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Summer Recap 2015: Welcome to the Most Terrifying Place On Earth

It's been 23 years since Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park was released and was hailed as another crowning achievement from the master storyteller, and another 8 years since Joe Johnson milked dry the udders of what was left of the franchise with Jurassic Park III. It was rumored that Universal and Spielberg have been in talks for years about making a fourth installment of the series, but I didn't think by this point, that people would care enough to go see another JP film, much less be any good.

Imagine my surprise: Jurassic World was a monster hit for the studio, beating Marvel's The Avengers record for the highest grossing 3-day weekend of all time with $208 million, became the third-highest grossing film in the U.S. with $648 million and is now the third highest grossing film worldwide. But, of course, numbers don't mean jack to me if the picture is basically another Michael Bay-style soulless spectacle. Again, Imagine my surprise: Enter Colin Treverrow, the indie director who won well-received praise for his feature debut, Safety Not Guaranteed in 2012, to inject what made the first JP movie so damn enjoyable: the thrill, the excitement and the wonder of seeing prehistoric animals come to life. Oh, and the director and co-writer also makes a nice subtle jab at both Hollywood for churning out these effects-heavy movies and for-profit amusement parks domesticating and abusing animals.

Jurassic Park - now renamed Jurassic World - has been open for years, and the tourists are looking for the next big thrill; the 'OMFG, did you see that?!' moment, if you will. Seeing Brachiosaurus's and Parasaurolophus's in their natural habitat from the safety of a gyrosphere? Boring. Having the little ones go on dino rides? Who cares. Seeing a dead great white shark being swallowed whole by a Mososarsus? People get splashed, big deal. Even the T-Rex has lost its scare effect on the audience. Attendance has dipped, and they want something new, and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager, is all-but wiling to give it to them in the form of a genetically-modified dinosaur, the Indomius Rex. The one voice of reason, Owen (Chris Pratt), a velociraptor trainer, basically states the obvious about the park's newest creation: "Probably not a good idea." You should guess what happens next, but just to avoid spoilers, I'll simply say that the I-Rex is one of the baddest monsters I've seen in years. Seeing her pick off humans and other dinosaurs is thrilling to watch.

I forgot to mention that Jurassic World is perhaps the most meta picture I've come across since Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods and George Romero's Diary of the Dead. Take the scene where the great white is devoured by the Mososarus for example. Besides providing commentary on how a wild beast has now been domesticated for the amusement of the paying audience, it also acts as both a tribute to Spielberg's classic monster movie Jaws, but it also serves as bit of stinging irony: that 1978 film was a landmark in the blockbuster genre, along with A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark and others. Spielberg carved out a new genre in film, and his own creation, the terrifying great white, is now being devoured by larger behemoths; blockbuster movies that are inspired by Jaws, but lack the same touch a Spielberg has, or a Lucas, or even a Jim Cameron has. Even the Indomius Rex serves as a piece of clever commentary: she's what happens when we get exactly what we wish for: excess running amok and leaving a trail of wreckage in it's wake. In a season where all studios care about is churning out the same spectacle, and an audience that's looking for the next big thing, it's refreshing to see a popcorn film that delivers on eye-popping visuals, and has something meaningful to say about the state we're in, if we're smart enough to listen, that is.

*** stars out of ****


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