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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Jurassic World


The phrase “all kinds of wrong” is usually about putting multiple spotlights on one tragic flaw. But with Jurassic World, it is an apt description of the film from pretty much start to finish. There are all kinds of things that are wrong with this film, though none of them are really tragic. This is a professionally, slickly made movie.

The trouble starts with my favorite current film composer, Michael Giacchino, who has the original score and some elements of his own blasting pretty close to wall-to-wall through the first act. Truly scored to within an inch of its life. Things calm down later and it gets better… but a thick forest of music is there to tell us how to feel through much of the picture. This isn’t close to being the biggest problem with the film, but it is a signal.

The thing about any film is that what might seem like odd choices at first blush can be overcome gloriously and deliver to the audience in the best way. The movie experiences people love the most are ones in which they can both anticipate what will happen, but then get surprised in a way that delights. So two boys – one brooding teen and one wide-eyed tween – going to Jurassic World seems like it might have a purpose, reflecting the older/younger sibling relationship form the original film while making the change to boys only. But unfortunately, it doesn’t. It’s just something they changed. There is no pay off. There is nothing special about this relationship or how it configures with the overall story.

Same problem with Omar Sy, who is quite famous in Europe after The Intouchables, and a very skilled on-screen charmer. But his role is – whether it was reduced in the edit or written this way – a meaningless placeholder for the Chris Pratt character, Owen. He mouths things Owen has already said and stands in for Owen when the film splits into four sections for a while. Owen can’t be everywhere. Sy remains a striking image on the screen. But aside from being much-lacking skin color to the film, he is forgettable here.

As a massive Vincent D’Onofrio fan, I was a bit crushed to find the innovative actor playing the Brian Dennehy role that got retired a few years back after being done a few too many times. Again, D’Onofrio did the work. There is nothing wrong with his performance. It just isn’t much of anything. We’ve seen this guy… a lot.

Then at the center of this film you have… Bryce Dallas-Howard. At least, she is the center through the first act, before its handed over to Chris Pratt, at which point she becomes his comic foil. Of course, even before then, she is some kind of power-dressing, cell-attached, powerhouse who isn’t allowed any real power. She puts her Jimmy Choo-ed foot down… and her word is final… for about 30 seconds, when something or someone comes along an changes the situation, forcing her to bend her command backwards. The premise of the film has her running Jurassic World, though she doesn’t get to know the details of what they are creating and she gets mocked by her billionaire boss for fulfilling the goals of what he has re-created. She is also a childless woman in her 30s, which we are reminded of literally, as well as with her poor showing as the aunt of The Boys sent to the park/world for a “family weekend.” Her idea of being with her nephews is to have her assistant – a caricature of her caricature of a powerful working woman, ramped up further by a British accent and the same cell addiction made sillier by the frivolousness of her calls – pick the boys up and show them around while she makes a brief appearance to great them before excusing herself for the rest of the day.

And again… nothing wrong with Bryce Dallas Howard. She does the work and does it well. When her Claire decides to get ready for action by knotting up her white blouse so we can see her Lycra tank underneath and her cleavage, you know she means business.

And then there is Chris Pratt as Owen, the tough talking, hard riding animal trainer (huh?) who has made himself the alpha of a group of raptors (huh?), lives in a weird hut connected to a trailer that suggests his independent spirit but makes no sense in the context of the park, and has somehow remained ignorant of what the evil gene-splicers are doing, even though they have built buildings on the property that are quite specific to their creations. Pratt does solid, professional work here. But the character that worked so well for him in Guardians of the Galaxy fails the Harrison Ford test here.

But the biggest problem is the premise. They turned Jurassic Park into a Godzilla movie. There is a lot of lip service paid to the “don’t mess with nature” thing and the “why do we always think bigger and more teeth are better?” thing, but in the end, the movie devolves into a bigger teeth, “get behind me, honey” movie.

Of course The Boys are the last ones who are given a free-roaming orb at the free-roaming orb ride just as the park is shut down… of course they will go through the game that says, “Danger!”… of course there aren’t any dino-fish in the water after they easily jump into the waterfall… of course.

This the kind of movie that talks about 20,000 visitors to Jurassic World, then pretends they aren’t there for a good chunk of the film, then has them attacked in a way that should truly terrify anyone under 10, then has them mysteriously disappear for the finale’.

This is the kind of film in which cell phones only work when they aren’t needed.

This is the kind of film that hints at secrets, guesses at secrets, and then reveals secrets to no one’s surprise.

This is the kind of film that would rather scare you with carefully negotiated amounts of human remains in a dinosaur’s (“it isn’t a dinosaur!”) teeth than to make you feel something real for the person before they get eaten.

It’s a “he’s a bad helicopter pilot gag” that has the professional pilot throwing up in the bushes.

