“Jurassic World” Movie Review

     I found it surprising about two years ago when Universal announced they were moving forward with a fourth “Jurassic Park” film and had hired a little known indie director named Colin Trevorrow, who had at the time one feature film to his credit (“Safety Not Guaranteed”).  It’s clear now the gamble paid off, from a financial standpoint anyway, since his film “Jurassic World” just set the record for the highest global opening weekend in box office history with more than a half billion dollars.  And what a victory this is for Universal, who’s 22 year old franchise was on life support after the paltry showing of the third installment, 2001’s “Jurassic Park 3”, and the future prospects of additional films was in near certain doubt.  For “Jurassic World”, there are a number of elements that seem to have come together with near perfect timing, and the result is an overall entertaining picture that as expected underwhelms in story and script but proves capable in delivering the kind of action set pieces summer audiences are looking for.

     One of those elements I speak of is the casting Chris Pratt, who coming off his leading man debut in last summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”, now stands as one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood.  With his performance as “Star Lord” still vivid in people’s minds, it seems to be a natural transition playing a Raptor Trainer in “Jurassic World”.  If that last job title made you double take, you are right on.  If you’ve viewed any of the previous films, you know Raptors are as lethal as the vaunted T-Rex and it would never be believed that they could be tamed.  That’s exactly what Trevorrow and his co-screenwriters Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa, and Derek Connolly have cooked up as part of their storyline, along with the fact John Hammond’s vision has now become fully realized in present day.

     At first glance, the thought of a “Jurassic World” theme park coming to fruition after the events of the first three films seems not only impossible in today’s world, but preposterous as well.  And yet, Trevorrow sells every visual within the park as if it is not only real, but also very well thought out.  Guests arrive to Isla Nublar by boat and are ushered to their hotel rooms by sleek looking monorails that look similar to the ones just seen in “Tomorrowland”.  When they arrive to the main thoroughfare of the park, they are greeted by several souvenir shops selling logo merchandise just like the areas near the “Jurassic Park” ride at Universal Studios Theme Park do.  There’s even a Starbucks and a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop along the way!  There are rides that take guests through valleys populated with dinosaurs as their sphere like vehicle is guided by a video of Jimmy Fallon letting them know what to look for.  There are ocean side amphitheaters (similar to those at Sea World) which pack guests into a stadium where they witness massive amphibious creatures hurl themselves out of the water to take in a meal hanging high above as the guests are splashed with water screaming in awe and delight.  Yes, they have certainly thought of everything, as the initial scenes in the film play like a tour of an actual theme park, rather than an imaginary one.

     One of the primary themes in the film is also the basis of the entire story.  As explained by the park manager, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), kids are no longer impressed by dinosaurs and the parks attendance figures have begun to shrink in recent years.  Perhaps this is simply a real life call to young teens who seem to have abandoned multiplexes in recent years as nothing really seems to interest them anymore.  So what does a theme park company do when their current lineup of attractions have run their course?  They create new ones that are bigger, badder, and more menacing than ever before.  Enter the only returning cast member from the original film, BD Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu, who has created a new hybrid dinosaur which is their most terrifying to date.  They have named their new attraction the Indominus Rex.

     Once the primary storyline is established, Trevorrow inserts some of the typical plot devices and characters that this franchise has become more than accustomed to.  Claire’s two nephews are visiting for the week and thus find themselves directly into harms way.  There is also plenty of people running from and ultimately being eaten by dinosaurs, though Tevorrow and his team have definitely come up with a number of solid and inventive action sequences that are sure to thrill audiences to the max.  Strangely enough, there’s a character whose motive seems very similar to that of the nefarious Company in the “Alien” films in which he intends on using the dinosaurs, specifically the Raptors, as military weapons (You may recall the human villains in the “Alien” films wanted to get the species back to Earth in order to study them for their Bio Weapons Division). 

     Trevorrow also stages two sequences that have military units looking for the Indominus Rex as the others watch their movements in a control room.  In similar fashion to the Space Marines in “Aliens”, each member has their camera readout and heart rate displayed on the monitor the people in the control room are looking at.  Of course the heart rate goes flat when they meet their fate at the hands of the lab created beast.  I suppose Trevorrow must be a big James Cameron fan with all of these similarities.  When one of the characters tells Claire that each of those men are about to die, it conjured up the image of Ripley yelling “Do something Gorman!” as the Marines were being attacked.  Nonetheless, the scenes work well and definitely establish the level of danger everyone is in, especially the 20,000 guests at the park.

     For his part, Chris Pratt brings a tremendous presence to his role as Owen, a former Navy serviceman turned Raptor Trainer.  One of the best images in the film has him riding a motorcycle through the jungle leading a pack of Raptors against the Indominus Rex.  Sure, the film seems content with having Claire sprint, jump, climb, and fall while wearing spiked high heels and a business suit, but overall the story combined with the authenticity of the park itself make for a mostly plausible narrative as long as you buy into the possibility a park like this could exist in the first place.  I think all that is missing is a shot of Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) sitting comfortably in his own home watching all of this go down on the news via some poor victim’s iPhone video, saying “Why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me?”  That would’ve been icing on the cake.  GRADE: B-