'Jurassic World is a perfectly passable blockbuster with a B-movie heart -- but why on earth would you want to watch something so unremarkable when Mad Max: Fury Road is still in theatres and gets better on each viewing?' asks Raja Sen.
Two years ago, they released a 3D version of Jurassic Park in theatres.
I reviewed it and was astounded how the experience remained magical despite the CGI-graphics goalposts having moved tremendously in the 20 years since we first saw the original.
All the big-screen wonderment I’d devoured as a pre-teen back in the day stayed intact. I could take or leave the 3D, honestly, but the film, that joyous, fascinating, frightening film, stayed as exhilarating as ever.
And that has little to do with the creatures and everything to do with the bearded man in charge. Dinosaurs may be extinct but a Steven Spielberg film is forever.
This is why the rebooted Jurassic World -- which starts off shadowing the beats of the original film, even referring to it -- seems entirely unnecessary when the old one still works great.
The fact we live in cash-cow-worshipping times is made abundantly clear as the film opens. Jurassic World is a giant, glossy theme park where you can ride past brontosauruses in a clear bubble and where dinosaurs have become so commonplace that jaded teens look at their smartphones instead of looking up at a creature that snacks on sharks.
An employee wears a tee-shirt with the old Jurassic Park logo on it -- he bought it for $150 off eBay -- and one of his seniors, Claire, is disgusted by it.
'Don’t you think it’s in poor taste?' she cringes.
'Well yeah I know people died and stuff...' he admits, but he’s still proud of the old one. Like he says, that first park was legit.
The new film, directed by Colin Trevorrow, starts off like Adventures In Babysitting, only with dinosaurs.
Claire -- played by a ridiculously high-strung Bryce Dallas Howard -- has two nephews visiting Jurassic World on the day things get chaotic, the younger one a dinosaur freak with trademark Spielberg-movie tousled blond hair.
The theme park’s owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) has -- because of focus groups wanting more wow in their meat-eaters -- commissioned the creation of a new dinosaur, one with more teeth, one that is 'cooler.'
This creature, called the Indominus Rex, a cocktail of varied dinosaur and animal DNA, is one helluva mashup and -- you guessed it -- she gets loose.
There is a lot of action, with each setpiece bigger and louder than the last, but the thrills run oddly cold. Sure, rampaging dinosaurs can be a blast, but Jurassic World is never threatening, never menacing.
This is partly because this is a pure and simple B-movie (and boy, can Bryce do a shrill Wilhelm Scream) which, compared to the original, just doesn’t cut it.
Howard is kinda fun despite the hamming, Chris Pratt -- as the film’s leading man, a leather-waistcoated raptor trainer called Owen -- is perfectly good in an old-school kind of way, but they all have one-note characters who remain utterly unmemorable.
It may seem unfair to look at Trevorrow’s film next to Spielberg’s classic, but it hews so close to the original that comparisons are inevitable. The director, possibly speaking through the character wearing the Jurassic Park t-shirt -- played by Jake Johnson, who starred in Trevorrow’s excellent little film Safety Not Guaranteed, one of my top 10 films of 2012 (external link) -- seems to know it as well. This film is larger than life, efficient... just like, say, a Pepsisaurus would be. It takes more than technology and budgets to deliver bonafide wizardry.
When I hear John Williams’ Jurassic Park theme music, a dozen things jostle to the top of my head: Jeff Goldblum’s uber-cool mathematician and his chaos theory, Dr Grant and his refusal to have children, Richard Attenborough toying with ethics, that weird lawyer, those raptors snapping menacingly at the children, and, above all else, that glass of water that changed everything.
The difference in spirit between this film and the timeless original can be encapsulated with that blockbuster staple, The Hero Introduction Shot.
In Jurassic World, we see a silhouette shielded by glare, following which Chris Pratt appears on screen, tough and efficient and likeable, more like Burt Macklin than a real person.
In Jurassic Park, the Hero Shot happens when Sam Neill holds the top of Laura Dern’s head and turns it toward the T-Rex, causing her to drop her jaw, pull off her sunglasses and scramble to her feet.
Spielberg, as always, knew who his hero was.
Jurassic World is a perfectly passable blockbuster with a B-movie heart -- but why on earth would you want to watch something so unremarkable when Mad Max: Fury Road is still in theatres and gets better on each viewing?
Trevorrow is a bright filmmaker but clearly is lost with this material. Let this be a lesson, Hollywood. Gamble willingly with hungry young directors but let them follow their own vision instead of herding them into franchises and reboots. For there is a world of difference between an indie filmmaker and an Indy filmmaker.