Sunday, June 14, 2015

Review: Jurassic World

There’s no denying that the original Jurassic Park was a cinematic game-changer - a shining of example of who Steven Spielberg once was as a director back when he was still Steven Spielberg.  In the original Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs and the musical score were very much the stars, much more so than the cast, which featured solid but not spectacular leads in Sam Neil and Laura Dern, and the finished product was a grand epic that would define a generation of action films.  In the twenty-one years since the original, Universal has produced a couple of less than inspired sequels that have found a myriad of reasons to bring viewers back to this world, but those films were void of the majesty and wonder associated with the original - opting instead to focus on destruction and mayhem.  The best thing I can say about director Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World, is that it successfully brings back some of that original magic.

The second best thing going for the movie is that the set up makes sense.  There are no plans to bring the dinosaurs to the U.S. or some elaborate far-fetched setup in which a kid gets lost on an unregulated island of dinosaurs.  In fact, this film more or less ignores the events of the last two outings.  In Jurassic World, big business is the driving force and why wouldn’t it.  And if you miss the parallels between the machinations behind Jurassic World and the Parks and Resorts group at The Walt Disney Company, then you are not really paying attention.  All the merchandising and Disney-fying of Jurassic World aside, as as the camera moves through the park and the score builds to a crescendo, it’s hard to not feel a bit of that original wonder.

One of the main differences between Jurassic World above Jurassic Park is that the casts are more the stars in this film.  Chris Pratt, who is suddenly (and deservingly so) one of the biggest action stars in the industry, is very much the lead of this movie.  He has the look and feel of the kind of protagonist who can carry a film of this size and scale on his shoulders.  Sadly, it seems like Pratt has been reigned in by director Colin Trevorrow's direction, as his performance is mostly void of the goofy tongue-in-cheek sarcasm that has been the staple of his best work.  Don’t get me wrong.  Pratt is good, but he could have been even better.

Bryce Dallas Howard is a nice contrast to Pratt.  No stranger to action films, Howard knows how to hit the right notes in expository and action scenes alike.  There are some choices that are made in her character that are curious and my sense is that there are tidbits of backstory that were left on the cutting room floor.  If those sacrifices are made for the sake of pacing though, then it is well worth it, because the first act is an intentionally methodical reintroduction to the all things Jurassic, and to linger in this place a minute longer than it does would have been too long.

And no discussion of the film would be complete without talking about the dinosaurs.  This is where the film runs into a few problems, but mostly because it uses the dinosaurs as a melting pot for hot button issues (i.e. genetic manipulation, weaponization, corporate greed).  The waters become so muddied that it all feels a bit sloppy and flippant.  Still, the effects look great and the dinosaurs make for great theater, ultimately redeeming all that ails the film.

I had fairly moderate expectations for this movie going in, but I came away from it very entertained.  It’s not the game-changer the original was, but it is big and fun, and stands out against a slate of movies this summer that have been uninspiring.  Go see it if you haven’t already - Jurassic World has scored the biggest global opening ever – on the biggest screen you can find.  Get the big popcorn, the vat of soda, sit back, and enjoy the ride.


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