And that is what I see in Jurassic World: the biggest budgeted fan film ever.
Director Colin Trevorrow's love for the original Jurassic Park is evident in nearly every frame of the film. As someone who saw the movie 5 times in the theater back in 1993, I was swept up in the love and nostalgia that I saw on the screen.
Jurassic World is set in a place where Jon Hammond (the character played by Sir Richard Attenborough) has his vision realized. We get to see what a fully functioning dinosaur theme park would look like. The film centers around Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), is the manager of the park for eccentric billionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Her 2 nephews, teen Zach (Nick Robinson) and wide-eyed kid Gray (Ty Simpkins), are in for a visit to the park. This happens while Claire is in the process of preparing the announcement of a unique, man-made dinosaur that has been genetically spliced from a T-Rex and other sources: the Indominus Rex. This beast is smart and dangerous. Claire is forced to seek the help of Owen (Chris Pratt), who has been working hard at training Velociraptors but resisting the pressure by Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) to use them as military weapons. But then things begin to go wrong with the Indominus Rex and, as with all Jurassic Park films, wackiness ensues.
While the above plot summary sounds like a lot, it is actually very densely and efficiently packaged. Particularly, Zach and Gray become the vehicle for the audience to experience the wonder of Hammond's vision. And that is something that this Jurassic Park movie does better than any of the other sequels. Lost World and JP3 turned the dinosaurs into simple beasts and monsters. But Jurassic World reminds us how awe-inspiring it would be to be in the presence of the extinct creatures. As dangerous as we know a park like this could be Trevorrow presents it with such grandeur and coolness that you can almost see yourself risking a dinosaur stampede just for the opportunity to experience what the guests experience.
There has been a lot of internet hate at the mostly CGI special effects, but I think that they are unfounded. Trevorrow uses all the best technology to create an amazing visual spectacle. Early in the film Claire asks a potential investor what they want. He responds, "We want to be thrilled." And that is what Jurassic World delivers. At over 2 hours, the film packs in a great deal of story and action in a small timeframe. In this very desensitized age, there were shots and scenes that elicited big screams in the theater. And the thrills built up higher and higher as the film went on until the epic clash at the end (which I will not spoil here).
The film also does a good job of balancing the respect and terror of these creatures. The Lost World seemed to put human life as having less value than the dinosaurs. It is one of the most annoying features of that movie. Jurassic World draws you in to care about these creatures as living, feeling things, even the Velociraptors. But the movie never lets you forget that they are not tame. At one point a character asks Owen if the Velociraptors are safe. Owen, who has formed a strong bond with them still says, "No." The film deftly presents how we should admire and esteem living creatures, but it never places them at the same level as people, recognize the Catholic idea of human dignity above the beasts.
And as with all the Jurassic Park films, it follows the same Prometheus/Frankenstein theme of man meddling too much with the domain of the divine. Whenever we use our technology recklessly, tragedy ensues.
There are 2 main drawbacks to the film that prevent this good film from being great. The first is a biggie: the characters are completely flat. The original JP resonated so powerfully because we fell in love with the characters and cared about them deeply in that first hour. Then when all hell broke loose we desperately cared what happened. The characters here do not have that dimension. They seem to be functionaries of the plot. Zach is the teenage jerk, Gray is awe-struck innocent, Claire is the uptight executive, Owen is the manly ranger, and Hoskins is the greedy corporate guy. The acting is serviceable enough, but only Pratt lets his natural charisma shine through. Kahn is a particularly frustrating casting choice because his dialogue is sometimes lost through his thick accent. A lot of internet chatter has said that the portrayal of Claire is sexist, but I didn't see that at all. She is the one who has the largest arch and character development from the beginning of the film to the end. Yes, she starts cold and aloof, but she develops in to a brave and compassionate character.
The second drawback has to do with the Hoskins plot. He keeps arguing for why using Velociraptors as military weapons would be a genius idea. But whenever he spoke I just kept hearing Doc Brown from Back to the Future saying, "He had this crazy idea about breeding pine trees." In other words, Hoskins plan is stupid. It is beyond stupid. He claims that 4 Velociraptors could take out the Indominus Rex. But anyone who saw the first JP remembers that a T-Rex dispatched 2 of them like they were nothing. But this plot is there only as a means to get Owen leading a pack of Velociraptors against the Indominus (which is admittedly awesome) and to show corporate/militaristic greed (which is not as awesome).
But these drawbacks are disappointing in that they keep the film from soaring. It has within it the potential for greatness that is never fully realized.
Still, if you are looking to be thrilled, then I would suggest a visit to Jurassic World.
4 out of 5 stars.