WASHINGTON, June 29, 2015 – “Nothing about Jurassic World is natural.” That line is delivered about halfway through “Jurassic World” by the park’s geneticist, Henry Wu, played by B.D. Wong, formerly of “Law & Order: SVU.”
While Wu’s observation accurately describes the predicament the characters in the movie have gotten themselves into, it also serves as an unintentional meta commentary on the entire Jurassic Park/World franchise.
The Jurassic Park movie franchise has always been a treasure trove of science fiction thrills. Its effect on audiences depends on a viewer’s appreciation for dinosaurs, as well as a viewer’s inherent need see those ancient lizards come back to life, if only through the miracle of CGI.
That need goes a long way toward covering up some of the larger leaps of scientific logic this series continues to take, even within the context of the rules that underpin the films in this ongoing series.
There’s a lot to absorb and swallow when it comes to Jurassic World. It all goes down much easier if the viewer is already on board with the premise before this latest “Jurassic” movie even gets underway after the usual ten minutes of hyped up big screen trailers and commercials.
One of the larger elements of “Jurassic World” is the nostalgia the audience somehow feels, which has always been one of the larger underlying themes in the entire series.
There is nothing inherently new for us to know about dinosaurs, based on scientific principles alone. Everything we currently know about them has been dug up and pored over endlessly by scientists trying to fit the puzzle pieces of the past back together. The information is deep and extensive.
Dinosaurs are a natural phenomenon so fantastic that it feels like a novelty, a fantasy. Yet at the same time, encountering a “nostalgia” trip in a way, since we’ve actually known a great deal about dinosaurs’ existence for at least a century now. This combination of novelty and nostalgia is a large part of the appeal of anything involving these amazing creatures, from picture books to feature films.
“Jurassic World” tries to get beyond the “dinosaurs are cool” meme, the better to return to the franchise’s original premise linking the wonder of it all to the reality of modern creative genetic science – in this case gone terribly wrong.
“Jurassic World” begins to unfold a good 20 years after the timeframe of the original movie. As we join the current story, we learn that this real-life Jurassic sanctuary has evolved to become a massive success as a resort/theme park, despite the disastrous failings of the original park.
The current film follows several of those early narrative tropes. But where the original “Jurassic Park” was brightened, at least initially, by its characters’ genuine sense of wonder, “Jurassic World” seems to accept this re-created dinosaur world as somewhat commonplace, a known and accepted phenomenon.
With the exception of the youngest character Grey, everyone else in the film projects a sense of “been there done that.” Even Chris Pratt’s raptor trainer Owen seems as everyday normal as his real life 2015 counterpart might be working in a big city zoo. That’s because, in a world where people are now used to dinosaurs hanging around in the environment again, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that someone who’s started out training or caring for tigers in a big city zoo could readily apply similar care and training techniques to these somewhat larger carnivores.
In following this train of thought, we’re hardly surprised that when the first minor catastrophes propel the narrative forward, the characters’ reaction is almost matter of fact in a way, as in “well, something like this might be expected to happen occasionally.”
Hardly anyone digs in and grasps that a genetically modified dinosaur, a master predator essentially similar to the original model, has the potential to put over two thousand visitors of the resort in severe danger. It just seems too obvious to matter much. Very few of the film’s nonchalant or overconfident characters seem to treat such possibilities with sufficient gravity, outside of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire, and possibly Owen. There’s a certain, weird normalcy to the way the narrative progresses.
Unfortunately, the narrative itself is where this movie begins to feel unnatural. The whole situation is crafted so that everything about “Jurassic World” is inherently bonkers. Right from the start, the atmospherics clearly telegraph that anything on this island can and probably will happen.
We sense this during the first appearance of the gigantic megalodon performing tricks right out of Sea World. This kind of CGI eye candy is such perfection that it tells us something is sure to go wrong, and not too far in the future, either.
What makes the movie feel inorganic is how quickly it shifts from science fiction into a pretty standard thriller, and a half-baked one at that. Characters continually act either without discernable motivation or with some mysterious motivation that’s never really explained.
It’s not necessarily that the characters themselves are dumb. Instead, they’re weakly crafted, two-dimensional caricatures that move where the plot tells them to so everything can proceed from point A to B. But each successive plan to deal with the growing danger is given less and less logical support making failure an expected outcome.
After a while, Jurassic World just spins out of control, as if the writers simply gave up and built a series of scenes they’d like to see. As it would be cool to see a dinosaur that had a bunch of monstrous traits not necessarily associated with dinosaurs, inventing the deadliest creature imaginable. Or how about seeing raptors on the hunt with humans—that’s a neat idea, especially if it involves Chris Pratt, even if you shoot the story with sporadic cutting between muddy nighttime visuals and shaky night-vision camera work. Or maybe watching pterodactyls pluck people off the ground, carry them into the sky and drop them to their doom, or into the mouth of something larger. Cool. Another neat visual, as if this film doesn’t have enough of these already.
The movie starts to feel as if there isn’t that much connective tissue tying the cool visuals to the characters or anything else within the film. We simply travel from speculative science fiction to a standard (if spectacular) thriller before finally getting back to the elements of a standard monster film. If you try to focus on anything resembling a storyline, you eventually get mental whiplash.
In the process, interesting ideas that could be more fully developed, like genetic modifications that could turn some of these deadly animals into military weaponry don’t get near the attention they might deserve. Even the close connection between Pratt’s Owen and the raptors feels slighted until it becomes relevant to the plot again.
Essentially, a film that could have made a more interesting statement or provided a more rewarding lesson becomes yet another summer action potboiler, albeit one with plenty of eye candy and chases.
All this probably doesn’t matter very much, we suspect. Each of the three movies preceding “Jurassic World” had its problems to varying degrees. But people still seemed eager to come back for more. For vast number of people, this film’s messy, chaotic, empty-headed plot and characters won’t matter.
Much like point-of-view characters Gray and Zach in this film, it seems that most people heading through the turnstiles to see “Jurassic World” just want to stare at dinosaurs in awe. Everything else in “Jurassic World” is superfluous.