“These people, they never learn,” says the bearded dinosaur-rights counterculture type in the Jurassic World theme-park control room when a genetically modified and relentlessly evil super-dinosaur gets loose and devours a bunch of paddock supervisors and soldiers and then makes a beeline for the 20-thousand-plus guests in the main sector.
The enlightened techie had spent much time explaining to Claire, the buttoned-up, control-freak park executive played by Bryce Dallas Howard that dinosaurs are living creatures, not property to be programmed, but he might as well have been speaking in Urdu. Claire had her mind on other things, like getting Verizon to sponsor the exhibition of said genetically modified and relentlessly evil super-dinosaur, because theme parks like Jurassic World have to keep innovating or people will spend their leisure dollars at… well, there’s not much competition in the DNA-reconstituted-dinosaur amusement park industry but capitalism makes you paranoid.
In any case, Claire had also been saddled with two nephews (Ty Simkins and Nick Robinson) whom she hadn’t seen in years and to whom she has no maternal attachment, having no family instincts whatsoever, as her sister (Judy Greer) keeps reminding her. But you can bet that in the course of Jurassic World, those buttons of Claire’s will be unbuttoned, that tight skirt torn to the top of her thigh, and those maternal instincts sent into overdrive. As San Andreas has recently demonstrated, there’s nothing better than hundreds of millions of dollars of computer-generated pandemonium to bring a family together.
Oh, who cares about that? It’s a marauding dinosaur movie. In IMAX and 3-D, which is essential in this case. It’s a ride: Shell out for the biggest and most kinetic experience. Because whatever else you say about Jurassic World, its amazing special effects — not just hurtling dinosaurs but flying killer pterodactyls — make it one of the most rousing people-running-away-from-stuff movies ever made. At its best, it’s good enough to take your mind off its worst, which is saying a lot.
“Those people” who “never learn” are, of course, the overweening Frankenstein-esque scientists who, as summed up in the immortal epitaph of Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster, have “meddled in God’s domain.” Why exactly they’d want to create a cunning, near-unstoppable giant predator in close proximity to 20,000 people with no evident evacuation plan is a question we must leave to their insurance company — and I’m thinking after the fade out that someone’s head is going to roll. I mean, someone else’s head.
Before the “Indominus Rex” pulls a Houdini to slip out of its enclosure, Jurassic World has one of those Towering Inferno set-ups where we meet the characters, among them Irrfan Khan as the effusive billionaire park owner who tells Claire, “The key to a happy life is to accept that you are never in control.” More important, we’ve also had the opportunity to oooh an aaah over what you can do with computers these days. The dinosaurs look much more real than the human extras. Kids ride baby triceratops. Teens drive in what look like giant clear-plastic hamster balls past serene, leaf-chewing prehistoric herbivores. In the Sea World-like pool at the center of the park, a humongous Godzilla-crocodile leaps up and swallows a dangling Great White Shark. That’s evidently meant as a good-natured in-joke aimed at executive producer Steven Spielberg, though it reminded me that Jaws is still the greatest giant-monster thriller ever made with a pretty lame mechanical shark and no computer effects whatsoever.
This film’s stop-the-presses headline is that those once-blood-freezing velociraptors are becoming domesticated — or at least trained to gaze on humans as something besides lunch. Their principal handler is Owen, played by Chris Pratt, a muscular guy in a leather vest who tools around Jurassic World on a motorcycle, stopping only to bond with raptors or try to talk military-industrial bigwig Vincent D’Onofrio out of using the creatures as weapons of mass destruction. I’m not kidding: D’Onofrio says that with velociraptors, Tora Bora would have been a cakewalk. I was thinking that was a stupid idea even by the standards of dumb sci-fi movies — but then I remembered what Rumsfeld et al actually did do at Tora Bora and it seemed relatively sound.
Pratt, the former sitcom star, transformed himself into a goofy, wisecracking hunk in Guardians of the Galaxy and is here just a hunk. He’s fine. Hunky. Hunky dory. But his character has no arc and you forget about him after a while except as a mate for Bryce Dallas, whose character he once dated and decided was too buttoned-up. The key symbolic moment is when she gazes into his eyes and defiantly unbuttons her top. The part is a sexist cliché but I’m bound to say I think Howard sure is purty and liked watching her, so sue me. (No, actually, don’t sue me. Title IX does not apply to film critics.)
Director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) cribs his wittiest set-ups from Spielberg, I’m sure with the executive producer’s blessing if not insistence. But witty they are. The pterodactyl attacks are shot and edited so combustively that they don’t need splatter to make you cry out, and the fluidity with which the dinosaurs weave around the humans is enough to convince you that there were dinosaur-wranglers standing by who knew their stuff. The sole disappointment is that the Indominus Rex doesn’t quite live up to its pedestal, being just an unusually mean, albino-ish… dinosaur. But it’s a testament to marvels elsewhere in Jurassic World that we would even think of looking this gift dinosaur in the mouth.