Maybe it shouldn’t have, but Jurassic World made my weekend and quite possibly my summer. And since I’m still pretty excited about it, the most sophisticated way I can organize my thoughts is to simply list the bad stuff, then the good stuff, so here goes.
World compares itself to Jurassic Park every time it turns around, which isn’t always the most flattering thing. World’s characters are mostly caricatures and don’t stack up well to the original cast. In Park, computer whiz/DNA-snatcher Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), as hyper gross as he was, felt real. In World, the nerd who needs a girlfriend feels like a type. Mr. Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) was sarcastic, pragmatic, funny, impatient, instantly likable. In World, the girl who has a boyfriend feels like a really good robot. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) was cheerful, childish, lavish, loving, blindly optimistic. In World, Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan) is ludicrous in everything from flying his own helicopter (like they’d let him) to his self-righteous indignation at everything going sideways in his park.
Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) were well-founded, believable kids who made everything scarier because if we were 12 and nine, we’d be just like them, and even though the movie focused on only a few key personality traits (Lex was into computers and didn’t like dinosaurs; Tim liked dinosaurs and teasing his sister), these were glimpses of genuine people. But in World, the brothers feel like mere constructs thrown together by a boardroom who wrote down three (and only three) chief characteristics instead of proper backstories. You know…the older brother is kinda boring, so let’s have him stare at girls, and although the mom tells us he can be mean, we don’t really see it; he’s just all headphoney. The younger brother loves dinosaurs and gets scared and knows how to Google. That’s it. (And the kid from Iron Man 3 is clearly capable of more!)
Hoskins is a bit better, but only because of Vincent D’Onofrio, who last I checked was brutally bald and beating up on Daredevil, and before that, he was just the scruffy, mild-mannered, soft-spoken big brother to Robert Downey Jr. in The Judge. The man can play any part he wants, and his spot-on performance in World makes us feel like there’s more to his character than meets the screenplay. His death would have actually resonated (as in, we might have actually wanted it) if they’d given us a few additional details on motivation, dreams, how and why he got this way, etc.
As for Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), if she doesn’t make the movie, at least she doesn’t break it. Running around in a white dress and high heels, she could have gotten seriously annoying, but Bryce brings charisma and likability to a pretty chancy role and is truly a beast in those heels. Her relationship with Chris Pratt’s charming, capable, swaggering male makes a fun throwback to Romancing the Stone, Han Solo and Leia, et al., and I could only wish they had gone further with it by going further with her.
Moments That Break the Magic
1) The opening. Jurassic Park mimicked Jaws with a terrific and terrifying launch, but World gives a weird, pointless egg scene that ties into nothing. Five seconds in and I was bored and ticked off and actually a little numb with shock that they would kick off with such a dumb scene.
2) Dialogue. Michael Crichton has a knack for realistic conversation; so does David Koepp (who co-wrote the JP screenplay and other nifty things like Premium Rush). I know I keep using the word real, but seriously, the original movie’s dialogue convinces you these people are real which is HUGE if you’re going to care for them later on. When people say things people don’t really say, then we don’t believe they’re real, and who gives a darn—it’s all just a parade of pictures. World has quite a bit of dialogue that falls flat, a fair amount that is atrocious (“If anything chases you, run”?????), and none that rings as beautifully as the first film’s. Crichton and Koepp, get back here! Or how about the World writing team—y’all simply get out your pads and pencils, go to a coffee shop, and record the conversations of actual people until you have an ear for it? I promise I’ll sit through two more movies either way.
3) Stupid humans, smart dinosaurs. I’m not a scaredy-cat, but going into a cage (even if you think the big, deadly, not-a-good-idea, cannibalistic freak is really, really gone) is still really, really stupid. Why do we need to check on the claw marks from inside? Anybody ever heard of binoculars? Why isn’t this ex-Navy dino-trainer immediately helping to organize the search? Of course, Claire wouldn’t want him to, but of course, Owen wouldn’t care. He’d do it anyway.
4) PHONES. Gosh. In a park this high-tech, you’d have reception everywhere. Even if you didn’t, even if all hell really does break loose, the I-can’t-hear-the-important-thing-you’re-trying-to-tell-me-because-reception’s-bad device should be used only once (if that) in any movie. Both times here (when Owen is in the crossbred’s cage and when the boys are in the hamster ball), we feel the yank of strings. The storytellers are recycling easy mishaps and manipulating the story.
5) Stopping to mourn the dead whatever-you-call-them. Please. I understand you’re trying to show us that Claire is having a change of heart, blah blah blah, but Owen would not have stopped. The fact that he calmly does so (and the storytellers calmly let him) betrays the storytellers’ own hand; since they aren’t worried about what’s happening to the two stranded kids wandering through a kill zone off-screen, neither are we. Tension evaporates.
6) Owen’s raptor-whisperer trick succeeds for about half the movie. It even sort of works through the motorcycle hunt. But it totally falls apart when the raptor starts giving the humans significant looks. Colin Trevorrow should have studied the look in “tamed” lions the moment they turn on their trainers. Go for pure beastly and cross my heart, hope to die, I promise I won’t have any reason to roll my eyes.
