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Review: Why ‘Jurassic World’ is Such a Huge Disappointment

Review: Why 'Jurassic World' is Such a Huge Disappointment

READ MORE: ‘Jurassic World’ Director Colin Trevorrow Lands Hush-Hush Next Project

More than two decades since the release of “Jurassic Park,” few
American blockbusters have captured the same kind of unfettered
childlike wonder. Steven Spielberg’s ability to transform the
potentially absurd portrait of dinosaurs eating people into awe-inducing
territory defines Hollywood filmmaking of the highest order — pure
spectacular cinema with big, sharp teeth. It’s the opposite of the
“stupid movie” paradigm so often associated with movies of its scale.

“Jurassic
World,” the fourth entry in the no-longer dormant series, is exactly
that kind of stupid movie. The endlessly charismatic and sexy Chris
Pratt stars as Owen Grady, an ex-Navy guy who now trains velociraptors
for InGen, the pseudo-evil company that still hasn’t learned from John
Hammond’s mistakes. Bryce Dallas Howard, also very solid, plays Claire
Dearing, the park’s operations manager. Claire’s nephews (Ty Simpkins
and Nick Robinson, the latter of whom looks an awful lot like a young
Sean Astin), from whom the professional, preoccupied Claire is
estranged, are visiting the park for a couple of days. Anyone familiar
with the franchise in question knows the drill by now: The children
eventually end up in peril and our heroes have to go rescue them.

“Jurassic
World” makes its intentions clear from the first shot, in which a CGI
dinosaur claws its way out of a CGI egg while the credits adorn the
screen. The park’s scientists have gone from the measured characters of
the first entry to borderline lunatics, having engendered a new dinosaur
that’s part T-Rex, part raptor, part cuttlefish, and part frog. It very
quickly breaks loose and starts slaughtering nameless extras.

The
film seems to be commenting on its own existence with the suggestion
that people aren’t impressed by typical dinosaurs anymore; they need
something bigger, louder, scarier, and with a lot more teeth. So the
producers — Spielberg included — cooked up a bigger, louder, toothier
dinosaur that’s nowhere near as scary as Spielberg’s T-Rex in the 1993
original. Adding to the CGI ensemble is a gargantuan sea-faring
dinosaur, a Mosasaurus (basically a reptilian shark), which technically
puts Spielberg’s “Jaws” to shame.

But part of the reason why both that monstrous shark and the aforementioned T-Rex inspired fear and thrill in equal
measures was that they managed to seem real, rather than the exaggerated
critters on display here. Taking cues from Indominus Rex, “Jurassic
World” reeks of artificiality with its hodgepodge of bits from older,
better beasts.

Still, those seeking a nostalgia trip won’t be
entirely disappointed. The film is riddled with references to “Jurassic
Park,” including a handful of cameos from the earlier movie’s dinosaurs
as well as the animated instructor Mr. DNA, and the cafeteria infamously
invaded by a pair of hungry raptors. Whether any of these details are
fan service or the writers and director trying to beat critics to the
punch — essentially acknowledging that this has become a franchise of
diminishing returns — remains uncertain. But the allusions are only
occasionally clever enough to come off as anything but pedestrian.

The
lame dialogue and lack of character development would be fine if
Jurassic World” offered up the kind of thrilling, suspenseful qualities
that made “Jurassic Park” such an endearing piece of filmmaking. No such luck. This should come as no great surprise: Director Colin Trevorrow has just one previous credit to his
name, the charming sci-fi romance “Safety Not Guaranteed.” Spielberg, on
the other hand, brought over 20 years of filmmaking to the table when
he made “Jurassic Park.” Trevorrow showed some potential for portraying
tender interactions against a semi-imaginary backdrop, but other than
that, there was little reason to assume he could pull off this kind of
chaotic big budget endeavor.

That being said, some of the humor
from his previous film has survived the transition. The best moments in
“Jurassic World” stem from the characters’ deadpan reactions to various
wondrous sights. Trevorrow excels at small comedic moments, but he
doesn’t have that innate knack for rhythmic thrills, or Spielberg’s
mastery of anticipation. Whereas Spielberg might slowly push or pull or
tilt a camera to heighten tensio, Trevorrow follows modern convention
and cuts back and forth recklessly during the bigger man-on-beast
showdowns. There are no memorable images or set pieces here that will
engrain themselves in any viewers’ pop-culture consciousness as
“Jurassic Park” has for a generation of viewers.

Yet one can
detect the filmmaker trying to do just that. When the Indominus Rex
chases Pratt through the jungle early in the movie, Trevorrow attempts
to follow three separate situations at once, bouncing back and forth
between the monstrous Rex chasing Pratt, the people watching the
dinosaur on a monitor, and Howard driving a car, yelling into her cell
phone. The last of these situations only serves to lessen the level of
engagement surrounding the other two. By contrast, when the T-Rex
attacks the kids’ car in “Jurassic Park,” Spielberg cuts to Sam Neil and
Jeff Goldblum watching, in complete horror, before deciding to take
action. Every single cut and shot adds to the mounting anticipation — 
from a hand desperately wiping fog from the windshield to that glimpse
of uncertainty on Goldblum’s face, the first time his character has been
anything other than smug.

Trevorrow’s movie never slows down
enough for any similar moments to register. The biggest problem with
“Jurassic World” is evident from its title: There’s just too much of
everything. A bunch of people die, but none of them matter. Only a few
of the corpses are even identified; the rest are just CGI bodies being
chomped apart by CGI dinosaurs. There’s no gravity or danger when the
effects are so obviously just that.

By comparison, CGI is used
with incredible sparsity in original “Jurassic Park.” Computer effects
buttressed the still-impressive animatronics and puppets rather than
overtaking them. That T-Rex attack in the rain? A real-life animatronic
was created by the inimitable Stan Winston. The clever raptor who eats
the Australian guy? Literally just a big expensive puppet that was
tossed through some branches at a stunt man. Twenty years later, it
still gets the job done; CGI, on the other hand, can only look as good
as the standards of the era when it was made.

For the most part,
“Jurassic World” jettisons puppets and animatronics in favor of mostly
incredulous CGI. The one instance of an animatronic dinosaur, whose
textured skin Pratt touches in close-up, marks one of only a few moments
when the movie approaches a credible sense of awe — partly because
Pratt sells us on the moment, and partly because the dinosaur looks
genuine.

Of course, a movie about genetically-modified dinosaurs
doesn’t have to be realistic, but it still requires an internal logic to
make its impossible conceit work on its own terms. That feat has been a
key component in Spielberg’s career over the years: As with “Jaws,” the
director measures and times the excitement in “Jurassic Park,”
sustaining a palpable rhythm and inserting the big thrills at calculated
moments. Instead of pandering to the simplest of viewer expectations,
Spielberg strips his movie of the extraneous stuff – the babbling that passes for witty dialogue in most blockbusters has been
carved down to pure exposition and a few clip-worthy quips delivered by
Jeff Goldblum.

Trevorrow, like so many directors given the
responsibility of delivering a straightforward blockbuster designed to
satisfy bottom-line expectations, struggles to find the balance between
silly and serious. When the T-Rex finally charges into frame, in glamorous slo-mo, “Jurassic
World” seems to be shrugging into a bland emulation of its predecessor.

Grade: C+

“Jurassic World” opens nationwide on Friday.

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