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Jurassic World •••1/2

Jurassic_World_posterStarring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: June 12, 2015


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Head for the hills, Scott – the dinosaurs are back

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

And this time they’re a World of trouble. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to a cherubic boy, Gray (Ty Simpkins), and his older brother Zach (Nick Robinson). They’re on their way to Jurassic World, a theme park with real dinosaurs. They are to be met by their Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who runs the entire park. But she’s far too busy with, you know, running the park to attend to their needs. So she assigns an underling to babysit them. But it isn’t long (actually it really is a long time) before the big bad Indominasaur gets loose and the boys are first on the dinner menu.

Meanwhile, head of security Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who plans to use the raptors as a military weapon, now wants to use them to stop the Indominasaur from eating the 20,000 paying customers on the island. The raptors’ trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) opposes the idea but is kept busy trying to rescue the two boys. To help him understand the Indominasaur, Grady wants to know which dinosaurs’ DNA was combined to engineer the beast, but no one, including park geneticist Henry Wu (BD Wong), will tell him.

Jurassic World is the fourth in the Jurassic Park series. And it is arguably as good as the first. And why not? It’s essentially the same plot as the first. The movie has the same message as Jurassic Park as well: don’t mess with Mother Nature. The modern CGI and animatronics in this film made it worth the $11 I paid for admission. While I didn’t pay for the 3D version, I can see why people would.

As popular as this film is (it is the highest grossing film in history), I was troubled with the long setup. The director spent a leisurely amount of time introducing all the characters before anything exciting happens. Usually the “inciting incident” happens in the first 10 minutes of the film. But the escape of the Indominasaurus doesn’t happen for at least 30 minutes in. It took a long time to get to the action, but when it did, the action was fast and furious.

Jurassic World pretty much gives viewers everything they could possibly want in a movie about dinosaurs run amok. There is a genetically engineered dinosaur that is bigger and badder than any dinosaur that ever lived. There are vulnerable children whom you know will be chased and nearly eaten. There is a love story that you know will be in peril thanks to the big bad beast. There is a park executive who is over-confident about park security. Yes, all the pieces are in place and used to great effect.

Jurassic World is a movie that works despite its predictability because it gives us characters that we care about and a dinosaur that’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen. In our new book Reel Heroes: Volume 2, we discuss a type of villain who is shrouded in mystery. The Indominasaur is just such a villain. We aren’t privy to its breeding background until late in the film at a pivotal moment when it’s true insidious power is revealed. The mysterious evil origins and unprecedented intelligence of this animal makes it a formidable adversary for our heroes.

As impressed as I was with the special effects, I was nonplussed by the story. It was a thinly veiled reimagining of the first installment – which in turn was a thinly veiled retelling of Jaws. Even the park manager explains how this film works when she says (of the park, not the movie) “Customers want bigger, louder, more teeth.” And that is what we got.

And the hero’s journey is hard to decipher. Was this Owen Grady’s story? Or was it Claire’s. Owen doesn’t grow in the story, but Claire grows from a frosty corporate stiff into a domesticated woman ready to lay down her life for her children and her man. Or is it a buddy story of two lost lovers who come together in the face of a common foe? Then again, it might be the story of redemption for the park owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) who gives his life saving the park customers. It’s hard to focus on any one story as there are so many threads in play.

Greg, I categorize the heroes in this film as a family ensemble, with Aunt Claire and boyfriend Owen playing the parent figures to the two nephew boys Zach and Gray. All four of these family members share roughly equal screen time and go on their own hero journeys. All four of them transform in different ways. Claire evolves from a cold, bottom-line executive to a moving, feeling human who can empathize with the dinosaurs and care about the children. Owen discovers that he is capable of loving Claire. The boys experience a coming-of-age journey in which they have to grow up quickly and develop resourcefulness and courage.

Besides the Indominasaur, the primary villain in the film is Hoskins, who cares about nothing except using the dinosaurs to eat people in America’s wars in the middle-east. Hoskins is a lone villain with plenty of military minions at his disposal. He is fun to loathe because he treats everyone around him, humans and dinosaurs alike, as objects that he can manipulate to serve his interests.

I think I detect a new type of secondary character in this film, Scott. That of the “endangered mass.” The 20,000 customers of the park are in peril, and it is our heroes’ goal to save them all. We’ve seen this in other films this summer: San Andreas, for example.

There were a few noteworthy secondary characters. Jake Johnson puts in a nice performance as Lowry – the geeky guy who believes in the purity of the original dinosaurs. Then there’s his female counterpart who is equally geeky but less committed to the dream. The boys’ mother puts in a motherly performance to contrast with Claire’s cool demeanor.

Jurassic World is a world of fun. Besides providing us with a good characters and plenty of people being chewed to bits, the movie delivers an important message about hubris. Jurassic World shows us the dangers associated with underestimating the power of nature and the foolishness of placing profit over the humane treatment of animals. Yes, these themes are familiar and the film is predictable but I enjoyed this bone-crunching adventure very much. I’ll award Jurassic World 4 Reels out of 5.

The family hero ensemble is put together quite effectively and undergoes at least two meaningful transformations. It was gratifying to see Claire transform into a character who shows ample strength and courage. She saves Owen’s life at least once, and morphs into a caring Aunt. The two kids show us some impressive grit and courage, too. Not all the elements of the hero’s journey are present but enough are there to make me happy. I give this family group 3 Heroes out of 5.

I have to admit, I loved the Indominasaur. This beast is a smart, enigmatic behemoth. The movie does a good job of withholding its lethal pedigree until the very end at a key moment. Hoskins is a nasty villain who abuses and misuses the dinosaurs in ways that leave us longing for him to receive his comeuppance (which he does). These two villains are fun to fear and revile. The rest of the cast shines, too, in their limited supporting roles. Overall I give the secondary cast a rating of 4 out of 5.

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As usual, I wasn’t as enamoured of this film as you were, Scott. Jurassic World is a retread of retreads. We’ve seen all of this before. The special effects were impressive, but the story has become hackneyed. I can only muster 3 out of 5 Reels for Jurassic World.

I like your assessment of the family hero structure in this film. But I think it was much more a dual buddy arrangement. There was the romantic buddy story with Owen and Claire, and the brother buddy story between Gray and Zach. In the first pairing, Claire becomes less frosty as she admits she cares for Owen and her nephews. In the second, Zach becomes more adult as he takes responsibility for his brother’s well-being. It’s an interesting structure, especially as the stories combine in the end to resemble the family hero structure. I give this hero ensemble 4 out of 5 Heroes.

As we’ve already noticed, we’re treated to a bunch of good secondary characters in Jurassic World. Almost too many to count, really. But they were all used to good effect. I give the supporting cast 4 out of 5 Cast points.

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