Jurassic World (2015)

The original Jurassic Park was such an innovation in many ways.  Number one, even though much of the science was spotty (or has since been updated by the fossil record), it was one of the first movies to try and show dinosaurs in a realistic form.  Instead of city-stomping monsters, they were portrayed as animals filling similar ecological niches as modern-day animals.  A lot of this could be credited to Michael Crichton, the author of the original novel, but a lot of work went into bringing the creatures to the screen. 

That brings us to number two.  Digital effects often still looked unnatural, like the owl at the beginning of Labyrinth or the flat textures in The Last StarfighterUsing a combination of computer generated effects and traditional practical animatronics, the fictional park on the equally fictional Costa Rican island of Isla Nublar came to spectacular life.  Yes, in the end it was a simple "escape the monsters" movie, but it was a damn good one.  The second film in the series also wasn't too bad, with bad decisions resulting in a Tyrannosaurus Rex stampeding through San Diego.  Other bad decisions led to making a third movie.

After that, with director Steven Spielberg out (he directed the first two) and the third suffering from diminishing box office and critical returns and Michael Crichton having passed away, the franchise was wisely abandoned.  That is, until somebody thought it was a wise idea to give it another go, much like those who reopened the park in Jurassic World.

It has been 22 years.  John Hammond has passed on (as did Richard Attenborough, who played him in the original).  His company has passed on to business tycoon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), who has reopened the park as Jurassic World.  Trouble is, profits are down, and people (and sponsors) want to see something new.  Despite advances in understanding how dinosaurs looked, the scientists at Jurassic World, led by Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), have made sure to keep the animals looking like the monster lizards people expect.  This genetic tampering has also led to creating a new creature, the Indominus Rex, by combining DNA from several different dinosaurs.

Zach (Nick Robinson) and his brother and his younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins) arrive on their island to spend time with their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) while their parents go about attempting to repair their marriage.  Claire happens to be the one in charge of both dealing with corporate sponsors and Masrani, as she is the public face of the park.  Initially she pawns her nephews off on her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath), but they manage to get to see the park themselves.

Owen (Chris Pratt) is a security expert who has been working on training velociraptors to respond to human commands, an idea that Ingen security head Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) hopes to exploit for military use.  Owen's main job is making sure the animals stay where they are and don't harm anyone, as no one wants a repeat of what happened to Jurassic Park.  Of course, Owen and Claire have some recent history, which doesn't help things when, predictably, everything goes to hell.

The Indominus Rex happens to not only be a large apex predator, but has superior intelligence.  After tricking the security staff into letting it out of its pen, it goes on a rampage through the island, snacking on anything it finds and destroying the rest.  This results in a number of other dinosaurs getting loose and wreaking havoc as well.  In the end, it is up to Owen and his trained raptors to end the threat.

On the good side, Jurassic World is much better plot wise than the third movie.  It ties in much better with the first two, with Ingen still twirling their moustaches and dreaming of what they can do with dinosaur DNA.  Only now they are also working hand-in-hand with Hammond's corporation.  There are some tense set pieces, and the end fight is rather good.  There is plenty of silliness to go around, but there was plenty in the first movie as well.  This isn't meant to be Walking with Dinosaurs, after all, but a monster film.

I am going to echo the most glaring problem most people have had with this film.  It is the digital effects.  Instead of combining live and digital, everything here is CGI.  Unfortunately, for a movie that relies heavily upon dinosaurs for its plot, and on those dinosaurs looking as real as possible (even if the big one at the center is made up), it failed.  The dinosaurs in this movie are at times cartoonish.  You are supposed to feel a bit when Owen's raptors are hurt, but it's hard to do when it is obvious that it is a computer generated construct that doesn't resemble anything nature could come up with.

Also, one of the major set pieces (that was also shown in the trailer) was Zara's death.  Everyone else who dies in the film is either from being randomly eaten or from the hazards of the job they have to do.  Zara is barely elaborated on, other than she seems like a person barely holding her life together who has been saddled with watching over two brats by a ice-queen boss.  It's effective, in the fact that it is shocking and practically comes out of nowhere.  It's also quite brutal, which normally I wouldn't complain about, but it seems like this woman, who had done nothing but be an ineffectual babysitter, was singled out for a death usually reserved for a shady lawyer or a sniveling traitor.  I know that in real life random people die in horrible ways for no reason, but it's a Hollywood film, and typically a death like Zara suffers is meant to convey a sort of karmic message to the audience. It's as if someone came up with a cool idea and shoehorned it into a movie world that had set expectations for who was supposed to die and how.

Jurassic World easily is one of the better entries in the series, but there is a lot to be done to keep interest up if they want to stretch this further.  Typical '50s style romancing is forgivable, as is having to rescue kids and deal with Snidely Whiplash-style villains is all fine, and tons of fun.  Still, like the people who came to Isla Nublar, we come for the dinosaurs - not weak, digital facsimiles and of what we remember from two decades ago.

Jurassic World (2015)
Time: 124 minutes
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Vincent D'Onofrio
Director: Colin Trevorrow

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