Return to Isla Nublar in JURASSIC WORLD!
Join Numbers as he travels back to a remote island near Costa Rica and ponders at length about the latest Jurassic Park film. Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of AtomicMoo.com or its staff, even though they really should.
Hard to believe it now, but there used to be a time when “movie magic” still meant something, and CGI was an unproven, budding post-production tool rather than the overused eyesore it is today. Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking 1993 film Jurassic Park, based on Michael Crichton’s bestselling thriller novel, was celebrated for its incredible special effects that still hold up over twenty years later, including prominent use of computer effects before that was a given. More than just a tech demo, the film awed audiences around the world with its believable human characters, palpable tension, incredible soundtrack, and breathtaking visuals. Jurassic Park defined its decade and shaped the face of film making for years to come.
But how do you follow a legend? They certainly tried, with a follow-up novel and two movie sequels, none of which were quite as good as the original, and certainly did not have its impact. Perhaps the answer was simply to wait.
Set twenty-two years after the original film, Jurassic World remains true in spirit and tone to Spielberg’s classic largely by telling a similar story: that of a catastrophic event in a good-intentioned theme park. Building on the events (and even the island) of the first book and movie and not acknowledging any of the other Jurassic media (thankfully), Jurassic World invites audiences back to Isla Nublar, off the shores of Costa Rica, where over twenty years prior, John Hammond, the billionaire industrialist and CEO of International Genetics Technologies, built his theme park. But InGen hadn’t just built a tropical resort. Using recovered (and ultimately, modified) prehistoric DNA, Hammond’s team, lead by the brilliant geneticist Dr. Henry Wu, managed to clone dinosaurs for the whole world to visit at Jurassic Park.
But you already know that story. You know how the power went out. You know how the dinosaurs broke free. You know that theoretician Dr. Ian Malcolm was, as always, right, when he claimed the park was doomed from the start. And you know how many people died.
Time seems to have healed those wounds as InGen now finds itself entrusted to Simon Masrani, one of the richest men in the world. Trusted by the late John Hammond, Masrani builds Jurassic World, a new theme park on the same island as the old Jurassic Park, vowing to keep Hammond’s dream alive but determined not the repeat his mistakes.
Perhaps even Malcolm would be surprised as, thanks to a bigger budget, more staff, better planning, higher technology, and, dare I say it, sparing no expense, Jurassic World is a success. The island is safe and captures the world’s imagination. People forget about the disastrous first Park, about Site B, about the San Diego Incident, about the casualties, and dinosaurs ruled the world of tourism.
But, like any theme park, the public demands more. Bigger attractions, bigger thrills. In today’s hyper-connected world where phones are smarter than their owners, even seeing a living, breathing dinosaur isn’t enough. Masrani has Dr. Wu create a new attraction, a genetic hybrid of multiple predatory dinosaurs dubbed “Indominus Rex,” which promptly breaks free from its paddock, and you don’t need to be Ian Malcolm to deduce what happens next.
Familiar enough to the first film without all-out rebooting it, Jurassic World delivers what the other movies in the series could not, and what many fans have wanted to see for decades: Hammond’s plan work. Visitors explore the island, marveling at what surrounds them, much in the way audiences must have upon seeing Spielberg’s beasts on the big screen in 1993. Delivering on the “what if Jurassic Park hadn’t failed?” question is one of Jurassic World’s strengths, even if the park itself looks far too commercial (albeit plausible). In fact, for the first time in the film franchise’s history, John Williams’ awe-inspiring theme is not played over a breathtaking scene of dinosaurs peacefully living in their natural habitat. Instead, the familiar fanfare plays over footage of the man-made tourist village, as if to triumphantly celebrate the realization of Hammond’s vision. There is even a statue of the man, amber staff and all, gracing the new Visitors’ Center.
But just how Hammond’s short-sightedness (and perhaps enthusiasm) blinded him and doomed his Park, this new World shares a similar fate. Masrani even displays many of Hammond’s characteristics, in that he genuinely cares about the park and pleasing the visitors, going so far as to ask Dr. Wu to make what the businessman refers to as “cooler” attractions.
It makes sense that a dinosaur theme park would need new attractions. The same thing happens in real life: new roller coasters are built, zoos get new animals… Even if the initial luster of seeing a living, breathing prehistoric creature has worn off, surely they could introduce other dinosaur species to the park rather than gene splice a fictional one. Just like how the movies kept adding different dinosaurs to keep things interesting (such as The Lost World’s Parasaurs, and Pachycephelasaurus, and Jurassic Park III replacing the T-Rex with a Spinosaurus), surely Dr. Wu could have brought back different species instead of making a terrifying genetic hybrid. One of Spielberg’s team’s core rules on the first film, one which is felt throughout the rest of them, is that their dinosaurs were to be portrayed as animals and not as monsters. Luckily, Jurassic World is more than just a mindless monster movie.
