Jurassic Park is one of my all-time favorite movies, but I also believe it’s one of the most important films in the history of cinema. It ushered in a new era of filmmaking and box office blockbusters, where anything an artist could envision could appear convincingly on the screen, while setting a standard for visual effects that is still unmatched. It was also one of my most memorable moviegoing experiences, and to an entire generation of people my age it was our Star Wars. It inspired us and filled us with wonder, while delivering a story, characters, and a universe that captured our imaginations and dominated the pop culture landscape. It also had dinosaurs. Jurassic World was seemingly inevitable, particularly in today’s nostalgia-obsessed world. Take one of the most popular franchises of all time and update it, bringing the most modern visual effects and most popular stars to the series, and the result has been the biggest box office smash of all time. It’s also a mess.
There’s an intriguing film that could have been built from the bones of Jurassic World’s ideas, but this is certainly not it. It’s been more than 20 years since the events of the first film, and John Hammond’s vision of a dinosaur theme park is now a reality. The rebranded Jurassic World, set on the same island that was abandoned all those years ago, is a thriving success, with attendance numbers growing slowly but steadily year after year. The park itself is like Sea World done by Disney on steroids, with particular focus of the negative aspects and stereotypes of those companies and their parks. Jurassic World’s main street is a line of well-known shops and restaurants (Margaritaville and Pandora Jewelry, for example), while even park buildings and exhibits have sponsors (the John Hammond visitor center sponsored by Samsung). Thousands of people cram an amphitheater to watch a Mosasaur leap from the water to devour a Great White Shark, pile up 5 deep to see a T. rex eat a goat, canoe down rivers past gentle herbivores, or wait in long lines for the latest attractions.
As we visit Jurassic World for the first time, so do teenager Zach and his younger brother Gary, sent to visit their aunt Claire who runs park operations while their parents negotiate a divorce. Claire, however, has little interest in her nephews and sends her assistant to watch after the boys while she sorts out the larger problems of Jurassic World. In an effort to boost attendance geneticists have created the Indominus rex (soon to be brought to you by Verizon Wireless), a hybrid original creation designed to be the scariest, coolest dinosaur ever, made with DNA from the T. rex as well as current species like the cuttlefish and a few surprises. And the CEO of the company, Mr. Masrani, is arriving to see the animal for himself. He requests that the park’s leading animal trainer, Owen, be brought in to observe the Indominus rex’s behavior, despite Claire and Owen’s clashing personalities. But once this new monster escapes from its enclosure, the pair will have to put aside their differences in order to save as many lives as they can, and to rescue Zach and Gary, who have gone missing.
As I said, there’s an intriguing film that could have been made from some of Jurassic World’s pieces, but this isn’t it. Just like the original, this movie deals with issues about how we relate to nature or corporate ethics with regards to scientific advancement, while adding a layer of the jaded, cynical nature of humanity in our current decade. But unlike the original, Jurassic World isn’t interested in dissecting those ideas, and is content to merely race on by them in favor of setting up the next action setpiece. There’s no time in Jurassic World for any of the scenes from Jurassic Park where scientists and visionaries sit around debating humanity playing god or even to just marvel in wonder at the power of nature, not when there’s another CG explosion to get to. None of the film’s plot serves any other purpose other than getting us to the next dinosaur attack, which would be ok (if still disappointing) if the action were exciting or surprising, but Jurassic World is one of the most predictable films I’ve seen in years. There are no real scares, no twists, just sound and fury filmed in a style so modern that it’s lost any touch of interesting cinematography or imagination. There’s a way to do non-stop action and make it compelling and emotional, but this isn’t it. What we’re left with is Jurassic Park as done by Michael Bay.
It’s a shame, too, because I’ve been intrigued by director Colin Trevorrow throughout the buildup to this film, both in how he’s handled leaks of the script and just his general attitude towards the film in interviews. But the fact is that the film we’re left with is never compelling enough to deserve the Jurassic Park connection. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard do as good a job as possible as Owen and Claire given what they had to work with, but even they can’t save these one dimensional characters. It’s probably a bad sign that I couldn’t remember a single character’s name without looking them up, that’s how forgettable they were. Owen is a stereotypical cowboy, running on instinct and out of place in a corporate environment. Claire is more of a problem, tapping into every negative stereotype of a cold, career woman, unwilling to bend and unfeeling towards her family, all while running through the jungle in high heels. That she ultimately finds a way to cope with the situation still fits into the cliché that the right man can help a working woman loosen up, and it’s predictable as it is pathetic. (And seriously, they run past dozens of stores on Jurassic World’s main street, couldn’t she have found one with boots in it?) The film could have been made infinitely more interesting by swapping the actors’ roles, and going against stereotype for a change. It’s pretty sad that the most compelling character in the film is a Velociraptor named Blue.
