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Film Review | Jurassic World

If Jurassic World wanted to be its own beast, it shouldn't have mirrored Spielberg's classic so closely - as such, it comes across as a pale, cynical imitation.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
22 June 2015, 8:29am
Bone to pick: Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard in the fourth installment of the Jurassic Park Franchise
Bone to pick: Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard in the fourth installment of the Jurassic Park Franchise
To say that Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park (1993) is something of a milestone for modern pop culture would be to utter an understatement so extreme it may just puncture a T-Rex paw-shaped hole in the ground. In a move that is, actually, par for the course of Spielberg – after all, his Jaws is often seen as the precursor of the big American box office smash as we know it – ‘Park’, an adaptation of the Michael Crichton bestseller of the same name, defined the cinema-going experience for an entire generation.

(It certainly was the case for me – it being the first film I enjoyed at the cinema, just a year shy of landing in Malta for the very first time.)

But, true to the law of diminishing returns, nothing could quite match that first trip to the titular dinosaur park, and sequels The Lost World and Jurassic Park III have not been kind on the franchise’s reputation.

But, this being the age of the gratuitous reboot, a less-than-stellar track record isn’t going to stop movie moguls from capitalizing on the (undeniably magnetic) brand recognition that Jurassic World rides on.

That it never rises above this cynical foundation is deliciously (toxically?) ironic, since the entire premise of this fourth installment hinges on the dangers of free market capitalism allowed to run rampant.

Following through with dinosaur-park entrepreneur John Hammond’s vision despite the carnage that arose in the wake of the first Jurassic Park, the high-tech theme park Jurassic world in Isla Nubar, Costa Rica has just opened to visitors. Run by the ambitious Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s main attraction is the souped-up dinosaur hybrid Indominus Rex.

But when the creature breaks out of its secure confines to run amok, it falls to former military man and animal expert Owen (Chris Pratt) to save the visiting tourists – Claire’s holidaying nephews being among them – from the Rex… and the horde of fellow dinosaurs it releases in its rampage.

The slogans ‘It’s just a summer blockbuster’, ‘it’s stupid but fun’ and the like often get bandied about to brush off any criticism of films that broadly form part of Jurassic World’s ilk. But this is a misguided assumption, because our most beloved works of populist entertainment are often built on a foundation of keen intelligence and careful craft – not the hare-brained pile-up of clichés that we get here. We just take that stuff for granted because it tends to unfold more or less in the background, doing its invisible work of hooking us deeper into a fantastical world by catering to our universal concerns.

Spielberg was always a master at this. But Jurassic World’s young director Colin Trevorrow is clearly in over his head, doubtlessly slaving under sizeable studio pressure and to a committee-written script, with nary a way of sneaking a personal touch in.

 

So where in Jurassic Park you got a sensitive and touching treatment of two kids undergoing a coming-of-age rite of passage to dinosaur mayhem, while Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) learns to quell her maternal anxieties through her relationship with the imperiled youngsters, here you get a stripped down, unconvincing version of the same: the film shames Claire’s decision not to have children and appears to imply that this is to blame for her lack of ethical fiber, while the kids themselves – Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) – are sometimes resourceful, sometimes weepy ciphers.

And where the original was driven by a genuine spirit of scientific enquiry and wonder – as personified by the twinkly-eyed John Hammond (Richard Attenbrough) and the charismatic Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) – here it’s all smothered by mustache-twirling evil scientists (BD Wong), their military collaborators (Vincent D’Onforio) and a muddled, overarching critique of the perils of capitalist greed.

But the cruelest cut of all is Irrfan Khan’s Simon Masrani – a lazy mish-mash of both Hammond and Malcolm, and a borderline-racist rendering to boot: being of Indian extraction, it of course falls to him to express the ‘spiritual’ and ‘intuitive’ options above all others, and to keep banging on about the park’s principles and philosophy even as it’s being torn apart by rabid hybrid-lizards.

But what about the dinos, I hear you scream. “That’s what we came her for, right?” Honestly, the less said about that, the better. Where Spielberg made history through his innovative combination of CGI and practical effects to craft movie monsters that defined a generation, here we have a project that coasts on what he helped build without injecting any fresh ideas into the mix.

That, sadly, sums up the entire remit of Jurassic World in one fell swoop.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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