It was nice to see Dr. Wu back on the big screen, portrayed once again by B.D. Wong. Wu has had a rough history throughout the franchise: dying in the first book and the comics, being largely replaced by Mr. DNA in the first film, being discredited entirely in Telltale’s terrible thankfully-non-canon fan-fiction Jurassic Park: The Game… Not only does he return in Jurassic World, but one of his most important scenes of the first novel has finally made its way into the movies, although Masrani replaces Hammond in this version. Wu is not a fool. He is not a mad scientist playing god. He is completely aware that his creations are not natural, not “real” dinosaurs. He has recreated dinosaurs based on what Hammond and Masrani told him, giving the public what they want to see (in terms of appearance and behaviour) rather than recreating dinosaurs as they were (feathers and all). While I certainly enjoyed the return of a classic Jurassic Park character, I did not appreciate Dr. Wu being treated as a villain. He is a man whose entire professional career has been dedicated to creating what Dr. Alan Grant so colorfully referred to as “genetically-engineered theme park monsters” to please his corporate overlords, and is not a mean-spirited evil individual.
Jurassic World’s main human villain is perhaps human nature itself, albeit personified by Vic Hoskins, InGen’s head of security. A military man through and through, Hoskins knows why specialist Owen Grady was sent to study whether or not Jurassic World’s Velociraptors could be trained. Raptors can do what drones can’t, Hoskins argues, and is convinced the deadly pack hunters can be harnessed for military applications. And whether or not the raptors are trained enough, and whether or not Owen agrees, he finds himself tracking the Indominus Rex at night with his not-yet-housebroken raptors. I’m real glad that they portrayed the raptors as vicious, dangerous animals that can learn but cannot be controlled, and did not pull a “The Adventures of Motorcycle Guy & Raptor Bros” as the marketing lead me to believe.
Owen, played by the unfortunately overused alleged funnyman Chris Pratt, is a brash, hands-on, foul-mouthed unshaven tough guy, worlds different from his boss, park operations overseer Claire Dearing. Played by Ron Howard’s stunning daughter Bryce Dallas Howard, Claire represents the business side of Jurassic World, all suits and statistics, all spreadsheets and smartphones. It’s no wonder that Owen and Claire’s romantic entanglement ended poorly. Not that that’ll stop Owen from trying again.
Claire has a lot on her plate, as the day she needs to present the Indominus Rex to the board is the day her sister (played by the always-lovely Judy Greer) sends her two sons to the park. The younger brother is energetic, obsessed with dinosaurs, but emotionally disturbed by what he is convinced is his parents’ impending divorce. The older brother is, essentially, a teenage douchebag, absorbed in his gadgetry and focused on trying to pick up girls. They both could use a haircut. While a bit stereotypical, the boys are plausible, believable characters, and they’re in for a trip they won’t soon forget.
It would seem that Masrani forgot about Isla Sorna, the setting of Crichton’s second novel and the second and third movies. InGen used this “Site B” location to test and grow dinosaurs before transporting them to Isla Nublar, the Jurassic Park. Despite opening a new park on Isla Nublar, there does not seem to be a new Site B on Isla Sorna, so rather than monitor the Indominus Rex on an island devoid of human tourists, the beast is put into a paddock on the same island as the open Jurassic World.
How is this possibly a good idea? Does modern InGen lack even Hammond’s foresight? Surely the Jurassic World team must have a test facility where they could grow their dinosaurs and monitor them for defects before safely enclosing them in secure paddocks, just like in the novels and movies. Granted, the illusion of control is a central theme of Jurassic World as well as the first film and the book on which it is based, but housing a dangerous, untested genetic nightmare, the abilities of which are not fully known, on the same island as delicious meaty crowds is either a plot hole or the staff of Jurassic World are even more clueless than their predecessors, more than two decades before them. Malcolm’s speech in Jurassic Park, about simply building on someone else’s work and not having to put in any effort of your own couldn’t be truer.
Speaking of franchise nostalgia, long-time (and eagle-eyed) fans of the series will catch a lot. The waterfall scene from the first novel makes its way into the movies, albeit in a shortened form. The first book’s aviary makes another appearance, not as spooky as in Jurassic Park III however, and when damaged, releases flocks of Pteranodons, which battle with a helicopter. A helicopter-vs-Pteranodon battle was set to be the conclusion of the movie version of The Lost World, before being replaced by the ridiculous monster-movie-esque T-Rex-in-the-city scene. Jurassic World’s helicopter battle even draws inspiration from The Lost World’s unused climactic battle’s storyboards. The baby Triceratops whose scene was cut out of the first movie (but appeared in the book), makes her way onto this big screen this time. A Tyrannosaurus Rex destroys the skeleton of a Spinosaurus, a stab at Jurassic Park III. And naturally, there are shots of predators in vehicles’ rear view mirrors, which are closer than they appear.
