When it comes to “Jurassic World,” critics will be damned. To date, the film has grossed more than $1.4 billion worldwide, good for fifth most all time, so nothing anyone was going to say could influence the desire to watch this highly anticipated return to Isla Nublar and the world first created by Steven Spielberg. Why audiences were so eager, however, is in ways more intriguing than the film itself.
From the trailers, nothing about “Jurassic World” appeared to be novel — the park was rebuilt, and now something bigger and scarier than a T-rex has gotten loose. So that suggests the film was an exercise in nostalgic thrills, the excitement of the big bad dinosaur running amok that inspired studios to produce countless ’90s and 2000s monster-driven blockbusters. And to that end, “Jurassic World” succeeds.
A long 14 years since the failed “Jurassic Park III” and more than 20 years since the original adventure, enough time passed to build up this franchise’s novelty value, a wisely calculated move by Universal Pictures to be sure. Although “Jurassic World” doesn’t inspire awe and wonder in the same way “Jurassic Park” did, it feels refreshing to return to the franchise’s overall aesthetic.
Entrusted with created the “dinostalgia” is director Colin Trevorrow of the indie sci-fi comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver of the recent “Planet of the Apes” prequels. While Trevorrow must simply keep the thrill and pulse of the film alive and throbbing, it’s Jaffa and Silver who must create a captivating story that stays true to the formula of “Jurassic Park.”
Jaffa and Silver were an ideal choice, having taken a previously bygone franchise in “Planet of the Apes” — not to mention one focused on animals and humans — and surpassed all expectations with the quality of storytelling. “Jurassic World” has plenty of compelling moments, effective suspense and a strong sense of danger — it’s the character development that’s lacking.
Not that anyone remembers “Jurassic Park” for the characters, but “Jurassic World” can’t lean on the “wow” factor in the way the original could. The main characters comprise an undeveloped mess of two boys, the park director and a dinosaur trainer. All the lovable charisma of Chris Pratt, who gets top billing as the man who has tamed velociraptors, can’t save the two- dimensional Owen despite getting all the big reveal/epiphany lines, and as a selfish stick of a character, Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire takes a long time to warm up to. Yet neither is the movie entirely about the two young brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), trying to survive. Their troubled home life and fraternal bond gets shoved into a film much more concerned with its dinosaurs.
All of these flaws feel irrelevant until the story loses a grip on the suspense it so effectively builds in the first act and most of the second. In fact, there’s a quiet moment amidst the chaos of pterodactyls descending upon hapless park tourists that marks the beginning of the film’s unraveling. Something happens that proves the film has a poor perspective on its characters and it betrays the credibility of the story in a really unfortunate way.
From that point on, “Jurassic World” finds a few nice plot twists, but devolves into your typical mindless blockbuster rather than an extraordinary or noteworthy one. You can sense its desire to be the biggest and most epic “Jurassic” film rather than holding onto the simplicity that made the original so great — that opened up a sense of wonder, fear but most importantly, curiosity. That’s where the heart of Spielberg’s film (and so many of his films) comes in, and “Jurassic World” never strikes those chords.
The most obvious candidate for a sequel since “Avatar,” the franchise can only succeed in this way going forward the with a focus on Owen, filling in all that was missing in his back story and giving Pratt a chance to actually shine with the talents he has. That, or wiping the slate clean and giving the new faces a chance to connect more with this exciting world of “Jurassic Park.”
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson