Friday, June 12, 2015

Sparing No Expense: "Jurassic World" a toothy, highly entertaining excursion of thrills and chills

Jurassic World (2015)
123 min., rated PG-13. 

In 1993, Steven Spielberg made his event-like blockbuster "Jurassic Park," based on Michael Crichton's novel. For those old enough to have witnessed seeing the movie for the first time on the big screen, the revolutionary special effects were truly special and able to take one's breath away. That quintessential dinosaurs-run-amok thriller still holds up today, but while nothing will ever have the same movie-magic impact as the original, the sequels were still all thrill machines in their own right. 1997's Spielberg-directed "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" was bloated but still fun with each cliff-hanging set-piece topping the last, and then 2001's "Jurassic Park III," directed by Joe Johnston, was just a trim, entertaining popcorn movie. Before finally coming to fruition, the long-gestating fourth installment, "Jurassic World," sat in Development Hell since 2004, but now twenty-two years after the first "Jurassic Park," it is here and it does not disappoint.

After the tragic events in 1993, "Jurassic World" is what would happen had Dr. John Hammond's (the late, great Richard Attenborough) Jurassic Park actually opened to the public, sparing no expense, and then inevitably went awry again. With the advances in science and a new frontier of gene splicing, Jurassic World is now a fully functioning theme park located on the remote Costa Rican island of Isla Nublar. It is overseen by operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has the one-track determination to spike visitor attendance with an upcoming attraction bigger than the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the form of the "Indominus Rex," a genetically modified hybrid. What could possibly go wrong? When she requests navy man-turned-velociraptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to evaluate the new dinosaur before the exhibit opens in three weeks, he cautions her that she and her team have made a grave mistake. Naturally, once the killing-everything-that-moves asset is smart enough to tear out its own tracking impact and rampages out of containment closer to the park full of 22,000 guests. Unlucky for Claire, evacuating the park won't stop her two vacationing nephews, dino-loving Gray (Ty Simpkins) and girl-chasing older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) from being thrown into peril. Cue the running and screaming.

Making the leap from one modest indie (2012's "Safety Not Guaranteed") to a giant, Steven Spielberg-produced blockbuster property, director Colin Trevorrow pulls off the spirit of the first film with Spielberg's Amblin stamp all over it. Scripted by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (2014's "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes") and director Trevorrow & Derek Connolly (2012's "Safety Not Guaranteed"), the film economically sets up well-drawn, root-worthy characters and relationships from the get-go without ever losing sight of them, not unlike the original's Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler, along with Lex and Tim. Trevorrow also allows us to drink in the awe-inspiringly conceived sights of the dream-come-true theme park from the point-of-view of the wide-eyed Gray and eventually Zach. SeaWorld, eat your heart out: Jurassic World offers a water show with an aquatic cross between a crocodile and a whale called the Mosasaurus. The mindful, scientifically conscious themes are still intact from the 1993 forefather, and the film believably establishes a world in which kids and their parents are now bored with the fossilized idea of dinosaurs, seeing them as elephants at the zoo, and wanting to see something bigger and scarier. Knowing far better than any of the geneticists in the park that making a new beast was only calling for trouble, his line, "They're dinosaurs. 'Wow' enough," sums up the film's awareness that humans will never learn.

Where it counts, though, "Jurassic World" fully delivers as a spectacularly mounted excursion of thrills and chills. One does wish that the film had opened up with more of a bang and not taken so long with the setup, but the wind-up of the first half-hour is akin to coasting up a roller-coaster hill before tension and danger are milked for all they're worth in a variety of expertly staged set-pieces. Take your pick. Gray and Zach climb aboard the gyrosphere ride, roaming free through a valley of plant-eaters in a hamster ball right after the ride closes, until they go off the beaten path and come face to face with the imposing new beast. Once the on-the-loose Indominus Rex crashes into an aviary dome, it unleashes every Pteranodon to swoop down onto the park's 20,000 guests. What happens to Zara (Katie McGrath), Claire's assistant and her nephews' makeshift babysitter, will leave audiences clapping their hands and giggling in giddy delight. In another armrest-clenching action sequence, Claire drives an emergency vehicle with her nephews in the back and the raptors gaining on them. The big climactic showdown is also bound to raise hairs and gives 2014's "Godzilla" competition for the most fun-to-watch monster beatdown.

Between this as Owen Grady and "Guardians of the Galaxy" as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Chris Pratt has what it takes to be the strapping, hunky, square-jawed hero in everything with his likable charisma and athleticism. He is the smartest man in the room and understands the dinosaurs, but he's also just damn cool, selling the potentially goofy sight of riding alongside the highly intelligent raptors. As icy as her white work suit, Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire often reminds of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's" Willie Scott (played by Kate Capshaw), but she's never a ninny. In the face of rather impressively never taking off her heels when running for her life, she convincingly actualizes her arc from chilly, opportunistic businesswoman to warm, selfless aunt and badass. Even if her potential romance with Pratt's Owen feels a bit shoehorned, there is a touching scene between them when they sit with a dying Apatosaurus that one can just read every ounce of guilt for playing God on Howard's face. Nick Robinson (2013's "The Kings of Summer") and Ty Simpkins (2013's "Insidious: Chapter 2") are also quite good in selling their life-threatening adventure, while making time for their brotherly bond that brings them closer during emotional heights, along with knowing that their parents (Judy Greer, Andy Buckley) at home are on the verge of a divorce. Bringing his usual personality to a role that could have been a throwaway, Jake Johnson crushes it as goofy control-room staffer Lowery, who bought a vintage "Jurassic Park" T-shirt for $150 on eBay, and shares an amusing rapport with Lauren Lapkus' Vivian. Irrfan Khan and Omar Sy bring ethnic equality as park owner Simon Masrani and Owen's fellow raptor trainer Barry, respectively. B.D. Wong is the one welcome face who wasn't eaten up from the original film as geneticist Henry Wu. His memorable line, "We're just used to being the cat," helps explain his motivations for upping the "wow" factor with the Indominus Rex. Vincent D'Onofrio gets one revealing moment when he tells a story about a dog that could break him of his one-dimensionality, but mostly, his security head Vic Hoskins is just another cardboard villain with ulterior motives involving the raptors.

In these contemporary times where viewers are desensitized by CGI over practical effects, "Jurassic World" has just enough doozies. Nothing can ever erase the extraordinary animatronics of the entrance of the T-Rex breaking out of its paddock or the velociraptors-in-the-kitchen sequence from the first film, but why should anything have to try and beat those untouchable sequences? Director Trevorrow and his visual artists come damn close, having a field day with keeping the excitement at a fever pitch. The magic is still here, able to recapture the astounding illusion that once-extinct dinosaurs occupy the planet again, and Michael Giacchino's rousing score beautifully incorporates John Williams' classic theme, finding a warm and fuzzy feeling in the hearts of fans. There are nostalgic callbacks that won't alienate the less avid "Jurassic Park" moviegoers and will be left to the fans to experience on their own. In the running to be the summer's most purely entertaining event, "Jurassic World" is the best kind of popcorn muncher that could be accused of being too much fun if that were an actual crime. As it should, it honors its first predecessor and digs up more than enough bite of its own. Hold on to your butts, indeed.

Grade: B +

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