Early in “Jurassic World,” the park’s operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) tells a small group of investors that audiences today demand entertainment that is bigger, louder and with more teeth. Her comment could be interpreted as a tongue-in-cheek poke to Hollywood’s and the public’s thirst for larger, more CGI-driven blockbusters. You could even argue that the film scriptwriters —Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow— are being rather hypocritical, that they are eating their cake and having it, too. Consider the product placement throughout the film: Samsung presents this, Verizon Wireless presents that, a Pandora store here, a Starbucks store there, etc. I believe, though, that they are actually being rather honest in announcing their true intentions. “Jurassic World,” the fourth entry in the series inspired (you can no longer say adapted) by Michael Crichton’s novels, is bigger, louder and toothier than “Jurassic Park” and the rollercoaster ride thrills of the critically underrated sequel “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (the less said about film number three, the better).
Like its featured monster (for, make no mistake about it, these Jurassic films abandoned the sense of wonder of the first film to become nothing more and nothing less than monster movies), the Indominus Rex, “Jurassic World” is a hybrid, its movie DNA featuring strands from the first two Jurassic films, James Cameron’s “Aliens,” and even Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” And yet, the film feels like a retread of the series’ greatest hits, even when the plot virtually ignores the events of the second and third film.
Twenty-two years after velociraptors and a huge tyrannousaurus rex laid waste to John Hammond’s dreams of opening a park featuring living dinosaurs drawn from prehistoric DNA, a new park featuring monorails, a dinosaur petting zoo and an aquatic attraction stands in its place in the Costa Rican island of Nublar. Run by flamboyant billionaire and amateur helicopter pilot Masrami (Irrfan Khan) and manager Claire, the park has seen a small decline in attendance. To boost those numbers, their labs, run by InGen, have been splicing dinosaur DNA left and right to create new attractions, insurance costs be damned.
The park is about to reveal their newest addition: the aforementioned Indominus Rex, whose DNA is a mix of T-Rex, frogs and other prehistoric critters the company is trying to keep classified. To make sure all safety procedures are in place before the grand unveiling, Masrami orders Claire to contact Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a former Navy officer turned velociraptor whisperer who has managed to train four of these critters to obey his every movie. “I’m the Alpha,” Owen proudly proclaims.
This wouldn’t be a Jurassic movie without the presence of a couple of kids in danger. They are Zack (Nick Robinson), a good-looking rather aloof teen, and his younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins), an energetic, curious kid who, even though the script doesn’t quite spell it out, shows the symptoms of being autistic as well. As the film begins, their parents are packing them off to an all-expenses paid trip to Jurassic World by aunt Claire (yep, the very same Claire) from their wintry Wisconsin abode. Their parents are going through a divorce. And Claire is so busy that she trusts their care to an assistant once they arrive to the island.
You see, Claire is that old Hollywood stereotype of the professional woman who has no time for kids or romance and who needs a good man (in this case, Owen) to rescue her and bring order to her life. She foolishly wears high heels in the jungle as she tries to escape the dinosaur menace in the film’s second half and strips down her white jacket to show her tight Lycra top below it to show she means business when the going gets tough.
Once the Indominus Rex breaks loose from his compound and heads towards the park, “Jurassic World” begins to hit all the familiar beats. Kids trapped inside a vehicle under attack by a rex in the danger zone? Check. Night attack by the velociraptors? Check. Pterodactyls swooping down on humans (20,000 in this case)? Check and taken to the nth degree in a fun and breathtaking tribute to the seagull attack sequence in “The Birds.” Climactic sequence involving some familiar creatures that now looks like a battle between Godzilla and his equally monstrous adversaries? Check.
Colin Trevorrow (this is only his second film after the more indie-like production “Safety Not Guaranteed”), producer Steven Spielberg and the entire special effects team deliver on their promise: “Jurassic World” is indeed bigger, louder and features more teeth. And it is fun, in a Saturday matinees, leave your brain at home kind of way. A couple of sequences take full advantage of the wow factor delivered by the retrofitted 3D photography. The climax not only tips its hat at “Jurassic Park”’s grand finale but even upstages it.
But, at the same time, the filmmakers fail to take full advantage of the film’s promise. Indominus Rex may be a fiercer, more intelligent creature, its camouflage flesh giving it the ability to blend in any environment but the script never does much with those qualities once the rampage begins. It’s only interested in ramping up the volume on a tried and true formula. And all the talk of these gigantic reptiles as military weapons in the movie is designed to set-up another sequel. The last thing the world needs is another “Jurassic Park” sequel. As much as I enjoyed this entry, there is no question in my mind that the “Jurassic Park” franchise is past its expiration date.