In 1993, Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" (based on the best-selling novel by Michael Crichton) broke box-office records, took a quantum leap forward in its near-seamless melding of animatronic and computer-generated effects, and in the space of two hours made audiences believe that dinosaurs once again walked the earth. It was a revolutionary cinematic achievement, yes, but it never lost sight of its heart and its ability to mount sequences of heart-stopping suspense. Two sequels followed1997's bloated, occasionally involving, decidedly lesser "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," again directed by Spielberg, and Joe Johnston's tauter, leaner 2001 installment "Jurassic Park III
"but neither one could quite live up to the magic and novelty of the groundbreaking original picture.
Fourteen years after the last installment was released, the franchise has been resurrected with the long-awaited "Jurassic World." Anticipation levels have been understandably high leading up to its release, and fortunately the finished product lives up to the hype. Providing all of the elements fans could hope forwhite-knuckle tension; an inviting cast of characters; a moralistic, socially conscious plot; touches of reassuring humanity; judiciously used dinos galorethe film catapults itself into a fresh, complicated era of the here and now while remaining true to the kind of high-concept, cunningly conceived storytelling of which the best summer blockbusters are made. For writer-director Colin Trevorrow, whose only previous feature was 2012's indie sci-fi/comedy "Safety Not Guaranteed," this is a radical step forward in his filmmaking career. It is safe to say that "Jurassic World" most definitely reminds of a ripe Spielbergian vintage.
It has been over two decades since billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond's (played by the late Richard Attenborough) plans to use genetically engineered prehistoric creatures as the cornerstone of a safari getaway fell apart before it had time to officially open to the public. With the passage of time and advances in science and technology, Hammond's failed endeavor has come to fruition in the form of Jurassic World, a fully functioning theme park located on the remote island of Isla Nublar. Determined to continue satiating consumer interest by upping the ante with new attractions, operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has supported the creation of the first genetically modified hybrid, a dinosaur bred in captivity that is even bigger and scarier than the Tyrannosaurus rex. Nothing like the Indominus rex has been seen or studied before, and passionate researcher/dino-trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) warns Claire that she and her colleagues are playing with fire by daring to introduce this monstrous creation into the fold. Unfortunately, his words of caution have come too late. Escaping from isolation and smart enough to tear the implanted tracker device out of his body, the Indominus sets a path of destruction as it edges nearer to the 22,000 visitors currently in the park. In an added stroke of exceptionally bad luck for Claire, two of said endangered visitors are her vacationing nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson).
"Jurassic World" is exactly what a sequel should be, expanding the series' vision while capturing the spirit of the original. The screenplay, co-written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly, is absorbing, economically taking the time to set up its characters and the high-tech island theme park. This latter aspect is stunningly conceived, an immersive depiction of a setting that may have begun as a figment of its creators' imaginations, but comes alive on film in a way that is pure magic. From the rides, to the shops, to the shows, to the petting zoo, to the underwater observation decks, to the hotel resorts, Trevorrow (aided immeasurably by Ed Verreaux's lavish production design) has outdone himself in creating an expansive actualization of Hammond's dream adventure destination.
Just because Jurassic World is under increased security within a controlled environment doesn't make it entirely safe or foolproofa fact that only intensifies when the wildly unpredictable Indominus rex is introduced to the delicate equation. The choice to tease the audience by only gradually revealing this daunting carnivore is stupendously effective, building suspense and curiosity to a fevered clip. The set-piece where it escapes and begins its deadly rampage as Claire watches the instantaneous collapse of an enterprise she has dedicated her life to build is edge-of-your-seat stuff. The jittery momentum continues from there, as Gray and Zach's gyrosphere ride leads to a terrifying encounter with the dinosaur. The discovery of a decaying building in the forest housing artifacts from the events of "Jurassic Park" leads to some very cool nostalgic throwbacks while tightly intertwining the evolution of the two films' cautionary narratives. And, when the Indominus rex breaches the aviary dome, it leads to a Pteranodon attack that will likely make one never think of a harmless trip to the zoo or a Disney park in quite the same way again.
