Sunday, June 14, 2015
What were the makers of Jurassic World trying to do? The new film is obviously an attempt to restart a franchise we haven't heard from since 2001, but it is also a sequel. The mayhem and death of the original trilogy are very much on the minds of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the new park's manager, and her well-intentioned billionaire boss Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Masrani sees the new park as a statement of man's humility before nature, but as Claire can't help reminding him the park's operating costs are on a distressing upward curve. If Jurassic World has an idea behind it it's that a combination of arrogance and financial concerns can cause people to behave stupidly. That's a premise that owes more to Michael Crichton than to Steven Spielberg, and it's one that here produces an unusually sour and dull film.
A film in which Chris Pratt plays an ex-Marine who trains dinosaurs should by rights be much funnier than Jurassic World. Pratt plays Owen, who when he's not whispering to velociraptors is busy arguing with a contractor (Vincent D'Onofrio, having fun) who wants to weaponize them. Owen is a kind of new-age eco warrior, sensitive to the fact that he's working with animals whose needs transcend the numbers on the park's balance sheet. When things are at their worst later in the film there comes a moment when D'Onofrio's character wants to use the raptors to hunt a rogue dinosaur. Owen resists even though lives are at stake, and the character's stubbornness is as odd and humorless as the rest of Pratt's performance. I'm not sure who thought it was a good idea to make Pratt's character so boring but I'll blame director Colin Trevorrow, who made this winning film but here seems to be punching above his weight. Pratt seems so ill at ease here that the idea of him as Indiana Jones seems ludicrous, but that's a topic for another day. Owen runs and shoots capably enough, but he lacks charm in the same way the rest of the film lacks a sense of wonder. Trevorrow, working from a script he co-wrote, puts forth the idea that the park has become overcrowded and somewhat vulgar. The two kids (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) we follow through the park have a hard time seeing any dinosaurs because there's usually someone standing in their way. This is a funny idea, but nothing interesting happens to develop it. Instead we get an exhaustive amount of detail about the park operations, though Jake Johnson (as a hipster into Jurassic Park nostalgia) and Lauren Lapkus liven up their scenes as a chatty pair of control center operatives.
The crisis at the heart of Jurassic World is the escape of an "Indominus Rex", a sort of artisan mega-dinosaur crafted from blending DNA in the park's lab. We're lectured at regarding the folly of humans playing God and also subject to a good deal of dino-on-dino violence that carries no weight. Indeed, the human lives on the line don't matter much either. The death scene of a CGI brontosaurus is one of the few moments the movie slows down, but I wish the rest of Jurassic World hadn't been in such a hurry to go nowhere.