Have you seen the trailer for the upcoming Vacation reboot?
It showcases a scene from the film that contains this batch of dialogue:
“So, you want to redo your vacation from thirty years ago?”
"This’ll be completely different."
“I’ve never even heard of the original vacation.”
“Doesn’t matter; the new vacation will stand on its own,
When films get meta with their dialogue, you know there’s a
giant elephant in the room. Jurassic
World, directed by Colin Trevorrow (who also served as screenwriter alongside
Rick Jarra, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly), is well aware of its own
elephant; or, in this case, dinosaur. “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore,” claims Park
Operations Manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who addresses that
very sentiment in this franchise-reboot-that-isn’t. Taking place twenty some
years after the events of the original Steven Spielberg-helmed CGI extravaganza
(who serves as executive producer for this outing) both in fiction and reality,
the film reveals it's self-awareness with its in-story acknowledgement that an
entire generation (or two) has since become jaded with the technical wizardry
that brought the original and its sequels to life.
In the time since the events of Jurassic Park III, Isla
Nublar has been rebranded “Jurassic World” and is run by Simon Masrani (Irrfan Kahn), the CEO of
the Masrani Corporation and successor-in-ownership to the island who wants to provide a bigger, better theme-park entertainment for the masses.
To that end, he employs bio-engineering scientists to clone dinosaur hybrids to
meet that demand; culminating in the appropriately named Indominus Rex. Claire (Howard) is a workaholic who would
rather run the park 24/7 rather than spend some quality time with her park visiting, estranged
nephews Gray and Zach Mitchell (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, respectively).
When Indominus Rex starts acting erratically, Claire reluctantly enlists the
aid of resident Velociraptor expert and trainer, Owen Grady (a rugged Chris Pratt); a
man with whom she is most uncomfortable with. As with all previous films in the
Jurassic series, when the big, bad dinosaur gets loose, mayhem ensues.
The film follows the current trend (as with the recent flop Poltergeist, the aforementioned
Vacation, and the forthcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens) of creating a whole
new franchise upon the bones (or fossils) of what has come before. Brand name
recognition is the name of this game, and Jurassic World by its very nature plays it (which also includes some rather over-the-top product placement; in fact,
its usage of same is as metatextual as the film itself, given that actual theme
parks are replete with store brands littering their landscape). Given the
under-performance of relatively original material such as Disney’s Tomorrowland, expect
this re-branding to become the norm. These films want to eat that proverbial
cake and be taken on its own merits despite riding the coattails of its
predecessors, but Jurassic World (disingenuously or subversively, depending on
your perspective) tries to serve as commentary to the very nature of the
beast/studio that feeds it. Jurassic World the locale is a Disney/Universal studio
theme park hybrid brought to the life in a “nudge-nudge/wink-wink” fashion,
with Indominus Rex acting as the reptilian epitome of that
insatiable corporate need for "bigger and better". The film serves as a
cautionary tale even as it revels in the very tenants it cautions against.
The whole “it’s not wise to fool with Mother Nature” trope
is a defining hallmark of this series; however, given the ongoing controversy
regarding genetic mutation and GMO’s in the food chain, it seems even more
topical than ever…especially when said research is done for military
application (as epitomized by the character of Vic Hoskins, played with
scenery-chewing glee by Vincent D’Onofrio). These allegorical inferences weight
the film with more resonance than it probably would have.
Not that it needed it. In terms of pure popcorn summer
spectacle, the film is a visual delight. It’s one of the few films wherein the
special effects are virtually flawless; surprising given that 3D filming,
especially in IMAX, tends to make the weaknesses stand out. The dinosaurs have
never seemed so textured or real, and their interactions with the actors are
practically seamless; the accuracy of their design, however, is a subject not to be debated here.
If the film is anything to go by, Director Trevorrow, a
relative newcomer to the world of blockbuster filmmaking, understands that it’s
the suspense as much as the visuals that made Jurassic Park stand out from its lackluster sequels. He paces his scenes with enough apprehensive
anticipation that the payoffs are more than effective. In terms of pacing
overall, the story has a tight flow that makes its two hour and five minute run
time seem shorter than it is. Unfortunately, characterization is sacrificed for
the sake of expediency. Subplots regarding family abandonment and emotional
distance are given cursory lip service and, quite frankly, add nothing to the
narrative; they could have been completely excised and wouldn’t have affected
the overall story in the slightest. There are minor continuity issues, with one
so particularly glaring as to take one momentarily out of the film; however,
for all the fantastical elements in the film, none is more unbelievable than
the idea of Claire running all over the Isla Nublar in high heels. Eggs, both Easter and dinosaur, abound for the pterodactyl-eyed fans of the series; but one of the film's strengths is to be able to tell a complete self-contained story that can be viewed without having any knowledge of its cinematic predecessors.
The filmmakers opted to continue the mythology without the
original cast of characters, save BD Wong as franchise carryover Dr. Henry Wu,
in keeping with its “look-towards-the-future-while-keeping-a-toe-in-the-past”
philosophy; a wise decision, for an overabundance of nostalgia would have kept
the focus of off Chris Pratt’s surprising performance. Owen could have easily
have been played as “Star Lord.v2”; however, Pratt excises charming goofiness
and channels a bit of old school rakish, Clark Gable, no-nonsense swagger. His
performance is the solid foundation which anchors this film. In terms of
character development and growth, such as it is, Bryce Howard’s Clarie gets the
most of it. In what starts out as a blank slate performance, she convincingly
gets the audience invested in her character’s fate. Yet, one must wonder how
many key grips with spritzer bottles were on hand to constantly spray water on
her entire body, since she spends most of the movie looking so oiled up one has
to wonder if she’s running from dinosaurs or about to mud wrestle one. As her
nephews, Simpkins’ and Robinson’s characters exist to give a child’s (or at
least, pubescent) point of view and someone for the youngsters to identify with
(after all, Jurassic Park, much like its real-life mouse-led counterpart,
existed for children, both literal and figurative). Kudos to Trevorror for not
allowing the Mitchell brothers to fall victim to the “precocious child”
syndrome that plague most movie kids. While the boys seem like jaded know-it-alls
in the beginning, it doesn’t last. In the face of pure terror, their reactions
ring true, their narrow escapes believable. Despite hiccups in their individual
acting styles, the two actors do sell their fraternal relationship.
The film's powerful majesty, both in CGI and
cinematography, would be undermined if the score were not up to snuff. Thankfully, Michael
Giancchino’s score is up to the challenge, though his mandatory inclusion of
maestro John Williams’ themes and motifs reveal the weaknesses within his own
original compositions. Nevertheless, they meld together to create an evocative, thrilling, and poignant
sound that, while not equal, is to this film what Williams’ orchestrations were
to the original.
Ultimately, the question to be asked is whether or not
Jurassic World invokes the same wonder and majesty that Jurassic Park did a
generation ago. To an arguably lesser degree, it does; but not due to the
improvements in special effects, digital or otherwise, over the past
twenty-plus years. It’s the focus on the story. The film could have fallen
victim to “bigger is better” excess it blatantly extols in self-aware fashion.
Instead, it focuses on the more story and relationships (such as they are),
which is what drives any storytelling of note…that, and the backdrop of cool
looking dinosaurs. No one would be impressed with films just about
dinosaurs…the human element is what counts.
If this film serves as any indication, the Jurassic franchise is in no
danger of going extinct for the foreseeable future.