The premise of “Jurassic World” is that we’re all way over the idea of dinosaurs. In order to satisfy a jaded audience’s increasing appetite for spectacle, the scientists in the fourth movie in the franchise make a new breed of dinosaur that’s larger and scarier than any that actually existed.
The film is set in the present day, 22 years after the events in the original “Jurassic Park” movie. The once-small struggling startup of the first film is now a huge successful corporate conglomerate theme park. With 20,000 people visiting per day, there is a pressure for continued expansion, and the board of directors demands new monsters. The results go out of control. DNA that the genetic engineers have used for one purpose turns out to have unanticipated side effects, and the creature they’ve made is even more destructive and canny than intended. The inevitable escape and ensuing havoc occurs, and dinosaurs battle it out and trash the park.
The movie is two hours of big roaring fun, with some rough spots along the way as it moves toward an ending that’s gut-level satisfying. But if we take the film’s premise seriously, that the creation of absurd monstrous hybrids for the sake of spectacle alone is a dangerous and ultimately destructive process, the movie also reads as an unintentional critique of recent tendencies in big-budget genre films including “Jurassic World” itself. With its seven credited co-writers, “Jurassic World” is also a flawed, hybrid creature. As my friend and Maryland Film Festival veteran Rahne Alexander observed, it draws on aspects of the classic Spielberg archetypes such as heroic kids with broken families; its characters and set pieces are constantly referencing the original 1993 film in the franchise. It also contains scenes with nods to other sources as diverse as the work of Alfred Hitchcock and the Japanese tradition of Kaiju films such as “Godzilla” and its sequels, directed by Ishiro Honda. As the film unfolds, there’s a growing sense that these references are so uneasily combined that the film’s creators have lost control of the results, and that this hybridization does more damage than good.
Chris Pratt’s male lead character Owen, a dinosaur handler and military veteran, clearly draws on his previous role as the wisecracking protagonist from the sci-fi romp “Guardians of the Galaxy,” as well as the casual misogyny of swaggering swashbucklers such as Han Solo. In the initial interaction between Pratt’s character and park administrator Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, he invites her into his “bungalow” and pouts that she had previously turned down his offer of a second date. His refusal to take “no” for an answer leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And compared to the subtlety of the relationship between the 1993 original’s nontraditional leading couple, played by Sam Neill and Laura Dern, in which we’re never sure who is pursuing who, the lead characters in the current film get off to a bad start. They never quite seem comfortable with each other, except when pulling one another out of danger.
Just as in the first film, the danger, wonder, and here, sometime banality, of the park’s dinosaurs are shown through the eyes of two kids, Gray and Zach, played by Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson, respectively. This portrayal of humans relating to the dinosaurs in equal terms of mutual respect, is one of the film’s most redeeming features. Like the 1993 original, the film’s strength is in the depiction of the truly new and strange, the presence of another powerful creature that had never before in history interacted with humans, and the sense of wonder that comes along with that presence.
Comparisons to the original 1993 film might seem unfair—that movie remains one of the highest grossing of all time and is beloved by critics and audiences alike—but “Jurassic World” constantly invites these comparisons with its persistent nods to the memories of those audiences. We return to many of the original settings of the first film, as the soundtrack, adapted from John Williams’ iconic 1993 score, swells dramatically. Much more than the previous two sequels, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic Park III,” the current film plays to our nostalgia, and that leaves its continued franchise legacy open to debate. In a sense, it is the fourth movie in a franchise that feels more like a sequel.
The film’s critique of a corporate obsession with visitor numbers, throughout, and audience satisfaction could easily be turned back on the movie itself. Although the film’s visceral ending suggests that coherent and understandable genres of movie-making and dinosaur-making will eventually prevail, “Jurassic World,” and many movies like it, still remain uncertain hybrids, stitched together from disparate DNA. Even as we leave the theater satisfied, we’re left wondering, like Jeff Goldblum’s character from the original “Jurassic Park,” if the moviemakers, like the scientists, “were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”