It has been close to four years since Bryce Dallas Howard's (2011's "50/50
") last screen appearance, and she makes a sensational return as the headstrong Claire Dearing, a business-minded career woman who has misplaced her soul for the bottom line. Howard's arc as she learns the error of her ways and comes to see the dinosaurs as living beings rather than impersonal "assets" is stirringly portrayed, as is her believable transformation into a fallible but fierce action heroine who will do anything to protect her nephews. As the intuitive Owen Grady, who has trained the park's Velociraptors to view him as their alpha, Chris Pratt (2014's "Guardians of the Galaxy
") is a strapping co-star whose innate likable charisma continues to be one of his most notable traits. It would have been easy to repeat Pratt's quirky, self-deprecating role as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, but he is treated as more of a classically orthodox male lead here, a man highly proficient in his work who frowns upon the impersonal corporate treatment of the animals in the park.
Ty Simpkins (2013's "Insidious: Chapter 2
") and Nick Robinson (2013's "The Kings of Summer
") are excellent as brothers Gray and Zach, arriving in Isla Nublar and getting promptly shuffled off to be looked after by Claire's assistant Zara (Katie McGrath). Their eventual decision to ditch her and go off on their own perilously coincides with all hell breaking loose. The older, girl-crazy Zach chooses not to see what is going on in their family life, but Gray knows too well that their parents, Karen (Judy Greer) and Scott (Andy Buckley), are on the verge of divorcing. This emotional strife and the ensuing life-threatening situations they find themselves in draw Zach and Gray closer, and Simpkins and Robinson are unexpectedly touching and wholly convincing as siblings who must work together to survive.
With just a few scenes, the inestimable Judy Greer (2014's "Men, Women & Children
") finds distinct layers in Karen and the relationships she shares with her sons and sister Claire, who hasn't seen her nephews in seven years. The trouble Karen is facing in her marriage is only briefly touched upon, but Greer has an expressive gift to speak volumes with no more than a facial expression or a line or two. As mission control operators Vivian and Lowery, Lauren Lapkus (2014's "Blended
") and Jake Johnson (2014's "Neighbors
") give color and personality to what could have been thankless, instantly forgettable supporting roles. Irrhan Khan (2012's "Life of Pi
") brings a steady intensity to CEO Simon Masrani, who has come to Jurassic World to ensure security best practices are in place. The sole returnee from the first "Jurassic Park," the underrated B.D. Wong (2015's "Focus
") is a welcome face as lead geneticist Dr. Henry Wu, his motivations and worldview muddying during the intervening timespan. If there is a weak link in the ensemble, it is the resident villain of the piece, opportunistic private security head Vic Hoskins. Vincent D'Onofrio (2006's "The Break-Up
") serves his purpose in the part, but his character comes off as a rather stock bad guy. Vic's inevitable comeuppance cannot come soon enough.
"Jurassic World" is an electrifying, thoroughly realized entertainment, paying reverence to "Jurassic Park" while coming closer than its two immediate predecessors ever did in living up to the momentous classic that started it all. The thrills are expertly mounted, the chills are plentiful, and the crucial human element levels out the extraordinary goings-on with identifiable protagonists about whom the viewer grows to understand and care. Visual effects are exceptional, with tangible animatronics methodically threaded in between the more pervasive CGI as a way of accomplishing this high-wire aesthetic illusion. Michael Giacchino's (2015's "Tomorrowland
") music score is perfection, a blend of rousing new compositions with John Williams' unforgettable original themes. The provocative struggles between nature vs. nurture and ethics vs. commerce, and the consequences of putting into action scientific breakthroughs that aren't yet adequately understood, gives the film a mindful depth that additionally raises it above standard popcorn fare. Looking for a film that fulfills its every promise to dazzle, engross and legitimately excite? Then search no further. "Jurassic World" is the summer movie event of 2015, and it's a knockout.