I’m not really sure what kind of expectations you should have of a fourth installment in a franchise that’s now over 20 years old. I guess it would have been nice to watch something substantially different to the three previous films, but alas rather predictably that’s not to be: in the summer blockbuster Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow spends rather a lot of time re-treading old ideas, staging variations on old set pieces and re-showing old sights, and though it’s still an entertaining way to fill a couple of hours it also means there’s little chance that this film will be remembered as fondly as Steven Spielberg’s wondrous Jurassic Park.
After the disasters that took place in the first three films the old Jurassic Park has been shut down and cunningly rebuilt and re-branded as Jurassic World, a theme park that brings to mind a few of the more prominent real-life Floridian equivalents through its design, shows and rides. It’s certainly just as commercially-minded as the likes of Walt Disney World or Sea World, with the logos of various companies appearing almost as regularly as the tame dinosaurs themselves (product placement in this film is unnecessarily aggressive and suspiciously confined to the less chaotic first half). The general public doesn’t seem to be put off by the island’s gruesome history, inconceivably, and Irrfan Khan’s owner Masrani has taken steps to ensure his park stays packed by genetically cross-breeding bigger, faster, stronger dinosaurs. Clearly lessons have not been learned, though reminders as to the fate of Jurassic Park and its former employees can be seen everywhere: old merchandise and equipment is seen from time to time, as well as buildings, which are tellingly now overrun by nature.
Chris Pratt is in the ‘Alan Grant’ role this time round, playing velociraptor trainer Owen Grady, who furrows his brow regularly while staring at the giant, rampaging lab-bred dinosaur Indominus Rex. Bryce Dallas Howard is his underwritten companion Claire, the park manager who sadly seems happy to discard all of her authority and nous when it is most obviously required. She manages to keep her high heels on throughout the movie, despite being repeatedly chased through the jungle, which seems even less plausible than the basic concept of the Jurassic series. Neither Howard nor Pratt set the world alight here but they both manage to get through some terrible lines of dialogue with conviction, to their credit.
There is much here that we’ve seen before. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson play an adorable moptop and a sullen teen who are caught out in the wild when dino-mayhem begins. Several characters, including B.D. Wong’s familiar geneticist, half-heartedly debate the rights and wrongs of interfering with nature even though such a discussion is taking place at far too late a stage as per usual. Vincent D’Onofrio is this film’s bad egg, a one dimensional ex-military contractor out for personal gain. If these characters sound familiar that’s because they are all variations on those that populated Spielberg’s original, with similar backgrounds and motivations.
The characters are not the only way in which the screenplay (partly written by husband and wife team Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, responsible for the recent Planet Of The Apes reboot) covers old ground. Once again we see the most dangerous dinosaur break out of its holding pen and make light work of the security and barriers designed to keep stray carnivores away from the general public. We see our heroes tending to a sick, dying brontosaurus in an open field. We see the frenzied attacks of the velociraptors (although, in fairness, they had to include the frenzied attacks of the velociraptors). We see humans regularly hiding under or next to jeeps while giant dinosaur heads eye them up at close range. We see marauding dinosaurs gaining ground on the film’s stars in rear view mirrors. And so on and so on. Given the story and its similarity to the earlier film it is a difficult task for Trevorrow to step out of Spielberg’s shadow.
There are, sadly, some questions that are not addressed by the end of the film. What has happened to Omar Sy’s character, for example, who is last seen without transport in the middle of the jungle? And why isn’t anyone remotely concerned about the T-Rex that’s still wandering about the park with a taste for blood? I’d have preferred it if these questions had been answered properly, particularly if it meant the shedding of a mawkish finale in which moppet face and sullen boy are reunited with their parents, who deserve locking up for sending their offspring to Isla Nubar in the first place.
Even though it is little more than a re-tread of those earlier films (particularly Jurassic Park), Jurassic World still entertains: it’s impossible to be bored when computer-generated dinosaurs do battle on a big screen, the chase scenes are tense and there is some sharp self-referential humour (the whole idea that audiences want bigger, stronger and faster dinosaurs is, of course, a tacit acknowledgment of the changing tastes of blockbuster audiences). John Williams’ soundtrack gets another welcome airing, too, and it evokes a similar sense of awe and wonder as the theme park is revealed for the first time. Unfortunately Michael Giacchino’s original music sadly pales into insignificance next to it. So yes, there are plus points, but keep your expectations low.
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow.
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Based on characters created by Michael Crichton.
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan.
Cinematography: John Schwartzman.
Editing: Kevin Stitt.
Music: Michael Giacchino.
Running Time: 124 minutes.