7) Pretty much all the dinosaur attacks feel like we’re just going through the motions. Like Godzilla did to us last summer, World needed to make us feel like we were seeing dinosaurs for the first time. Pretend like it’s never been done before. Treat us to their size, their terror—hello, the fact that these extinct behemoths are even here. Nothing in World comes close to the scariest highlights of Jurassic Park: the opening raptor attack, T-rex attacking the kid in the car, Nedry getting blinded and eaten, and the kids alone with the raptors in the kitchen. There were a few thrilling moments (like when Owen is hiding under the truck; anything’s scary when grown men are scared), but the majority of the action scenes feel rushed and repetitive like the filmmakers have no confidence we’d actually believe them if they took their time and pretended like they were the first ones to do this.
8) Killing people willy nilly. The silly man going down in the helicopter is bad, mostly because we don’t miss him but also because the storytellers throw him so lazily. Claire’s posh assistant getting tossed and drowned and repeatedly scissored is worse. We don’t like or dislike her nearly enough for her to be treated so. Now the storytellers are just being mean, wasting time, and showing off on their computers. In Jurassic Park, the deaths of heroes like Muldoon and Mr. Arnold are horrible; so are the deaths of people we dislike (the lawyer) and loathe (Nedry). World robs us of real heroes and real villains and then knocks them off irresponsibly. Badly done.
9) Act III. Screenwriters frequently forget that each act needs its own beginning, middle, and end, with a cohesive arc and compelling flow. Jurassic Park had it. World does not. Jurassic Park’s third act was unbelievably tense and amazingly focused with everything narrowing down to just two raptors, four humans: hunted, chased, cornered, hunted and chased and cornered again till there was no way out…and then T-rex! One exclamation point and we’re done! World’s climax is a risible dogpile of dinosaurs that left me plumb tuckered out and so many kinds of bored. Keeping the T-rex invisible throughout the movie is smart. Luring him out with a flare is fabulous. But then everything goes to pot, because overkill is underrated, right? And we lose the monsters inside each other like so many Russian nesting dolls.
10) The music. Jeepers. Michael Giacchino usually manages to be obnoxious all by himself (his melodies have so many weird, unpleasing intervals), but you’d think he could have handled a melody written for him decently enough, but no. John Williams’ theme gets plastered all over the boys’ arrival at the park worse than pin the tail on the donkey. Not even getting warm, Mr. Giacchino!
But almost none of that really matters because despite tripping so many times, Jurassic World somehow manages to get up and win. Here’s how.
1) The fact that it wasn’t flat-out terrible even when it was really, really, really bad.
2) All the sweet nods to Jurassic Park. (Some were not sweet, like the hatching scene, but I mean the sweet ones.) Forget an accidental return to the island—thanks for nothing, JP III—the old park itself is here! Dr. Wu! The gate! The jeeps and night-vision goggles and visitor center and road flares!
Even more fun are the subtler echoes. In Jurassic Park, the kids struggle over the flashlight while the younger says to the older, “Turn it off!” In World, the kids struggle over the stun gun while the younger says to the older, “Turn it on!” Owen and Claire hide behind the car in the garage in the exact same position as Lex and Tim hide from the raptors in the kitchen. A kid who doesn’t want to jump ends up jumping after someone yells, “One! Two!”, footprints indicate that people made it out of the wrecked vehicle, and in both movies, the parents of the kids are getting divorced. If you remember more, drop them in the comments! These are just off the top of my head. I should have brought a pen and pad to the theater to tally them on the spot.
3) But the best thing about the movie is the guy who last weekend found himself suddenly king of the box office and basically the whole world—Chris Pratt. Owen Grady is what every boy wants to be and whom any girl in white would follow: tough, smart, quick-thinking, pleasant, witty, protective, good in a fight, knows when to ruffle a girl’s feathers, and knows when to sock someone in the jaw. He channels three of the best characters from the first film all at once: Sam Neill’s intense dinosaur junkie, Jeff Goldblum’s wisecracking, easygoing doomster, and Bob Peck’s mean, focused, safari Jedi. Unbeatable! I would watch the entire movie again (dinosaur nesting dolls and all) just for him. In fact, last weekend, I had the first and only sad thought I’ve ever had when sitting down to rewatch Jurassic Park: “Aw, but there’s no Owen Grady!”
But we also like what’s behind his character—the Prattness of Pratt. The real guy (as directors, crew, co-stars, and show hosts will attest) is friendly without being condescending, funny without being dumb, and honest without being full of himself. He adores his wife. He teaches his son the Pledge of Allegiance. He quotes Psalms on Facebook. And it all comes through in his acting.
A year ago, I knew nothing about Christ Pratt and cared even less. Now I hear he’s signed on for two more Jurassic movies and I’m not even afraid of how idiotic they’ll be. Of course they’ll be idiotic (though I’d love to be surprised). But with Pratt on board, I’m buying my tickets now. And keeping my fingers crossed for Indiana Jones. Because right? Right.
If Indiana Jones doesn’t happen via Hollywood, there’s always GoPo Productions, right? Let’s Kickstarter this thing.