Jurassic World opens on shaky ground but it closes with a roar.
PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril
The good news is Jurassic World captures the vibe of Steven Spielberg’s funhouse productions from the ‘80s and ‘90s, movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Goonies, Back to the Future, Gremlins, and, yes, Jurassic Park.
The bad news is, while it features two of the most attractive stars working in movies today, Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) as Owen, a dinosaur whisperer, and Bryce Dallas Howard (Terminator Salvation) as Claire, a corporate cog who refers to dinosaurs as “assets,” they share what will likely go down as the year’s lamest on-screen kiss.
What is that funhouse vibe? Well, it’s something that’s been absent from movies for too long. None of the box office-dominating comic book movies really capture it; they’re turning into feats of over-engineering. It has nothing to do with CGI finesse. It isn’t about non-stop, frenetic action. It certainly isn’t about finding deeper meaning and gravitas in fantasy material.
J.J. Abrams (with Spielberg producing) paid tribute to it in 2011’s Super 8. It’s about the playfulness of the moviegoing experience. It’s about being transported to another place and enjoying a wild ride that can only be experienced at the movies. There’s a vicarious thrill of life endangerment, but there’s also a giddy, innocent tone to the proceedings and a pace that starts slowly, introducing new faces as, in the case of Jurassic World, things begin to fall apart in a very satisfying fashion.
The key ingredient to those funhouse movies is, simply, fun. And Jurassic World is, simply, a fun movie.
New Kids on the Block
Colin Trevorrow, who directed Safety not Guaranteed, has catapulted from the independent world to summer tent poles. That’s a remarkable feat. And he’s performed admirably well, taking on the baggage of continuing a series previously helmed by Spielberg himself (twice) and Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger).
With the passing of Michael Chrichton in 2008, it seemed as though those experiments with DNA and ancient creatures would be shelved permanently. It’s good to be able to go back to the park — and run for dear life — again.
Jurassic World has a healthy sense of humor about itself and the real world. While some of the dialogue slams corporate sponsorships — with quips about naming new, lab-created dinosaurs after company products, such as a Pepsisaurus — the visuals fully embrace those same sponsorships as various parts of Jurassic World brandish the branding of major corporations and the main concourse of the park is a doppleganger for Universal’s own CityWalk. It’s at once a double standard and a vision of harsh reality.
There’s also a laugh-out-loud moment of nerd heroism. A minor character sees his opportunity to step up to the plate, but his moment in the spotlight — which would normally be topped off with a kiss — is cut short by four of the most dreaded words known to man: “I have a boyfriend.”
In the early going, a comment is made that Jurassic World exists because people “want to be thrilled.” That line justifies the massive new theme park on Isla Nubla and it also explains the purpose of this movie.
It’s been 22 years since the original Jurassic Park opened in movie time and in real time. While the original was groundbreaking with its visual effects, this one takes the latest in CGI and runs with it, using the same mix of computer animation and real-world, high-tech puppetry.
The latest investor in the Jurassic dream, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi), has plugged billions into cell splitting and gene splicing technologies that have allowed technology to create new dinosaurs, including a super beast even bigger than the dreaded T-Rex. It’s all a set up for everything to go wrong and for 21,000 stranded visitors to turn into dino steaks.
Once the shaky setup is established, divorcing parents sending their two kids, Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3) and Nick Robinson (Kings of Summer), to Jurassic World as a Christmas present (and to hang out with their Aunt Claire), the fun rolls in, the kids become more likable and the mayhem breaks loose.
There’s some surprisingly vicious dinosaur action with human... um... imperilment, to put it mildly. But it’s done with such nifty flourish, that’s when the good ol’ funhouse vibe really kicks in and Jurassic World comes roaring to life.