If Jurassic Park was ultimately a cautionary tale about how badly one can screw things up when tampering with science and playing God, then Jurassic World is instead a cautionary tale about how badly one can screw up a blockbuster sequel despite having all the time and money in the world to get it right. Colin Trevorrow, armed with just a single feature directorial credit under his belt (the likably quirky time travel-centric indie Safety Not Guaranteed), gets to play God this time around, overseeing the relaunch of Universal’s massive dino franchise while Spielberg again lurks in the shadows as an executive producer. Hollywood is always dipping into the pool of fresh indie directors to pluck new talent and keep the blockbuster waters teeming, so inevitably some gambles will pay off better than others. Based on his disastrous effort here, Trevorrow is clearly a bust.
His lack of experience with set pieces, CGI, and shooting for a 3D conversion mars the experience often. Even something as familiar as the series’ star velociraptors look borderline amateurish in comparison to their appearance in the 1993 original movie, since with more complex digital textures on the creatures comes a jittery look affected by the 3D and a shininess that makes suspending disbelief far more difficult than it should be in 2015. Trevorrow does his best to ape Spielberg’s classic style of action directing, but while he succeeds in achieving a certain clarity of image at times, he epically lacks the imagination, energy, and ingenuity of Spielberg, who had already helmed some of the best blockbusters ever when he took on the first Jurassic gig.
In all fairness, asking Trevorrow to fill Spielberg’s shoes and aim somewhere near the sense of awe that Spielberg made us anticipate from this franchise is perhaps too demanding, so let’s ease off the expectations and ask for something closer to the compact B-movie thrills of Joe Johnston’s third entry in this series. After all, Johnston, a veteran himself when he made the 2001 threequel, has always been a sort of Spielberg Lite, cut from the same cloth as the Jaws icon, but with a much lower thread count. Perhaps Trevorrow can fill those shoes or at least squeeze into them for a day.
Apparently that’s still asking too much, because in addition to the problems with the visuals, which are generally wrecked by rusty scissor-style editing, Jurassic World has a script that not even Spielberg could sell as branded toilet paper in the now functioning park’s gift shop. This is execrable nonsense and it leaves me utterly dumbfounded that Trevorrow’s picture took an already heavily rewritten script that’s been floating around for over a decade and even delayed production at one point to punch it up to the point of being good enough to shoot. If this is what Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly, working from a script previously rewritten by other credited writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, figured was production-ready, then the thought of whatever they had on their hands originally should be enough to make even a T-Rex shudder.
It’s difficult to picture a script that cobbles together an open park, a raptor-training alpha male hero (Chris Pratt), a corporate ice queen (Bryce Dallas Howard), her two annoying nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), and a genetically mysterious hybrid dinosaur being any more clunky, idiotic, generic, and pitiful as this one. The closest Trevorrow should ever come to dropping his audience’s jaws is in response to how gallingly awful the writing is here. And it’s not like David Koepp, who wrote both of the Spielberg-directed Jurassic flicks, set a high bar. Koepp is a competent hack at best and his mechanical, workmanlike scripts are one of the reasons that the original Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World come up a little short in comparison to Spielberg’s blockbuster masterpieces like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Spielberg’s take on Crichton’s resurrected dinosaur tale is easier to appreciate in light of Jurassic World’s existence, though. Apparently creating a flashy action movie with state-of-the-art dino effects and making it not offensively moronic is a tad more challenging than previously assumed. And Trevorrow’s movie actually has a decent point to make, that once we’ve become accustomed to awe, it’s tough for the architects of awe to recapture that feeling and impress us all over again. Such is the logic that Howard’s Claire and new park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) use to justify the creation of the Indominus Rex, a new dinosaur attraction cooked up in a lab to really knock the socks off park patrons that feel like they’ve already seen it all.
The challenges of inciting awe are faced by Trevorrow, too, since that’s the chief response most viewers had to Spielberg’s picture 22 years ago and now moviegoers are much more difficult to wow, so spoiled by the endless possibilities of digital effects and $200 million budgets are we now. It seems a neat way to tie the movie’s message about corporate greed into the movie’s interaction with its audience, but Trevorrow and that damn, damned, damning script are unable to make the point stick because such a dreadful job is done of both capturing the park experience and providing us with anything remotely new and exciting in terms of dino action.
Sure, we finally get an aquatic creature, in this case a gargantuan mosasaurus that breaches the surface of a large pool to chomp down on a great white snack (a jab at Jaws, perhaps?), but the trailers have already covered its charms well enough and, like every animal not named velociraptor or Indominus Rex, the movie has precious little time for it. There are nice ideas for the park itself, like a river rafting trip and a baby dinosaur petting zoo that’s quite cute in concept, but Trevorrow absolutely refuses to pause and take a breath with these attractions.
It seems that the benefit of having a story where the park is now open for business is that you can finally allow the movie audience to live vicariously through the onscreen audience and experience John Hammond’s dream of a prehistoric wonderland in ways that only cinema can offer. So just try wrapping your head around why Trevorrow reduces that rafting trip attraction to a shot that literally lasts less than five seconds only to get back to Pratt’s cardboard Owen arguing with Vincent D’Onofrio’s blustery villain Vic or Claire trying to figure out why the super dinosaur she had a hand in creating acts so super-powered.
