Jurassic World | Colin Trevorrow | 2015 |★★
This month I watched Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein for the first time and back to back. The first film was just okay and serious enough given the source material. The second films is something completely different as it expands Mary Shelley‘s world and the plot just goes into the ridiculous and the film is better for it. The basic source of the action remains the same (the monster scares people and destroys things), but they change the stuff that surrounds this with corny yet entertaining and interesting material. This is really the way horror sequels should be, delivering something completely unexpected so that audiences don’t get tired of seeing the same old thing.
The same happened with the Jurassic Park franchise. In reality, we are only there to see dinosaur mayhem with an easy moral, but there’s enough material otherwise to fill the two hour run time without becoming excessively annoying and tiresome. We first got Jurassic Park, the classic, game changing, awe-inspiring film about what happens when man tries to play god. With The Lost World, we go bigger with a greater cast of characters, bigger set pieces, a villain who didn’t learn anything from the events of the previous film and a sillier plot. Then with Jurassic Park III we got a smaller film with an unbelievably stupid plot but with a great sense of why the audience is there in the first place, and it is a ton of fun.
But then we get to the fourth film in the franchise, Jurassic World. In theory there’s nothing wrong with the plot of an unstoppable genetically-engineered dinosaur being unleashed in a theme park full of people with trained velociraptors figuring somewhere in there. This is something that I could have come up with when I was a child playing with my dinosaur toys and it would have been exciting to see this on the screen. In fact it is, as almost every scene involving dinosaur mayhem is fantastic. But then most of the film focuses on the human element, and that is where it fails miserably.
Obviously any movie like this has to have a human element, a dashing hero saving the day and getting the girl. This would be fine in this movie if it was at the very least self-aware of how cliché the whole thing is, but it doesn’t. From the very beginning we are introduced to two kids (Gray and Zach, respectively played by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) in a very bleak family situation who are going to Jurassic World so that their parents can get divorced. Their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, putting more effort into this than pretty much everyone else in the production) runs the park but she doesn’t even have time for them because she is a very busy career woman with no sense of what is really important. Then there’s Owen (Chris Pratt), the dashing hero, who is on the island training raptors for whatever reason and there’s a company guy (Vincent D’Onofrio) pressuring him to use his skills to train the raptors for combat.
Once again, there’s nothing wrong with having characters like this since most of us don’t expect great depth from the fourth film in a franchise about dinosaurs attacking stuff. But the least they could have done is not take things seriously. They could have had the kids going to the island just for the sake of going since they do absolutely nothing with the divorce plot thread. They could have given Claire a reason for being a frigid bitch so that anything relating to her wouldn’t come off, as Joss Whedon put it, ‘70s sexist. And they could have given some flaws to the hero because as presented here, he’s a boring portrait of wholesomeness.
This only begins to cover a few of the problems in Collin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly’s script. They supposedly set out to right the wrongs of the two sequels (which I don’t see to be honest), but without ignoring their existence. But then the way things play out is like only the events of the first film mattered. For example, Hammond supposedly told Masrani (Irrfan Kahn) on his death bed that his dream was to see the park open. But didn’t he also say in the end of The Lost World that we should leave the dinosaurs live in peace?
Then we have the fact that the inevitable part of the films where the kids have to be rescued is completely pointless since the kinds handled things fine on their own. The only thing that came out of this is the social media high-heels debacle, which I bet the writers never thought they’d have to deal with. This brings me to my biggest character-related problem. Although it was largely Claire’s responsibility that the events unraveled, she is shown to do the two smartest and/or bravest things in the film. First, she saves Owen when he is at his most vulnerable. Second, she had the bright idea that lead to the exciting climax of the film. And yet, he gets to be the hero in her nephews’ eyes.
These two writers saw the first film when it came out originally in their youth. Inevitably, when they got to make their own film, they wanted to make the sequel they imagined when they were teenagers in the 90s. Their final result is as immature as it could have possibly been. There are so many more problems with the script than the ones I’ve mentioned, but I have not the time or energy to point out more.
Perhaps I would have been more forgiving if the filmmaking was at least up to par with Joe Johnston’s for the third film, but Trevorrow couldn’t even match him. Perhaps it was to be expected since this is only his second film after the commendable but mediocre Safety Not Guaranteed, but you still hope form the best. But the whole thing is ultimately soulless and devoid of a sense of wonder (and during one particular scene gratuitously gruesome). Visually, despite very good visual effects, it leaves a lot to be desired as there is no sense of composition. Perhaps the worst visual crime that this film commits is its cinematography. Although that it was shot on celluloid, with chunks of it on 65mm, it looks as flat and over lit as an average digitally-shot film. The production design, music, costumes and performances, are also as basic and uninspired as the direction.
I had zero expectations for this going in, and the film as a whole somehow failed to surpass them. Some great dinosaur mayhem is not enough to overcome a horrendous script and lazy direction. Since this is now the third-highest grossing film of all time, and there’s going to be a sequel in 2018, let’s hope that movie succeeds in righting the wrongs of this sequel.