Building a more perfect ‘Jurassic World’
When the lights in the theater dimmed, I whispered a quiet prayer to the movie gods: “Make me feel like I’m 10 years old again.” When the credits rolled, I thought something else: “That’s all 10 year-old me ever wanted.”
We used to sit at lunch tables and argue about what a sequel should look like. We shouted to each other across the street on walks home about what characters and dinosaurs should come back. We obsessed -- not just me, not just a few kids, but an entire school, an entire generation -- obsessed over how Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” could become even better in a sequel.
Those before us had “Star Wars.” Those after us had “Lord of the Rings.” We had “Jurassic Park,” but it never got better like those other franchises. Author Michael Crichton tried, writing an incredible action movie of a book that would take Spielberg’s considerable filmmaking skills to their limits. Instead, we got “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” a movie that had no bearing on what made the books or the first movie special. “Jurassic Park 3” arrived years later and we celebrated, even if we knew it was bad. At least it had some passable action scenes. That was in 2001.
The void since has been filled with SyFy Saturday night TV movies: “Raptor Island.” “Raptor Ranch.” “Planet Raptor.” Are you noticing a trend? Despite audiences willing to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars, no studio wanted to take a chance on another dinosaur film. It was as if most were intimidated, or didn’t know how to pull it off. The genre remained strangely silent.
Finally, we have “Jurassic World,” and like I said: it’s all 10 year-old me ever wanted. The park that broke down in the first film is now fully operational, handling tens of thousands of visitors a day. Of course, making a movie about it means that everything’s about to break down again. Running the park is Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a no-nonsense executive whose newest attraction is a dinosaur invented from scratch -- a genetic mix of other dinosaurs and modern animals.
If you’ve ever seen a monster movie before, you know this doesn’t bode well, and it isn’t long before her visiting nephews and ex-Navy man Owen (Chris Pratt) are running from a variety of beasts loosed from their pens by the lab-crafted Indominus Rex.
“Jurassic Park” didn’t treat its dinosaurs as action set pieces, it treated them with reverence and wonder. “Jurassic World” has characters fight over that loss of respect, and manages to restore the feelings of awe that made the first film special.
“Jurassic World” also remembers what many viewers forget -- the first film was a horror movie before anything else. “World” doesn’t function like a horror movie in the way “Jurassic Park” does, but it has more than a few slasher style moments, courtesy of the Indominus Rex and the Velociraptors.
Chris Pratt is Chris Pratt, which is to say he’s not too different from his “Guardians of the Galaxy” character. He’s charming yet empathetic, brawny yet goofy. He’s a self-deprecating lead in a self-deprecating film. He’s not good or bad, he’s just perfectly suited for this movie. Previews hide the fact that Bryce Dallas Howard is the film’s co-lead, and she’s exceptionally good. I’m not a big fan of the role they put her in: a woman so obsessed with business that she can’t deal with human emotions properly is a cliché concept. She handles it deftly and gets more than a few action moments of her own.
The true stars of the film are Charlie, Echo, Delta, and Blue ... the Velociraptors. They’ll make you smile, cheer, gasp, and maybe even shed a tear. With 22 years of built up fandom, Velociraptors are too dynamic to just be the bad guys. Every iconic villain gets her chance to become a good guy, and the raptors are no different. It’s almost unthinkable that a movie could make the allegiances of a pack of Belociraptors the emotional hinge that brings an audience to the edge of their seats, but ... somehow, some way director Colin Trevorrow absolutely, unequivocally nails it.
Is “Jurassic World” a great film? To paraphrase a friend after the film, the film’s self-deprecation and satire keep “Jurassic World” from being great, but also make it as good as it can possibly be. I think that’s the best way of putting it: tremendously good, but a hair’s breadth away from being something great. That’s a lot better than most of us thought it could be. Most importantly, it is fulfilling, especially to the 10 year-old me who waited 22 years to see a worthy sequel to “Jurassic Park.” That part of me felt awe again in a way a kid obsessed with dinosaurs doesn’t get at the theater very often. That part of me was moved, and can only think of one word to describe how I felt walking out: ecstatic. When we argued over lunch tables and shouted across the street at each other, “Jurassic World” is the kind of movie magic we imagined.
Three-and-a-half out of four stars. “Jurassic World” is rated PG-13 for violence.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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