There were four years between Jurassic Park and its first sequel, the awkwardly titled The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Another four years elapsed between that film and Jurassic Park III, which was long believed to be the last we’d ever see of the franchise.
However, fourteen years after the third instalment we got the fourth film – Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World. Seen as a reboot of sorts for the franchise, it imagines a world where John Hammond’s dream – of a theme park filled with genetically engineered dinosaurs for the masses – has finally come true. Despite this success, the scientists are about to meddle with nature a little too much – and turn Hammond’s dream into a nightmare once more.
Jurassic World takes the original concept of the Jurassic Park stories and brings it forward, accounting for the passage of time between films. We’re finally out of the ‘going back to the island’ pattern that the original two sequels fell into, with plenty of nods to the first film that give it a warm air of nostalgia.
The Jurassic World theme park is well realised and we do feel a sense of wonder at exploring it, thanks to the discovery of the park’s attractions by two of the main characters – a kid and his surly, trying-to-be-cool teenage brother. Their aunt Claire works at the facility; at the same time her nephews are visiting, the park’s newest attraction – a vicious, super-intelligent hybrid dinosaur (cooked up by the first film’s Dr Wu, making a heel turn here) – is almost ready to be unveiled. Simon Masrani, the tycoon entrusted with finally bringing Hammond’s dreams to reality, is en route to check out Wu’s creation. Meanwhile, a separate struggle is unfolding, with a dinosaur trainer – Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt – trying to convince a warmongering contractor (Vincent D’Onofrio) that the raptors he’s formed a bond with aren’t suitable candidates for use as living, breathing weapons in military operations. With the vicious hybrid making her bid for freedom, chaos ensues – affecting all of the aforementioned characters in one way or another.
If that sounds messy, don’t worry. Though there’s a lot going on and plenty of characters in the mix, it’s told with clarity and an eye for detail that works for more casual viewers as well as long term fans of the franchise. Especially appealing is the fact that the Jurassic World theme park in the film really feels like a properly functioning, bustling and working resort. “Spared no expense,” as John Hammond would say.
The meta-commentary on visitors becoming bored with just plain old dinosaurs wasn’t lost on me either; with the level of spectacle and special effects that audiences had become accustomed to in the years since 1993’s Jurassic Park, we needed more than ‘just’ dinosaurs on a remote island.
And it really delivers; the semi-tame ‘raptors are an excellent addition, the hybrid is a great Big Bad and we get to root for the demise of a few human villains too. Vincent D’Onofrio’s ex-military villain is excellent and BD Wong, reprising his role as Henry Wu, is also well utilised (albeit a little too briefly) as the arrogant scientist.
In terms of the other actors, Chris Pratt is his usual, likeable self and Bryce Dallas Howard does well in a reasonably thankless role as the initially icy, career focused Claire. The staff in Operations, including Lauren Lapkus and Jurassic Park fanboy Jake Johnson, also have their moments, mostly of comic relief.
The dinosaurs once again steal the show though. Disappointingly, there are moments where the CGI falters – but this is mostly because there’s so much of it and it’s very much front and centre. There’s a section involving a gyrosphere – a sort of human hamster ball – which falls over a bit from a special effects point of view, but for the most part the dinosaurs are very well done. For example, the ‘raptor squad are well realised and have individual markings to distinguish them, though it’s only Blue who really stands out consistently. The hybrid Indominous Rex is superb throughout, however, with a really striking, pale-skinned and very menacing design. There’s an enormous water-dwelling dinosaur too, the Mososaurus – who we first see eating a shark (the Spielberg reference wasn’t lost on me there) – which is also brilliantly brought to life.
The action scenes are great; an Aliens-esque scene with soldiers being picked off one by one is brilliantly done and the Indominous Rex has a couple of satisfyingly big scale fight scenes too. There’s a Pteranodon attack scene that feels massive in scale, perhaps due to the fact that it takes place within a busy park environment; the variety of carnage on offer is far in excess of what we’d previously come to expect – it feels a bit like a greatest hits package, albeit dialled up to eleven and with an awful lot more humans in the mix than we’re used to seeing.
There’s a heartbreaking scene involving a dying Apatosaurus; though it evokes memories of the sick Triceratops from the first film, it’s a lot more tragic and reminds us that the dinosaurs are simply animals, not monsters. It’s beautifully done, though very sad – and the animatronics, as well as the actors, do a remarkable job of selling the tragedy in the scene.
I have a few nitpicks, though nothing that really takes away from the experience – the script, as well structured as it is, lacks any interesting dialogue for the characters. There’s plenty of exposition, but nothing that sticks in the mind, dialogue-wise. There’s an awful lot of nostalgic nods to the past too, though these work well in the context of the story for the most part.
As franchise reboots go, Jurassic World is very successful. We get quite a bit we haven’t seen before, as well as with the acknowledgement of the history of the series throughout, in a respectful and generally clever way. Being set on the first island (Isla Nublar) means we get to revisit some familiar locations at certain points, which I must admit – being such a long term fanboy – gave me goosebumps in a few scenes. The introduction of the tamed Velociraptors and the Indominous Rex add a lot to proceedings; they’re effectively utilised too.
So it’s a triumph in my opinion; after a still superb first film that’s barely aged in a lot of ways, it took 22 years for there to be another truly satisfying Jurassic Park movie. Acknowledging the passage of time and even the franchise’s history within the narrative turn out to be masterstrokes, making the film feel at once familiar and fresh in terms of the spectacle on offer.
In fact, it was so successful – perhaps unsurprisingly – that it spawned a sequel of its own, with a third part now in production. Was the sequel – Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom – able to maintain the level of quality seen here? You’ll find out soon enough, as I’ll be taking a look at the (for now) final film in the franchise shortly.
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