In 1999, I remember watching 'Deep Blue Sea', a schlocky, sci-fi horror film about a bunch of scientists (including Samuel L Jackson) and a pack of deadly, intelligent sharks. At the time, I hadn't yet watched Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws' (1977), whose legacy assured me that it was the definitive shark-horror film. "But how could it be better than 'Deep Blue Sea'?" I wondered. "We have better special effects now!"
Of course, a few years later, I watched 'Jaws' and realised it was indeed the better film for many, many reasons despite its slower pace and lack of obvious, in-your-face moments. It's possible to imagine a newer generation watching 'Jurassic World', the third, amped-up-to-11 sequel to Spielberg's 1993 classic 'Jurassic Park', and thinking the same thing.
For here, the theme park is bigger and the monsters scarier. You thought the Tyrannosaurus Rex was the most terrifying animal that could've existed? 'Jurassic World' introduces a new dinosaur called the Indominus Rex, which sounds like the paleontological equivalent of 'unobtanium'. A hybrid creation by the scientists-who-never-learn on Isla Nublar, 22 years after the events of the first movie, this terrifying animal is a Godzilla-like monster that escapes its enclosure and is intelligent enough to strategise. Y'know, to give the film's (four) writers a chance to write a line that goes: "They're communicating!"
All right, so this isn't a movie that's trying to break new ground. Big deal. Why can't we just buy tickets for a monster movie, eat our popcorn, go "whoa" every now and then, and then go home? Of course you can, and you will with 'Jurassic World', which is for the most part a loving tribute to the original, with references writ large across this movie's running length. The sweeping shots of the helipad surrounded by lush green hills and stunning waterfalls, set to music by Michael Giacchino (with occasional snatches of John Williams's iconic theme); a T-Rex being led by a terrified woman, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), with a lit flare in her hand; and the actual jeeps from the original movie with the old logos on them -- they're all there and there's no way anyone who's watched the original won't spot the references. The only thing missing in this movie was Wayne Knight.
The movie's director and co-writer, Colin Trevorrow ('Safety Not Guaranteed'), relies on the franchise's nostalgic power as well as updated special and creature effects to take viewers on a journey that takes a different path but winds up at the same destination. Jurassic World has become a giant, successful theme park owned by Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, who is now officially the new Ken Watanabe i.e. Hollywood's go-to Asian character actor). With 20,000-odd visitors and two decades of market research, there are a multitude of new attractions -- ranging from a petting zoo of cute, herbivorous dinos to a Sea World-like arena showcasing a giant, aquatic creature that swallows entire sharks whole.
Claire's young nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), are two visitors to this park, of which she is operations manager. She is a stickler for procedure and is wound up super-tight, so of course we need a male character who can shake her up a bit. This arrives in the form of macho Owen (the always likable Chris Pratt). An ex-navy officer who now trains velociraptors (possibly the most badass work experience of all time, that), Owen is both the voice of reason and the hero of the day as far as the film is concerned.
A still from 'Jurassic World' with Chris Pratt.
With a basic 'this is what happens when you meddle with nature' premise, the film introduces a subplot involving Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), a security head for Ingen (the company from the original movies) who wants to use the raptors for military warfare.
No one's expecting Tarantino-esque dialogue or character development from a movie like this, of course, but 'Jurassic World' has a knack for pretending like its characters are scenic elements that happen to be able to move and talk. Why do two kids, one of them a pre-teen, not look more terrified while running away from a monster unlike anything they've ever seen? Why do hundreds of visitors run past four people in a car as they're attacked by winged, carnivorous creatures instead of attempting to climb in with them? How do 20,000 people panic without causing a single stampede?
Because perhaps this is nostalgia speaking, but there was a certain menace as well as a sense of wonder in the original that seems to be missing here. When Laura Dern ran to reset the park's circuit breakers in a raptor-infested area, we saw genuine terror on her face and felt it ourselves; 'Jurassic World', on the other hand, is more interested in letting us know that Howard is running in heels. As was the problem with the other sequels (especially 'The Lost World'), the sense of destruction, grief, and anger should have been more palpable with thousands of lives involved; instead, the body-count functions as an element of thrill rather than an emotional yoke.
Nevertheless, Trevorrow's hold on the proceedings is firm and it helps that the visual effects are absolutely first-rate. As the movie hurtles towards a massive climax that becomes a chance for at least one raptor to display admirable acting chops, it redeems itself and ends up becoming the best among the sequels in this franchise. However, in its effort to pay tribute, it misses out on the vital human touch that made 'Jurassic Park' one of the most enduring blockbusters in Hollywood history.