The numbers are in and it’s official, the fourth installment in the Jurassic Park series came in roaring. Globally, Jurassic World now sits as the highest grossing opening weekend film of all time, bringing in $524.1 million. The film also took the spot for the second best opening weekend domestically, pulling in $204.6 million.
Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures shared a $150 million investment in Jurassic World, so with them having made that back and then some (all in one weekend), it’s safe to say the movie’s financial success is now, as Julianne Moore’s character said in the second film in the franchise, “academic”.
This yields the floor to the next logical question – is Jurassic World any good? In short, yes. It is a solid, action packed movie that delivers enough surprises, engaging imagery and story evolution to keep the viewer engaged for the duration of the film. The problem is, for a movie that went out of its way to invoke the original, it falls terribly short of it.
Note: Spoilers are below.
This is possibly the most egregious offense of Jurassic World. Avoiding movie clichés is one of the areas where the Jurassic Park series has always shined – up to this point. The characters in Jurassic World are basic. Extremely basic. It was as if the characters were written to have no more complexity than what could be handled by a fifth grader.
To put it mildly, Chris Pratt’s character, Owen, is horribly one-dimensional. He is a mash-up of a good ol’ boy, the lone ranger and a kind of Cretaceous period Dr. Dolittle. He attempts to amuse with lines that reference dinosaur sex and ask, “What kind of date doesn’t allow tequila?” The feeding of Owen as the cool, tough guy, is so terribly forced it requires reminding. At one point in the film Pratt informs the two fascinated children (and the audience) that he’s the alpha (among the raptors, of course). Later the children tell Claire (and the audience) that Owen is “a bad-ass”.
The Jurassic Park series has never required “the hero” character, that’s what was nice about it. There have always been multiple heroes with multiple heroic moments, distributed pretty evenly, in the Jurassic Park movies, particularly in the first. Alan saves Lex and Tim, Lex saves Tim, Ellie reboots the park, Ian guides Ellie through the process of rebooting the park, and so on. Not so in Jurassic World. A couple of heroic moments are doled out to other characters but the portrayal as the hero is saved for Owen – which is odd when you realize that everything that goes wrong in Jurassic World is his fault. He literally gets tricked by the Indominus Rex into entering the paddock so she can escape when the gate is opened to let him out. Characters this single-layered are usually eaten much earlier in Jurassic Park movies.
Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire, is also one-dimensional. She’s intended to be the cold, career woman with no maternal instinct – essentially the 1980’s era stereotype made up by those who felt a woman should be at home with her kids and not at work. It is essentially her lack of maternal skills that causes her not to keep an eye on her nephews, ultimately putting them in harm’s way. Her sister goes as far as to explain to her in the movie that she would “understand” things better when she had children. The nonsense that is Pratt’s character is the most distracting, while Claire’s is probably the most disappointing.
The Jurassic Park series has always shown strong, independent women. There’s a fantastic moment in the first film where Laura Dern’s character of Ellie, replies to John Hammond’s insistence that he should be the one going out to reboot the park, where she says, “We’ll discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.” Claire’s character could not pull off such a line because it is mutually exclusive to how her character is written. The only time that she directly challenges a comment from a male (Owen), she stutters and is unsure of herself. It’s not as if she doesn’t have strong moments (she saves Owen’s life and ultimately solves the problem created by Owen), it’s just that those strong moments are few and mired in an overall story juxtaposed to them. The character of Claire has actually drawn sharp criticism, with many leveling accusations of sexism.
I don’t know that the portrayal of Claire (or Owen for that matter) is intended to perpetuate dated gender archetypes, but it is the end result of creating characters based on such archaic film tropes.
Also not plagued with depth is the older of the two children, Zach, portrayed by Nick Robinson. He is the stereotype of every teenage boy – and that’s as complex as he gets. In the beginning of the film he’s seen hugging his girlfriend (before he leaves or the park) as if he will never see her again and just a few scenes later he is seen ogling some girl on the ship that takes them to Isla Nublar. He’s also shown listening to his headphones quite a bit and is often dismissive of his little brother. Predictably, after a near death experience, he sees the error of his ways and treats his brother better.
That little brother is Gray, portrayed by Ty Simpkin. Gray is the only lead character that actually has depth and doesn’t come across as forced. He’s also the only character that shows any believable range. Throughout the movie he is seeking the attention and approval of his older brother Zach (and ends up becoming emotional along the road to getting it). It is a shame the other lead characters weren’t able to be even a fraction as interesting.
There’s an obvious level of suspension of disbelief required to believe the plot of Jurassic Park – the series revolves around animals that went extinct 65 million years ago having been brought back to life and now existing a Sea World-like amusement park. This level of suspension is nothing when compared to that required by Jurassic World.
The first major issue is that Jurassic World pulls a Halloween H20 by acting as though it is the first movie since the original and nothing that took place in the sequels ever occurred (to be fair, H20 technically did acknowledge at least the second film). This becomes a bit distracting, as the obvious question is, if people have been being viciously attacked by giant animals deemed too dangerous to have in a park for the last 22 years, how exactly was Jurassic World given the green light denied to Jurassic Park? It’s also off-putting when you consider that the approach of ignoring the second and third films completely disregards the sequel novel which was the basis for the second film, written by the author who created the premise for the entire series. Essentially saying that the original author’s story wasn’t good enough to be included in the sequel to his original work.
