Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jurassic World

Wow! What a surprise this movie was! Even after seeing all of the Jurassic Park series for my FlashBack Friday reviews, I couldn't be more excited for a return to Isla Nublar. There's a reason this was so high on my list of most anticipated films for 2015. It's been a long time since Jurassic Park III was in theaters; so long that I'm now twice the age I was at the time of its release back in 2001. Coming off of two sub-par sequels, this franchise was primed for a nostalgia-heavy reboot with updated visual effects. While that sounds like an adequate placeholder in order to cash-in on the popularity of the property, I am so grateful that Jurassic World offers so much more to an audience hungry for another thrilling adventure like the first film gave us over twenty years ago. 

It's been twenty years since John Hammond failed to launch his vision of a Dinosaur theme park, but since that time his successors have been able to accomplish what he could not - an island with "living biological attractions so astounding they will capture the imagination of the entire planet." The park is open, and has been for several years, but despite having an aunt working at the facility, brothers Zach and Gray are just visiting the park for the first time. Thirteen year-old Gray is in awe of the spectacle the park has to offer, while Zach either stares at his phone pining after his casual girlfriend or at the bevy of attractive girls all around the park. During their visit, the park owner is working to bring a new dinosaur to the viewing public... one that has been genetically modified to increase its size, aggression... and intelligence...

I'm avoiding spoilers entirely in this review, so I'll stop my plot introduction there. Director Colin Trevorrow may be new to the franchise, but he's done an incredible job creating a vision that was original while also staying true to what came before. In pre-release interviews I've read, he continually speaks to his love of the original film, and that love is on display throughout every frame of this movie. One of the things he's done so well that no one has managed since the original Jurassic Park (which includes Spielberg himself) is humanizing the prehistoric creatures to the point where we truly do empathize with them. That's even a theme of this movie; treating the dinosaurs as living, breathing animals instead of assets designed to earn a profit.

Not only do we care about the dinosaurs, but we care about the human characters in this film, which may be even rarer for a Jurassic Park movie. Our point-of-view characters are mainly the two boys visiting the park for the first time, and the circumstances that lead to their parent-less trip to the island as well as their subsequent character arcs easily make them the most fleshed-out child characters of the entire series. Another pair of characters I loved were Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas-Howard). They bring in a complicated relationship with a backstory that's only ever hinted at in the film. But they have chemistry to spare, and both turn in great performances in their own right. Pratt cements his place as an action star with his raptor-taming tough guy, though he maintains his lighthearted humor that we all fell in love with from films like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie. I wasn't quite sold on him as a possible Indiana Jones a month ago (as the rumors have repeatedly suggested), but after seeing him in Jurassic World I actually think he would be perfect for the part.

Another theme that Trevorrow brings to the story is actually new and oddly relevant to our current culture - excess and desensitization. Despite having dinosaurs brought back to life that people can actually see face-to-face (and even ride in an adorable petting zoo with triceratops and brontosaurus infants wearing saddles), attendance still sees a decline after a certain amount of time has passed since opening their latest attraction. Kids look at their phones rather than the dinosaurs in front of them, and others somehow grow bored with the biological miracles surrounding them. It's this phenomenon that leads the Masrani corporation to dip their toe in a controversial area of genetics where they create a terrifying hybrid of a T-Rex and other animals they refuse to disclose. Christened the Indominus Rex, this freshly-brewed monster is a living nightmare whose intelligence cannot be underestimated... though, of course, the park runners place too much confidence in their power to contain it. This may be the most horrific thing ever seen in a Jurassic Park film, and throughout the movie we're constantly appalled by the devastation this creature can inflict.

Now, I've heard a lot of pre-release speculation and murmuring about Owen's pack of Velociraptors in this movie. For those of you who may be worried about this, let me put this to rest right now. The raptor pack is not only insanely cool, but it's perfectly justified. These aren't creatures that are tame or even docile; they're fierce predators, kept on a razor's edge of killing their human alpha at any second. Trevorrow is fascinated with the relationship between man and ferocious beasts, and he displayed that very effectively in this movie. Their allegiance to Owen is not undying, and one of the most suspenseful things about this film is the constant fear that these man-eating creatures will turn on their trainer when we least expect it. But beyond that, you actually start to care about the raptors as well (Echo, Delta, Charlie, and "Blue"), even as they constantly pose a serious threat to the main characters.

The last thing I have to mention here is the score, done by the prolific Michael Giacchino. While there are shades of his other films in the music for Jurassic World, the main theme he's introduced is a great counterpart to the iconic score by John Williams. He's also got a knack for scoring frightening moments throughout the film, intensifying the attack scenes ten-fold thanks to the music's influence. Like I said during my review of Tomorrowland, I'm grateful that his gorgeous music finally has a great movie to go along with it.

Overall, I don't really have anything to complain about here. Sure, some of the minor characters aren't fleshed out... but neither was Dennis Nedry, or Donald Generro, or Robert Muldoon, or Ray Arnold in Jurassic Park (and some might argue that the major characters fell victim to that as well). Being a sequel to an incredibly influential film, it's hard to argue its originality - though for what it is I think it's incredibly inventive. The action scenes are grip-the-armrest intense, and it's definitely too violent for children. But, if you're a fan of this series at all then I can almost guarantee that you will love this film. You can turn off your brain if you want, or you can actually use it and find fascinating and thematic subtext that most reviewers seem to be missing.

For me personally, Jurassic World is far and away the best movie of the year so far, and I'm starting to wonder whether anything else in the coming months could possibly surpass it. I hesitate to rank it within the franchise, but I can safely say it's the first Jurassic Park movie to ever hold a candle to the original... and in some aspects it may even surpass it. This movie is a terrific nostalgia trip that brings subtle call-backs where appropriate, while also delivering a fascinating new world and thrills to a new generation. I'm not ashamed to admit that there were several points in this film that I almost shed a tear... and one moment where I couldn't stop myself. It's a beautiful, dark, intense and even humorous experience, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I'm giving it four stars, so go see Jurassic World!

JURASSIC WORLD is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science fiction violence and peril

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