Why even bother with a review? ‘Jurassic World’ has already set a record for the biggest domestic opening weekend of all time. All the same, something should be said about the film’s atrociousness. With a franchise built on best-selling novels, three earlier films (the first two of which were directed by Steven Spielberg), and theme-park attractions, how could the end product reach such unacceptably low levels? Never again will this happen. ‘Jurassic World’ will be presented as a success story in future Marketing lecture modules. It won’t, however, be included in the Film Studies curriculum other than as a footnote to demonstrate how a film could assail all senses, including common.
The brain-dead plot involves the escape of a new and dangerous breed of genetically cloned dinosaurs on an island designed as a dinosaur theme park. The director is Colin Trevorrow whose previous lone feature was a small indie called ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ from 2012. It was modest but sweet, heartfelt, and filled with Spielbergian influences. So, I guess it is no surprise that Trevorrow was approached to take the reins on ‘Jurassic World’, but it was an offer he should have refused. The leap from his independent film project to this gargantuan-scaled blockbuster is just too much, and Trevorrow struggles mightily with this blundering edition of the franchise that was put in motion 22 years ago.
I like both ‘Jurassic Park’, and ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’. Spielberg was able to blend (what was back then) state-of-the-art special effects with memorable characters and a cautionary tale about humans trying to play God. The dinosaurs were incredible and the filmmaking visceral. He is the executive producer for ‘Jurassic World’, and the film has a number of Spielbergian nods – my favorite being an enormous amphibious creature devouring a great white shark: in other words, ‘Jaws’ was so 40 years ago and this is what a contemporary summer blockbuster looks like today. I recently revisited ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ and although that movie is 18 years old, it is a much better looking picture than ‘Jurassic World’ is. This is a problem.
Apparently, a $150million budget doesn’t buy you a coherent screenplay. How did these actors repeat their goofy lines with a straight face? The shameless product placement on display would make Michael Bay blush – Mercedes Benz, Coca Cola, Triumph Motorcycles, Samsung, Brookstone, Starbucks, and Margaritaville to name a few. I was unclear about the conflicting coalitions. At one point, our film’s hero joins forces with a nutcase who wants to militarize the dinosaurs and use them in America’s foreign wars.
Chris Pratt plays a dinosaur expert and Bryce Dallas Howard is the corporate puppet whose character is borderline offensive. I’m not sure I understand why her character was so exorbitantly dolled-up. Or why just because she is a successful businesswoman, her vocabulary would only be limited to sales performance metrics. Or why she couldn’t crack a joke if her life depended on it. And the movie’s stupidity can be summed in a single image of her outrunning a T-Rex in high heels. Over cement. Through mud. The heel didn’t break. Oh, more product placement! Pratt’s natural charm and charisma cannot elevate such clumsy material – the filmmakers have succeeded in taking the biggest movie star working today and making him boring. The picture wallows in clichés with its odd-couple pairing – he trains raptors, she runs and screams.
When the classic John Williams theme is revealed, it is for the moment in which we are first taken into the theme park. Not when we first see any dinosaurs. There is about 40 minutes of exposition and setup. The genetically engineered dinosaur doesn’t appear until about the halfway mark. Trevorrow is trying to follow Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ template (if you recall, we didn’t see the shark until very late in the picture), but what he doesn’t have are interesting three-dimensional characters, or a plot that generates suspense or tension. The chase scenes aren’t nearly as exciting as they should be – just when you think the movie is going to pick up in terms of action, the narrative machinery kicks in trying to juggle many of its unnecessary subplots, most of which aren’t seen through to any kind of resolution.
What is the lesson here? When all you care about is money, awful things happen. Why after three disastrous encounters between humans and dinosaurs would this park be recreated 22 years later? The answer, I guess, can be found on the top line of their income statement. The filmmakers should have taken their own advice. Their motivations for building a bigger and louder sequel are box office returns and the end result is as chaotic as the reptile dysfunction it depicts.
Note: I saw ‘Jurassic World’ in IMAX 3-D. The movie was converted into 3-D post-production and adds nothing to the experience. Personally, I would have preferred 0-D. QED.