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Categories: Movie Reviews

Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” is far from a perfect movie, but it provides enough moments of sweeping awe and dinosaur roar to earn its price of admission. Cameron Johnson is moderately impressed.

Jurassic World, the gargantuan, self-aware sequel to the 1992 hit Jurassic Park and its mediocre sequels The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III, is exactly what you’d expect. Melodramatic, formulaic, bombastic and sufficiently cinematic, it provides all the thrills and chills we could ever ask for, skipping out on character development and textured dialogue along the way but leaving enough of an impression on us to make us look back and say, “yeah, I’m glad I contributed to this film’s record-breaking opening weekend.”

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The plot is pretty much insignificant in the grand scheme of things – c’mon, we’re here for the dinosaurs – but ultimately it’s there and so we’ve got to talk about it. Bryce Dallas Howard is Claire, the main character of the film and manager of Jurassic World, a massive SeaWorld-style dinosaur amusement park to which thousands of mildly excited millenials have flocked to half-assedly take pictures of the resurrected prehistoric creatures that they’ve become pretty bored of since the events of the other Jurassic films.

Claire fills the typical role of a charismatic workaholic who spends most of her day drinking coffee and talking on the phone, and shrugs off hanging out with her two nephews, who have come to the park as VIPs, in favor of dealing with park administration. She’s actively criticized for doing this by the film, which uses her sister Karen (Judy Greer) as a surrogate to promote a message of “family first, work later”. Karen cries when she realizes Claire hasn’t bothered to spend time with the kids (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), but seems to forget her sister is running perhaps the most dangerous tourist attraction in human history, and sometimes public safety is a bit more important than a lunch date with two one-dimensional kids who would probably rather be doing something else anyway.

The characterization of Claire came under some fire once the trailer was unveiled, especially from Joss Whedon, who criticized the seeming “70s-era sexis[m]” of her character being a “stiff” in need of a “life-force” in the form of Chris Pratt (his character has a name but, let’s face it, he’ll be “Chris Pratt” to everyone discussing the film), who plays the park’s top velociraptor trainer and who gets top billing despite having considerably less screen time (o.k., “considerably” might be a bit of a stretch, but she’s clearly the lead even if he’s framed as the “hero”). Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do much to dispel Whedon’s misgivings, presenting Claire as overly businesslike and “improving” her as the film goes on by stripping her – literally and figuratively – so she can find her gritty, emotional side. Pratt’s character doesn’t have to go through such an arc – he’s a saint from the beginning.

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Luckily, both leads are superb in their roles and make the stereotypes watchable and at times even entertaining. Pratt is as commanding as he was in Guardians of the Galaxy, though he’s given considerably less to work with and doesn’t bring as many laughs. Howard is fun to watch, and her performance is consistently the most relatable character even when she’s not supposed to be. We believe she has the constitution to handle an operation of such magnitude, and are as scared as she is when things go wrong.

Where “things go wrong” is, for this film, where things go right – so very, very right. In a nutshell, scientists at Jurassic World have, for some reason, created a hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, that’s like a T-Rex but even bigger, scarier, and smarter. Of course, that word “smarter” comes back to bite them in the ass, and the beast escapes to terrorize everyone for our amusement. How it escapes is one of the film’s most entertaining scenes – simultaneously smart, silly and thrilling.

Once Indominus Rex gets out, Claire panics, and starts trying to figure out any way to rescue the park without causing some kind of public uproar. This makes sense from her perspective, but if the last few films have told us anything, the public don’t give a damn about dinosaur-related tragedy, and just wanna see bigger, badder, and scarier despite the risks. There’ll be more dino attractions before long, and I can’t wait to see how they justify them in the next film.

Jurassic-World-Robinson-Simpkins2Chris Pratt’s sympathetic, compassionate approach to dinosaur taming is naturally our heroes’ answer to stopping Indominus Rex, but as usual there has to be a human antagonist, some power-hungry man hungry to control things for profit, and so enter Vic (Vincent D’Onofrio), the head of security who wants to use the situation as an example to show that the velociraptors can be trained as weapons to stop Indominus and can be sold to the military afterwards. There’s also added conflict with Claire’s nephews, who drive a ride off course (because you’d give kids that much freedom in a theme park with dinosaurs) and end up in Indominus’ territory.

All of this is nothing new for the Jurassic series, archetypal plot arcs used solely as a structure for the visual effects artists  and stunt choreographers to work from. It’s the dinosaurs who are the real stars of this show, and they’re adequately realistic, lively and terrifying. The velociraptors that Chris Pratt trains are given a humorous mix of dog-like obedience and animalistic aggression, the Indominus Rex is as awesome as it needs to be, and the Mosasaurus, that massive water-dwelling beast that eats a great white shark, steals every scene it’s in. Each creature is intricately animated and set against beautiful backdrops, and so the film is always visually satisfying.

Many scenes legitimately do feel like rides at an amusement park, and director Colin Trevorrow shows, if anything, that he can direct with a sense of awe and wonder. The action is quite old-school, and does at many points feel Spielbergian. Trevorrow and cinematographer John Schwartzman generally opt for long, sweeping shots as opposed to disorienting fast cuts, allowing us to enjoy the thrill of the chase and feel the encroaching threat with sufficient suspense. There are a good mix of scares and set-pieces, and they’re creative like they were in Jurassic Park as opposed to feeling derivative like they did in The Lost World and Jurassic Park III.

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Commendation should also go to the 3D, which is used better than it usually is in blockbusters of this magnitude. Velociraptor heads, pterodactyl swarms and T-Rex tails jump out of the screen towards us, and the park is given an expansive sense of majesty. It’s the sort of spectacle for which the extra dimension feels like an enhancement rather than a burden, and so I’d fully recommend the 3D version. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed the film as much had I seen it in 2D.

Some critics have complained about the product placement, but while it is a bit obvious at times I don’t feel too cynical about it. The biggest uses are intentional, comedic ones – the funniest joke in the film is a poke at sponsorship – and I’m willing to brush off the odd Starbucks plug because, I dunno, there would probably be a Starbucks in the most famous tourist attraction on the planet. Either way, though, looking at these box-office figures, it’s not like they needed the product placement, anyway.

Looking past the cliche characterizations and generic plot, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Jurassic World. It doesn’t ask much of its audience, it gives us all the thrills we want, it’s an improvement over the last two Jurassic films, and considering the gorgeous imagery put before our eyes, it’s hard to feel too bad about having seen it. In the mood for some big, dumb summer fun? Get on board, fasten your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Jun 15, 2015

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