Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) has a self-reflective moment in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables about the methods required to bust Al Capone (Robert De Niro), “I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!” As dinosaurs rampage Isla Nublar once again in Jurassic World you can feel co-writer and director Colin Trevorrow having his Ness moment; proudly coming to terms with the corporate satire he set out to make and the eventual monster movie metamorphosis that eventuates.
The park is finally open, 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park (sort of ignoring two sequels), Jurassic World is an operational theme park entrusted to billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) by the late John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Sadly, the appeal of dinosaurs has waned in the eyes of the general public so the Park’s operations manager, Claire Dearing, gets scientists (B.D Wong returns as Dr Henry Wu) to create a new dinosaur hybrid called Indominus Rex. On the weekend Dearing’s nephews (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) visit the Park, Indominus Rex escapes, and a Navy veteran turned velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is tasked with wrangling Rex.
Jurassic World has two distinct halves, which is a by-product of overlapping screenwriting teams of Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver with rewrites from Derek Connolly & Trevorrow. The first half is marred by arduous set-ups for characters that barely register a pulse beyond their introduction, and Trevorrow’s obsession with trying to ingrain Jurassic World with Steven Spielberg inspired family drama to give meaning beyond the spectacle. A subplot involving Dearing’s nephews trip to Jurassic World as a distraction from the looming divorce of their parents is ‘Spielberg’s: Broken Homes for Dummies’.
Trevorrow’s depiction of Jurassic World in the opening half of the film is potent with satire of the corporate ‘Imagineering’ of companies like Disney and showing the grotesque ways Park attendees interact with the dinosaurs. A scene where toddlers are shown riding shrieking baby triceratopses is where it’s most scathing, as well as a dinosaur petting zoo area that evokes imagery akin to the recent documentary Blackfish.
The corporate barbs soon give way to a reflection on blockbuster entertainment; poignant in the current golden age of packaged corporate nostalgia designed to exploit our fluffy memories. When the iconic John Williams’ score (repurposed by composer Michael Giacchino) from the herds of Brachiosaurus reveal in Jurassic Park is deployed at the emotional height of the accompaniment in Jurassic World, it doesn’t show dinosaurs, but rather a vista of the Park which feels emotionless and overtly commercial. Late in the film, several Brachiosaurus are shown slaughtered across rolling green hills smeared with their blood. Trevorrow is playing around with our expectations based on memories. Yes, there are moments repackaged from Spielberg’s vision but they have these sly alterations. There’s even a scene where Dr Wu explains the artificiality of Hammond’s first Park, which is a blunt reminder of how our recollections can mask the truth – and a prompt from the filmmaker that anyone going into Jurassic World expecting Jurassic Park has made a huge mistake. When teenagers are shown playing on their phones instead of watching a T-Rex feast, Trevorrow is skywriting his subtext a little, but through the creation of Indominus Rex we see a dinosaur created by a focus group to raise revenue and satisfy advertisers. Indominus Rex is representative of a blockbuster film, trying to be all things to all people, but Jurassic World isn’t clever enough to be self-aware with the material, sadly, it’s half-asleep. Trevorrow’s film becomes what it initially despised so much about modern blockbusters with an overreliance on digitally created dinosaurs that look phony and eliminate wonder; unkind representations of female characters who are dehumanized and punished brutally for being in positions of power (a scene featuring Dearing’s aide during the Pterodactyl attack sequence spills into mean-spirited territory); and the story shredded for the chance to shoot bazookas at velociraptors. Even Pratt is wasted, sacrificing a little of his mint condition Guardians of the Galaxy cred by spending Jurassic World delivering dialogue designed for trailer lines or to begin with the expositional statement ‘so you’re telling me…” Jurassic World rockets out of control at times but it soon becomes obvious that Trevorrow is fashioning the lunacy into something worthwhile.
The second half of the film is Jurassic World’s saviour. Like a distant cousin to Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea; it’s perfect monster movie fodder for a drive-in crowd. Mix in an insane subplot revolving around Vincent D’Onofrio’s army-minded character and a plan to militarise dinosaurs – the film can never fully commit to crazy of this idea and misses the opportunity to reach a level of Starship Troopers satire of the industrial military complex – and you’ve got a movie that blasts home unashamedly. Trevorrow indulges in in dino-carnage and it’s closer in execution to Peter Hyams’ The Relic, Joe Dante’s Piranha or any monster nasty with Roger Corman’s fingerprints on it. Heck, even Jurassic World expertly leverages the theme park terror from the flimsy Jaws 3. The Pterodactyl sequence, despite its gender missteps, evokes the pure bliss of creatures descending on crowds of fleeing people. A military verses dinosaur set-piece is a cartoonish tribute to the first encounter of the marines with the xenomorphs in Aliens, and the final showdown is a prehistoric prize fight that’s worth the price of admission alone. Jurassic World also finds its humour toward the end with technicians played by Lauren Lapkus and Jake Johnson becoming the only memorable human characters.
Trevorrow cannot help Jurassic World becoming its own worst enemy but the split personality of the film and it’s satirical, monstrous edge, far outweighs the surface stupidity.
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW