Jurassic Park was the very definition of Event Moviegoing. Any culture vulture worthy of the name devoured the Steven Spielberg-directed dinosaur rampage romp at least once. The movie hung around in theaters for weeks and why wouldn’t it? In 1993, it was state of the art, edge-of-the-seat, scary kid stuff — brilliantly fabricated and packed with images, moments, and sequences vivid enough to stay locked in moviegoers’ memory banks. But better than that, Spielberg and company saw to it that their movie sparked a sense of wonder, grandeur, and awe; the movie gallantly tipped its hat to pioneering Hollywood classics like King Kong and The Lost World. Many dinos, dead characters, directors, and creative missteps later, the franchise was left broken and bleeding, capped by 2001’s Jurassic Park III — a series low point almost as sad and sorry as Jaws: The Revenge, the last gasp of another Spielberg franchise subsequently driven into a ditch. It’d be too much to ask for Jurassic World to mark a full-on series rebirth. It isn’t that. Nowhere near. In the past decade or so, we’ve become so IMAX’d, super hero’d, CGI’d, and 3D’d out that we’ve become almost immune to jaw-dropping. (Except maybe when something as phenomenal as Mad Fury: Fury Road comes along). So, it turns out that Jurassic World is just an updated, tamed redo of the first two movies.
Executive produced by Spielberg and directed by Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), it’s an efficient, diverting entertainment delivery system, a gigantic theme park disguised as a movie. And as fun, enjoyably silly, and showy an action adventure thriller as it may be while you’re watching it for two hours, you could find yourself shrugging it off by the time you hit the parking lot. In keeping with our appetites for more, bigger, faster, and dumber, the movie’s VFX creatures are more humongous, crafty, and plentiful. It’s also typical of the times that the screenplay is completely unsurprising and on the nose. And even though one of its characters humorously skewers the pervasiveness of corporate-controlled entertainment, the product placement — look, Mercedes! Starbucks! Pandora! — is shameless and frequent enough to launch a thousand drinking games once the movie hits home video.
The plot and characters, as mapped out by credited screenwriters that include Trevorrow, Derek Connolly and original novelist Michael Crichton (who died in 2008), are pretext. A new park has been opened and is thriving even though it is built on the broken bones of the notorious old tourist trap on Isla Nubar in Costa Rica. Travelers flock to the rebranded island by the thousands to pet the baby beasts and ride sweet herds of doe-eyed brontosauri. Wait. How could any of that possibly happen after the death and destruction unleashed in the previous three movies? What next, Fukushima Fun Park? When you’re in Jurassic-land, though, it’s best not to trouble your head with logic. Anyway, the park’s brain dead brain trust, corporate bosses and bottom-feeders — including an uptight executive Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), an evil genetic genius (Jurassic Park returnee BD Wong), its highly diversified and easily distracted zillionaire owner (Irrfan Khan), and a sleazy paramilitary operative (Vincent D’Onofrio) — are all salivating over the prospect of delighting their shareholders with their newest attraction: a toothsome, genetically modified, carnivorous mega-dinosaur called Indominus Rex, raised in hermetically-sealed captivity without any siblings. Except for the one it ate.
Soon enough, the angst-ridden beast breaches its jungle-y playpen and goes on a sport-kill rampage that puts every beast on the island, plus 20,000 park visitors — including Claire’s young nephews (Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins) — high on the menu. Jumping in to try and save the day is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), an amiable, jokey Indiana Jones wannabe and resident dino-whisperer who lives in a trailer on the island and once went on a not-so-hot date with Claire. Pratt’s character, who gets called a “bad-ass” but comes off as just a sweet, harmless, funny dude, has practically domesticated into heartbreaking docility a pack of Velociraptors, the very same terrifying beasties Jurassic Park made immortal. The movie also boasts a scene that trivializes the once-feared white shark from Jaws, another of the movie’s miscalculations.
But there are some strong sequences in Jurassic World, notably when the heroine’s nephews get trapped in a human hamster wheel and another when flocks of pterodactyls swoop down on hordes of shamelessly mugging extras — yes, of course, the movie tries to outdo Hitchcock’s The Birds, too. Director and fan-boy Trevorrow shows a nicely subversive streak and an eye for the out-of-step. Blink and you’ll miss a throwaway in-joke featuring an airline passenger reading a book with a photo of Jeff Goldblum as “Dr. Ian Malcolm” of two previous Jurassic flicks. The director and fellow screenwriters also give talented comic Jake Johnson nice stuff to do as a park computer tech who spouts anti-corporate truths, lines his desktop with plastic dinos, and gets reprimanded for sporting a vintage t-shirt Jurassic Park shirt he scored on eBay. Trevorrow deserves credit, too, for coaxing Pratt and Howard into trying to generate romantic chemistry by clearly having them channel old school adventure and screwball comedy icons Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn. But, as likeable and charming as Pratt is, there’s no evidence of fire — not even fake fire — between him and his female co-star and the formulaic script doesn’t throw them any bones.
Jurassic World may just turn out to be the box-office thrill machine that crushes anything else released to theaters this summer. That would probably lead to the inevitable even bigger sequel, Jurassic Universe. To which we advise: “Don’t Feed the Animals.”