It's been twenty two years since Jurassic Park first wowed audiences with visions of dinosaurs on a tropical island, a film that gave us awe before moving right into shock and carnage as the notion of a theme park and the disregard for ethics went completely wrong. Director Steven Spielberg followed that up with The Lost World, and Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger) came on board to direct Jurassic Park III. Now Jurassic World, the fourth film in the series, has hit theatres, from new director Colin Trevorrow, whose previous work includes a rather quirky film from 2012, Safety Not Guaranteed.
The film picks up on Isla Nublar, the same locale of the first film, where a dinosaur theme park is fully functional and running, attracting thousands of visitors a day. Apparently the lessons of the first film, not to mention the San Diego incident in the second film, have been lost on all concerned. Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) is the owner of the island and park, with a staff that includes the park manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), animal wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), tech experts Lowery (Jake Johnson) and Vivian (Lauren Lapkus), and the only character from any of the original films to return, the conscience free geneticist Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong), who got off the island before things started going wrong in the first film.
To bring in the required children in distress element of the film, Claire's nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) come to the island to pay their aunt a visit. There's also a wild card in the mix, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), a security fixer with the InGen corporation of the first two films, who has an agenda of his own. Of course it doesn't take long before things start to go terribly wrong. If only they'd listened to the much missed Ian Malcolm- when things go wrong at Disney World, the Pirates of the Caribbean don't eat the tourist (they just keep making more and more movies).
Trevorrow has a hand in the screenplay, along with three other credited writers- Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly. The film was in development hell for years on end, usually not a good sign. Still, the story plays around with some of the same ethical questions that come before. I found it interesting, for instance, that the park owner is the one with concerns that the well being of the animals is being put behind the notion of profits- the animals are being referred to as assets, and he finds it troublesome. The story also turns things around by having the heroine initially be oblivious to those ethical concerns- Claire seems more concerned with a park running well than little things like "is this such a good idea?"
The story also comments on the consumer society- it's not enough to see dinosaurs in this theme park setting (again, why was no one listening to John Hammond at the end of The Lost World when he insisted these animals required the absence of humans?). The park's visitors numbers need a boost, and they come in the form of the big new dinosaur draw, a synthetic mix called an Indominus Rex, which is a symbol of consumer excess- bigger, louder, and brasher. There are consequences to messing around with nature, and in creating that particular beast, that's really messing around with nature. And there's an inherent irresponsibility that underlies any corporate ventures in these films, and that factors into the story- as does the notion of irresponsibility when someone stands by and does nothing while these wrongful actions proceed. Trevorrow continues to balance the tension and comic moments of the franchise. He handles action sequences- particularly the climactic confrontation of the film- reasonably well. Trevorrow manages to keep the film moving along, giving us heroism and lots of dinosaur action along the way.
The special effects continue to be effective throughout. It's impossible to top the awe of Jurassic Park, but as before we see dinosaurs looking like living, breathing organisms, with strong detail in their look, a clarity of movement, and as if they're part of the same environment as the actors and setting. The look of the engineered Indominus is particularly effective, a newcomer to these films. And it's a welcome thing to see the T-Rex and raptors again. These beasts and plenty more dinosaurs all feature into the film, and we get to see a lot of them. Michael Giacchino, who seems to be composing every other score out there these days, takes the movie in new directions, while incorporating some of John Williams' classic themes into the mix.
I liked the casting. Vincent D'Onofrio is one of those character actors you've seen in so many things down through the years, often a tough guy or every day man with flaws. He's certainly the antagonist this time out, a scheming, ruthless bastard with his own designs on the animals- he sees them not as animals, but as weapons, and his ambitions run deep. It's a character you quickly dislike, and things don't improve for the odds of the audience sympathizing with him. D'Onofrio makes him fun to watch, though.
Bryce Dallas Howard comes from good acting stock- her father is actor-director Ron Howard, and she's been in a mix of films since M. Night Shymalan cast her in The Village. I've liked her in what I have seen her in, and the same applies here. The character's lucky she's likable- neglectful aunts and park managers who lose control of their parks usually meet bad ends in this sort of film. There's history between Claire and Owen, and Howard plays to that. Despite being a yeasayer as far as the viability of the park is concerned as the story gets underway, Claire's a sympathetic character, and much of that comes from Howard's performance.
Pratt, who made a big impression last year with Guardians Of The Galaxy, is pretty straightforward as the hero of the film Owen (though they couldn't have given him a better first name?). There's something of a swashbuckler in the character, an ex-military type who's capable and resourceful (his method of evading detection by the rampaging Indominus is inspired). The character has some odd ideas about raptors, and is a nature lover with his own hesitations about the park, but he comes into his own in a crisis, as a hero should.
Carrying on the Jurassic Park franchise after several years away works, though it's not quite up to the standards of the first two films. I did find myself missing Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, and Julianne Moore. The lessons of previous films seem to have gone unlearned, and of course there are repercussions to be seen to. Not that the dinosaurs mind... they're too busy snacking on tourists.