Dr. Wu isn’t the only familiar face that returns from the first film. There are several, in fact… and not all of them are organic. Jurassic World is not simply filled with meaningless fan service. All of the little nods and references, be them props or musical cues, feel as though they have a reason to be there, and not simply thrown in to make a fan giggle. No one shouts “Hold onto your butts!” for any reason. In fact, one of the characters is, essentially, a stand-in for the Jurassic Park¬ super-fan in the audience. Wearing a t-shirt from the original Park (purchased on eBay, of course), and with a workstation decorated with toy dinosaurs and a book by Ian Malcolm, the comic relief character perfectly represents the hardcore fan who has been waiting for this movie for more than twenty years. For some reason, though, he’s not played by Charlie Day.
References to the first movie aren’t the only nostalgic elements of Jurassic World. Listed in the credits are some familiar names, among them dinosaur supervisor Phil Tippett and Stan Winston’s studio, effects staff from the original movie, whose works have been featured in all four Jurassic flicks. Tippett’s stop-motion animation experience ensured life-like behaviour in Jurassic Park’s CGI dinosaurs, and Winston’s animatronic creations put T-Rexes on soundstages on Compys all over actors. Almost unexpectedly, certain scenes of Jurassic World featured animatronic dinosaurs, and these giants of practical effects, true movie magic, have been called upon again.
Despite some tremendous fan service and a great sense of nostalgia, I couldn’t help but feel that a few elements were missing. In all three of the prior movies, there was always a scene in which at least one large carnivore attacks at night, in the rain. There are several scenes featuring Jurassic World’s big bad, the Indominus Rex, on the loose at night, including the Raptor Bros tracking it through the jungle, and the thrilling final battle. Unfortunately, there was no downpour at all. To put as much effort into paying tribute to the original film, it is surprising that they decided not to rain on their sound stages this time. It would have gone a long way in not only setting the atmosphere, but making yet another nod at the source material.
Also missing are engaging human characters. Spielberg made it a point in the first film to have a believable cast, and he certainly succeeded. Characters grew and developed in Jurassic Park. Alan Grant goes from hating kids to being a protective father figure by the end of the adventure. John Hammond’s evolution, from a high-spirited constantly-jovial grandfather to a sad, humiliated old man is an acting tour-de-force from Lord Richard Attenborough. Other than perhaps Claire and the older brother, characters in Jurassic World do not develop much over the course of film, and changes in their personality, such as the teenage douchebag finally acting like a responsible big brother for a change, feel sudden and jarring. Furthermore, the cast of characters just are not that memorable or well-acted, and overuse of comedy when it doesn’t belong makes the characters much less likeable. When Tim and Lex awkwardly tried making jokes in Jurassic Park, they were trying to keep each other in high spirits in spite of their struggles. When the boys in Jurassic World celebrate Owen’s forced badassery on more than one occasion, their rapid mood change feels completely out of place for two traumatized survivors of multiple dinosaur attacks. Claire seems to learn some amount of humility, not unlike John Hammond, but the scene in which the two redheaded sisters hold each other and cry is much, much too short. It was quite crucial to the development of their characters, you see.
Why all this talk about the rest of the Jurassic Park franchise? It’s simple. Jurassic World’s only standout feature is that it is a successful tribute to the rest of the franchise. It pays homage to what came before it, showing the realization of Hammond’s dream and telling a similar story to the first (and strongest) film. It gave scenes from the book and unused movie storyboards a chance to grace the silver screen. It let us remember the summer of 1993. But other than that, it does not do anything unique or special, and fails to stand out on its own. If I wasn’t such a big Jurassic Park fan, I don’t know how enjoyable this flick would have been.
The story, as mentioned earlier, is kind of ridiculous. Even with a high-tech control room to rival a space mission, a fleet of product-placement Mercedes vehicles, and SWAT team “Asset Containment Unit” troopers with nets and tranquilizer guns, the staff of Jurassic World are not in control. They could never control nature, and all the electrified fencing and motion-trackers in the world could not keep an island of dangerous prehistoric beasts in check. To think that it would take a hybrid monster to throw the island into chaos is lunacy. Stampeding Triceratops, a power failure, a broken fence, a structural weak point in the aviary, human error… Even without the introduction of an untested genetic monstrosity (which really should have been tested off-island at Site B), it’s unreasonable to think there wouldn’t have been some kind of disaster at Jurassic World. Granted, the genetic mishmash of the Indominus Rex made that creature more of a threat than a simple Tyrannosaur could have been, but conceptually, the I-Rex is very unoriginal, and in terms of design, looks like a rejected character design from a Monster Hunter game. At least it made for some thrilling scenes and an exciting final battle.
Jurassic World succeeds as a surprisingly enjoyable tribute to a beloved franchise. Those without any nostalgia for the series will not get the most out of the movie, but might still find reason enough to enjoy the action-packed adventure. Those who are fans of Jurassic Park, who have had John Williams’ unforgettable score in their heads for decades, and who smile at the mention of “Dino-Damage,” prepare yourselves for a treat. Prepare to revisit that time in your life “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.” The Park might be open, but after twenty-two years, the circle is satisfyingly closed.