It’s 1993, I’m 13 years old, and I’m the perfect age to experience Jurassic Park for the first time.
I was still reading young adult books at the time so I hadn’t yet read the Michael Crichton novel that inspired the film, but I didn’t need to. Sitting in that theater at that age, Jurassic Park remains one of the most impactful movie experiences I’ve ever had. State of the art movie magic from Steven Spielberg, Stan Winston, and Industrial Light and Magic brought dinosaurs to life like I’d never seen before.
They were magical, they were beautiful, and they were terrifying.
Despite the series declining precipitously with the two sequels that followed, the original still holds up incredibly well over 20 years later. With that in mind, it’s not difficult to see why rumblings of a new Jurassic Park movie have been stewing for years. To many, the allure of dinosaurs is just as strong now as it was then. But given the fact that the first film is still so iconic, it would take something equally special for Jurassic World to live up to that high bar.
Unsurprisingly, I was skeptical going in.
Ultimately, while World makes up for some of the faults of the franchise’s past, and does some things right, it still doesn’t capture the wonder I experienced that day in 1993.
Since it’s been 14 years since the public was saddled with Jurassic Park III, World wisely tries to tug at the heartstrings of the older crowd who still hold a candle for the original film, while also having plenty of inspiring imagery for the younger audience who may be seeing all this for the first time.
There’s almost nothing about Jurassic World that is unpredictable or unique. The trailers, for better or for worse, tell you everything you need to know. Despite the failings of the past, InGen has somehow convinced investors that a dino theme park is a good idea. Jurassic World has been open and drawing massive crowds for years now.
The bean counters think only of increasing profits and think of the animals as “assets” instead of living, feeling creatures. The scientists, egged on by their corporate bosses even though they know the risks of what they’re doing, have genetically engineered a bigger, badder dino to boost attendance, and it’s pretty obvious what happens from there: Dino escapes, rampages and chaos ensues.
World will probably affect you very differently depending on how old you are and how much reverence you have for the first movie. As a 30-something who holds Park in such high regard, the first act of this new entry left me feeling pretty hollow.
The opening scenes follow two brothers who are sent to the park by their parents to spend time with their aunt Claire, who is one of the aforementioned bean counters. The park is revealed with broad, sweeping aerial shots of a Disneyworld-esque petting zoo. John Williams’ remarkable score plays with blatant intention, but it’s less meaningful when it’s accompanying a massive commercial enterprise as opposed to that first shot of a majestic, towering brachiosaurus just doing it’s thing as Drs. Grant and Sattler–and the audience–watch in dumbfounded awe.
Something about seeing throngs of children feeding and cuddling with dinos like horses and goats in a zoo just rubbed me the wrong way, but maybe that’s the point. World wears it’s theme of corporate greed and excess on its sleeve, and it checks off all the related plot points you would expect from a Jurassic Park movie.
Most of the characters aren’t especially memorable. Claire can barely get off her cell phone between meetings with investors long enough to make it abundantly clear that kids make her uncomfortable and pawn them off on her assistant before running off to do more businessing. The clearly broken family dynamic makes it hard to care about Claire or the boys’ parents, and the brothers themselves don’t really get along either, so it’s tough to feel for them as well.
Part of the appeal of the children in Jurassic Park was that John Hammond loved them, and took great joy in showing his grandkids something special. Also, unlike Dr. Grant gradually making a caring connection with the kids over the length of the film, the point when Claire decides to flip the switch and give a damn about her nephews has more to do with realizing her sister will be pissed than actually developing a love for her family.
The two most likeable people in the cast are Simon, CEO of the company that owns Jurassic World, and most importantly, Chris Pratt’s Owen, who is head trainer of the velociraptors. Both characters possess the desired love and respect for dinosaurs as wild animals and are constantly at odds with Claire and InGen’s duplicitous head of private security, who wants to weaponize velociraptors once he sees they can be trained.
Owen in particular I enjoyed because, aside from an irritating but thankfully short dialogue with Claire when she brings him on to consult, he manages to keep his cool, tough guy persona from being overly outlandish. He’s no Dr. Grant, but his performance is restrained just enough that it helps him look like a badass as he rides his motorcycle with raptors and lead our heroes to safety.
Once the maddeningly, ridiculously-named Indominus Rex breaks out of its pen, plot becomes less important and things start getting fun. There’s something about seeing dinosaurs run amok and interact with each other that still plays in 2015.
The new I-Rex, if I can coin the term, looks more like what you’d get if a T-Rex were to drink a vial of ooze from the TMNT universe and become a mutant form of itself. It comes fairly close to going off the deep end of believability but stops a step or two away, and the fact of the matter is she’s still an imposing creature. Watching her menacingly stalk Owen, Claire, and the kids is almost as scary and powerful as seeing similar scenes of the T-Rex doing the same thing 20 years ago.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that could still happen.
By the time the raptors and T-Rex are brought into the fold I was pretty on board with the whole thing and was able to let my early disappointment go. They still make some pretty ludicrous scientific leaps regarding raptor intelligence and their ability to “speak” with each other and other dinos, but that’s balanced with enough cool and fairly believable enough scenes that it never gets to unforgivable levels. Owen’s training of the raptors is easy to go along with because it paints a picture of a relationship of mutual respect and the sense that he’s only just barely able to keep these vicious killers at bay.
In the end I came away enjoying Jurassic World a lot more than I expected to, but it doesn’t come close to topping the original Jurassic Park.
There are precious few scenes of humans interacting with dinos on a personal level with a soft touch and open heart. Some of the most beautiful scenes in Park are when the cast are letting the dinos be and enjoying them for the natural animals they are.
World also requires a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief. One of the reasons Park hold up so well so many years later is that it’s so believable. Once you got over the hump of going from extracting DNA to breeding an animal (which was a lot bigger leap back then than it is now) you totally bought into it.
That said, I appreciated the nods to the greater film that World went for. You’ll see familiar things and places, and there are more than a few shots that seemed carefully constructed to mimic similar shots from the first film. In fact, there are many, many parallels to be made between the two films, in terms of musical themes, shots, characters, and plot scenes. Most importantly, the dinosaur scenes you actually came to see are done well. In the last 20 years film technology has grown leaps and bounds, and virtual camera movements are used effectively in the later scenes when our human friends are running from raptors, I-Rex, and T-Rex all at once.
To a younger audience, the more nostalgic bits and plot and character discrepancies will probably be lost on them, but they’ll likely be stoked to see dinosaurs in a similar way to when my generation did in our teens.
If you’re willing to accept that Jurassic World is not a triumphant return to form for the franchise and/or have kids that are into dinosaurs then there’s still a decent amount of enjoyment to be had here. Considering the flop that was Jurassic Park III and the extended time World spent in development hell, it’s a lot better than it could’ve been.