Remaking a movie is sort of like trying to recreate a recipe from a history book. You can’t just follow it verbatim, because a lot of the ingredients don’t exist anymore and the spices all have different potencies now. So the proportions are all out of whack, to say nothing of people’s changing taste buds – elements that once tasted exotic are now familiar to the point of blandness.
Jurassic World is basically an attempt to recreate the Jurassic Park recipe without access to the most important elements – Steven Spielberg, the cast – for an audience that’s no longer that impressed by CGI dinosaurs. It fares much better with the dinosaurs than with the people. It wisely tries to give us human characters we’ll be invested in enough that it’ll be thrilling when the dinosaurs chase them, but inexplicably seems to believe the best way to do that is to write a lot of scenes where they cry for some reason.
Jurassic Park had Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards as Tim and Lex Murphy, the dinosaur-obsessed brain and boy-crazy tween invited to the park by their eccentric grandfather, John Hammond. They were believable, and they felt like reasonably necessary foils for Sam Neill’s character, a crotchety archaeologist who was terrible with children. Jurassic World, by contrast, has Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson as Gray and Zach, nephews of Bryce Dallas Howard’s corporate ice queen park director. The first problem with this is that Simpkins has the most infuriating hair helmet I’ve seen since this kid in The Lucky One.
His highlit Storm Trooper helm takes me out of the story instantly because everything about him screams “CHILD ACTOR,” like he wandered onto the set from a Disney sitcom. It feels like some casting director’s nauseating attempt to maximize the kid’s Hallmark cuteness, like they stopped just short of giving him painted on freckles and false eyelashes.
Helmet is supposed to be the brain of the duo, who spouts important dinosaur facts while his ladies man older brother ogles chicks, but even aside from his bad acting and preposterous amount of hair, this entire plotline is a mess. The most baffling moment of the film comes when he starts crying because he’s convinced his parents are getting a divorce. His offscreen parents who are in the movie for a grand total of 90 seconds, that is. This crying jag also comes as he’s riding a VIP tram through a lavish amusement park he’s dreamed of his entire life. As if eating cotton candy at the apex of a roller coaster was a logical time for introspection.
In another scene, Ladies Man and Helmet’s mom, played by Judy Greer, calls her sister, Bryce Dallas Howard, and finds out that (gasp) she’s not even accompanying her nephews on the tour! She just gave them free VIP tickets to the park and promised to meet them for dinner later like some monstrous, Dickensian dungeon master! This elicits another crying jag, from Judy Greer this time (at least we know where Helmet gets it). Why is everyone crying about their stupid problems? Aren’t there genetically hybridized dinosaurs to worry about?
Spielberg used his actors for comic relief, he didn’t expect us to be invested in their bedwetting drama. Moreover, when Ladies Man tells his brother “aren’t you supposed to be the genius?”, the genius part seems out of character. Like the Jurassic World writers are trying to imitate the original’s character dynamic more out of superstition than for any useful effect, like the dudes with bras on their heads in Weird Science.
Jurassic World is best when it’s not trying to imitate. If the theme of the original was mankind’s hubris, Jurassic World, when it’s coherent, is about the corporation’s never-ending need to maximize profits. BD Wong plays the slippery scientist who created the new genetically hybridized dinosaurs like the Indominus Rex. When Corporate Boss Guy (I think?) Irrfan Khan presses him on why he gave this new killing machine super intelligence, the ability to camouflage and alter its own heat signature, the gist of Wong’s answer is that you can’t have “more claws, more teeth” without a whole host of unintended side effects.
Bryce Howard and Chris Pratt, the ice queen and the rogue with the heart of gold, have an odd dynamic that isn’t entirely successful, but at least they’re not obnoxious. Vincent D’Onofrio is sort of fun as the military-guy-who-wants-to-turn-science-into-a-weapon character who used to show up in every Amblin movie, but there are just too many characters. Trying to work out how Wong, Khan, D’Onofrio, and Bryce Howard all fit together takes up important brain space that could’ve been better used going “HOLY SH*T, DINOSAURS!”
On that note, perhaps I’ve spent too much time discussing the humans in a dinosaur movie. Jurassic World‘s dino effects are at once better than I expected in a world where not-entirely-convincing CGI is the norm, but also uneven, and inevitably disappointing. You’d expect dino fx to get more convincing over the course of 22 years, but that hasn’t happened.
Jurassic World makes you realize how much the original’s effects relied on context. The T-Rex’s pupil dilating, the squish sound its foot made in the mud, the subtle clack of the raptors’ claws on metal. These things weren’t especially complicated, fx wise, but they made the terror visceral and thus believable. Jurassic World has some great effects, and some scenes are more successful than others, but like most movies now, it tries to do too much. The underwater monster dinosaur that eats a shark in the trailer, it’s pretty good for CGI, and a cool idea, but it’s entirely lacking that level of actor/effects interaction. It’s just a straight up effects shot (the CGI dinosaur) that cuts straight to a not-entirely-convincing reaction shot, of the crowd getting drenched with the splash.
Jurassic World also feels oddly like they spent a lot more time on effects early in the movie than they do towards the end, when a couple poorly-choreographed shots look like they stuck a dino claw in front of the camera while running towards the actors throwing fake rocks at them.
It’s overstuffed and just sort of runs out of steam at the end, getting so hammy that I half expected one of the raptors to turn toward the camera and speak to us in a deep baritone about the dangers of marijuana. It’s less a movie than a mostly sort of fun ride, that’s occasionally interrupted by the other obnoxious passengers, crying sad lady and whiny hair kid. It’s both the second best movie of the franchise and a pale imitation of the original.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.