In the run-up to the release of Jurassic World, there has been a concerted attempt to convince cinemagoers that the film isn't just another far-fetched summer blockbuster but rooted in hard scientific fact. An eminent palaeontologist on the BBC this week told us that the new instalment is "more plausible" than its predecessors because it is "dealing with genetic engineering rather than the retrieval of dinosaur DNA".
It is a relief to report that the film (executive produced by Steven Spielberg) turns out to be every bit as preposterous as the three earlier Jurassic adventures based on Michael Crichton's novels. This isn't some dry treatise on dinosaur cloning. It is theme-park movie-making, which, despite its vast budget, has an engaging creakiness about it. Even seen in 3D on IMAX, Jurassic World is a glorified B-movie at heart, with its tongue firmly in its cheek.
The film-makers do their best with a well-nigh impossible task: to make Jurassic World terrifying and family-friendly. Jurassic World exists (we are told) "to remind us of how very small we are". The director Colin Trevorrow emphasises the point with shots of gigantic, bloody dinosaur footprints on walls, or of audiences watching awe-struck as some monster emerges from the deep to snack on a shark.
Jurassic World in pictures
Conscious of the cutesy anthropomorphism with which T Rexes and pterodactyls have sometimes been treated, Trevorrow puts a bit of menace back into the reptiles. In the film, the shareholders behind Jurassic World, the dinosaur theme park on an island off the coast of Costa Rica, need new "assets". Their customers are weary of petting dinosaurs and want "bigger, louder" animals. They want the "wow" factor. That is why Dr Wu has been busy in the labs. You don't have to have seen King Kong to realise that the creature he designs for $26m isn't going to be sitting in a playpen, eating carrots out of customers' hands.
The female reptile he cooks up is a genetic hybrid with "exaggerated predator" traits, extreme intelligence and, bizarrely, a little bit of cuttlefish in her make-up. We know she has a streak of malice from the first sequences in which we see a gigantic egg cracking and a big close-up of an amber eye peering defiantly out at the world. (In spite of her sex, she is called "Indominus Rex," not "Indominus Regina".)
Jurassic World is run in cynical fashion. Even the seemingly idealistic owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) puts profit margins ahead of safety. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager, speaks in business-school jargon and is too busy to spend time with her nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), who've been sent to the island by their feuding parents for a short holiday.
The hero, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), is a kind of dinosaur whisperer. He has established a rapport with the 'raptors, who curb their more vicious instincts when he talks in their ear. He's a scientist but Pratt portrays him as if he is a blue-collar hunk on leave from a 1980s denim ad. Claire is hard-hearted but, predictably, gets in touch with her Amazonian side once danger threatens. Equally predictably, her attritional relationship with Grady can't hide the erotic attraction they feel for one another.
This is a big Hollywood movie made by a US studio that runs theme parks itself – and would probably jump at the opportunity to open a real Jurassic World. That's why the satire isn't too sharp, even if the screenplay has fun with the absurdly formal language park organisers use to warn customers they're about to be eaten alive. ("Due to a containment anomaly, all guests must take shelter immediately!")
Once the Indominus is let loose, the film turns into a conventional action movie. Michael Giacchino's loud, brassy score sometimes sounds like pastiche John Williams. "Run!" is a word repeated as the creature comes clomping through the undergrowth. When she finds someone to eat, the film-makers take morbid pleasure in letting us hear the munchety-crunchety noise her molars make. She is simply behaving according to her nature: to "kill for sport". That is presumably why the screenplay adds a baddie in a security chief (Vincent D'Onofrio) with a crazy scheme to use dinosaurs as weapons of war.
When Spielberg was in post-production on Jurassic Park, he edited at night while directing Schindler's List by day. There was a sense that he considered the film a diversion – a romp in the vein of monster movies with stop-motion creatures by Ray Harryhausen.
Jurassic World works in similar fashion. It is a fairground ride of a movie in which narrative development recedes as thrills are foregrounded. Throughout, there are in-jokes about the earlier films. John Hammond (the Jurassic Park founder played by Richard Attenborough) is mentioned and some props from his day turn up. The hybrid dinosaur doesn't look much different to the old ones. She is there to run away from. Further sequels are no doubt in the offing but one hopes that the next time the film-makers tinker with Jurassic DNA, they inject some freshness into the storyline, too.Reuse content