Box Office Democracy: Jurassic World

If I had been given a vote I would not have supported making another Jurassic Park movie. It’s a franchise that I’m not sure even qualified as a franchise until this weekend. The original film is a masterpiece, one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in a theater, a movie that defined cinema for an entire generation. The sequels, by contrast, feel like hastily assembled Frankenstein monsters cobbled together from good parts of the first film and whatever script fragments were in the Amblin Entertainment dumpster. All sort of movies in the 90s got two sequels that would never demand this kind of attention but Jurassic Park is special and Jurassic World is a movie that deserves to be a part of something special.

The thing that makes Jurassic World special, aside from the innate sense of wonder that comes from seeing exceptionally rendered dinosaur special effects, is the performance of Chris Pratt. Even though I strongly think that getting so much of handsome action star Chris Pratt is robbing us of the fine work we could be getting from gifted comic actor Chris Pratt it’s hard to deny how effective he is. The movie misses him dearly when he’s not on screen while it bounces between being a little boring and interesting but because someone is in imminent danger of being eaten. The character they gave Pratt, a velociraptor trainer who operates like a circus lion tamer, could easily have been a disaster on par with Indiana Jones in that refrigerator but he somehow makes it believable. Pratt is so good he draws attention away from the rest of the cast being sort of bland and forgettable. No one will ever be quite as good as Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm but it’s fantastic to see someone trying for it.

The original Jurassic Park films were very much defined by the dinosaurs that hunted the protagonists, from the velociraptors and the tyrannosaurus in the first film to the sequels shamelessly reusing all of the same things while adding useless bits of garbage dinosaurs. For Jurassic World the antagonist dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, is the kind of monster a clever eight year-old would come up with trying to one up a playmate while playing pretend. The movie even calls this out when the park’s operation’s manager (Bryce Dallas Howard) says patrons need dinosaurs that are bigger and have more teeth. She’s talking about us, the moviegoers who probably would not have been satisfied with just another chase scene with a tyrannosaurus, we need something with more teeth, with natural camouflage, that hunts for sport. It’s an interesting commentary on modern audiences for sure but it also leads to some rather mystifying moments when very late in to the movie the Indominus is still coming up with new powers tailor made to escape the predicament it’s in.

The film probably leans a little too heavily on nostalgia. The theme from the original John Williams score is used three times in the first twenty minutes and then often throughout including a piano version used to convey sadness. It’s all a little much. They also lean heavily on recycled imagery using similar shots of stampeding dinos or the unnecessary trip through the original visitors center, which has apparently not been touched in all this time. I understand the impulse to lean on this, to wink at the audience, but it isn’t necessary the new stuff in this movie is good enough to stand on its own and it isn’t helping to constantly raise the specter of such a powerful film.

Nothing will ever be like watching Jurassic Park in the movie theater when I was nine years old. That is an unfair standard to hold Jurassic World to even though I would very much like to. Jurassic World gave me everything I wanted, it was suspenseful, it was funny, it looked amazing, the action was thrilling, it was a completely enjoyable utterly riveting piece of filmmaking. I’m looking forward to seeing the next movie in the series, the sequel very obviously set up all throughout this one, and that is an optimism I haven’t felt about a Jurassic Park sequel in 18 years.

Ah, to feel young again.