REVIEW: Jurassic World

13 06 2015

“We want to be thrilled,” declares Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire to a set of interested investors at the beginning of “Jurassic World.”  One can easily imagine the very green director Colin Trevorrow, with only the indie charmer “Safety Not Guaranteed” under his belt, making the same kind of pitch to the corporate powers that be at Universal.

In a manner that recalls “22 Jump Street,” many lines at the opening of the film give a winking nod to the entire enterprise of jumpstarting a dormant franchise for a new audience.  In the 22 years the original “Jurassic Park” film hit the multiplex, a new style of action filmmaking has obliterated the level of craft in the genre.  These blockbusters – think Michael Bay and “Transformers” – operate under the philosophy of bigger, louder, harder, faster, stronger.

These films have become predictable, boring, and numbing.  We still marvel at the screen, sure, but we have come to expect the unexpected and see the extraordinary as ordinary.  “Jurassic World” invites that childlike sense of awe to rear its head once again after hibernating.  And in true Spielberg fashion, we receive the invitation quite literally through the perspective of a child.

The first time Trevorrow gives his audience a peek at the new Jurassic Park, now rebranded as Jurassic World, it comes as the young Gray (Ty Simpkins) pushes his way through the crowd to get to the front of a tramcar.  He sees the giant entry gates, and the score by Michael Giacchino swells to the tune John Williams made iconic years ago.  In the succession of shots that follows, we see the many amazing dinosaur attractions (along with a plethora of corporate sponsors) and know his wide-eyed wonder is not misplaced.

The visual effects from “Jurassic Park” were impressive at the time, yet they now look a little creaky and dated.  I cannot imagine what technological advances could improve the look of the dinosaurs in “Jurassic World,” which exhibit a breathtaking photorealism, though the CGI wizards will undeniably make me eat those words.

Jurassic World

With the exception of the island overview at the outset, “Jurassic World” mostly plays coy with flashing the fancy effects shots.  Rediscovering the unexpected virtue of suspense in big-budget moviemaking, Trevorrow often builds a scene to a slow boil rather than just pushing down on the gas pedal full throttle.  It takes a good chunk of the movie before he even shows us the movie’s main terror, the genetically engineered Indominus Rex, in full.  So, in other words, very Spielberg.

In everything from his restraint in action sequences to the slow push tracking shots into the faces of the actors, Trevorrow seeks to approximate the directing style of the franchise’s creative life force.  To his credit, “Jurassic World” feels like it could easily be a Spielberg film on autopilot.  Trevorrow, however, seems too busy lying prostrate in bowed reverence to build on the Spielberg style and make it his own.

Apart from J.J. Abrams, Jon Favreau, and arguably Christopher Nolan, this mode of directing has become largely outmoded and unfortunately underrepresented, so it feels refreshing to see someone new trying their hand at it.  “Jurassic World,” while far from being wildly original or game-changing with its storytelling, still provides effervescent entertainment.  Not to mention, the film makes for a welcome antidote to shared universes with their overbearing mythology. When Trevorrow nods to the original film, the allusions are just pleasant treats for older crowds and not essential to understanding the plot.

“Jurassic World” also manages to be sufficient on its own, not just serving as a placeholder or extended vamp-up to the sequel.  While the dinosaurs are the main draw, Trevorrow (along with co-writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly) understand that the humans have to draw and keep engagement.  To headline the new series, they provide Chris Pratt’s Owen, the raptor whisperer with a slight Southern twang, along with Bryce Dallas Howard’s workaholic Claire.  Of course, throw two childless adults and two children into a Spielbergian story, and a surrogate family is all but guaranteed to form.

Owen and Claire’s relationship came under scrutiny for appearing “70s era sexist” earlier this year, “Jurassic World” hardly offers the kind of regressive gender politics proffered by “Entourage.”  Claire begins rather stiff and cold, focused more on visiting corporate representatives than her visiting nephews, the young Gray and the disaffected teenage Zach (Nick Robinson).  She dumps their care on an assistant whose cell phone might as well be a third hand, a decision she comes to regret when the boys come under attack from her latest star attraction.

As tragedy and terror strikes with the escape of Indominus Rex from captivity, Claire grows more active and forceful.  She also knows when to step back and let ex-Naval officer Owen take charge, however, when her energies and intellect are best served elsewhere.  Not to mention, and she does it all in less-than-ideal footwear, recalling a quote from the late Texas governor Ann Richards: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.”

Sure, characterization is a little thin across the board, but I will eagerly line up for their next adventure on Isla Nublar.  There may be hope after all for the popcorn flicks released in the dog days of summer to reclaim their former glory.  B+3stars

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