even—swirling around, but not in, the story: What is the role of man in re-generating, cloning or genetically modifying past creatures? What are the moral, ethical, cultural and scientific responsibilities, duties, roles and obligations of man regarding genetic modification, cloning and similar scientific experiments on past creatures?
These, and many more, issues associated with the story in “World,” are all fascinating, interesting and even entertaining scientific and academic issues. However, you won’t see or hear any of this talked about, referred to in depth, analyzed or even discussed intelligently anywhere in “World” on any intelligent level. As with the other “Jurassic” films—including the first one, it should be noted—having the addition of just a few simple minutes, just a few scenes, just a few pages of smart, academic dialogue regarding these very real, very important issues would have lifted the quality of these films. The same observation applies to probably thousands of other similar monster movies: Sometimes, just that little bit of written and spoken scientific and academic intelligence—or at least the implied suggestion of it—can lift a film from its average quality.
The screenwriters associated with “World”—Trevorrow, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly—seemed uninterested in any deep, probing discussion. All of the attention is on the action, the dinosaurs, the special effects, the noise, the action. Yes, these four people did try to inject a near-subplot about evil scientists at the park and their dark work with modifying certain dinosaurs for militaristic purposes, and there is the usual array of cover-ups, lies and deception regarding the scientific work—but no one, again, really talks about it in depth, with intelligence.
The story, plot, near-subplots and dialogue are just unoriginal, clichéd, leaden and uninspired throughout “World,” from start to finish.
Chris Pratt plays the likeable lead character, a park employee and dinosaur ranger and trainer of sorts who does indeed have some intelligence, common sense and heart. He has been tasked to try and tame a quartet of rowdy, teeth-filled and roaring small dinosaurs, with the expectation that these critters can somehow be tamed and domesticated in 2015 after several million years of existing as cells, genes and DNA preserved in amber or rock or stone or whatever.
While Pratt’s character, Owen Grady, does try his best to domesticate the dinosaurs and fight the over-riding idiocy of the park’s officials, he’s up against morons running the show. One of them is, again, storywise, dumbly showed to be an on-again, off-again romantic interest of Grady’s, Bryce Dallas Howard’s cold bag-of-ice-and-steel Claire Dearing, the park’s operations manager, sort of. Sort of because, again, dumbly, Dearing cannot see the dinosaurs for the trees—even as the dinosaurs go berserk, people are chomped on and the entire dumb enterprise falls to pieces, she fights the destruction and tries to cover up everything, as if everything is okay. This makes no sense. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence would have called the Army, or the Marines, or the Masons or Interpol or the Illuminati or the Avengers or the Mission: Impossible crew, or someone, or something, as soon as possible, to come and evacuate the island, save the thousands of people there, and shut down the park, effective immediately. Instead, oddly and crazily, she remains, early on, camped in a cold operations room, not believing that the entire park is a mistake.
It’s not until, of course, dinosaurs overtake the operations center, the water show, the gift shops, the plazas, the entire dern island, that Dearing comes to some senses and starts to fight them.
Meanwhile, the evil scientists try to mask their own mistakes, try to steal dinosaur DNA and cells and make their escape—again, while all hell breaks loose around them—and two cute, adorable kids dumbly ignore common sense warnings, go off exploring in some ridiculous round mobile device, rolling right around and through humongous, ginormous dinosaurs towering over them, and Grady and Dearing run through forests and fields, trying to find the kids, kill the dinosaurs, use the small dinosaurs to fight the larger, crazed dinosaurs, and try to get thousands of people off the island in seemingly an impossible amount of time with an impossible amount of evacuation resources.
If this entire scenario sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is ridiculous. And unbelievable, even with a strong dose of suspension of disbelief and willingness to accept the overall, basic sci-fi premise. Once again, when a film, any film, even a film this big, has a loosely-structured, shaky, unoriginal and, often, moronic, story, plot and premise, no amount of CGI, green-screen, digital work, special effects, sound effects, art and production design and elaborate sets can save the over-arching film.
Besides the steady, reassuring, likeable and strong acting and presence of Chris Pratt, there are two other likable actors in the film, despite the story having their characters do something dumb–the youthful, adorable kid actors Ty Simpkins as Gray Mitchell, and Nick Robinson as Gray’s older brother and friend, Zach Mitchell. Ty and Nick, who are in real life now 13 and 20, respectively, and were probably a year or two younger during filming, are, to their credit, likable, cute and full of energy and life. They represent the more pure, youthful promise of recreating dinosaurs and selling them to the public: The awe, wonder, interest and excitement that kids could have in seeing these creatures live, aside from the colder, more capitalistic aspects of the endeavor that are harbored by the colder, more scheming and shady adults.
When Ty’s Gray smiles and raises his hands and jumps up and down in excitement, and when Zach looks down at his younger brother and smiles and understands the younger kid’s joy and fun, those are nice moments, and those are moments that represent real wonder and awe. They’re good kids, despite going off on their own and exploring. Yes, kids do that, and it’s often a good thing—but it’s not a good thing to go off exploring by yourselves on an island filled with regenerated dinosaurs.
Nevertheless, Gray and Zach are likable, and Pratt’s Owen is likable, and it’s one of the few good story aspects that the film has Owen and Claire—who just happens to be the somewhat detached and unfeeling aunt of Gray and Zach—heroically going deep into the island to rescue the kids. And one good touch, too, is that the story does have Claire’s cold, steely detachment melt and turn to real human kindness when she realizes she has let down her nephews and has not watched out for them like she should have been doing all along. That’s one of the few real, human touches in the film. There should have been more such moments.
Pratt, Simpkins and Robinson—not so much Howard, though, as her acting is somewhat uneven and disjointed in the film—are, again, the best thing about the movie, but, alas, their likability and strong presence are too little and too late to save the day.
As of Friday, July 3, 2015, “Jurassic World” was still going strong in the theaters, three weeks after its opening on June 12, 2015. And preliminary expectations from some film business observers, according to reports in Forbes and other industry publications, is that the film will continue to do extremely, extraordinarily well through the Fourth of July weekend (and after that), even holding up strongly against yet again another poorly-re-generated sequel, the thoroughly unneeded and, by many, unwanted “Terminator Genisys,” which opened on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.
Pardon the easy pun, but the Fourth of July weekend will be another battle of the dinosaurs.
Fortunately, it should be noted, the wonderfully-reviewed, wonderfully-accepted, widely-loved and warmly-received “Inside Out” from Pixar is expected to still draw strongly in the competition, fulfilling the much-needed need for an actual intelligent, smart, clever and inventive film to be performing well at the box office. “Inside Out” is one of the summer’s most positively-reviewed and accepted films, and that is only a good thing.
For that matter, during these summer weeks, a best bet is assuredly to head out to the theaters and see Pixar’s quality, fun, funny, smart and entertaining “Inside Out.” As for those other films, a good piece of advice is to simply let the dinosaurs battle it out, to leave the dinosaurs alone, and to quietly, respectfully, let the dinosaurs fight themselves to a painless, quick and welcome death.