To those who weren't around at the time, it's hard to convey the excitement of the first "Jurassic Park" in 1993. The characters on screen were seeing dinosaurs for the first time, but it really felt as though the audience were seeing them, too. It was as though all the picture books that you'd ever seen when you were eight years old had come to life.
By the series' second installment, we were used to dinosaurs, and by the third, they were old hat. But the true intelligence of "Jurassic World" is that it acknowledges that and doesn't do the obvious stupid thing in response. It doesn't double down on the violence. It doesn't follow the usual summer movie pattern of wall-to-wall action, split-second cutting and trembling, shaking camera work.
Instead, "Jurassic World" matches the wit and pace of a 1990s monster movie with the attitudes and anxieties of 2015, and the result is a film that's as smart as it is exciting.
These days, we are every bit as concerned as we were 20 years ago about dinosaurs stepping on us, but we have other worries, too, and "Jurassic World" finds a way to incorporate them and satirize them. We have a corporate culture run amok -- embodied here by Bryce Dallas Howard, as a crisp-looking theme-park executive who uses the word "assets" when she means dinosaurs and "asset containment unit" when she means security. We have scientists splicing genes and copyrighting the results, embodied by B.D. Wong as a researcher so intellectually perverted that he can't stop smirking when he talks about his creations.
And when Dwight Eisenhower warned of the military industrial complex, perhaps he was thinking of Vincent D'Onofrio, who has the bright idea to weaponize the velociraptors for fighting in the Middle East. D'Onofrio is a pleasure to watch here, a confident bully, and yet with a lightness of spirit that comes from breathing the rarefied air of lunacy.
It's 20 years later, and human beings, with their infinite capacity for adaptation and amnesia, especially when there's money to be made, have chosen to overlook those unfortunate dinosaur incidents from back in the day. Jurassic World is now a theme park, and a lot of thought has gone into it. There is the Gentle Giant petting zoo, and opportunities for patrons to roll through a field of plant-eating apatosauruses, while protected inside a plexiglass hamster ball. But the big ticket items remain the scary attractions.
Unfortunately, attendance is down. Nobody cares about the T-rex these days. They want "bigger, more teeth," and so -- this is really twisted, but exactly what would happen -- the scientific team comes up with a "new asset through gene splicing," the Indominus Rex, who is enormous, highly intelligent, can change color, and elude heat sensors. Moreover, it has such a lousy personality that it kills for fun.
But as the movie starts, it's just a normal day at the park. Claire (Howard) is showing representatives from Verizon around, seeking corporate sponsorship for the Indominus Rex, while her two visiting nephews are being attended by an assistant. Like a Steven Spielberg movie -- though this is directed by Colin Trevorrow -- the opening is leisurely, laying down a foundation of relationships that will become important later. For example, Claire once had a brief affair with
Owen (Chris Pratt), an animal trainer who seems to be the only one in the park that understands these dinosaurs are alive and have feelings. "You made them in a test tube," he says. "But they don't know that."
The action scenes are imaginative and suspenseful and gradually take on a demented exuberance, with huge-headed dinosaurs sniffing at people and velociraptors attacking in packs. The music of Michael Giacchino repurposes the best of John Williams' original score, and although the film ultimately lacks that extra-something that Spielberg often brings -- the sense that the action is somehow emblematic of something grand in the human spirit -- the movie has a caustic wit that will do in its place.
With the exception of Pratt's animal trainer, virtually everyone in "Jurassic World" is crazy, but they have so much company they don't know it. "Monster is a relative term," the scientist (Wong) says, as though he can taste the words. "To a canary, a cat is a monster. We're just used to being the cat."
Indeed, what ultimately makes "Jurassic World" so satisfying is that it doesn't buy into the grandeur of the human spirit, not one bit. Instead it shows you a beautifully realized theme park, with holograms and concession stands and rides and attractions, and presents it, not even as a monument to arrogance. Even that would be giving it too much credit. It's just a monument to colossal dumbness.
"Jurassic World" is an intelligent action movie that's saying something simple but true: Yes, people are that stupid.