Jurassic World is a Monster movie with a capital M. The original Jurassic Park wasn’t. Therein lies the problem with this movie and why I was in equal parts entertained and simultaneously disappointed. I’d hoped for something a little more, but unfortunately it isn’t thoughtful science fiction like the first film, nor is it a character based thriller like Jaws. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster-on-the-loose film pure and simple- but set in a dinosaur theme park. Put that way, it sounds pretty fun and I think I’ll enjoy it much more the second time. But on first viewing, I have to admit to spending an awful lot of time rolling my eyes, facepalming and feeling disappointed as well as thrilled. To be honest, a lot of this film is just bloody preposterous.
One of the worst plot offenders is the painfully silly and groan-worthy ‘using dinosaurs as weapons’ subplot. Really? Its been done before, and not very well, in Alien Resurrection and it was stupid then too. That said, the creatures don’t disappoint for the most part. The hybrid monster is sensational, making a terrifying first appearance and then taking on a squad of soldiers in a fantastic Predator-esque jungle sequence. Lots of nods to that film and also Aliens (monitoring the soldier’s life-signs as they flatline one by one). The Mosasaur is also an awesome franchise addition and a personal favourite, and the Raptors are very well done. The action ups the ante to ludicrous levels as the film goes on however (although I did a silent ‘yes’ when they say “we need more teeth” heralding the return of an old friend from JP1). The Pterosaur attack was daft (it’s highly unlikely those fish-eaters would immediately attack humans en-masse for no reason) but in a way gives a tip of the hat to Hitchcock’s The Birds, as well as leading to a fabulous character death. However the constant contrivances begin to fray ones’ suspension of disbelief -almost to Michael Bay levels- and undoes a lot of the respectful attitude to animals the first movie cultivated so well.
I thought the CG was variable- for the most part really good, but clearly quite cartoony in other places. It’s obvious that the budget went mostly on the film’s new girls on the block: a quartet of semi-intelligent Raptors, the Mosasaur, and the superb Indominus Rex- all of which looked excellent I thought. But this did seem to come at the expense of other animals such as the Triceratops and sauropod herds, and also the T-Rex. They don’t always look convincing.
The theme park itself is wonderful and is made to look like a real theme park- it’s stunning and richly detailed, availing itself of a lot of the cinematography that made the first film so engrossing (although sadly not capitalising on it). I had no problem either with the ‘Raptor training’, and indeed the early scene of Pratt attempting to mollify his overexcited beasties was superbly done- showing them as still as wild animals that remain extremely dangerous despite a modicum of rudimentary training. Chris Pratt’s Owen is the human highlight of the film and although his character is a cookie-cutter ‘reluctant hero with a rogueish charm’, he completely owns the role and doesn’t just repeat his Peter Quill persona.
Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Claire is more developed but less interesting, and I wasn’t sure if I liked her or not. The frisson between her and Pratt has chemistry, but is at the same time extremely cliché. She’s the prim and uptight career woman and not a fan of the wild (bit of a cross between Willie Scott and Sally Albright) who pretends not to like the blokey charms of rough-round-the-edges Owen. Still at least they don’t have an obligatory kiss. Oh wait. They do. Her means of ‘stepping up’ also amount to taking off her shirt and pushing out her Lara Croft chest (her assets barely in containment). She goes full-Ripley by the end of course (bravely acting as Dino-bait for the finale), but her character is hardly progressive and seems a backward step from, say, Mad Max’s Furiosa. Despite the film passing the Bedchel test (female characters talk to each other without mentioning men), I can see why some feminists would not be Claire fans.
On the flip-side of that, the movie can be commended for showing the franchise’s first ever female character(the hot babysitter/personal assistant) to be eaten on screen. It’s pretty special and possibly my favourite scene in the film: a wild rollercoaster (for her as well as the audience!). Zara getting gulped has been the subject of much controversy though- the main criticisms being that a) she didn’t do much to deserve it (sorry, do animals have in-built morality detectors? And what about the heroic Eddie in The Lost World?) ,and b) that it was wrong to show a woman being brutalised/ toyed with before dying (isn’t the Mosasaur that ate her also female, though?). Sorry feminists, but you can’t have it both ways; if you want equal representation in film, then women can't be exempt from being red-shirts, whether it’s deserved or not. Woman up.
So besides courting moral controversy, does Jurassic World have a lot to say? Not much we haven't already heard. There’s the usual ‘anti’ stance against militarisation, profit-driven science, and a big whack at consumerism and our insatiable clamour for ‘more’. This makes JW a curiously self-referential parody, however, given the film’s shameless product placement. In the end, Jurassic World is a monster of a monster B-movie that homages a host of other films such as Jaws, The Birds, Aliens, Predator, Avatar and of course Jurassic Park. Nothing less, but sadly nothing more.