Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jurassic World / *** (PG-13)

Owen: Chris Pratt
Claire: Bryce Dallas Howard
Gray: Ty Simpkins
Zach: Nick Robinson
Hoskins: Vincent D’Onofrio
Simon Masrani: Irrfan Khan
Lowery: Jake Johnson
Vivian: Lauren Lapkus
Barry: Omar Sy
Dr. Henry Wu: B.D. Wong

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Colin Trevorrow. Written by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connelly, Based on concepts created by Michael Crichton. Running time: 124 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of science fiction violence and peril).

The whole concept behind Hollywood sequel making is counter to the notion of criticism. While a critic tries to guide and educate an audience on what will entertain and enlighten them, the purpose of a sequel is generally to make money off of fulfilling an expectation of the exact same approach to the exact same effect as the previous—or best—film in a franchise. So it is left to the critic to merely report whether the filmmakers have achieved a repeated effect or have failed. When you get a tent pole film like “Jurassic Park” that is filled with spectacle and thoughts, it becomes problematic for the studios, which inexplicably feel the need to reproduce the spectacle but rarely the insight.

Spectacle minus the insight was certainly the problem with the previous two movies in the “Jurassic” franchise. In fact, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic Park III” were so lacking in any sort of science fiction themes and insight that the latest in the series—the long-awaited reboot “Jurassic World”—totally ignores the existence of the second and third films. In doing so it returns the story to the roots of its science fiction foundation. Once again the characters are dealing with the themes of the original film about the dangers of playing God with science, the impossibility of containing nature and even some new ideas about the need of some humans to push every scientific development toward weaponization.

So, twenty years down the road Richard Hammond’s dream of a theme park based on living dinosaurs brought back through DNA manipulation has come to fruition in a successful amusement park based on the story’s original island, Isla Nublar. Claire is responsible for the day-to-day running of the multi-billion dollar park under great pressure from her somewhat free-thinking boss—the park’s owner Simon Masrani—to increase profits with every new attraction. Claire’s sister has sent her nephews, Gary and Zach, to the park for a behind-the-scenes vacation while she and her husband work out the details of a divorce. Claire isn’t really as committed to the personal touch with her relatives as she is to the business of running the park, especially with their new attraction just about ready for its debut. So, the boys will pretty much be on their own. They just have to ditch the babysitter employee assigned to them by their aunt.

Meanwhile we meet one of the park’s animal wranglers, Owen, an ex-military loner who is some sort of dinosaur whisperer. He’s managed to train the raptors due to their intelligence, but their relationship is tenuous as it is in the raptors’ natures to always look for the upper hand. Blue is the omega leader of the raptors, while Owen acts as their alpha. Owen is under pressure of his own from a former military man, Hoskins, now a mercenary in the employ of Masrani to develop the raptors for military application—where the real money is.

While the original “Jurassic Park” spent great portions of its running time in character conversations where they discussed the thematic criticisms involved with the manipulation of DNA to introduce a species that nature had selected for extinction in great detail, the thematic elements of “Jurassic World” are much more of an underlying element of the plot. The spectacle takes the reigns in this movie, which seems bent on showing us every type of application there might be to an actual living dinosaur in an amusement park. We see the dino petting zoo and the ride a triceratops kiddie park. Some attractions just show the wide-eyed patrons how dinosaurs work in nature, as with the T-Rex paddock, where the patrons are kept protectively distant to the dinos. There are even some more interactive rides that place the patrons right in the middle of a natural dinosaur habitat featuring dozens of different dinos while riding in a gyrosphere.

Certainly director Colin Trevorrow knows how to keep the action moving in this, his second feature after the oddball science fiction romance “Safety Not Guaranteed”. Perhaps his experience with a more character motivated plot in that film allowed him not to mute the special effects enough to prevent them from totally taking over the production. His cast helps him a great deal. Chris Pratt continues to ride his unforeseen success as an action star here as Owen. Despite the fact that Bryce Dallas Howard’s character’s fashion choices threatened to steal the show with people’s post-viewing Internet comments, she makes for another good and unlikely action star. Trevorrow also immigrates one of his stars from “Safety”, Jake Johnson, in for some comic relief as a park controller who seems to have the perfect commentary for every poor decision made by his superiors.

While “Jurassic World” isn’t the science fiction classic that its birth mother was, it makes for an intelligent—and more importantly—infinitely entertaining summer blockbuster. Employing Michael Giacchino to score the movie also retains the immensely engaging spirit of John Williams’ original “Jurassic Park” score to uphold the tension throughout a story that is remarkable similar to the original. Including a new thematic element with Vincent D’Onofrio’s mercenary Hoskins character also adds just enough freshness to the film to keep it viable for fans wanting a little growth between films. It’s no surprise that “Jurassic World” was such a huge hit this summer, as it hit all the necessary points that a successful sequel must.

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