If only they could’ve kept the dinosaurs from killing the bejesus out of everyone, the Jurassic World theme park of “Jurassic World” would’ve made a helluva vacation spot.
Gyro-hamster balls to let you glide through pastures of brontosaurs; a jungly lazy river for paddling past apatosaurs; a petting zoo where tykes could saddle up on lil’ triceratopses. Holography displays, interactive DNA exhibits, a dang Starbucks in the concourse — even knowing how the place turns into a bonanza of murder and chaos, I’m tempted to go. Tickets have got to be bottomed out right now, after all.
Trouble is, on a Central American island where the resident genetics lab is also reviving extinct species by splicing their genes with whatever rad animal bits they can crib from nature, anything can happen. This is the central engine of “Jurassic World,” in which the characters — including Chris Pratt as an ex-Navy velociraptor trainer and Bryce Dallas Howard as a spreadsheet-minded corporate prig — are almost wholly incidental to the plot.
Those two go out searching after A) a hybrid T-rex/grab-bag behemoth escapes its pen to terrorize every dinosaur and person on the island, and B) her nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) go missing in the wilds, just as the park is clamping down for the emergency. Meanwhile a shady dude connected to the military somehow (Vincent D’Onofrio) is too psyched for his long-term health about the prospect of trained battlefield raptors.
Pratt’s fun enough; he’s still dwelling in the meteoric rise of last summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which made him an overnight star. This is where he vaults firmly onto the A-list of relatable dudes who can carry a tentpole picture. “Jurassic World” zoomed to the largest weekend box office haul in the history of movies, raking in more than half a billion bucks and landing as the top movie in every major movie market in the world, something like 66 of them. That’s bananas, considering especially the director, Colin Trevorrow, had only one major picture to his name before this, 2012’s “Safety Not Guaranteed,” which made all of $4 million at the box office — not exactly “Avengers” ducats.
“Jurassic World” as a movie is all right, but only all right. Put it this way, if its sequel has an entirely different cast, no one will much notice or care. And while it followed an established box office juggernaut in the first three “Jurassic” movies, those were made (the second two, weakly) before a large slab of this film’s audience was even born. So what happened?
It would be a cinch to overthink this, I believe, so let’s not strain in that direction. The crush people have here is squarely on the dinosaurs. “Jurassic World” has moments of genuine comedy and maybe an emotion or two, though nothing so complex it couldn’t fit inside an emoji. What it brings in shameless heaps is dinosaur awe and dinosaur fear. Outer space might be the only better brand in big-ticket cinema. Tricking your brain into believing, if only for a few fleeting seconds, that a made-up jacked-up carnivore dino might bite you in half, or pick you up and drop you squirming and screaming into a mosasaurus tank, is a catchy hallucination to offer people, and it turns out the response crosses just about any cultural boundary you care to name.
Here’s the odd bit, though. In the 20ish years since the original “Jurassic Park,” some of the effects have gotten much, much better — while others, such as watching dinosaurs run in packs, seem to have stalled. For anyone who remembers the sheer mind:blown of the original, who got all geeked up for John Williams’s iconic score (fire up the French horns, ’cause it’s back too), the joy of “Jurassic World” is in its overwrought retread of what is in essence a campy monster movie, “King Kong” with a fossil record.
Middling though it may be, it’s also low-brow as high art, a guilty pleasure without shame or consequence.