Film review: Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic-World-Poster-OfficialWARNING: MILD SPOLERS AHEAD!

22 years after the original incident at Isla Nublar, a dinosaur theme park is now open to the public. But all is not well at Jurassic World. After ten years of operation, dwindling numbers have led the board to request bigger, better, scarier attractions. Enter Indominous Rex, a man made dinosaur which is inadvertently the ultimate predator in Jurassic World. When the I-Rex breaks loose and makes for the populated areas of the island, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and his team of Velociraptors are sent to stop it. Probably not a good idea.

Back in 1993, Jurassic Park was THE summer blockbuster that defined my generation. With its groundbreaking mix of CGI and animatronic effects, Steven Spielbergs family thriller made audiences believe that dinosaurs still exist. To this day I list it as one of my favourite films, an almost perfect, briskly paced story which hits all its major beats without stopping for unnecessary flab. Two sequels followed which unfortunately suffered from the laws of diminishing returns, sacrificing the human elements of the first film in favour of more and more dinosaur spectacle.

It’s interesting then, that Jurassic World, coming 14 years after Jurassic Park 3, uses the idea of “Bigger, better, more exciting” as it’s raison d’etre. The idea that kids are more interested with what is on their mobile phones than that actual, massive Tyrannosaurus Rex that’s standing a few feet away from them carries the story of geneticists being allowed to fiddle with something they probably shouldn’t. The Indominous Rex is a fearsome creation, a mix of Velociraptor and T-Rex DNA, with a dash of Tree Frog and Cuttlefish (intended to balance out the genetic mixture, their touches add some neat side effects to the creature) the beast remains largely unseen for the first 45 minutes or so of the film. In a way, it is corporate hubris made flesh, a snarling lump of excess that is both clever and manipulative and quite, quite scary.

One of Jurassic World’s biggest wins is in its human side. While Chris Pratt is front and center of most publicity, it is arguably Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire that is the lead character in this story. The park manager at Jurassic World, she is dedicated to her job. A prim and prissy business woman who has little time for her family and is desparate to make the park work, so much so that she can’t always notice when she’s being undermined by others. Hers is the biggest character arc and it’s almost on par to Ripley from Alien. Indeed, there are a lot of similarities with that franchise on display here with a few clever homages by director Colin Trevorrow, from an initial attempt to capture the I-Rex being shown using head mounted cameras and gradually flatlining heart monitors to a lab full of genetic monstrosities.

Indeed, most of the characters feel well developed, from the two brothers who are at the park fleeing their parents crumbling marriage, to the two control room operators who’s on screen relationship ends with one of the biggest laughs of the movie. Standout in the cast are probably Irrfan Khan and BD Wong. Khan plays Simon Masrani, the new owner of the park, as a mix between Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond from the first film, and Richard Branson. A fun loving millionaire who has taken on the task of bringing the park to life at no expense. As with Hammond, his intentions are well placed, but in placing the value of his “asset” before those of his workers, he only allows things to escalate quicker. Wong is the only returning cast member from the first film, reprising his role of Henry Wu, the geneticist who pioneered the cloning technology. Wu’s role her is interesting as he brings many of the elements from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park book that weren’t explored in Spielberg’s film, the idea that, while these are living creatures, they are man made and could, theoretically, be whatever man wants them to be. God creates man, man creates dinosaur, dinosaur eats man. He plays the role of the mad scientist with relish and it’ll be interesting to see where they take the character in future sequels. Probably the weakest character is Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskin’s, the head of security at the park who is really just the token villian of the piece. D’Onofrio, however, is very watchable as the character and adds a level of smugness and creepiness to the role which makes it hard not to love to hate him.

On top of the humans, Trevorrow also allows the dinosaurs to develop as characters. While the idea of a “trained” pack of Velociraptors seems ridiculous on paper, in reality it works very well on film. Owen’s interactions with them as their “Alpha” mirrors closely how certain scientists have worked with wild packs of Lions to develop a mutual understanding. This plays out in many different ways in the film with the now iconic shot of Owen riding through the jungle with his Raptors having a particularly great pay off. You can also forgive Trevorrow for holding out on using the T-Rex too much in the film. She only appears in the last 15 minutes but, when she makes her entrance it’s definitely worth the wait and provides a massive finale that fans of the series have been waiting 14 years to see.

Jurassic World is certainly not short of spectacle. From the I-Rex escape, to scenes of tourists driving through herds of Galimimus, to a terrifying Pteranodon attack on a crowd of unsuspecting holiday makers, Trevorrow revisits the classic Spielberg “family thriller” concept. While not overtly gory (in fact, I found there to be LESS bloody moments than the previous films) Jurassic World is incredibly intense in places, bordering on the closest younger audience members will come to a horror film. What is also commendable is the use of practical sets and (admittedly only a few) animatronics. As CGI continues its take over of cinema, it’s nice to see tangible elements used in a film, rather than simply letting things descend purely into what is essentially a photorealistic cartoon.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic World. It’s been the film I’ve been most excited to see this year and it didn’t disappoint. Thrilling visuals go a long way, but the film also brings a smart script with some excellent ideas to the table. A great family thriller and a film that re-defines the idea of a summer blockbuster.

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