“Your boyfriend is bad-ass,” says one of the kids in the latest Jurassic Park installment, Jurassic World. The kid is referring to Chris Pratt as a kind of Dinosaur Whisperer. He is bad-ass, too, fitting like a glove into a role that asks little in terms of dramatic range but a great deal in terms of suspension of disbelief. Can he convince a pack of giant lizards with mouths full of razor-sharp teeth that he… a puny, fleshy primate with a few pitiful molars… that he’s the Alpha? Somehow he does, and it should do wonders for Pratt’s career, already riding high thanks to last year's Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie.
Jurassic World is little like Plan 9 From Outer Space: To quote Jerry Seinfeld’s funny quip, This is the one that finally worked! Only it doesn’t, of course. Things inevitably have to go bad… very bad. You can make sneering remarks about sequels, but the producers of the film will be laughing all the way to their mansions in Hawaii.
Jurassic Park (1993) was the classic: it was about a living-dinosaur theme park getting ready to open. But bumbling computer hacker Wayne Knight (“Hello… Newman!”) caused the security system to go down, enabling the Tyrannosaurus Rex to get out of its pen and eat everyone in sight.
From there on it was downhill, because no one was going to open the park right after the first disaster. Jurassic Park II: The Lost World was about the importance of leaving dinosaurs alone on their own island, and Jurassic Park III was about rescuing a lone teenager on a parasail who’d accidentally landed on this same island. The dream of re-opening the park to crowds of paying visitors was by then long gone.
But—more than two decades after the first film—the renamed Jurassic World finally opens for business! Much of the first half of the film is an amusing parody of theme parks. A petting zoo with baby dinosaurs! Realistic holograms! An “aviary” filled with pterodactyls who’d make Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds seem like a picnic if they ever got out (which of course in time they will). And everywhere you look, merchandise, merchandise, merchandise, which makes Jurassic World the perfect movie for product placements. Seven-dollar soda? Sure! Just make sure our cast members are seen having a Coke and a smile before they set out to reign in the dinos.
If there’s a flaw here, it’s how long it takes to actually see any dinosaurs. When John William’s familiar theme music swells for the first time, we see not an overgrown lizard but the grounds of the park. But hey, it’s shot on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and this setting is really beautiful. I mean, it really is. The deft hand of Stephen Spielberg, who directed the first two films, is sorely missed here, but even with relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow directing, the CGI looks better than ever.
It seems all the old problems with the park have been fixed, until the scientists (notably B.D. Wong, returning from the first film) decide they need to engineer a super-dinosaur who’s never existed before, to keep attendance up. You don’t need to be a psychic to predict how well that's going to work out.
Despite how great the film looks, it’s bogged down by a number of movie clichés, with which we all should be familiar with by now:
1) At every turn, in every way, everyone in the movie does the stupidest thing possible under the circumstances. Hey, what would a horror movie be without kids going into the very place they’re suppose to stay out of? That certainly extends to the two kids in this film (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), who aren’t even likable. You almost cheer for the dinos to chow down on them. But the stupidity doesn't end there. Everyone, when in trouble, goes out into an open field and runs in a straight line.
2) Every time someone says “I think we’re safe now,” you know a dinosaur attack is seconds away. This gets to be so predictable you can set a watch by it. But hey, why spoil a good cliché?
3) A woman in high heels can outrun a super-fast, genetically engineered dinosaur… as long as she’s carrying a flare. This brings us to Bryce Dallas Howard, who is pleasant enough as a high-ranking park director who wears fashionable clothing even when in danger. At first she’s a strong woman, in charge of the park, but ultimately she becomes another woman-in-danger in need of rescue. Fortunately, at her side is Chris Pratt, who as her nephews say, is bad-ass.
4) If anyone from the military is remotely involved, you know something very bad is going down. I’m not sure this always wrong, although don’t get mad at me, because I can always say "I support the troops" just like everyone else.
5) If you build it, they will come. Let’s face it. No matter how many tourists get eaten by the exhibits in this film, the millions made at the box office are going to force at least one more sequel. And on some level it makes sense. Given enough time, people will rebuild the Titanic and reconstruct the World Trade Center. In the case of the Titanic, it wasn’t a matter of building another ship but of tightening safety regulations. But given some time, people start to feel safe again, and cruise-ship captains start to do crazy things like run their ships aground. Then everyone forgets how bad the last crash was, and all the finanical regulations get repealed. Silly humans… will they ever learn? Let's hope someday we do learn from our mistakes… unless, like the dinosaurs, we're ready to face our own extinction.