There’s not a whit of originality in this fourth instalment of the Jurassic Park series; Colin Trevorrow’s film relies on an absurdly familiar formula and every action movie cliché to set up the disaster-heading-our-way-thanks-to-human-stupidity scenario. Why, then, is this film so damn enjoyable, like an oversized box of oversalted popcorn that you grinningly toss down your throat before immediately wanting to regurgitate the whole lot of it?
It’s fascinating to compare last year’s Godzilla (2014) with this new Jurassic Park adventure: both films have been helmed by promising directors whose first features shared many of the same wonderful qualities. Edwards was responsible for the extraordinary Monsters (2010), whilst Trevorrow produced another heartfelt genre gem with Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). In the wake of these films and their festival circuit success stories, in stepped Hollywood studios to secure these talented gentlemen for the purpose of handing them big-budget special effects extravaganzas. The first of the two to appear, Godzilla, was a disaster, as mind-numbingly bland and superfluous as any blockbuster in recent memory, including Guillermo Del Toro’s worst ever film, Pacific Rim (2013), which Godzilla most closely resembles. In both cases, CGI monsters duke it out in the ring whilst essentially helpless, cardboard cut-outs posing as the human protagonists yelp moronically in jibberish on the sidelines as the carnage continues unabated.
Where Godzilla failed in nearly every respect, Jurassic World (2015) shines, employing every audience friendly device they could cram in to tell its stock tale of avarice and stupidity leading to a spectacular fall. It’s a couple of decades after the original and canny businessman Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) is responsible to keeping alive the flame of Dr. Hammond’s ultimate wish to see dinosaurs roaming the world whilst dim-witted humans pay an exorbitantly fee to soak in the prehistoric sights. The complex operations of Jurassic World are overseen by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), one of those blinkered, career driven types whose eyes are only opened to the unprofitable concept of family when vaguely related members of her own are imperilled by rampaging dinosaurs, in this case her nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simkins) who’ve been entrusted to her by her sister Karen (Judy Greer). After fobbing them off to an assistant, Claire’s Jurassic dream turns into a full-scale nightmare when the mutant/hybrid beast, part T-Rex, part Something-o-Saurus, hatched by slyly assertive scientist Dr. Wu (B.D.Wong) and his underlings, breaks free of its supposedly secure enclosure and begins a blood-crazed rampage toward the oblivious, holidaying masses. Let the carnage begin!
Jurassic World succeeds as perfect mindless entertainment for so many reasons: firstly, it stays resolutely true to the origins of the series; also, it pays giddily reflexive homage to some classic film moments, like a set-piece that references Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) in no subtle measure. Then there’s the excellent casting: Howard’s transformation from annoyingly officious bureaucrat to Lara Croft imitator, is fun to watch, especially as she never once discards those high heels even whilst traipsing through and running for her life through dense foliage. Chris Pratt who has a naturally winning screen presence and believable physicality, makes his mark too, whilst Robinson and Simpkins as the nephews more than hold their own whilst never being so annoying that they provoke audiences into wishing some horrible fate – preferably in a T-Rex’s jaws – befalls them. Now, in a mass-market American feature, that’s quite a feat.
Trevorrow’s handling of the action is deft, with some great editing by Kevin Stitt helps elevate the tension levels through all the major set-pieces. There’s a genuine sense of pacing and with stock but still believably real characters’ lives at stake, there’s more substance in the storytelling here than in any single scene offered in the woeful, dispiritingly thin Godzilla. Michael Giacchino’s superb score helps seal the deal too with his always complex orchestral gymnastics propelling the action along further, whilst his emotional new awe-and –wonder theme is a perfect sufficient B-theme for the welcome refrains of John Williams’s classic original Jurassic Park theme.