Review: Jurassic World – Dino sequel prefers cheap thrills to wonder

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JURASSIC Park is not sacred. Stephen Spielberg’s two hour sauropod span is not your childhood and neither were its sequels. When people talk of Jurassic Park – especially people within my age group – there’s a reverence in their tones, as if they had felt the breath of Diplodocus God on their faces and inhaled the choking air of the Cretaceous. It’s not hard to understand why: Jurassic Park is full of childlike wonder, its sense of spectacle almost peerless, its mastery of then-primitive CGI still astounding to this day.

To me, it’s just a good action movie. To Jurassic World, the sequel to Jurassic Park III that blankly refuses to acknowledge its existence, the sanctity of Jurassic Park is unimpeachable. There are so many winking references to Spielberg’s film in shot compositions, locations and liberal usage of John Williams’ theme that it has no real identity of its own. It’s happier to sit in the original’s giant footprints than forge its own path; when it does strike out on its own, the results are closer to Roger Corman than Spielberg.

The rest is laid on a foundation of rampant stupidity. The dinosaurs, fearsome as they are, aren’t the real threat these people face. Neither is it Vincent D’Onofrio’s Saturday morning cartoon villain, a man whose scheme for military domination is to – you’ve guessed it – weaponise Velociraptors. Step aside, drone warfare! No, the real peril our heroes must battle is their own idiocy. There are so many slap-in-the-face stupid moments that they’re difficult to overcome when the scenes of reptilian mayhem storm into view – the things that people have paid $1 billion to see since release.

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And when said madness ensues, Jurassic World is great. When we’re not enduring the grating banter between ex-Navy grunt Owen (Chris Pratt) and career-driven operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), or suffering extended monologues on the boons of raptor troops, the sight of angry dinosaurs cutting loose is a visceral, weighty thrill. The central ‘antagonist’ – super-smart genetic hybrid Indominus Rex – is a mean, brutal killer that commands the screen, but his creation is the result of absurd human oversight.

The very setting of Jurassic World, built a mere span of miles from the original film’s park, is asking for trouble. The reasoning for the Indominus’ creation – that 20,000 (daily) visitors will be bored of regular dinosaurs, when zoos have existed for centuries – smacks of short-sighted hubris bereft of John Hammond’s tragic naivety. Claire’s flat refusal to take off her high heels, mere minutes before fleeing from a large carnivore, does not empower her; it makes her an idiot.

Both Pratt and Howard are denied a chance to give their underdeveloped characters meaning and depth. Owen in particular could have been played by anybody, with Pratt unable to bring his considerable charm to the role. Purportedly suspenseful scenes, where the two are stalked by the Indominus in the ruins of the old park, are hamstrung because it is impossible to care about these two. Owen is snide and unflappable, while Claire is… condescending and unflappable. Pratt has more chemistry with his tamed raptor buddies than Howard; said raptor buddies outperform them both, despite being made entirely in a computer.

The taming of the raptors, one of the more divisive elements when the first trailer was released, doesn’t really add or subtract from their appearance. Jurassic World’s domesticating of them is a step above death by gymnastics, but their menace is curtailed through obedience to Owen’s commands. This alliance is a prime example of the dinosaurs’ heroicisation. Much like the T-Rex, who receives a glorious, horn-backed re-introduction, the raptors exist to remind viewers that, yes, we all loved the first film, and director Colin Trevorrow fucking loves it.

The problem is we’re supposed to be afraid of these monsters, not cheering for them. The “bigger and better” mentality for the Indominus transfers to the film itself. Jurassic World spends the lumbering first act marvelling at these magnificent beasts before plunging headfirst into the all-out action that defined the other sequels.

World can’t outdo Park for wonder – Mosasaurus aside – but it does manage to outclass its action setpieces in sheer spectacle. Pteradons swoop into the resort like ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ is blaring from their beaks, and the final confrontation is pure popcorn joy. The screen explodes with visual splendour, the lush jungle vegetation captured on 65mm print.

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If nothing else, World revels in the excesses of its advanced technology, providing exciting new variations on “dinosaurs cause havoc”. But – and this is a small complaint, I grant – the reptiles never feel as fleshy or as ‘real’ as the original film, or even its sequels. Despite World’s use of the occasional animatronic and motion-captured actors for the raptors, the dinos from its predecessors possess more presence and weight.

Jurassic World has a whole lot of fun conjuring up new and exciting ways for extinct animals to wreck shit, but grinds to a halt whenever someone speaks. In this respect, it’s not dissimilar to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a superior film in every respect that was also hampered by half-baked humans. A 10 minute introduction of dinosaurs in the wild, without any stupid humans opening their mouths, would have done this film an enormous favour. Sadly, it is not to be.

Instead, we are left with an enjoyable enough romp that bogs down in ludicrous subplots, awful characters and a cloying adoration for the original film. Its self-awareness only extends so far as tacit admissions of its own inferiority; a shame, since there’s a lot on offer here that wasn’t in any of the previous instalments. Perhaps the inevitable sequel, poised on the tune of $1 billion dollars at the box office, will rectify the faults. Money will find a way, after all.

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