By Stacey Gillard
“To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”
I remember sitting in the theatre and marveling at the first Jurassic Park movie twenty-two years ago. The memory of me jumping so high as a velociraptor poked its head through a wall of wires that I threw popcorn over the poor unsuspecting stranger next to me is still as vivid as if it was yesterday. I’ve enjoyed the two follow-up movies, although less so The Lost World, but when I heard they were adding yet another movie to the franchise I had very mixed feelings. I’m a huge fan of Chris Pratt; let’s get that out of the way. I will admit that there’s a good chance I would watch any of his movies, regardless of the quality; so hearing his name attached to the project was already a big pull. I’m also a card-carrying dinosaur geek which makes this franchise so appealing to me. So overall the announcement was good news. But I also had concerns that they had milked the story dry; after all, how many times can these mistakes be made by seemingly intelligent scientists? However, the small, nagging doubts didn’t stop me practically running to the movie theatre on opening weekend, 3D glasses and a re-sealable bag of candy at the ready (my fellow movie-goers were grateful for my popcorn avoidance, I’m sure) and, for this reviewer, Jurassic World did not disappoint.
In many ways movies that ask me to suspend my disbelief are my favorites; I tend to be drawn towards stories that allow me an element of escapism. The entire Jurassic Park franchise has many aspects of that, but it also manages to immerse the viewer in believable and often very accurate scientific explanations. The concept of a massive, Disney-esque theme park based on Isla Nublar is one that John Hammond had worked on for many years and this movie sees his vision finally come to fruition. However, as Hammond insisted in The Lost World, “I’m not making the same mistakes again,” Ian Malcolm reminded him “No, you’re making all new ones.” With Hammond’s passing the opportunity to revisit his plans arose but the arrogance of the new investor, Simon Masrani (Irffan Khan), his belief that he could do it right this time, was his downfall. I liked the character; he was amusing, especially his attempts at flying a helicopter, and I felt he genuinely cared for the animals, but profits were his main goal and he ended up sitting on a ticking time-bomb.
I liked Claire, Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, too. Initially I was concerned that she was going to be a clichéd representation of a woman in power, a bitch in skirt suit, and that’s certainly how she initially came across. But as we learned that she had unintentionally sabotaged her one and only date with Owen (Chris Pratt) by making lists of their plans it was clear that her controlling nature wasn’t just reserved for the boardroom. She had very few social skills outside of her job which gave us amusing moments such as when she tied a perfect knot in her white cotton shirt tails to try to prove she was ready to rough it, or when she ran away from a T-Rex in her 3” stilettoes. But right from the outset she had an aura of being able to get the job done; I just don’t think she really expected that to include survival skills as a genetically engineered dinosaur chased her through the Central American jungle. Her ineptitude when dealing with her nephews also added some comic relief and her lack of contact with them for years proved that her career had come at a cost.
Chris Pratt’s Owen was far removed from his well-loved character on Guardians of the Galaxy but I found him to be equally as appealing. It was definitely a more serious role but Pratt showed his ability to portray a strong military figure in a believable manner while not sacrificing the sarcasm and cutting wit for which he is known. The chemistry between him and Howard’s Claire was palpable and sizzled every time they were on screen together, regardless of the characters’ mutual disdain. I will admit to being a little confused about Owen’s role on the island. He had obviously been recruited by InGen but their nefarious scheme to turn his pack of ‘raptors into fighting machines were unknown to him. It begs the question what he thought he was employed to do. I also wasn’t overly keen on the team’s treatment of the pack; bolting them into a headlock contraption that looked like something straight from medieval times and just looked cruel. Although it did afford Owen and his assistant Barry (an under-used, in my opinion, Omar Sy) the opportunity to have some up close and personal time with the creatures and we got to see the softer side of the killing machines.
I have heard a few people mention they had some issues with Owen’s ability to train the ‘raptors but I actually felt that it was quite cleverly played. Establishing himself as their alpha would have been the biggest challenge but he had been there at their hatching so he imprinted them from infancy. It’s been well documented that a velociraptor’s brain cavity is large enough to suggest a high intelligence, something all movies have included in their stories, and I don’t feel it was beyond the realm of possibility for Owen to have persuaded them to do his bidding. However, this was nicely balanced by the fact that the minute they were offered a larger, stronger alpha in the form of the genetically engineered Indominus Rex, they abandoned their loyalty to Owen. At least until Indominus Rex then posed a threat to them and their pack. I also felt it was a nice touch for Owen to have no compunctions when it came to valuing human lives over that of the dinosaurs; while he obviously harbored affection towards his ‘raptor pack he respected their ability to kill at the turn of a hat. Although possibly a little drawn out and maybe a little saccharine I thought the scene where Owen and Claire comforted a dying brachiosaur was a nice insight into them having feelings towards the creatures regardless of their insistence to destroy anything that was a threat to the people on the island. It was also an emotional way to show that Indominus Rex was a pure killing machine, not even eating the herd of dinosaurs she had attacked.
Indominus Rex was a fantastic creation. With a nice throwback to the original movie we were reminded that genes from modern day animals were used to fill in the gaps in the genome sequence. However it became clear mid-way through the movie that the intentions of Henry Wu (another fantastic nod of the head to Jurassic Park) and InGen were less than honorable, their interest in military applications outweighing their concern for innocent lives. I-Rex was brutal and efficient but she was also confused and scared, a deadly combination in a predator. Owen’s insights into the minds of his ‘raptors helped him understand her psyche; that her entire existence to that point was in an enclosed pen and everything she encountered was new and terrifying. With the huge arms and claws of spinosaurus, jaw of T-Rex and intelligence of velociraptors, not to mention her ability to camouflage herself, she was a force to be reckoned with and the dinosaur lover in me was thrilled with her introduction.
I will admit to being a little nervous about two of the main characters being kids but I thought Ty Simpkins as Gray and Nick Robinson as Zach were fantastic. There was plenty of humor and teen bravado and it was lovely to watch the development of their brotherly bond. I also immensely enjoyed Vincent D’Onofrio as the main protagonist, although he manages to command every role he takes on. Jake Johnson was a pleasant surprise, inserting some comic relief into the scenes in the control room, although I would have liked him to have been a little less incompetent; you have to think a multi-million dollar project would have top notch employees. I will admit to feeling a little lump in my throat though when the only one of his prized plastic dinosaur figures he took at the end of the movie was the herbivore.
The effects were as stellar as one would expect. It astonishes me every time I watch the original installation from 1993 that the technology they created for that movie is still being used today and frankly is tough to improve upon. The dinosaurs were almost exclusively CGI in Jurassic World where some of the effects in Jurassic Park were practical, but it is seamless in either case. I never once doubted that I was actually watching a pack of ‘raptors run through the jungle.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. It gave me everything I wanted in the form of a sexy hero, a ballsy heroine, humor, drama, terror and, of course, dinosaurs. I can’t ask for much more from a movie and with a record breaking $208.8 million ($315.6 million internationally) opening weekend it seems the franchise is doing something right. With rumors there are already follow-up movies in the works, hinted at by the fact that Henry Wu absconded with a selection of embryos, I couldn’t be happier. Let’s face it, if Jurassic World really existed I’d probably be first in line, regardless of risk. Who’s coming with?!