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After a Slow Start, ‘Jurassic World’ Delivers the Dino Delights

When its focus is on dino-centric destruction, Jurassic World is wonderful. When it doesn't, it's a dump -- an expositional dump, to be precise.
2015-06-12

It’s called the expositional dump. As the name infers, it is part narrative unloading, part storyline landfill. It’s that moment in a movie where the characters stop the forward progress to fill in the blanks, usually involving scientific theory, criminal intentions, personal backstory, or all three. Most times, it’s not offered in such large chunks; instead, it’s typically spread around the storyline, allowing for a pause in the action, horror, or humor.

For the first 40 minutes or so of the latest Hollywood reboot of a famous franchise, Jurassic World, we are forced to sit back and listen to a far-reaching, fictional history lesson. The film is the tale of the late John Hammond, his vision for a dinosaur-based theme park, and how that concept became a commercial reality. Granted, it has taken 20 years, but the new Jurassic brand, owned by foreign business tycoon Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and run by the tough-minded operating manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) sees, on average, over 20,000 stereotypically entitled tourists visiting every day.

Of course, it hasn’t been easy. Claire has sacrificed family for her duties, and the fickle demands of the public has her constantly pushing the research and development team, led by original dino DNA expert Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) to come up with better and better “attractions”. Their latest creation, a genetic stew of prehistoric prerequisites known as Indominus Rex, is set to meet the public in a scant three weeks, and everyone wants to make sure the visitors will be safe. While InGen’s head of security, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) is secretly plotting a military connect into what is going on (don’t ask), Velociraptor “trainer” Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is concerned about the new creature’s capabilities.

Now, into this already over-explored arena comes Claire’s nephews: the critter-crazed Gray (Ty Simpkins) and his girl-obsessed teen brother Zach (Nick Robinson). They are escaping their parent’s failing marriage, and a trip to a swanky, exclusive “zoo” is apparently the cure for such ills. Of course, once we get all the players on the same page, the unthinkable happens. Indominus escapes, starts killing the other dinosaurs for sport, and makes a beeline straight for the more heavily people populated sections of the park. Of course, Nick and Gray are trapped in the middle. Of course, Claire freaks out. And, of course, Owen is called in to make things right.

And there you have it, folks. The first act of a three-act action film where nothing really gets going until the aforementioned genetically-modified monster goes on its rampage. Yes, we get glimpses of what a day at Jurassic World would be like, with the various attractions (including a water-based show that makes Shamu look like a stink bug) pleasing the blasé and bottom feeding crowds. There is a slightly satiric tinge to how director Colin Trevorrow handles the theme park angle. Fat toady kids using baby dinos as a petting zoo/pony ride argues for the ridiculous nature of our over-marketed, anything-for-a-buck mentality.

But Jurassic World really isn’t interested in making a point about price gouging and profit margins (well, some of the latter). Instead, it wants to use the latest CGI and other practical elements to bring an entire menagerie of monsters to life, and in that capacity alone, it’s a success. This is better than the Steven Spielberg-helmed Lost World or the overall fail of Jurassic Park III. Trevorrow treats it as if those films never existed, and the entire Jurassic World is better for it. In fact, the film is so reliant on the movie mythos created by the original that it uses it time and time again to earn the audience’s trust and acceptance.

That’s why the finale is so fulfilling. We’ve waiting an hour and 30 minutes to see what happens when Indominus discovers the main theme area, to watch Owen go to work and use his trained raptors to wreck their own unique brand of animal-based havoc. Once it happens, and once Trevorrow and the multitude of screenwriters who worked on the film start dragging in divergent elements that have laid in wait throughout the other parts of the narrative, the ending becomes a chaotic celebration of everything the Jurassic Park franchise stands for. Remember when T-Rex arrived to save Dr. Grant and the gang? Imagine that, times several thousand tons, and you get the idea.

Sadly, the characters here won’t become the classics that Dr. Ian Malcolm and the gang still are. Everyone is one note and rather dimensionless. Indeed, Indominus has more of a “personality” than D’Onofrio and the two kids combined. Chris Pratt is compelling when he’s face to face with the potential danger posed by his “trainees”, but the ersatz romantic byplay between him and a stagnant Howard doesn’t work at all. In fact, a better film would have done away with the boss, her bratty nephews, and the whole love/loss angle, instead, keeping things in the InGen/Simon Masrani mode. And B.D. Wong? Let’s just call him “sequel fodder” and be done with it.

If you ever wondered what a Bert I. Gordon or Roger Corman film would look like with 21st century special effects, Jurassic World is it. The action is excellent, the creature features fun, and occasionally, very frightening, and the actors are adequate to borderline unnecessary. Once the balance sheets are tallied and the worldwide box office totals counted, there will be another trip to this jinxed resort. Hopefully, the next time around, we can avoid all the exposition and get right down to the dino damage. That’s all the people want to see, and when it obliges, Jurassic World is wonderful. When it doesn’t, it’s a dump.

RATING 7 / 10
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