Bryce Dallas Howard Chris Pratt

Jurassic World Review: Wonder No More

Friday, June 19, 2015 Rob Samuelson

Jurassic World

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins
Rating: Three stars out of five.
Available in theaters now.

The slight name change that accompanies this fourth entry in the Jurassic Park franchise is about more than holding up a warped mirror to massive theme parks like Disney World. It marks a full embrace of computer generated imagery by the series, which began in 1993 as a pioneer of the technology, but only used it with surgical precision -- original director Steven Spielberg, the person on the planet who most intuitively understands filmmaking, only unleashed the computers when he couldn't get the animatronics to do what he required.

Now, getting with the times for better or worse, Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow uses CGI for nearly everything, whether it's necessary or not. The film opens with a shot of a handful of dinosaur eggs in a lab as they begin to hatch. This is an intentional callback to the original movie's raptor hatching scene. But here it is all done with pixels instead of plastic, rubber, and whirring gears. Make no mistake, both these techniques are pure fakery designed to draw a response -- one person's "storytelling" is another's "manipulation" and such -- but the CGI of these claws poking through the eggs simultaneously makes these baby animals look far more powerful than they are -- they will grow to be immensely dangerous, but not as hatchlings, which was the point of the scene being referenced -- and like they have no weight to them at all. It's the same contradictory physics problem that has plagued many blockbusters for the last half decade or so. Digital artists can fill up the screen with images that are, frame by frame, depictions of pure beauty or wonder or horror, but when pieced together in a sequential pattern, as required by the medium of film, it looks like these computer-generated objects, people, or in this case, dinosaurs, are floating through space, not quite present. It filters to the actors sharing the screen with these creatures, as they cannot interact with their ostensible costars.

That is not to say the actors in Jurassic World are the issue. Chris Pratt, while reigned in in the overt humor department, a mistake for a performer so adept at making people laugh, still finds a level of absurdity in his character, Owen, a macho sexist who lives in a secluded man cabin to build motorcycles when not training velociraptors. Complaints about Owen's -- and by extension the movie's -- regressive sexual politics are valid, but it seems intentional to make him a bit of a buffoon so he can overcome his foibles later and become a better person. That he doesn't really address those problems is a storytelling rather than moral issue, ignoring a thread that flattens his character arc into a straight line -- too many dinosaurs to fight to change as a human being. Trevorrow and company are too concerned with numerous "hero" moments meant to make Owen look cool -- "Your boyfriend's a badass." -- than having him learn lessons. He starts out correct in his argument with Vincent D'Onofrio's villainous military man out to turn the park's dinosaurs into weapons, and he ends the film just as correct. The filmmakers' likely good intentions -- though there is doubt when you take into account one brutal death sequence for a woman included in the movie for nothing other than shock value -- here are negated by poor follow-through in craftsmanship.

Bryce Dallas Howard, as Claire, the corporate head of Jurassic World's theme park operations, fills the scientific hubris role a film like this thinks it requires. The storytelling doesn't let her down as much as it does Pratt, but she does most of the hard work to create a character who learns from (some of) her mistakes and grows, even if it's not as much as she could. Her mounting horror doesn't prevent her from, at times, wanting to have her cake and eat it, too, in regards to the safety of the guests at the park. Wild dinosaurs are on the loose, but she thinks the park's status quo security teams can handle the genetically modified dinosaur specifically designed to be anything but the status quo. It's a fatal mistake, and many people pay for it -- although she doesn't in any way other than guilt. That there are no witch hunts for her or accountability makes this a dark turn in what is essentially a lark of adventure. Or maybe it's more lackadaisical writing -- we like her because we are told she's a good person, so we don't want her to be punished, so they don't punish her.

These factors contribute to Jurassic World being a jumbled, sloppy movie, but it remains fun and not wholly lacking in intelligent decisions. The theme of constant pressure to go bigger makes plenty of sense within the context of making the movie itself, plus it connects to how our inability to ever be fully satisfied with even the most extravagant things ruins us. While it would help to show more of the other side of the coin, the wonder of experiencing something truly novel -- which Spielberg did with grace in the first film -- the desire for more, more, more is a powerful one. Trevorrow's callbacks to the original movie are more organic than hackneyed -- why wouldn't the Mr. DNA cartoon host stick around and become a beloved mascot? -- and Pratt's raptor training makes sense in the way we get to see sea lions perform tricks at the zoo.

But it is still a jumbled, sloppy movie that only succeeds in spots and only in spite of itself.

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