Jurassic World just OK

UPDATE: Jurassic World did it again, with Sunday estimates being a little too low. The actuals are in, and the movie squeezed out $208 million domestic, passing The Avengers for the best domestic opening weekend of all time.

I once forgot to feed my raptors for five weeks. I didn’t actually sell my last motorbike, I just forgot where I parked it. I don’t know how a mosquito could get caught in amber, and at this point I’m too afraid to ask. Photos courtesy Universal Pictures.

Early estimates had Jurassic World opening at an impressive $125 million. Then, the movie had an even larger than expected Thursday and that estimate became $155 million. Then $171-180 million. Then $190-200 million. The final count is $204.6 million, just shy of The Avengers’ all-time record $207.4 million opening from 2012. For context, the previous record opening for June was 2013’s putrid but hotly anticipated Man of Steel with just $116 million.

All those numbers are domestic. At the international box office it looks up at nothing, with a $511 million opening worldwide. The worldwide opening record holder going into the weekend was part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at just $483 million.

The marketing effort that went into this is a subject for a different article. The only question here is whether or not the movie was itself is any good, and the answer is, “meh.”

The film has many characters in common with the original Jurassic Park, following two wide-eyed little kids, Zach and Gary Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), who are relatives of the manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), on their trip through the park, which all goes wrong when a massive carnivore breaks lose. This time around, however, that carnivore is the indominus rex, a genetically altered hybrid of the tyrannosaurus, and the park is open and filled to the brim with screaming civilians. The stealthy and highly intelligent creature immediately begins a rampage across the park, killing everything in its path. Raptor handler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) escorts Dearing through the restricted zone, where the first part of the movie takes place, to find her nephews, and then leads the charge to capture the indominus. They are surrounded by many secondary characters — park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), evil geneticist Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), park tech operator and dinophile Lowerly Cruthers (Jake Johnson) and Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who is pressuring Grady to militarize the park’s raptors. Their functions are exclusively to proselytize about the role of dinosaurs in modern society.

Jurassic World comes up just short of satisfying in a lot of ways. There are a lot of creative decisions that are just questionable enough, a lot of nitpicks that are big enough to notice while watching and not after leaving the theater. It’s an enjoyable time at the movies, but that’s really the best that can be said about it.

Howard’s casting is another strange decision, given that Judy Greer plays her sister. Howard doesn’t do poorly by any stretch, but when one resume is highlighted by Archer and Arrested Development and the other by Twilight and Spider-Man 3, it’s pretty obvious who should be leading.

The biggest problem is in a couple of dramatic establishing shots that aren’t. Something that is still iconic about the first Jurassic Park is how majestic it is. That incredible score has a lot to do with it, but so does the sense of grandure and drama in many of its shots. The gates opening, the tyrannosaurus’ water-shaking first appearance, rex ex machina, all of these scenes masterfully build dramatic tension to an explosive payoff. Every scene of the movie sticks with viewers to a degree, even if they’ve not seen it since childhood.

These elements are absent from Jurassic World. The score is gone, with only tantalizing variations making an appearance.

There are two key sequences that skip their own climax. The first is when the Mitchell brothers cross the threshold into the park. The shot follows Gary as he desperately fights his way to the front of the train to see the gates open, and should keep moving forward through the windscreen to give the audience that view he’s looking for, accompanied by the appropriate creaking and music swelling, but it doesn’t. The shot cuts away while he’s still behind a crowd for an off-angle shot of the gates already mostly open and the train sliding through them.

The movie does this again with the indominus rex reveal. The hybrid has tricked Grady and two other operators to entering its enclosure and is sneaking up behind them as they turn around to lay eyes on it for the first time. The shot pans up from behind them, starting at the dinosaur’s feet and rising to its torso, then cuts away to a point-of-view of the tasty morsels cowering as they realize they’ve been duped. After this shot and maybe a closeup of Grady, it should finish the pan up the dinosaur’s body and close it with a roar, maybe in a close-up. But again, the movie gets viewers all worked up and doesn’t finish. The shot cuts back to the one from behind Grady and company that cuts rex off at her chest, and her head is casually revealed in a later shot.

To put it in terms Grady constantly uses with his raptors, the movie is teasing viewers. It says we’ll get a treat, then doesn’t deliver. The movie betrays our trust, and it comes back to bite it in the real climactic scenes when the audience won’t be as excited as the movie wants it to be.

Then there’s this scene, in which Dearing, in spike heels, outruns a tyrannosaurus rex all the way through the park and sicks it on the indominus. You know, a T-rex. The thing that a jeep couldn’t outrun during the original’s “Must go faster” scene.

Another disappointment is indominus rex itself. The trailers had it commanding other dinosaurs in an organized attack against park guests and displaying not just intelligence but borderline psychopathy, an evolution of the series-long themes of nature overwhelming man. In the feature, it simply releases the pterodactyls by blundering into their enclosure, kills because it is poorly trained and hasn’t ever interacted with anything living before, and eventually gets incorporated into the series’ raptor fetish.

There’s a bit of a subtext problem in Jurassic World, in that it doesn’t have any. The original is still the iconic conflict with nature movie and the most resonant depiction of nature’s majestic, desperate savagery. Humanity’s conflict with nature has evolved since 1993, and this movie misses a big opportunity to reflect that.

Specifically, Jurassic World should have gone further to add subtext about genetically modified organisms and the concept of owning a species. The movie addresses both of these issues directly, but makes no connection to the cut throat real world issues of GMOs, an industry run by Scrooge McDuck’s lovechild with C. Montgomery Burns, but also an industry vital to humanity’s future. There’s rich opportunity to make Jurassic World about these issues, but it doesn’t touch them.

There are a few unearned character moments, mostly between Dearing and Grady. Their romance is entirely informed by poor dialogue during their first scene together and then dropped until it’s time for them to make out.

Dearing has a nice character arc from a detached corporate stooge who doesn’t respect the fact that she’s dealing with living creatures to a battle-ready ranger who cares about dinosaurs, and her nephews for that matter, but it would have more impact if she didn’t play so unconfident before her arc shifts positively.

Masrani has this weird story where he’s getting his pilot’s license but flying helocopters anyway because there aren’t any other pilots around, or something — it’s not really explained — and it just doesn’t work. There’s never any reason to care about him or his piloting skills.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Neo-Nazis are hilarious. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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One Response to Jurassic World just OK

  1. Pingback: ‘Power Rangers’ doesn’t cut it, go see it anyway | Reel Entropy

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