Jurassic Park wasn’t the first film I saw at the cinema, but it’s the first one I have vivid memories of. And while for anecdotal purposes I most often recall being told off by the usher for laughing too much when the kid gets blown off of the electric fence, the reality is that Spielberg’s blockbuster was a constant wonder and spectacle to my ten-year-old self. It sits in that upper category of his films where he acts as pure showman, along with the likes of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Inevitably there were sequels (Spielberg’s own largely enjoyable The Lost World and Joe Johnston’s largely lamentable Jurassic Park III) but diminishing returns plus a sense of over-familiarity with the core concept saw Dr Hammond’s dinosaur factory indefinitely close for business. Rumours of a fourth film bubbled up over the intervening decade-and-a-half, but these proved fruitless. Until now.
Of those false starts and careless whispers, a couple of ideas sounded absolutely bonkers. At one time I swear I read of a plot outline which featured the discovery of dinosaurs on the moon. While screenwriters William Monahan and John Sayles reportedly had a synopsis in which modified dinosaurs had guns and could fight crime. Guns. And fighting crime. Both of these ludicrous ideas – or, gasp, a combination of the two! – would have pushed the franchise into gleefully moronic territory, something knowingly off-the-wall, and the idea of something so very cray-cray is still sort-of appealing dependent on the human element applied to balance out the wacky. What we’ve ultimately received in the form of Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World is, in a real sense, just as idiotic, but in a far less inspired way.
Jurassic World, presumably set in the present (despite an early scene which had me very briefly convinced we were in the 70s), inexplicably sees In-Gen Corp and the Jurassic Park concept healthy and thriving, having somehow quelled the roaming herds of dinosaurs on Isla Nublar long enough to build a luxury theme park plus shopping centre, monorail and much more besides. Now named Jurassic World, the park is a hit. Hell, it’s reached the point where the brass are worried that people just aren’t interested in dinosaurs anymore (some studio anxiety leaking into the script perhaps?). As a reaction to this, Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong – our only returning character from the previous films) has embarked on a project to genetically cross-breed a super dinosaur. A modern advancement that you can genuinely refer to as the i-Rex.
In tandem with this we have two Spielbergian archetype children played by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson who have been shipped off to Jurassic World by their struggling parents (a subplot with a “I definitely have breast cancer” sized dead-end). The younger one – and their character names refuse to lodge in my memory – was the root cause of my first wave of temporal dislocation. The second, belatedly, was their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard); a mash-up of Fay Wray in King Kong and Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom whom the script habitually vilifies for being a career woman who doesn’t want children. She doesn’t have time for them, anyway, as she shrugs them off on a forgettable subordinate. Inevitably i-Rex escapes, everyone panics and it’s up to Chris Pratt’s charming raptor-trainer (yes, really) Owen to save the day. In addition there’s also Vincent D’Onofrio as
Carter Burke Hoskins, an In-Gen company man on site to fulfill a dream of combat-ready dinosaurs. And overseeing all of this is the new park’s exasperated owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Got that? Good.
With all of these disparate elements in play, Jurassic World reaches a level of lunacy we might’ve expected from those aforementioned rumours, but it’s a strangely familiar set of nonsense. Much like the i-Rex itself, Treverrow’s film is a monster hybrid; a Jurassic Park film that’s been beefed up with DNA from King Kong, Aliens, The Birds, Godzilla and, err, the Asylum back catalogue.
Complaining about unoriginality in the fourth installment of a blockbuster franchise seems churlish, so let’s skip that jag. Similarly it seems wearily irrelevant to bemoan the crushing weight of product placement that dogs most scenes in the movie (the Samsung Innovation Center?). These things (sadly) ought to be factored in to such a behemoth multiplex experience. And the same can be said, I suppose, of the clunky script (which feels the jostle of the four names attributed to it) and across-the-board cheesy performances. There’s a weight of expectation associated with modern blockbusters; the weight of disappointment. Jurassic World boasted this in its worrying trailers. In a strange way Trevorrow’s film delivers exactly on expectations by following up on this early promise with, yep, another disposable slab of brainlessness.
Yet, it’s well worth noting that, should you – as I am here – give up on the notion of hoping for better from a Hollywood monster movie, Trevorrow has still made the jump from the minor to major leagues with relative ease and confidence. When the Jurassic World of Jurassic World starts coming undone, he steps in with some very neatly put together set-pieces, though none of these have the staying power of Spielberg’s previous nail-biters. For fits and starts the movie does a decent imitation of a rip-roaring rollercoaster ride, most keenly whenever it riffs on Cameron’s Aliens, which is more than once. These intermittent show-stopping moments provide something of a fraudulent account of the movie overall, which is a good 20-30 minutes longer than it needs to be, and boasts about as many memorable characters as the last two sequels (it’s also unclear whether World actually acknowledges anything that followed Jurassic Park). Imagine one of those knock-off SyFy channel TV movies about a rampaging lizard, afford it a grotesque budget and some star names to boot and that’s basically what you’ve got here. Along with a lot of very clean and detailed CG that looks like, well, a lot of very clean and detailed CG.
I know nobody’s going to see Jurassic World for nuance or subtlety, but there’s a nagging sense of missed opportunity about this adventure; a cobbled-together grab bag that feels like less than the sum of its recycled parts, one that gets more witless as it progresses. If you don’t want to be a spoil-sport, you’ll just have to surrender. Surrender. Surrender.
Still, that nostalgia factor is potent, and many of my favourite moments here were provided via fan-service call backs to the first film. And it still manages capably to seem like event cinema, so there’s gotta be something in that, even if a few years from now its destined to be playing once a week on ITV for the remainder of recorded time. Something you’ll flick past when you’re looking to see if something interesting is on.
For now though it’s just a big expensive dollop of dumb fun. The emperor’s new clothes may be second-hand, but they’re still just about pretty enough.