So I went to see the dinosaurs tonight. I told myself that I wouldn’t bother, that I’d avoid the opening weekend crowds, but I heard that “thump… Thump… THUMP!!!” in my head and saw the expanding ripples of water in my mind’s eye, and I was drawn to the Arclight like a… I was going to say like a moth to a flame, but like a Tyrannosaurus Rex to a waving flare might be more appropriate an analogy. I haven’t read any reviews on the movie: like watching Patti LuPone in a musical, the dinosaur movies are critic proof for me.
I have to say that I enjoyed Jurassic World very much. The film certainly has none of the innocent wonder of Jurassic Park, but how could it? First of all, Steven Spielberg didn’t direct it. Against my better judgment, I declare that he really is one of the finest film directors Hollywood has produced, and only Chaplin and Capra really have a leg up on him where innocent wonder is concerned. He is to popular cinematic entertainment in America what Mastering the Art of French Cooking is to the culinary arts in this country, and anyone who knows me is well aware that this is high praise indeed. More importantly, we’ve visited this world before, haven’t we? When that tree trunk moved and we realized we were looking at an Apatosaurus. When we were hounded alongside Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum by an angry T-Rex and we realized that “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” When the Velociraptor poked her head out from behind the electrical wires and Samuel Jackson’s arm dropped out of nowhere like Ben Gardner’s head in Jaws. We’ve seen these things before, and like the visitors at Jurassic World’s eponymous theme park, we demand more.
Jurassic World can’t really be called an original movie, but it’s a truly delightful homage to Jurassic Park. Wisely ignoring the two follow ups to the original, it shares themes, sets, animals, and at least one actor. My greatest worry in seeing the movie was that the best bits were already shown in the trailer, but there is much in the film to delight the eye–even beyond Chris Pratt, but why, oh why couldn’t costume designer Daniel Orlandi dress him in Bob Peck’s short shorts from the original. Was that too much to ask? I won’t spoil anything not in the trailers, but I will say that I shrieked at least once, and must have clutched my pearls five or six times before the movie was over.
Jurassic World shares more of Michael Crichton’s cautionary cynicism than does Spielberg’s original: gone is Richard Attenborough’s Disneylike visionary entrepreneur, replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard’s bureaucrat. After 20 years of solid business, the park has to make bigger and bigger dinosaurs to keep attendance up and guests happy: hence the Mosasaurus chomping down on a 25 foot Great White Shark like it was an anchovy–but short of Roy Scheider, an oxygen tank, and a shotgun, what else is gonna get Bruce? The shark can only be a nod to Jaws, the genesis of all summer blockbusters. The scientists in this film are so far past asking themselves “whether [they] should, just because [they] could” that they create a new dinosaur, calling it Indominous Rex–nothing like a nice case of hubris–and making a dino-cocktail of sorts. Needless to say, Indominous escapes its enclosure and hilarity ensues. Well, if you’re part of the Manson family, hilarity ensues. Otherwise, lots of blood and bone crunching. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an arm, eye, leg, head, just choose your body part. Clearly, no one at Jurassic World ever saw the Chiffon margarine commercial.
The film’s supporting characters are what you would expect of a movie of this kind. It has its obligatory children, very similar to those in Jurassic Park. Vincent D’Onofrio plays another bad man. Irrfan Khan is the new park owner, a cross between Jurassic Park‘s John Hammond and Richard Branson. BD Wong is quite good, as usual, but all I could think of watching the movie was have I aged as much as he has in the last 20 years?
I must say, Ms Howard has grown on me a great deal since (or because of) her performance in The Help. I went into the movie hoping she’d be the first to get eaten, but I quite liked her, down to her Tea Leoni in Flirting With Disaster coiffure. She held her own with the CGI, she screamed at the right moments, and worked well within the tropes of her frigid Faye Dunawayesque character. Plus, she managed to keep her hair perfectly styled almost through the entire picture. Joan Crawford would have approved.
Short shorts not withstanding, Chris Pratt shows us once again that he is ready to be Harrison Ford for a new generation. He can play funny or serious, he makes the dialogue sound better than it really is, and he looks really cool motorcycling around the jungle with a bunch of Velociraptors. In truth, I hoped his relationship with them would be more like Born Free, but not everyone can be Joy Adamson and Elsa. Plus, those thighs.
This movie lives and dies, of course, with its dinosaurs, and in this case, Jurassic World is not stingy. From gentle giants like Apatosauri and Triceratops, to vicious Velociraptors, to the imaginary Indominous, you get to see more dinosaurs than you do Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. And of course, there’s the T-Rex. What “Jurassic” movie would be complete without him/her/it? I don’t know what’s CGI, what’s models, maybe there’s an island off the coast of Latin America where the damn animals are all frolicking around. Who cares? Dinosaurs are just cool. That’s why these movies work. Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?