The most absurd plot point, which very early on caused objections, is the raptor squad. The raptor squad asks the viewer to accept that the raptors, deemed so dangerous they required being fed via a crane and ate the warden who worked with them from birth, are now tamed to the point that they can be utilized like dogs in a pack – and can be given camera headsets to wear, like in the The Blair Witch Project – or Halloween: Resurrection (okay that’s the last Halloween reference, I promise).
As if that wasn’t enough absurdity, there is a major subplot of the raptors being potentially used as military weapons. Seriously.
There is also a part in the movie that is only given a pass because it is so nostalgic – the scenes where Gray and Zach find parts of the original Jurassic Park. At one point they find the night vision goggles shown in the first movie and turn them on. They also discover the original jeeps and after briefly tinkering with one of them, they start it up and drive across the park in it. Yes, battery operated goggles and jeeps that have been sitting for 22 years just start right up, ready to go.
The plot of Jurassic World almost makes the job of Mr. DNA in Jurassic Park seem like, well, a walk in the park.
Glaringly absent in Jurassic World are the suspense bits that are in all of its predecessors. In the third installment there’s the Spinosauraus rolling the crashed plane around while Alan and crew are still inside. In the second film the standout is when an angry mommy and daddy T-Rex push the two trailers over the edge of the cliff. In the original there’s several, including Alan and Tim trying to beat the iconic Ford Explorer (freshly mangled by the T-Rex) to the ground, out of a tree.
No such scene exists in Jurassic World. The closest this fourth film comes, is when the Indominus Rex attacks the children in the Gyrosphere vehicle and that is so abbreviated and CGI (more on that later) it never really picks up any steam.
One of my favorite scenes in the Jurassic Park series (and actually from any film I’ve ever seen), is in the first movie where Hammond talks about his Petticoat Lane flea circus and why he wanted to open the park in the first place. There is total chaos and destruction going on around him and he’s sitting in the middle of it, completely disconnected from it, eating ice cream. It’s a very powerful, touching scene that serves to explain and humanize a character that could have otherwise come across as cold and reckless.
There is no scene like this in Jurassic World. To be clear, I’m not saying there are no memorable scenes, I’m saying there are no memorable scenes that don’t rely on the heavy use of CGI. Jurassic World delivers a lot of eye-candy and not very much meat.
On the subject of special effects, one of the other early criticisms of Jurassic World was the appearance that it relied too heavily on computer generated images. Upon seeing the film, it’s clear that these concerns were completely justified.
It’s not so much that the CGI looks bad, it looks as good as the original (in most places) or better, it’s the over-reliance on it that’s disappointing. The tagline for this movie, “The Park Is Open” was the promise of something audiences had yet to see in the series; the park up and running. The problem is the majority of the park that’s seen is CGI.
In the first film, part of what was so enthralling was being drawn into the world of Jurassic Park. So much of what could be enveloping in Jurassic World is not, because, simply put, it’s fake. There’s nothing fascinating about seeing what a computer can produce, it’s been well established that it can produce almost any imagery. What’s interesting is the belief that is created when people actually create an environment or object and act around it.
One of the cooler things in Jurassic World is the Gyrosphere vehicles that appear to have taken the place of the original film’s Ford Explorers. When the Indominus Rex pulls a T-Rex and attacks the kids inside, it never really hits because a CGI orb being destroyed doesn’t really have the same effect as an actual car being slowly destroyed before your eyes.
The show-stopping moment of Jurassic World comes at the end when the original Tyrannosaurus Rex is released to take on the Indominus Rex. Even this is somewhat anti-climactic because what makes this scene so fantastic is that this is the original T-Rex – she’s still alive and she’s still a force to be reckoned with. The problem is, that doesn’t quite come across because she doesn’t look the same. Something that can be blamed on the fact that she now appears to be entirely CGI. The only reason I knew it was the same T-Rex going in, is because of a quote from the director, Colin Trevorrow in an article from the LA Times, where he said it was the same Rex. In the original, an actual, animatronic, Tyrannosaurus Rex was built and used in conjunction with CGI.
This is a disappointment when coupled with so much of the park being CGI as well, it makes the movie feel somewhat like a Who Framed Roger Rabbit undertaking.
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that no sequel will be better than the original. Accordingly, expectations are usually pretty low. With most franchises, subsequent films will drift and drift (both in revenue and quality) until it is no longer financial prudent to make another. There are some exceptions and Jurassic Park just proved it is one of them. Michael Crichton’s novel, mixed with Spielberg’s brilliant direction, redefined films and every subsequent Jurassic Park movie has really only had its predecessors with which to compete. So too is the case with Jurassic World. It is head and shoulders above any movie (in its genre) that is currently playing, which says something. It’s just a shame that with all of the effort made to remind people of the first film, this fourth installment was unable to deliver. What makes it worse is that in so many obvious areas, it didn’t even try.