I haven’t watched the original Jurassic Park in ages, but like millions of people around the world I have very fond memories of it. My particular memories are of re-watching that movie endlessly with my younger siblings during our stay in Moscow just before we emigrated to Australia (along with The Lion King, dubbed hideously into Russian by some hack with little grasp of English who made it up as the movie went along). No matter how many times we watched it, the dinosaurs just never got old. I remember enjoying The Lost World when I first watched it at the cinema, but I can’t remember a thing from it other than the scene with the raptors in the field, and I haven’t even bothered with the third movie. The latest Jurassic World was a mixed bag; on one hand it was fun and definitely didn’t feel like a cynical cash-grab I’ve been half-expecting, but it also had major problems which ultimately made it feel rather throwaway.
I really enjoyed the park setting and the amount of effort spent to make it feel like a real place I’d want to visit, with various activities, attractions, merchandise and educational material on offer. There’s an area with cute baby dinosaurs for small kids; a show centred around the feeding of Mosasaurus, a giant aquatic dinosaur who dines on sharks; different options for dinosaur safari – the more futuristic one involving people travelling around in giant glass spheres. The dinosaurs themselves were very well done, though I still feel that, even with the best CGI animals, there remains a nagging sense of weightlessness; I still can’t 100% believe that they’re real creatures you could touch. There were plenty of clever little nods to the original movie, and while I’m not a big fan of the current wave of nostalgia in the movies it’s hard not feel a nice warm glow when John Williams’ iconic theme kicks in.
The park is run by the bioengineering company InGen, who believe that, in order to keep the public’s interest and attract more sponsorship, a bigger badder dinosaur needs to be designed (“dinosaurs just aren’t enough” also seemed like a knowing wink at the current state of the movies where special effects just aren’t enough anymore). There’s quite a lot of build-up before the new dinosaur, dubbed Indominus rex, is revealed, but to be honest other than the sheer size there’s nothing particularly special or imaginative about it; velociraptors are still the dinosaurs with the most style and personality in these movies. Still, the scenes with Indominus, as it escapes from its enclosure and rages through the island, are tense and very well executed. In general, the dinosaur action is fantastic. The sequence with the escaped flying dinosaurs attacking the park visitors is awesome and the final fighting sequence is probably the most over-the-top dinosaur fest in the franchise so far, in the best possible way that made me grin ear to ear. I still can’t see though why anyone would think that setting raptors on Indominus is a great idea; yes they’re fast and tough but it’s like setting a bunch of vicious street cats on a tiger.
Where the film really falls short though is the characters. Chris Pratt plays Owen, a dino whisperer who’s found a way to train the park’s raptors. His relationship with these fearsome creatures is probably the only believable relationship in the entire movie; you can really feel that while he clearly has some authority he can never ever forget how dangerous they are. Other than that, there’s really not much to the character, he’s just your typical hero who’s always right; that he registers at all is thanks to Chris Pratt’s natural charisma and likability. Owen gets to clash with the clearly evil Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who wants to militarise the raptors and train them into weapons of war – a subplot I found infinitely tedious. I felt my eyes glazing over whenever this character opened his mouth.
Bryce Dallas Howard (who I’ve always liked and who deserves a better blockbuster character) is Claire, an uptight control freak in charge of the park’s day-to-day operations who once dated Owen. Claire’s nephews, who she hasn’t seen in several years, are shipped off to the island to remain in her care while their parents deal with their impending divorce. Kid characters can be tricky, and while these two aren’t annoying or awful they’re bland and boring as dino shit. There was some attempt to show them deal with their parents’ divorce and do some brotherly bonding, but it all fell flat and evoked zero emotion.
The movie’s treatment of Claire came under fire upon its release, and while I don’t know if I’d single her out in a film where every character is flat, the criticism is still valid. For the first half of the movie, it felt like Claire couldn’t get through a single scene without exhibiting cartoonish career woman behaviour, and other characters lecturing or shaming her for something: her attitude to the park and its creatures, her inability to remember her nephews’ ages, her shoes, etc. But all that was just a setup for her character arc later on! Sure, I could buy that. There’s nothing wrong with the “career person with no soul learns to care for others and appreciate the family” trope. But I don’t think that the movie pulled it off.
For starters, there’s a scene just before all hell breaks loose where Claire talks to her sister, and seems to be genuinely sorry that she’s neglected her nephews and promises to spend a whole day with them. So really, she didn’t need to go through all that adventure to learn a valuable lesson about family, because she was already remorseful before it even began. Also, while Claire worries about her nephews a lot, I got no sense that these three formed any real bond or got to know each other better by the end of the film. In the original movie, Sam Neill’s Alan Grant had a somewhat similar arc – but he really got to spend time with the two kids and build a relationship with them. Here, Claire and her nephews don’t have a single meaningful exchange, and it doesn’t help that, right after Claire does her first genuinely heroic act and saves Owen’s life, she doesn’t get any newfound respect from the boys. Instead they instantly hero-worship Owen for no reason other than him being a tough-looking guy with a gun. It’s like the movie is so anxious on maintaining Owen’s badassery that he must re-assert his masculinity and grab Claire in for a kiss right after she rescues him, and then be commended for being a badass not once but twice by the kids. Fair enough, the scene where Claire comes by a dying dinosaur and sees it as a living being rather than an “asset” is effective, and she does get to save the day in the end. But these things don’t add up to a satisfying whole. And man why can’t there ever be a believable romance with real chemistry in summer blockbusters?
Claire’s heels didn’t bother me though. Owen cracks a joke about them once, but as much as the movie treats Claire as a punching bag in other respects, it never uses her high-heeled shoes for the sake of “hahaha a dumb girl runs around the jungle in impractical footwear hahaha”. Whether or not they’d realistically break is another issue, but at least they don’t seem to inconvenience her in the slightest.
A- for dinosaurs, D for humans.