When I was at home over this summer, flipping through T.V. stations lost in wonder over having more than ten channels again, I happened to chance upon an airing of the original Jurassic Park film. I hadn’t seen that movie in years. I switched it on, sat back and allowed myself to be whisked back into Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece. As I watched the iconic thuds of Tyrannosaurus steps send ripples through the water, I marveled at just how well the film has aged and that even now most of its aspects hold up just as well as they did in 1993.
Then the 1997 sequel Jurassic Park: The Lost World came on, and I promptly turned the television off. Because honestly, why ruin a good nostalgia trip? What’s more, if I’d stayed, there was a good chance 2001’s Jurassic Park III would have come on next, and that’s a fate I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
If my attitude toward the first two sequels is anything to go by, it’s pretty clear that I had thought that the Jurassic Park franchise had run its course and that the sun had long since set on the day of the dinosaurs. As a result, when I first got word of a new fourth movie, more than a decade after the third and featuring an almost entirely new cast, my expectations weren’t high. As far as I was concerned, Jurassic World was doomed to be another lazy cash-grab using the name of a dead franchise to rope in a few extra million dollars.
I could never have prepared myself for how wrong I was.
While never truly reaching the heights of the original Spielberg classic, Jurassic World moves the franchise in a new and refreshing direction while still paying respectful homage to its series’ roots. The action is big, the dinosaurs are bigger and my hasty conclusions stand thoroughly humbled.
Set many years after the events of the previous films, Jurassic World takes it upon itself to answer a long-held question by fans: What if Jurassic Park had actually opened?
According to director Colin Trevorrow and his writing team, it would have been a monstrous success. As thousands of people pour in to the rechristened Jurassic World theme park, they are treated to water shows, apiaries and safaris all featuring creatures from a bygone age.
Feeding on its success and continued consumer demand, higher-ups within the park decide that merely having dinosaur clones is not enough of an attraction for the park — they need to go bigger. Using the talents of scientist Henry Wu (played by B. D. Wong), park scientists create a biological abomination: the Indominus Rex, a dinosaur created by combining the DNA of the biggest and baddest dinosaurs around. After the creature escapes its enclosure, the task of its recapture falls to park employee Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
The decision to move away from the original films in terms of cast and story is a very bold one; in fact, B.D. Wong is the only actor to reprise his role from a previous film, and even his role is relatively small. However, I believe that this move actually serves as one of the film’s greatest strengths. Both Jurassic Park III and The Lost World before it suffered heavily from over-reliance on the characters of the original films. Because audiences had expectations of these characters moving into the films, the characters had less room to grow and develop. As a result, each film felt like it was simply more of the same, feeling less and less fresh with each incarnation.
While Jurassic World could similarly be construed as more of the same with rampaging dinos tearing the park apart as they had in films past, placing them in a completely revamped setting amidst entirely new characters allows the film to recapture a bit of that spirit inherent within the first film. With the combination of the wonder of beholding the dinosaurs and the horrible realization of what they are capable of, these senses are more strongly captured because these characters are experiencing them for the first time.
That’s not to say the writing and characters don’t have problems; most of the characters in the film are completely one-dimensional and lack any sort of meaningful character growth. Additionally, the third act attempts to bring something of a villainous story arc full-circle. However, the execution of this character’s arc is so clunky that it’s hardly worth the effort. That said, the dynamism of the characters isn’t truly the focus of the film (and that weak story arc is swiftly brushed aside), so these flaws do little to bring the film down.
Now, characters and storytelling are all well and good, but the real question is if the film is exciting? After all, this is a dinosaur adventure. Rest assured Jurassic World comes fully armed with any number of jaw-dropping action sequences sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
Granted, this film’s reliance on action is a bit of a departure from the series’ roots; whereas typically the films have had action focused on escape and survival, World opts for a more traditional even combative approach as one might expect from a film focused on hunting down a dinosaur.
If there is one point worthy of criticism, however, it may very well be the special effects. For the most part the dinosaurs themselves look fine, but some of the surrounding effects can seem a bit off. For example, the gyro ball vehicle that two characters drive at one point looks indescribably cheesy and feels so out of place stylistically when placed against everything else in the film.
Despite these minor faults with the effects and some weak points in the character development department, Jurassic World still manages to succeed where it matters most: recapturing the sense of wonder the series had for so long lacked. While still not quite as memorable as the first film, World is a more than worthy addition to this beloved film franchise.