People always seem to complain about reboots and late sequels that turn the premise of the originals upside down till there is no resemblance left. So how about a franchise that did not change a bit since its inception 22 years ago, how do you like that?
Over two decades after the original “Jurassic Park” ended in a debacle before it was even opened, a fully functional dinosaur theme park has finally been realized and is drawing in the masses. But the maintenance costs are high and today’s kids are jaded, so the people in charge have to think up new ways to lure in the audience and the only thing they can come up with is a new, more dangerous dinosaur, whose DNA is compiled from that of several different species. Expectedly, that goes awfully wrong and soon not only the abominable “Indominus Rex” is on the run, but all dinosaurs are on the loose and attack the visitors. Can velociraptor-tamer Owen (Chris Pratt) and his Ex Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park operations manager, regain control over the situation or at least save Claire’s missing nephews?
The Main Attractions
Nothing to see here, just a few people who got eaten by dinosaurs. Please move along!
Jurassic World makes quite an effort to be received as the “true” successor of the original Spielberg epic, it is even likely that the other sequels never happened in the shown timeline, but actually the one it comes the closest to in tone and appearance is Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III (2001).
Like that predecessor, Jurassic World does not even try to maintain the illusion that there will be an element of surprise, the attribute the ’93 film still heavily relied on and which contributed a lot to its success among other things. Apart from two interesting reveals about the main monster (that sadly don’t lead to much), every plot development is telegraphed in from a mile or unceremoniously introduced. The original’s director Spielberg has a great talent for dramatic build-ups, character introductions and for manipulating the audience to get immersed into the movie, which is sorely missed here.
That prosaic approach is well reflected in the bland, unimaginative cinematography and the dull colour-graded look. This time, the makers did not go for the dreaded “Teal/Orange” look but scrapped the “Orange” part altogether and just went with “Teal” alone. Everything has an obnoxious bluish hue, even the dinosaurs. It’s almost pointless to discuss the acting, as everybody acts uniformly stilted. Not that any member of the cast is to blame, considering what they were forced to work with. The franchise has never been famous for outstanding characterisations, but while Spielberg still mainly employed what could be deemed as well-known archetypes, the series reached with Part III a point where its personnel gives the expression “cardboard characters” a bad name. Amusing and/or halfway interesting characters like Dr. Ian Malcolm or Muldoon are completely absent, even Nedry suddenly appears fleshed out when compared to the new batch. They mostly just serve to be fodder for the dinosaurs anyway, always making the worst possible decisions- “bad decisions” being the sole propellant that moves the plot forward- and running into their demise with open arms like the victims in a slasher movie.
Or they represent clear cut enemy images, like the Dr. Wu (BD Wong), as the deluded scientist without moral compass and Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the pompous and irresponsible owner of the park who negligently enables the hidden agenda of the sleazy security boss Hoskins (D’Onofrio). After three films, Jurassic World successfully shifted its moral compass from detecting the roots of evil in rather murkily defined regions like “the hubris of the human mind” to more concrete and graspable places like China and India.
But the only really relevant question is, how are the real stars of the saga faring, the universally beloved dinosaurs?
Unsurprisingly, the novelty effect of CGI dinos has worn off, especially as the FX artists seem to put less care into their realization, which is maybe caused by a much higher workload than they had to deal with in ’93, when the actual screen time of the creatures only added up to a few minutes. The few practical effects also fail to make a lasting impression, the head and neck of a wounded Apatosaurus that was realized with animatronics for example is oddly reminiscent of the Freddy Krueger snake in the beginning of Nightmare III…. maybe not the desired association.
For a spectacle that cost $150 million, it is also decidedly unspectacular. While the raptor and motorcycle chase is fun, it is also very short. Same goes for the scene of the dinosaurs raiding the tourists, a scene whose importance is overemphasized in the trailers. When the formula demands that each iteration of the franchise has to go through the same set of now standardized situations, there is not much time left for new scenes. Instead the audience gets a variation of beloved scenes like the dinosaur stampede, the unexpected raptor attack, the kids in peril and so on.
It’s not all bad though. At some points, the dreadful cliches, the formulaic plot and the overall stiffness of the movie accidentally recreate the charm of similarly predictable monster movies made between 1950 and 1980. But in the end Jurassic World plays it too safe, is too much of an aseptic family-friendly product and sticks to close to the original to achieve thoroughly enjoyable entertainment value. And therein lies the main problem of all the Jurassic Park sequels- their reverence for Spielberg’s original.
Jurassic World bears, as it was pointed out by others before, some resemblance to Jaws 3 (1983). Both are lesser sequels of an original movie by Spielberg and both try to inject some new life into the well-worn premise by slightly varying the setting. Yet there are some major differences between those franchises in general.
The original Jaws is an exceptional effort by a young and hungry director, a film whose plot is based on such a singular situation that it does not lend itself very well to be sequelized (which did not stop the producers, of course). Jurassic Park, on the other hand, is a somewhat competent but impersonal product by a director whose artistic interests have shifted to more ambitious projects, but which has a plot that despite being of a rather ramshackle quality is setting up a world with immense storytelling potential that just waits to be explored in sequels that could easily improve on the original. Which never happened.
Because due to its enormous financial success and the control addiction of the Berg, the rather overrated original, that is on closer inspection nothing but filler when none of the dinosaurs is on screen, served as a blueprint for the first two sequels that just continued to scratch the surface by recreating the most famous scenes of the first one in variations without adding much new. Spielberg’s exit as director after The Lost World had up- and downsides. A downside was that, as I mentioned above, the already paper thin plot and characterisation took another nosedive in quality and the amount of the few inspired moments in each movie, that even a Spielberg on autopilot undeniably could bring to the table, went to zero. On the upside, Part III and Jurassic World also miss the whininess of post-Hook/midlife crisis Berg input from Part 1 and the disinterested paycheck Berg input from Lost World, while the plots got also streamlined by omitting Michael Crichton’s already stale moral pointing finger messages. But creatively speaking, there was no improvement observable.
Now that Spielberg left the franchise for good and 14 years passed after the last movie was released, Jurassic World could have easily broken the mould, but it let the chance pass in favour for a lame nostalgia revue. The reason for that is not only to be found in committee film making, but also in the fact, that over the course of 22 years the original, a mediocre film whose only strength is its ground breaking effects work, has been elevated into the status of an unreachable classic for a good chunk of a certain generation. One of those people is the film’s director and writer Colin Trevorrow, that’s why his (far too respectful) approach is that of a devoted fan and not of a (highly needed) franchise innovator. Jurassic World contents itself with being a humble homage to Jurassic Park that is solely directed at fans and kids.
It could have been the Aliens of the saga, but it (again) decided to be its Friday the 13th Part Whatever.
But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the repetitiveness of the franchise is some kind of clever built-in meta-commentary about the actions of the characters, conveying the message that humans will indeed make the same mistakes over and over again, be it cloning dinosaurs or making the same movie for the fourth time? Maybe the jadedness of the park’s visitors regarding the dinosaurs is a commentary on our own jadedness towards CGI effects? Maybe I underrate those films severely?
Maybe. I will pass my definitive judgement after I have seen Jurassic Park V/Jurassic World II, coming to a theatre near you soon. You know it will happen. History (rep)eats itself.