Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 4 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 6; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.”
An important subgenre of science fiction films is the cautionary story—you know, Frankenstein; Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde; The Hollow Man; The Fly, and, of course, the original Jurassic Park. The scientists in this genre all conduct esoteric experiments rashly, heedless of possible consequences because they arrogantly see no limits to human capability. And of course, their projects end disastrously, leaving survivors chastened. This fourth film in the Jurassic franchise, based on Michael Crichton’s works, is far better than the previous two sequels. It follows the cautionary formula to a T, but still manages to thrill audiences, the suspenseful chases and dinosaur fights calculated to make them forget their popcorn. Although Colin Trevorrow directs the film, Steven Spielberg serves as its executive producer.
The story begins with the parents of teenaged brothers Zach (Nick Robinson), and Gray (Ty Simpkins) sending them off on a vacation to Jurassic World, located on a rugged island off the course of Costa Rica. Their aunt Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is Jurassic World’s operations manager. We see her escorting some potential investors around the park as she explains, Twenty years ago de-extinction was up there with magic. Now kids look at a stegosaurus like it’s an elephant in a zoo.” It seems that JW’s profits are slipping because of a jaded public, so, as we shall see, the corporation is looking for something Bigger and Better.
But back to the brothers. When they arrive their aunt is glad to see them, but can’t remember their ages—and she’s such a workaholic she cannot spend their first day together. She turns them over to an assistant so she can tend to business, telling the disappointed boys that she will see them later. Of course, the adventuresome kids soon give the assistant the slip and launch out in a small gyro-car to explore the place by themselves.
And what a place it is, no longer just a park, but Jurassic World, with large buildings housing exhibits, offices and laboratory. There are numerous rides, mechanical and organic, the latter being atop triceratops so tamed that they have become a children’s ride. Plenty of eating establishments, as well as scheduled feedings of the dinosaurs, souvenir sellers, and the names of corporate brand sponsors everywhere—Starbucks, Imax, Samsung, and more.
We also meet our hero Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), former Marine (thus his “manliness’ is a given) and now dinosaur trainer who has developed a rapport with some Raptors. He and Claire obviously have shared some past history, but now she keeps her distance. This being the kind of film it is, we know that pretty soon Owen’s job will be to rescue the boys and keep her safe when everything goes haywire.
We also meet Jurassic World’s eccentric CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), concerned with corporate profits, and, of course, the arrogant scientist Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong) who has developed a super dinosaur, the Indominus Rex. This latter is even bigger than the Tyrannosaurus Rex that flocks of tourist watch as he consumes a tethered goat. This and later segments are when the sound track becomes as important as the visual elements, the theater virtually shaking with the combination of boom and thud signaling the approach of the creatures. Last of all there is security officer Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) who makes sinister remarks about what a great military asset some of the dinosaurs would be—organic super weapons! He has accomplices with whom he communicates, but this subplot does not go very far. Perhaps a sequel of this sequel will pick up on this.
In Jurassic Park it was Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm who questioned the wisdom of what they were doing. His place is taken twenty years later by Owen, whose “Is this a good idea?” is repeated in various ways. Dr. Wu wants to begin using Indominus Rex for the public, and Masrani agrees. The new monster has mixed DNA, some of it from Raptors. Thus far it has been confined in a huge concrete pen in an isolated portion of the island, but… Amidst the mayhem that ensues from this unwise decision some are punished and some are rewarded. Hubris is once again shown as a destructive element of the human mind. The film also joins those that question corporate greed in which profits are put ahead of public safety, something that has become all too familiar in the real world, as witness the airbag debacle still going on. In Owen we also see an admirable person who truly sees his Raptors as sentient beings and thus cares for their welfare. This is in contrast to his employers who see them only as a source for profits.
In the film’s climax we almost forget for a while the humans, as two giant beasts square off against each other. As a thriller Jurassic World is top notch. The 3-D is used judiciously, adding to our feeling that we are in the middle of the action. However, the extra cost of this special effect is questionable, the flat version with the life-like dinosaurs also being mesmerizing. This scientific morality tale is far better than the two sequels of years gone by, the scriptwriters wisely ignoring any references to them. As a popcorn movie this one comes close to matching the original. It is one that viewers ought not to wait until NetFlix offers it. Even if one waits for it to come to a cheap seats theater, it demands to be seen on a big screen. One last cautionary note for parents: the producers have upped the violence, with both JW employees and tourists dying horrible deaths. I would suggest seeing it for yourself before taking a young child to this!
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the July issue of Visual Parables. A subscription to the journal will also give you access to Lectionary Links, a feature for preachers that links a film to one or more lessons from the Common Lectionary.