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 was seeing them, too. It was as though all the picture books that you’d ever seen when you were 8 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 day. 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 who 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. “Jurassic World” is an intelligent action movie that’s saying something simple but true: Yes, people are that stupid.