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‘Jurassic’ is out of this ‘World’

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REVIEW BY NATHAN LERNER 
For Digital First Media

Are you ready for another trip to Dinoland? Here comes the summer tentpole, “Jurassic World.”

We humans take for granted the notion of being at the top of the food chain. However, our species is a mere blip on the evolutionary time-table. For approximately 150 million years, dinosaurs roamed the planet earth as the dominant life form.

Twenty-two years ago, Steven Spielberg pandered to our fascination with dinosaurs to turn Michael Crichton’s bestseller, “Jurassic Park” into an international cinematic blockbuster of the same name.

“Jurassic Park” was set on the fictional island of Isla Nublar, just off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. There, billionaire philanthropist, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), had organized a cadre of geneticists. He had a vision of a wildlife park, full of cloned dinosaurs. What could possibly go wrong with that innocuous little idea?

This photo provided by Universal Pictures shows, Nick Robinson, left, and Ty Simpkins in a scene from the film, "Jurassic World," directed by Colin Trevorrow, in the next installment of Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking "Jurassic Park" series. The 3D movie releases in theaters by Universal Pictures on June 12, 2015. (Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Pictures via AP)

This photo provided by Universal Pictures shows, Nick Robinson, left, and Ty Simpkins in a scene from the film, “Jurassic World,” directed by Colin Trevorrow, in the next installment of Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking “Jurassic Park” series. The 3D movie releases in theaters by Universal Pictures on June 12, 2015. (Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Pictures via AP)

“Jurassic Park” ushered in the era of C.G.I. spectacles. It established a new benchmark for the fledgling genre and won numerous awards for its technical accomplishments.

“Jurassic Park” also became model of a modern movie marketing campaign. It included licensing deals with over 100 different companies. The marketing campaign for “Jurassic Park” turned a film with a $65 million production budget into a vehicle that grossed $900 million worldwide in its original theatrical run. This exceeded Spielberg’s prior 1982 mega-success, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” Ultimately, “Jurassic Park” became the most commercially successful film in history until “Titanic” came along in 1997.

On its 20th anniversary, “Jurassic Park” was theatrically re-released in 3D. This enabled it to cross the one billion dollar box office threshold, one of seventeen films to ever do so.

After a pair of critically panned, albeit financially successful, sequels, we return to Isla Nublar. Now, a sprawling dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, exists near the site where Jurassic Park once stood. Each day, the venue attracts 20,000 tourists from around the world.

However, as the film opens, the park’s no-nonsense operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), is bemoaning how fickle the public is. Focus groups have reflected the jaded sentiment that dinosaurs are old hat. The public wants bigger, louder, and more teeth.

To satisfy the public appetite for novelty, the park’s owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfhan Khan) authorizes geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu  (B.D. Wong, the only human character returning from any of the “Jurassic Park” films) to create hybrid dinosaurs. The result is Indominus Rex, a giant, 50-foot tall predator with a carefully guarded genetic pedigree.

Meanwhile, Claire is visited by her two nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson), a sullen adolescent, and Gray (Ty Simpkins) a pre-teen science prodigy. Although Claire hasn’t seen her nephews for seven years, she is too busy to spend any time with them. Instead, Claire fobs them off onto her personal assistant. So much for family bonding.

When you visit the circus, are you incredulous, when you see how the lion tamer can control a cage full of maned beasts? It pales in comparison to the site of Owen Gray (Chris Pratt). He has trained a quartet of velociraptors to follow his every command.

Owen is approached by Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), the head of InGen Security. Hoskins envisions velociraptors as a logical alternative to high tech robots in military applications. Can Hoskins convince Owen to join forces with him?

Meanwhile, Masrani dispatches Claire to bring Owen to inspect the paddock of the Indominus Rex. Will it safely enclose the ferocious reptile? I don’t suppose that there is any chance that this genetically engineered dinosaur will be able to escape and wreck havoc.

You may still think of Chris Pratt as the schlubby goofball from television’s, “Parks and Recreation.” However, here Pratt proves that his breakthrough performance in “Guardians of the Galaxy” was no fluke. With his now chiseled physique and steely gaze, he has become a bona fide action adventure star. Should the script call for it, Pratt can also convincingly fill the bill as a romantic lead.

Steven Spielberg is no longer in the helm, but retains an Executive Producer title. Colin Trevorrow , who also co-wrote the screenplay, fills the void as a director.  His slim screen résumé consists of the little seen art house film, “Safety Not Guaranteed.” He makes the jump to a big budget film with surprising ease.

The technical package is top notch. “Jurassic World” boasts the soaring theme music of John Williams. These strains are augmented by the engaging new compositions by Michael Giacchino. “Jurassic World” makes use of Legacy Effects (previously trading as Stan Winston Studios) to provide the animatronic dinosaurs. Visual effects guru, Phil Tippet, and Industrial Light and Magic contribute the CGI dinosaurs, using human actors and the performance capture technology.

The film’s action scenes are riveting. The script takes some subtle jabs at corporate sponsorship and consumer excess. Intermittently, the film provides a few laugh out loud moments. Comedic actor, Jake Johnson, plays Lowery Cruthers, a tech-savvy computer geek. He does a particularly funny send up of a certain hackneyed film trope.

“Jurassic World” is vastly better than the franchise’s previous lackluster sequels. It adroitly  places its own updated spin on the original “Jurassic Park” template. As a consequence, “Jurassic World” makes for a long-awaited return to form and another thrill-packed ride.

***1/2 PG-13 (for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril) 124 minutes. Universal Pictures

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

 

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