That’s where another problem with the script comes into play. The movie needs to have some rampaging dinosaur-driven conflict or it can’t be a conventional crowd-pleaser, but the park being open now means security is higher than ever and simply turning off the power like Dennis Nedry did in the first movie would be too recycled even for this movie, so something else has to give. What Trevorrow and his band of co-writers come up with is basically that the Indominus Rex is way more difficult to contain than its handlers ever considered and it simply outsmarts them.
Underestimating one’s own creation isn’t some new mistake (Dr. Frankenstein did it with his monster nearly 200 years ago), but since Jurassic World is so committed to its human heroes, it paints itself into a corner by making the people all way too stupid for their own good. It’s nearly impossible to cheer for horrible characters that stoke the fires of conflict so moronically, making the only logical response be to cheer for the I-Rex. That’s not the movie that Trevorrow is making here, so we get the annoying kids being annoying, Claire being a screaming damsel whose idea of getting tough is tying up her fancy business shirt to show a bit of cleavage, Vic bellowing whatever, and Owen being the hunky guy that impresses the kids because he’s just so manly. Gender tropes, you’ve just been Trevorrow’d.
Keeping the character development at surface level throughout the whole movie is a particularly dull flaw that means Robinson’s older brother character Zach is literally defined by nothing more than his desire to adolescently ogle every pretty girl in the park and Simpkins’ Gray is just a recast version of Timmy from the first movie, except he gets a treacly scene where he reveals to Zach that their parents are getting a divorce, a point that is then ignored almost as abruptly as it appeared. It’s an attempt at heartstring-tugging so weak that it feels like a crass parody of Spielberg’s reputation for sentimentality.
Kids in Jurassic movies have never fared too well, but the adults have generally been far more interesting and understandably better performed. None of the characters work in World, though, and most of the decisions made are so bad that you can practically sense Trevorrow standing in the wings, ready to scratch your head for you. Pratt, who exhibited lovely comic timing in last year’s boisterous winner Guardians of the Galaxy, is practically humourless here and his charms dissipate as a result. D’Onofrio, so imposing and magnificent in Marvel’s recently released Netflix Daredevil series, is at his most boring and disengaged here. It’s not entirely the fault of the actors here, of course, since even though Howard hasn’t been particularly good in a role in years, the cloud that hangs over Claire owes its origin to the script more than the star.
Jurassic World feels like the work of an alien who has only observed humanity through media, never having actually interacted with real people. There’s not a single moment in Trevorrow’s movie where the humans feel, well, human. They’re hideous sacks of simplified emotions, clearly obeying narrative rules instead of convincingly making decisions. It’s easy to look at Hollywood’s fascination with superheroes nowadays and pick apart the ways in which big screen characters have become systematically upgraded from their mortality, but even the cheesy ragtag bunch found in the Fast & Furious movies have chemistry and attitudes that we associate with actual people. The denizens of Jurassic World are more akin to plastic goo squeezed into human-shaped moulds. The movie would then be a lot better if it owned up to that and made the dinosaurs the true heroes since few things would be more entertaining than seeing the screen be rid of these irritating excuses for characters.
Originality is nowhere to be found here, though, so things just continue going through the motions, cribbing constantly from the first Jurassic Park movie, except with a director who seems incapable of building tension, hitting us with good jump scare moments, and hiding the stupidity of all that is happening before us. Finally, Trevorrow reaches his endgame, which involves reenacting a portion of the finale from Spielberg’s first Jurassic pic almost shot-for-shot. As inevitably happens nowadays, attempts are made to up the ante by way of piling on more CGI, but it does little to mask what’s really going on.
This isn’t just honest homage or a winking reference; it’s a full-on shameless rip-off. The fact that a fourth Jurassic movie took this long to get to the screen and it boils down to a misguided mess of nostalgia vomit is utterly, insultingly ridiculous. Even the intermittent use of John Williams’ iconic theme is more sad than stirring since it’s quickly followed by the surprising blandness of Michael Giacchino’s score. Giacchino is usually a brilliant composer and previously reconfigured the iconic Star Trek theme to great effect, but he’s been in a rut this summer between his Tomorrowland tunes and this derivative crap. To be fair, absolutely no one is doing inspired work here, which makes the fact that a restaurant in the park is named after the late great effects wiz Stan Winston feel more rude than respectful.
So we finally get to visit a functioning dino park and all we get is an artless forgery. The way Trevorrow and the writers steer the narrative back into dead end territory in such a ramshackle manner is at least worth a derisive chuckle, since clearly Universal will demand more sequels and yet there’s no more room left to move around in this universe. At least the series can’t get any worse. There’s a message in here somewhere for anyone who can be bothered enough to care. Don’t feed the dinosaurs? No, that can’t be it. If this is the direction that Spielberg, Trevorrow, and Universal actually, actively want to take the series in, then don’t feed the franchise would be a far wiser warning.