And then there is the ending… which feels about as tacked on as I have seen in a long time. I am not going to spoil it, but while I admire the effort to twist the entire thing into an opportunity to give the “wacky woman sidekick” and our nostalgia some dignity, it is pretty ham-fisted work.

All that said… Jurassic World is not like having your eye poked out with a stick. It is loaded to the gills with Stuff. But the summer analogy that fits better is San Andreas and not Max Max: Fury Road. Some will say that it is just the right amount of stupid. I disagree, but I understand.

I don’t hate Jurassic World. I was just disappointed by it’s repeated failures to find a special voice, as the original had. There are two exceptions. One is Jake Johnson, who scores as The Guy Who Pushes The Buttons. Sadly, his closing bit ends up making little to no sense as a heroic act. But he is funny and his character is smarter than the movie. The other is the raptor motorcycle chase, which felt in its early stages like it was going to lift the entire movie up in a real way. Riding with the animals in what felt like an emotionally honest, connected way was a terrific idea and well executed… until it deteriorates.

The logline tells you everything that will be wrong with this film, really. The Park Is Open. But aside from being target practice for killer animals at some points, it really doesn’t matter whether the park is open. None of the central stories are really about the park being open and its 20,000 visitors being there. Instead the script trawls all of the timeless classics… kids in danger, childless working woman humbled, evil military, evil capitalism, and the biggest sequel premise of action movies, Bigger, Stronger, Faster Villain. (And don’t get me started on the “ironic” product placement in the film, which isn’t really ironic and of which I believe there is a greater quantity than in any film I ever see. Every beauty shot of the Mercedes logo made me want to scream, “F** off!”)

But we all seem to have an overload button in our heads these days that allows us to engage without thinking through the ideas. The big ending of J-World is a classic of this. So many clever pieces. But it makes no sense… it doesn’t carry the oft-mentioned themes of the film… it feels right somehow, but almost none of it makes any sense, really.

You can see the strings of the movie this might have been. The military element could have been a great premise… militarized dinosaurs, still top secret, return back to the park but are now experienced in new things that make them much more dangerous. The wacky billionaire thing could have been a great premise. Even the troubled family could have been so much better had mom been running the park, emasculating dad, distancing the kids, and making everything much more personal. Then kids go where they are no supposed to go because they are familiar, not because they have to do something dumb to get themselves in trouble. (For the record… when the kids go past warning signs here, it doesn’t much matter because the audience has no sense of any space on the island really being more dangerous than any other space. Just sayin’.)

Anyway… doesn’t matter. Like so much of what succeeds at the box office these days, Jurassic World is a mess of a story, but it has a lot of cool spectacle. And for many, critics and civilians alike, that is enough.

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10 Responses to “Review: Jurassic World”

  1. Stella's Boy says:

    It’s certainly enough for me. I’d like to see this & San Andreas in theaters and just enjoy some spectacle with my candy.

  2. PcChongor says:

    I was hoping that “Jurassic World” would be following “Fury Road” in a return to the great Paul Verhoeven days of satirical blockbuster filmmaking, but alas, it seems like this one lost its gumption halfway through.

  3. MarkVH says:

    So…the script sucks, then?

  4. Aaron Aradillas says:

    Had the opportunity of seeing this shortly after seeing TOMORROWLAND. Talk about a sliding scale. JURASSIC WORLD is watchable but it doesn’t stay with you. This is gonna sound weird, but JAWS 3, as bad as it is, did a better job of giving you the feeling that the people in the park were in real danger.

  5. movieman says:

    I was never the biggest “Jurassic Park” fan.
    Not even the ’93 original (which always felt a bit like Spielberg in the same mechanical, phoning-it-in mode as his third and fourth “Raiders” sequels) thrilled me.
    But I had a decent enough time w/ “Jurassic World” thanks largely to Chris Pratt.
    I actually think “JW” is a somewhat better movie than Pratt’s “GOTG” from last summer, if only because it knows exactly what type of movie it wants to be.

  6. Great review, Dave.

  7. chris says:

    Nice work. I think I liked it a bit more than you and I am so surprised there’s no mention of Judy Greer, who’s once again great in a pretty much thankless part.

  8. Kevin says:

    I wasn’t all that excited about seeing this, as I don’t even think the original film is all that, but reviews like this have convinced me to stick to ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK Season 3 this weekend and wait until this hits Netflix or whatnot.

  9. Bob Burns says:

    They gave an inexperienced white male director a chance at a big budget film.

  10. storymark says:

    “But we all seem to have an overload button in our heads these days that allows us to engage without thinking through the ideas.”

    Yup. While Ill cop to being the typical nerd that loves most of this stuff – I do think this is a problem. Our bullshit fuses have been blown.

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