Like most kids of my generation — thanks to B sci-fi movies and The Flintstones TV series — I had a youthful fascination with dinosaurs. I even aced some fifth-grade science project by crafting a dinosaur display with a bunch of mismatched plastic dinosaurs and some plastic palm trees (the latter appropriated from a Flintstones play set). But my interest in these creatures didn’t survive puberty (which is still longer than my interest in The Flintstones lasted). By the time of the original Jurassic Park (1993), I was pushing 40 and the big beasties were long off my radar, so it was kind of a non-event for me. I never even saw the first sequel, but the much-maligned Jurassic Park III (2001) came out after I was reviewing movies on a weekly basis, so that I saw. (I thought it was OK for what it was, but I had no special reverence for the series.) Now we have Jurassic World, a slightly revamped sequel (that may ignore the earlier sequels), and while it didn’t rekindle my interest in dinosaurs, it’s an excellently crafted film with coherent action, good effects, a top-notch supporting cast and a surprisingly witty screenplay.
When it was first announced that Colin Trevorrow was directing Jurassic World, I cringed — not because I thought he couldn’t do it, but because I thought it was a waste of a unique talent. I don’t blame him for taking it. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I’m sure he made more on this in the time it took him to sign the contract than he’ll ever see from Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), and since it’s already a monster hit, as a career move it’s hard to beat. That he and Derek Connolly (who wrote Safety Not Guaranteed) worked on the script was encouraging — as was the fact that they brought along Jake Johnson for a large supporting role — but, let’s face it, this can of carnivores is a different proposition. One of the things that’s pleasantly surprising here is just how much Trevorrow and Connolly’s fingerprints are on the film in terms of tone and humor. Another pleasant surprise is how well Trevorrow handles action. It’s clear, clean and coherent. Little, if any, of this was conveyed by the film’s trailer.
On the one hand, the film is exactly what you think it is — a lot of people being chased or menaced by ill-tempered dinosaurs that are trying to eat them. On the other hand, there’s a level of wit here that you may not expect. The story is no great shakes, of course, since it exists only to put our main characters — and disposable extras — in harm’s way. The reason behind this latest addition to the revamped dinosaur amusement park is, however, worth pondering — it’s all because a jaded public demands something bigger and badder and scarier than your plain old dinosaurs. As a commentary on our collective Imax and 3-D infused Next-Big-Thing blockbuster mentality, that’s pretty on point. That the commentary is served up in a movie aimed at that very mindset makes it just that much more subversive. And it most certainly delivers on its promises. The ultimate bad-ass dinosaur — the Indominus Rex — is everything you could hope for in bad-assery, and the film’s rather cavalier attitude toward human life ups our inability to predict who won’t be standing by the ending credits. The film is surprisingly violent — apparently arterial spray is OK in PG-13 so long as we only see what it sprays on — which will delight those kids it doesn’t send racing for the exits (know your children).
The casting is a big plus. I have no quarrel with the leads (Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard) or the kids (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), but for me the real selling point here lies in the supporting players — Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy and BD Wong (playing the same character he did 22 years ago). These actors imbue their cleverly written but actually thin characters with shadings and nuances that have little to do with the printed page. My only problem is that there’s just not enough of the great Irrfan Khan — and that, like most quibbles I have with the movie, is hardly enough to sink what is a most agreeable time at the movies. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.