It was kind of hard to escape Jurassic World this summer. The fourth movie in the Jurassic Park series (though it conveniently ignored the first two sequels), it was a HUGE smash hit, raking in $1.6 billion worldwide and jumping to the #3 spot for all time box office. Even adjusted for inflation, it sits at #23 for all time box office. Not too shabby.
What was shabby was this film. And I’m going to tell you why.
On paper, I should have fallen head over heels for it. I LOVE dinosaurs. I LOVE dinosaur movies. I LOVE the Jurassic Park series, both books and movies, even the subpar installments like Jurassic Park 3.
Big creatures destroying stuff? Loads of spectacle? A non-stop adventure filled with action? Star Lord running from giant lizards? Sign me up!
Yet I did not love this movie. I didn’t dislike it, but it mostly fell flat with me. Worse still,the more I think about it the more I begin to think … well, that it was actually pretty bad.
Here’s the premise: two young children (one of them a science genius) go to an island that serves as a theme park filled with real life dinosaurs. There they will spent time dodging dinosaurs and while the preoccupied relative who should be looking after them is busy being preoccupied. Meanwhile, a smart outdoorsy type will have to step up and be a hero when dinosaurs that should never have been bred escape and begin wreaking havoc. Amid all this, nefarious outside forces are trying to get their hands on the dino cloning technology (but don’t worry, they get theirs in the end). Also, the T-Rex saves the day by defeating the rampaging super smart dinos.
Yes, that probably sounds awfully familiar. That’s because it’s the plot of Jurassic Park.
That’s okay, though. Jurassic World maybe be a nearly point-for-point retreated of the first movie in everything from characters to themes to plot, but formula is fine, especially if it’s a good formula (and Jurassic Park had a good formula).
Also, Bryce Dallas Howard all grimy and sweaty in a tank top shooting flying dinosaurs and running from hungry lizards is a wonderful thing.
Vincent D’Onofrio as a laughable cliche of a villain, on the other hand, is not. Awful dialogue, ditto. Chris Pratt playing the “only guy in the room who knows what he’s doing and is sooo cool about it” trope, also not wonderful. And concocting a dino that is all but a lizard superhero (clawing out its tracker as if it knew what it was, knowing to lower its body temperature in order to fool heat sensors on its pen and lure people inside, talking to other dinosaurs to get them to switch sides, etc.)? Well, that’s downright silly. Much of this movie is.
Let’s take D’Onofrio, for instance. This guy is a legend. From his landmark performance in Full Metal Jacket to his AWESOME turn as Wilson Fisk in the Marvel/Netflix Daredevil series, the guy undeniably has insane acting chops.
Too bad that in this movie he plays a one-dimensional cliche right out of Bad Ideas For Writers With No Ideas Vol. 3. Evil military type who arrogantly pushes to use weaponize Movie Element X and doesn’t realize what he’s getting into when he does? Never saw that before. It could have worked, though, had D’Onofrio been given decent material to work with. Instead, he mailed in a silly, mustache-twirling performance that was all camp in a movie trying desperately not to be camp, largely because he was given crap that would barely pass muster in a SyFy original movie.
Even many of the gripes above would probably have been easy to ignore if there weren’t so many small things that kept taking me out of the movie. These may sound like nitpicks, but suspension of disbelief is a delicate thing. You have to be able to buy into a world and accept that it exists. Create a convincing world and the audience will follow you through all sorts of insanity. Cause them to doubt the world they see and you’ve lost them. For instance, show me a world where the Force exists and I can buy that a man can move things with his mind and deflect lasers with his laser sword, but I’ll still scoff at a nine-year-old building robots, winning violent podraces, and flying fighters in a space battle.
This is a place where Jurassic World drops the ball. The Jurassic Park franchise is meant to exist in a world just like ours, but in which science was able to bring dinos back. I can accept that. It’s also a world in which corporate interests dabble with things beyond their control in the name of profit, and in which science unchecked does things it shouldn’t do. Classic themes, all, and quite believable.
Theme park? Awesome idea and entirely fits with the concept of this world. Stuff getting out of control? Of course! Tinkering with gene-splicing? Naturally!
But in Jurassic World’s mega theme park, we see people freely kayaking next to herds of freakin’ apatosaurs (ridiculous) and are asked to believe that people would be set free to drive around in a valley filled with stegos and trikes and more apats, with nothing more than a glass sphere to protect them. No roads, no trail markers, not even any security.
No. No. I just couldn’t buy it. Pulled me right out of the movie.
Even in the real world with relatively harmless animals, when you drive through theme park safaris you’re on strictly guided roads, have tons of checkpoints, loads of security watching, and so on. You are not set loose to wander on your own, especially not two kids.
I can believe in the dinosaurs. I can believe in the corporate flunkies and macho military abuses.
I just can’t at all believe in those damn attractions! Yes, I know this sounds a nitpick, but it goes back to suspension of disbelief. The Jurassic Park world is one in which dinosaurs are brought back with science, yes, but it’s also our world. That’s key to the whole concept. It’s meant to take place in a world with the same ‘rules’ as ours. The point is to ask the question, “What would happen if we managed to do this? What would the consequences be?”
One thing we would not do is have people kayak alongside giant dinos that averaged 75 feet long and close to 20 tons and who were believed to be able to whip their tails at supersonic speeds.
If you’re going to set a movie in our world, even if it’s a version of our world with science-created dinosaurs, it needs to behave like our world.
Not having Spielberg on board didn’t help. Big Stevie S. can give even the silliest of movies some heart.
This movie had no heart. Oh, it tried. It also failed. Just like in the first movie, the kids’ parents are getting a divorce. Isn’t that tragic? Not really. I’d call it a pointless subplot, but it didn’t even rise to a subplot. It was a few lines of stray dialogue that added absolutely nothing to the characters or story. Better to drop this element of the movie altogether rather than ham-fistedly trying to squeeze it in there in an effort to humanize the dinosaur bait we’ll be following for the next two hours.
And then there’s the old “two good looking opposites hate one another at first, then fall for one another in the end, but only after almost dying a dozen times” laziness. The forced romance between Pratt and Howard was too big a cliche to take seriously, especially when both Pratt and Howard’s characters were so one-dimensional. Pratt was just another Only Sensible Guy In The Room trying to convince everyone else not to do stupid stuff. Howard was just another Ice Princess Who Needs A Rugged Man To Win Her Over. Yawn.
The supporting cast isn’t much better. The handful of aren’t-we-quirky side characters, such as the helicopter flying boss and techie slob, had all the depth of a Michael Bay character and none of the inane humor.
Empty, empty, empty. This whole thing was empty.
The more I think about the movie the more I dislike it.
That’s too bad, because it’s not a total failure. The spectacle is larger than life (though it’s shot with none of the pizzazz Spielberg manages to muster), dinosaurs frickin’ rock, the CGI was largely excellent, the big dino brawl at the end was goddamn AWESOME, and did I mention that I adore Bryce Dallas Howard? Because I do. Wash her and bring her to me.
On second thought, don’t wash her.
Plus I liked that the movie stayed mostly family friendly and fun. No profanity, most of the violence merely implied, the humor was light, and so on. Easy to see why it was a huge hit. It was the popcorn formula personified, ideal for families to enjoy together.
But man, don’t think about it too much, because once you get past the T-Rex and Indominus Rex (snicker) fighting, this thing is dumber than a teenage boy in a Victoria’s Secret locker room.
No, wait, one last thing. This video, while funny, is also right on about 80% of these humorous nitpicks:
Okay, now it’s the end.
And the end is, if you actually think about what you just watched, Jurassic World kind of stunk.