Incredibly, it’s been almost a quarter century since Steven Spielberg’s box office phenomenon Jurassic Park dominated cinema screens, with its ground-breaking visual effects, family film event feel and sense of wonder. The film struck a chord with audiences worldwide; old and young alike were thrilled by the notion of dinosaurs existing in our time, coupled with the director’s skillful storytelling techniques. The inclusion of moral and ethical questions about genetic cloning that author Michael Crichton explored in his source novel were also present and correct, which even gave the intellectuals something to scratch their chins over. A big part of the film’s appeal was the depiction of a tropical island where people could go and safely visit the animals, but of course, as with Crichton’s own 1970’s film Westworld, the attractions escape and the whole plan goes awry. The enormous success of the film led to sequels The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, but though between them they brought back the surviving cast of the first film and even Spielberg in the director’s chair (for Lost World), the lack of a park setting failed to enthrall audiences and, while they made money, the franchise looked as though it had itself become extinct.
A lengthy break from a franchise can often be healthy; to look at what was enjoyed in the original installment and what was lacking in the sequels. Here, director Colin Trevorrow has done just that and brought back the key element that was missing – the park itself. For this is the first sequel that returns to the original Costa Rican locale of Isla Nublar, allowing audiences to finally see the promise of park creator John Hammond’s vision and cueing a number of neat references back to the original film. From its Seaworld-esque mosasaurus attraction (complete with a wry nod to Jaws) to baby triceratops petting zoo and the original T Rex gamely chomping on a goat it looks like the (ahem), teething problems were finally ironed out to create a safe experience. However, it would make for a pretty dull film if things continued to go according to plan, and in a clever plot device the InGen scientists led by Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong, the only original JP cast member to return here) meddle with genetics to create a new, more dangerous hybrid dinosaur, which or course breaks loose and the blood-letting begins.
The series has always let the dinos remain the real stars of the show, but wisely pitted them against a non-starry human cast of decent actors to help the tall tale feel more credible. JW is no exception, and fresh from his brilliant turn as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy, we get a beefed-up Chris Pratt as Owen, a resourceful animal handler who has trained a family of the terrifying velociraptors to follow his command. Bryce Dallas Howard dons the late Dickie Attenborough’s white uniform from the original as park administrator Claire, a frosty character who you know will thaw out and literally roll her sleeves up and prove her action chops when all Hell breaks loose. Rounding out their Spielbergian dysfunctional film family are Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson as Claire’s nephews, sent on a pre-Christmas trip to the island while their parents initiate divorce proceedings.
Visual effects have unsurprisingly moved on leaps and bounds since the original adventure, here not just in creating the clawed ones but in realizing an entire island resort with its cages to house the beasts and convincing town buildings and boundaries. The velciraptors prove they are not easily tamed, the villainous genetic mash up of T Rex and a classified dino, the Indominous Rex, is a real menace and threat to everything breathing on the island and fan favourite ol’ T Rex is saved up for a mighty monster mash in the final reel. A noteworthy inclusion from weaker series entry JPIII is a full-on exodus from a giant aviary of escaping pteranodons, giving the film its most ominous and epic sequence as they descend on 20,000 park visitors and treat them as, what Pete Postelthwaite calls in LW, a “running buffet”.
Director Trevorrow deserves huge credit for taking a much-loved franchise and instilling it with fresh DNA to come up with something new, much like the hybrid dino running amok in his epic opus. There is no need to tread old ground like many current belated sequels as the first film is still on the audience’s radar. Instead he takes a leaf from his exec producer Spielberg’s book and sets up the characters, placing them in peril and orchestrating set piece after set piece until the end credits roll. The pacing is perfect for a film of this nature, and Hollywood producers would do well to note a story can be told adequately in two hours. Critically, the director also allows enough breathing space in between the carnage (or should that be caranavorage?) to break out some breathtaking helicopter shots of this fascinating world, with John Williams’ still awe-inspiring theme playing at full blast. The film has broken all box office records in its first two weeks on release and more sequels will surely follow. But for now, go pay the asking price and check this one out on the big screen while you can. They truly have ‘spared no expense’.
Jurassic World is out now in UK cinemas
Words> Roy Swansborough