In one early sequence of Jurassic World, the apathetic older brother (Nick Robinson) of a pair of kids visiting the now fully-functional dinosaur theme park suddenly expresses a degree of amazement at the sight of a prehistoric leviathan chomping on a shark, primarily because his sibling (Ty Simpkins) has knocked his smart phone out of his hand and forced him to focus on the wonders in front of them. One of several self-referential nods throughout Jurassic World implies that “no one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore,” so the people behind the park decide to create, with genetic splicing, a bigger, badder beast to drive attention and profits.
It’s something that can easily be read as a wink-wink dig at the way Hollywood special effects generally lack much of a wow factor two decades on from Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park, and how the solution for many studio heads seems to be to use CGI to create even bigger spectacles for hopeful blockbuster behemoths. Much as an expensive box office bomb might prove disastrous for financiers who've thrown everything at the wall to see what sticks, Jurassic World’s new attraction – hybrid dino Indominus Rex – runs amok and causes havoc pretty much immediately.
The thing is there’s a difference between ironically breaking the fourth wall about your film’s very existence and actually subverting anything. And maybe it’s not the case that audiences are inherently unimpressed by special effects anymore, it’s that the craft behind them isn’t always there – see the near-universally rapturous reception to Mad Max: Fury Road for an example of spectacle notably inducing awe.
Jurassic World director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow certainly shows a knack for staging big action scenes that you wouldn’t have expected from his lone directorial effort before this (independent comedy Safety Not Guaranteed), but there’s little to no grandeur or lingering imaginative flair to be found in any of them. They’re never boring, just too punchy and brief, with more concern for flashes of mayhem than the escalating piling on of pressure that made sequences in Spielberg’s film (and even parts of his sequel The Lost World) so enduring.
Tellingly, the one dinosaur sequence that has real weight to it – it's filmed using actual animatronics! – is one that actually lingers on the interaction between man (Chris Pratt’s trainer) and animal (a fatally injured dino). It might have been worth taking a cue from the gradually impressed teen character in keeping sight of the dinos for longer to actually induce that wanted wow factor. It would've also been wise to not carry over The Lost World’s running motif of dumb-as-hell characters basically setting their own death traps. There’s also a (presumably unintended) casually sexist streak running through most of the human female characterisation, but that’s a whole other think-piece in itself.
Trevorrow knows the notes to Spielberg’s tune (and he even carries over some of the mean-spirited sadism found in The Lost World), but the result is like an adequate band reunion tour. There’s enough fleeting pleasures in call-backs to the original material to make it a diverting enough experience, but too little new content of worth to make this the period of roaring rampage to favour.