For those of a certain age, the world of Jurassic Park holds a special kind of wonder. Nowadays you can hardly move for pixels and post-production CGI... but in 1993 it was Steven Spielberg's epic adaptation of Michael Crichton's best-seller that ushered in a new era where you could no longer believe your eyes. No longer the lumbering stop-motion monsters that had – rightfully - earned their place over the previous decades, but something… more. Audiences thrilled as the late Sir Richard Attenborough waved his hand majestically in front of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum and gave us a new era and king of the beasts with "Welcome to Jurassic Park..."
Sequels followed, as is their wont, most of which were lesser clones of the original but which never quite captured the same sense of wonder. The franchise had already won its place in cinema history and appeared likely to be left encased in cinematic amber, preserved on a historical pedestal for another generation to look back upon.
But this is Hollywood - and, rather suitably for the Jurassic franchise, what's past is prologue... is profitable. Which brings us to 2015 and, over two decades on, we have a return to the original island... as Universal cracks open that amber and resamples that lucrative DNA. The cinematic risks were suitably high. Admittedly, to misquote Jeff Goldblum, 'just because you can reboot, doesn't mean you should'... or perhaps better suited: 'well, if revamps go wrong they don’t eat the punters'. Either way, Jurassic World, despite its pedigree (or even moreso because of it) was not a sure thing.
The experiment - the men in laboratory coats and business suits can breathe a sigh of relief - is largely a success but is a game of two spliced halfs. Inevitably there's a bloodline through to the previous films and only so much of the DNA that can be changed without altering the premise itself (again, the story maxims / parallels abound). For much of the first part of the film, the initial template arrives and proceeds as expected… Jurassic World is the culmination of the island experience John Hammond originally envisaged: a place with all the bells and whistles of an amusement park and all the education of a National Geographic and History channel marathon.
Already a major success and with safety protocols that would bring Alton Towers out in a cold sweat, everything on the island is double and triple-checked as the latest wave of tourists arrive. Vistors will be entertained, rather than eaten, customers will have the best experience of their lives, rather than simply the last one. Nothing, but nothing can go wrong.
Something goes wrong.
Once again, that double-whammy of human avarice and a fundamental misunderstanding of our place in the food-chain combine to undermine good intentions and our separated extended family and friends must survive and reunite while avoiding getting eaten. Bored with T-Rexs and Bierberosauruses, the Powers That Be have spliced together various strands of DNA to create a new monster, the Indominus Rex – but they haven’t taken into account some of the side-effects. Essentially they’ve bred a creature with a gift for camouflage and a brain for hunting. Using both it escapes its compound and the dominos starts to fall like an ‘all you can eat’ pizza platter. It's the kind of chaos-theory upon which Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm would nod sagely.
Thus far, it’s all decent if derivative stuff. Older viewers’ hearts will swell at the familiar music even if quietly thinking that the fourth time around it’s ‘pretty’ to look at rather than ‘astonishing’. CGI dinosaurs roar on demand and it’s the humans who clash: animal behaviourist and trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) argues and flirts with Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire (the island’s commercial director) over some of the changes she’s being told to enforce; Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins gleefully anticipates a side-line in military applications of ‘trained’ raptors; two young brothers Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson respectively) bicker and bond as they realise they’ve been given a trip of lifetime to see Auntie Claire so that their parents can sort out a divorce.
Guardians of the Galaxy firmly established that Chris Pratt had the needed big-screen charisma and though Jurassic World doesn't stretch those credentials, it fully utilises his charm. After Bob Peck and Pete Postlethwaite (both much missed actors) were arguably the smartest characters in the first two films, it's good to see the ‘grunts’ with rinnate espect for the dinosaurs being the heroes rather than the also-rans (and, in some cases, didn't run fast enoughs). Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire is perfectly fine but doesn't really require much except for her icy demeanour to melt as she tries to outrun dinosaurs in high-heels.
It’s in the second half – and in particularly the film’s third act – that things get a little more interesting and the film realises that people, like the fictional park visitors, have paid for the dinosaurs rather than the humans. Essentially it unashamedly pilfers a back-catalogue of monster-mash encounters with the creatures taking centre-stage, battling each other and picking off random humans that unwisely get in their way. A flock of super-pterodactyls rain down on park-goers like a scene from The Birds on crack, a leviathan-like sea creature goes Deep Blue Sea on unfortunates and generic military units are picked off echoing scenes from the likes of Predator and Aliens.
The first Jurassic Park was full of awe and wonder... this latest chapter, great fun and an entertaining romp, is more of ' grrrr arrrghhhhh!' and wandering. Ultimately less 'milestone' and organic than the first, this is a mathematical reconstruction in 3D, blueprinted to the last inch as experts reach back in time two decades and try to bring an imposing presence back to life. It does all the right things with all the right ingredients (even acknowledging the original Jurassic vehicles and gift-shop - though it perhaps misses a beat by not having cameos from any of the original cast) and yet because the groundwork is SO familiar and duplicated, it feels just that little bit less... potent. It's paying homage to itself.
Even putting aside some of the pseudo-science, there are some notable logic holes and conveniences the size of a Triceratops should you wish to nit-pick. For instance, the Indominus Rex doesn't demonstrate any of its superior qualities until the most convenient moments, the thousands of tourists are used for one key scene and then forgotten about and one would expect past occurences to have led to some sort of better basic evacuation plan as a must. And even those dinosaurs sometimes become inditinguishable in battle.
There's no real moment like the glass of water vibration of the first film the slowly cracking glass of the second that provides THE signature moment of the piece, but Jurassic World is, nonetheless, a guaranteed summer blockbuster, likely to smash box-office numbers like a pissed-of T-Rex's agent demanding higher billing... and it looks more than capable of taking on all-comers at the season's cinemas. Essentially, it's the kind of wild ride that you'll laugh, gasp and appreciate in the moment, recognising all the star faces… and yet may find yourself struggling to name the story's main characters thereafter. It's action as archetype, script as secondary - but executed with the precision and diligence of a real-world top-notch amusement park (recent events notwithstanding), all writ large.
History is written by the winners and Jurassic World is unapologetically engineered to succeed whether it's actually the fittest or not... and with future chapters already seeded into the narrative, for better or worse the franchise is born anew.
Jurassic Park is released by Universal Pictures and is out today...