Nice Splice: Narrative Hasn’t Evolved in Trevorrow’s Dino Reboot
If there’s one aspect depicting the fickle nature of the human consumer the latest chapter in the dinosaur franchise reboot Jurassic World manages to get right, it’s the impossibility of pleasing those jaded and desensitized audiences in search of tapping into their initial sense of wonder. And so, twenty years after Steven Spielberg’s 1993 juggernaut Jurassic Park, wherein two mediocre sequels have added to the familiarity factor (including the original director’s inability to match his initial exuberance), we’re gifted with a sequel that’s, production wise at least, the best of the franchise’s offspring. But while much energy was placed in jazzing up creature effects, Colin Trevorrow can only go so far with a conventional script he also tinkered with alongside Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly. Basically, this is the same old song and dance with a slightly modified new dress, exuding the continued dependence on cutesy distraction in place of mounting tension.
Gray (Ty Simpkins) and his older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) are being shipped off to visit the dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, the successor of the failed park twenty years prior. Their mom Karen (Judy Greer) tearfully sees them off at the airport, sending them off to meet their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who manages the park located on the same Costa Rican island. The boys haven’t seen their aunt in seven years, but that doesn’t stop her from having her assistant meet them when they arrive. A rigid Type-A control freak, Claire is busy orchestrating the unveiling of the park’s newest exhibit, the Indominus Rex, spliced predator that’s mostly T-Rex mixed with a variety of other ‘classified’ genes.
It seems the public has already grown tired of regular old dinosaurs, so the park has been forced to recreate excitement with new and improved reptilian creations. Concurrently, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) is in charge of a team training velociraptors to respond to human commands. He wishes to weaponize them, but his Navy recruited head trainer, Owen (Chris Pratt) isn’t down with this rationale. Owen seems to have a sort of bond with a band of four raptors he’s trained since they hatched. However, his charms don’t seem to have the same effect on Claire, at least judging by their referenced romantic interlude. She’s irritated the park owner Masrami (Irrfan Khan) wants Owen to inspect the durability of the new dinosaur’s cage. But as soon as Owen arrives to share his expertise, it looks as if the advanced tyrannosaur has already escaped, and endangering the twenty thousand tourists currently wandering around the theme park.
While the original Jurassic Park took a little bit of time developing its characters as we waited in anticipation for the unveiling, we get very little to chew on here. Minor domestic dramas tinge the annoyingly rendered siblings, here representing the endangered youth factor, while wan sexual tension transpires between Howard and Pratt, just enough to sail us into the hopeful horizon of the credits following the resolution. D’Onofrio hams it up as the despicable, clueless human hell-bent on using the reptiles as weapons of war, claiming robots can fail in combat.
The rationale behind all this seems silly, as the film sells us the ridiculous aspects of its plot with poker faced seriousness while it allows cutesy interaction to predicate nearly every moment of intense dinosaur violence. We can’t take Jurassic World seriously because the film doesn’t take itself seriously. It would’ve been nice to have one cynical character address why humans have so unwisely opened a dinosaur theme park after the collapse of the first one (and apparently those other two undesirable sequels never happened in the universe onscreen here). Instead, we get only one direct connection to the origins, an incredibly campy BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu appearing for brief stretches of exposition.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow, his sophomore feature following his indie darling debut Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), he seems a curious choice to reestablish a franchise that last roared fourteen years ago with Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III (2001). He belongs to a certain trend of fresh blood being funneled from indie success to studio property, not unlike Gareth Edwards taking on Godzilla (2014). But for all of the self-awareness this film exudes on how it has to tackle the task at hand and please the hordes with a sense of movie magic wonder, it makes the same frustrating mistakes as every other plundering sequel. A little bit of characterization can go a long way, and while Pratt and Howard are enjoyable and entertaining as these ‘types’ of people, we’re never convinced to fear for them. Likewise, there’s nothing that sets Jurassic World up as its own chapter. Sure, it has some nice set pieces, borrows some military-like combat stuff from Aliens (1986), a pterodactyl attack inspired by The Birds (1963), and Howard in a Penelope Ann Miller moment from The Relic (1997), but it’s got nothing of its own merit to stand on.
Ludicrously, Bryce Dallas Howard wears stilettos throughout the entirety of the film, from the marshy mire of the jungle through various life threatening instances, insinuating either her character isn’t intelligent enough to remove them or those writing her prize demeaning and dated depictions of women. In another twenty years, we’ll still remember Jurassic Park. But the inevitable continuation of the franchise will soon reduce the shelf-life of this latest revolution.