Jurassic World Dir. Colin Trevorrow

[Universal Pictures; 2015]

Styles: dinosaur
Others: The Lost World, Jurassic Park III

Jurassic World starts with the references to 1993’s Jurassic Park pretty early, noting how times have changed since the film’s titular theme park first opened 20-ish years ago. Park attendees just aren’t impressed by plain old dinosaurs anymore. They want some sort of snazzy new twist, like trained velociraptors, or maybe a giant, made-up dinosaur with all sorts of crazy super-abilities. Hey, it’s just like in real life, with the movies! On one hand, this deliberate parallel feels almost passive-agressive towards the audience. A friendly “you assholes are so hard to please, haha, just kidding, but really.” On the other, it’s actually pretty damning of mega-budget cinema IPs themselves. Because, come to think of it, a film like this has almost as much in common with a theme park as it does with Spielberg’s Park. There’s a promise of spectacle and tangible experience (3D, RPX, IMAX, etc.) — maybe as a bonus you have some kind of loyalty to the series’ iconography. Jurassic World isn’t just something to view; it’s an activity to go do.

The story here is mostly nonsense cobbled together from partially-implemented tropes. There’s a laughably dumb thematic through-line of “sticking together” and some regurgitated conversations from the previous installments, but beyond that it’s just hastily shoehorned conflict that exists only to get you to the next CGI sequence. There’s an extent to which one could be fine with that, but Jurassic World shows such an active disdain for its audience’s intelligence that it enters the realm of insulting. The two adolescent male protagonists’ (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) parents are getting a divorce, but there’s only one scene devoted to this subject because it’s the lowest effort way to show them bonding and experiencing emotions. Their characters forget about it after that. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager, is portrayed as ruthless and money-driven, an early antagonist, until suddenly she remembers she’s supposed to be watching her nephews and has an “oh man, my sister’s gonna KILL me!” moment and arrives to save the day by shooting a pterodactyl. Afterwards, however, the film doesn’t really need her in a heroic role, so she just kind of hangs out until it’s time for her to climatically wrap up the loose ends of which dinosaurs haven’t been referenced yet. Owen (Chris Pratt), a raptor trainer, has no character details except that he’s brave and likes raptors. The secondary characters are even worse. So many scenes feature people we don’t care about talking about things that don’t matter establishing concepts that will be abandoned in the next scene.

Some of the scenes in Jurassic World feel like they’re Boggle blocks, just shaken around until they land somewhere that a story could go. At one point, Claire and Owen, tracking an escaped indominus rex (a genetically-engineered super-dinosaur; maybe they made it out of unobtanium), find a group of large apatosaurus that it has killed. Claire tears up, affected by the bloodshed even though she’s already seen the creature maul a bunch of people, and in the next scene she’s back to just opening fire on any dinosaur that moves. What purpose did the apatasaurus scene serve? Why is a completely useless sub-plot about an InGen militarization coup introduced two thirds of the way through the movie? Why is Jake Johnson’s character even in the movie? Why is it cute and snarky when he comments on the gaudiness of product placement in the midst of an orgy of brands and tie-ins? Why not just have a little interlude where director Colin Trevorrow reaches out into the audience, via the finest 3D technology, to slap you in the face for a while? “What are you gonna do about it?” It wouldn’t feel too out of place.

There’s a lot of fuel for debate here regarding what we expect from major studios today, about what constitutes good or bad “mindless entertainment,” and if that category even really exists. Jurassic World, if nothing else, pushes the boundaries of what we’re willing to put up with and even enjoy. Because at the end of the day, there actually are parts of the movie that audiences will probably enjoy. They’re almost frustrating, like the loud noise that spooks you in a horror movie. But if the only effective segments of this film work because they have realistic, scary depictions of dinosaurs, what differentiates Jurassic World from a Universal Studios ride with an IMAX screen?

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