Dinosaurs have held a special fascination for this reviewer since some of the earliest memories as a living being seeing animatronic and life-sized sculptures of the ‘terrible lizards’ at New York World’s Fair, to the first visit to the Museum of Natural History, to appearances in film from King Kong, One Million Years, B.C. and, ultimately, Jurassic Park. That interest in dinosaurs has never waned to this day. And despite the thrill of seeing the massive reptiles portrayed in movies by either stop-motion animation from legends Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen, or puppets or real lizards filmed to look gigantic, it wasn’t until Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster and Stan Winston’s incredible work that one actually experienced what it would be like to see real live dinosaurs captured on film. That first look of a brachiosaurus standing up on its hind legs gave the audience the same sense of wonder that Drs. Grant, Sattler and Malcolm felt in the movie. Now, twenty-two years after that awe-inspiring moment, Dr. Hammond’s dream of opening a fully operational dinosaur theme park for the general public has finally been realized in Jurassic World.
Taking place on the same Isla Nublar of the original Jurassic Park, the site has been open for several years now and showcases many of the dinosaurs we’ve seen from the previous films, from Stegosaurus and Triceratops, to Pterodactyls, and of course, the king of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus Rex. There’s also a petting zoo featuring baby dinosaurs where kids can hug harmless herbivores, and an aquarium housing a great white shark-eating Mosasaurus, to the delight of the arena crowd. Overseeing all this is Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. In charge of keeping attendance levels up by adding new attractions, she is eager to unleash their newest creation, Indominus Rex, a genetic hybrid containing the DNA of a Tyrannosaur mixed with that of other ‘classified’ organisms. Called upon to provide some expertise is Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt, who has had great success in training and working with a group of velociraptors. When the newly created beast decides to make his debut ahead of schedule and gets loose within the park, Claire and Owen must work together to contain the mayhem and protect the 20,000 visitors. Complicating matters are Claire’s nephews, Zach and Gray, whom she barely knows, trapped within the park’s confines. Throw in InGen’s security force, headed by Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onfrio), who are interested in the military applications for dinosaurs (shades of Aliens’ Weyland-Yutani Corp,), and you have plenty going on to fill two hours.
It has taken fourteen years since Jurassic Park III to get the series back into theaters. While there were rumors at one point of human/dinosaur hybrids, that, luckily, didn’t come to pass. Also, a Stegoceratops, spotted amongst Hasbros’ promotional material, proved to be only developed for their toy line. It proved wise for Universal and executive producer, Steven Spielberg, to wait until they had the right pieces in place to revive this mega-franchise. They couldn’t have picked a better star in Chris Pratt, hot off last year’s The Lego Movie and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Here, he turns down his lovable goofiness to play a more serious role, but he remains appealing nonetheless. And while it would appear that Pratt is the sole hero of the film, it is Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire who actually has the main character arc, going from a cold, socially stunted administrator to someone who must open up and step to the plate when it really counts. It’s similar in many respects to that of Sam Neill’s Dr. Grant in the first film, where he had relatively no experience with, or liking of, children, but was put in a position where they depended on him for their lives.
And in a world full of reboots, remakes, retreads and re-imaginings, it’s refreshing that Jurassic World continues the story set forth in Steven Spielberg’s original film, based on Michael Chrichton’s novel. Although Richard Attenborough’s Dr. Hammond is mentioned a number of times during the movie, the only character from any previous film to make an appearance here is B.D. Wong, as Henry Wu, InGen’s head geneticist, and the mastermind behind Indominus Rex. There are some other direct references to the original Jurassic Park, as well as very welcome musical cues from John Williams’ majestic score. Director Colin Trevorrow does a t-riffic job of bringing together the human factor along with all the dinosaur action, giving audiences more of what they know and like, all while adding in new elements, like the new dinosaurs and technological advances such as the super-cool ‘gyrospheres.’
While a good story and characters you care about are essential to a movie like this, it’s dinosaur action that audiences want to see, mirroring what visitors to the park are looking for as well. And Jurassic World more than delivers. There are several battles between different dinosaur species (although we’re still waiting for a classic match between a T-Rex and a Triceratops-next movie, perhaps?) And whereas in previous films, velociraptors were clearly the villains, here, things aren’t so black and white. We’ve known from the beginning that these vicious, speedy beasts were highly intelligent, so making them trainable and able to work with humans was a logical and wise step to take here. One might’ve never thought they would ever root for a raptor, or even other terrifying dinosaurs, (except, maybe to take out a bad guy) but, as they say, sometimes the enemy of your enemy may be your friend.
Though not even a blip in Mesozoic Era time, but half a generation in human terms, the layoff between Jurassic films hasn’t brought the series anywhere near extinction. Instead, Jurassic World manages to tap deep into our nostalgia veins while revitalizing a mega-franchise for a new generation of dinosaur fans. It was well worth the wait. Long live the age of dinosaurs!
— review by Brian de Castro