I first saw Jurassic Park seated between my wife and 10-year-old son shortly after it was released in 1993. They each grabbed hold of my hand during scary scenes and held them so tightly it hurt. But along with the scares, Jurassic Park also filled the audience with wonder. It was the first movie to use extensive CGI effects created by the geniuses at ILM. (It was also the first movie to “paint” the face of an actor onto another body, for the scene where Ariana Richards is dangling from ductwork with a raptor below her; a stuntwoman did the actual hanging.) The first sequel ignored the wonder factor for a more straight-forward action flick, and the less said about the third movie the better. The good news is that Jurassic World rekindles the wonder while keeping the excitement level high.
The script throws away the previous sequels. Two decades after John Hammond’s original park failed, an entrepreneur (and 6th richest man in the world) to whom Hammond had given the rights for his work has brought the idea to fruition. Jurassic World has been operating safely for several years under the guidance of park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). There are references to the original park, with a John Hammond Imagination exhibit, the original park doors now used as a ceremonial entrance for the visitor monorail from the shore, and even a cameo by Mr. DNA. On the other hand, one of the technicians in the control room is wearing a “vintage” Jurassic Park t-shirt, to which Claire says, “Don’t you think that’s in bad taste?” The movie also gives a poke at how amusement parks are a corporate business, with Verizon sponsoring a dinosaur and the main street of the park featuring a Pandora Jewelry store and a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville restaurant.
Our introduction to Jurassic World comes through the eyes of 16-year-old Zach Mitchell (Nick Robinson) and his younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins). They’re sent there by their parents (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) to spend the Christmas vacation with their aunt Claire. The tightly-wound Claire is preparing for the opening of a new exhibit featuring a genetically-modified dinosaur they call Indominous Rex, and she passes off showing the kids around the park to her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath), whom the boys soon ditch. The park’s owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, who played the adult Pi in Life of Pi) has concerns about the new exhibit and wants velociraptor expert Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to consult on the containment of the new beast. Grady is having his own problems with InGen, Hammond’s old company that engineered the dinosaurs and is now owned by Masrani. The company’s head of security, Hoskins (Vincent D’Orofrio), wants to weaponized the raptors. But then they discover that InGen’s R&D department (presided over by BD Wong in another nod at the first movie) has secretly bred an alpha predator extraordinaire.
Producer Frank Marshall and Executive Producer Steven Spielberg brought in Colin Trevorrow as director and co-writer for the movie. He’d only made one previous feature film, the indy time-travel themed film Safety Not Guaranteed in 2012. Jurassic World had been in development hell for a decade – production was originally announced in 2004 – but with the addition of Trevorrow and the casting of Pratt (who was actually picked before last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy made him a hot action hero) as well as Howard, the production got moving. Trevorrow manages an impressive balancing act to blend the CGI action with well-defined characters. He also builds the action at a good pace until the satisfying final confrontation that’s on par with the original movie’s finale.
Pratt shows that Guardians wasn’t a fluke. He is one of the very few actors today that would make me interested in seeing a reboot of Indiana Jones. Another wise casting choice was Howard. Her performance as Claire both balances and at times mirrors Pratt’s, and they have a good chemistry together. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are excellent as Zach and Gray. There’s none of the annoying nature of Hammond’s grandkids in Jurassic Park, and the writers have given them resourcefulness and smarts that they embody believably. D’Orofrio is wonderfully effective as the human villain of the piece.
The first movie was a watershed moment in film history that changed the way films have been made ever since. It has also held up so it’s just as effective today when someone sees it for the first time as it was in 1993. With Jurassic World, you have a worthy successor to the first film, one that delivers the thrills, but also captures the wonder of it all. That is a major accomplishment.