Dinosaur gets Junior - again
It's business as usual in this solid Jurassic sequel, says Paul Whitington
Believe it or not it's now 22 years since Steven Spielberg knocked out Jurassic Park, a family-friendly action yarn about a bunch of synthetic dinosaurs that inexplicably go postal.
He bought the rights to Michael Crichton's book for $1.5m, made it for $60m and turned a silly story into one of the biggest box office hits of all time, even managing to supervise his edit while simultaneously shooting Schindler's List, which must have been a bit of a mind melt.
Clever stuff it was too, full of wit and panache and gloriously handled moments of terror. But I've always thought of it as a brilliant magic trick which, once achieved, can never be repeated. Not everyone would appear to agree with me, however, because there've already been three sequels. This latest has been in the planning for over a decade, and though Spielberg is listed as executive director, he appears to have had little or nothing to do with it.
Wisely, however, Jurassic World's writers, and director Colin Trevorrow, have stuck pretty closely to the Spielberg formula, which ain't broke and needs no fixing. Two decades after the disturbing events in Jurassic Park, the idyllic Central American island of Isla Nublar is now a fully-fledged dinosaur theme park run with a flourish by an Indian billionaire (Iffran Khan). During the holiday season hundreds of thousands of visitors flood in to be ferried around giant fields filled with grazing herbivores, and watch the more dangerous beasts prowl around their fortified enclosures.
Unbeknownst to them and most of the park's employees, veteran scientist Henry Wu (BD Wong, the only survivor from Jurassic Park's cast) has been tinkering around with the dinosaur genes to produce a super-predator he's christened Indominus Rex. Standing 50 feet tall, composed in part from a Tyrannosaurus Rex and even more prone to be irritable, the hybrid beast is held in a secret hi-tech enclosure in the north of the island, and when revealed is expected to hugely boost visitor numbers.
But its makers haven't realised that Indominus Rex is also very clever, and after tricking its minders into entering its enclosure, kills them and escapes. Running rampart and killing everything it encounters, the giant predator is heading straight for the packed holiday camp and only gifted keeper and trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) stands any chance of stopping it.
Bryce Dallas Howard co-stars as Claire Dearing, the park's rather frosty manager: by an unlucky chance her two nephews happen to be visiting (in a classic Spielbergian touch, their parents are divorcing) when they get caught in the path of the rampaging Indominus. And as Claire and Owen rush to save them, a scheming security head (Vincent D'Onofrio) adds to the fun by releasing a herd of Velociraptors.
There's nothing new to see here of course, and practically every scary scene is cribbed from ideas Spielberg coined in Jurassic Park. The difference here of course is the dinosaurs have got a lot easier to render: which perhaps explains the tsunami of monsters that engulfs the fleeing humans in Jurassic World's over-egged climax.
But for long periods, to be fair, Jurassic World is easy to watch and pretty entertaining, especially when Chris Pratt is on the screen. Since breaking through in the inspired sitcom Parks and Recreations, Pratt has emerged in films like Guardians of the Galaxy as one of those rare actors who can cut it in action roles while retaining a subversive comic edge.
He'd be a perfect replacement for Harrison Ford if the Indiana Jones franchise is ever resurrected, and here brings wit and charm to a film that sometimes lacks those qualities. Vincent D'Onofrio's huge talent is thrown away yet again in the service of a cartoon baddie, but Bryce Dallas Howard is very good as the frigid damsel just waiting to be thawed by a hero.