I would have loved to have seen what Spielberg could have done with this kind of budget and the idea of a fully functional dinosaur theme park, but that was never a possibility. Instead we’re given mere glances at the storytelling potential behind this park only to brush it aside in favor of screaming guests or helicopter gunships. Owen spends his time building bonds with a pack of Velociraptors, using realistic animal training techniques to establish a pattern and make himself part of the pack, only so we can get to the point where he’s riding a motorcycle flanked by them on the hunt for the Indominus rex. And I promised myself I’d only devote one sentence to the fact that Vincent D’Onofrio plays the company’s head of security who wants to sell raptors to the military to use as soldiers. Jurassic World not only refuses to say anything of meaning or consequence, it in fact actively goes out of its way to set up some interesting possibilities only to dash them to pieces with the next inane action scene.
Jurassic World does have one thing going for it and that’s our nostalgia for Jurassic Park, a card it plays as often as it can. And I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t occasionally get to me. It’s hard not to get a little emotional seeing the familiar approach to the island while John Williams’ legendary score (expertly rearranged by Michael Giacchino, surely the busiest composer in Hollywood) blasts through the theater. That the film’s most emotional moments consist entirely of callbacks to another, better movie is not a mark in Jurassic World’s favor, but the filmmakers clearly intended to pull that one resonant string as often as possible. Entire lines from the first film get quoted often, some scenes are completely duplicated, while one minor character seems to exist only to point out how much cooler the “original park” was. The original visitor’s center shows up in ruins partway through the film while serving no real purpose in the film other than to say “Hey, remember Jurassic Park?” The presence of Dr. Wu, the only character from the original to reappear, serves no other purpose to the story other than to tie things back to the beginning of the franchise. And the film’s finale, which I won’t spoil despite the fact that it was widely and correctly reported and speculated upon for months based on the film’s trailers, is the biggest nostalgia burst at all and is actually mildly successful from that standpoint, in spite of being completely and utterly ridiculous, high heels and all.
Nostalgia, however, does not make for a good movie all by itself, and unfortunately that’s all that Jurassic World has going for it. The fact that the film made any emotional connection at all with me by using those connections is not a testament to Jurassic World’s success, but just a reminder at how remarkably perfect Jurassic Park truly is and what Jurassic World lacks. There’s no time in Jurassic World for emotional discussions (over melting ice cream) of important issues that give context to the destruction. There’s no time for character development or even simply characters who don’t fit into a cliché checkbox (Ian Malcolm is just too weird for a film like this). There’s not even enough time to create suspense before delivering on the action, giving us some genuine scares or taking us to the edge of our seats. How can there be when there’s more CG chaos to show? Jurassic Park was many things, but it wasn’t really an action movie, and now we can see why. After its record-smashing debut, and its box office dominance, I realize I’m probably in the minority of all this, but for now I’m content to sit back and relive the magic of the original. I believe we’re still capable of being awed, amazed, and inspired by movies, while also being challenged, enlightened, moved and engaged, regardless of whether the film is a dark drama about the real world or a gripping yarn about a dinosaur themepark. Jurassic Park hasn’t aged a day in 22 years, so I’d rather spend my time reliving a masterpiece than waste it on this reheated mess of borrowed ideas and pandering. I recommend you do the same.
(I have a lot more to say about Jurassic World, including the possibility that it might be the most clever, subversive movie of the year in a surprising way, but that’s a topic for another article!)
Can’t wait to see what the next post is.
Actually very interesting analysis, even though I maybe liked it more than you did.
OK, I liked a Raptor named Blue (I’ve wrangled the smaller, modern, feathered version and they’re pretty scary powerful). Darn it, they still didn’t give them feathers (the feathered dino thing was a new idea back in Jurassic Park’s day), and they still call them velociraptors (even though they are more properly either big Deinonychus, or regular Utahraptors… which were discovered in the midst of the filming of Jurassic Park). I did a life-sized utahraptor for a local parks’ dino weekend (a cutout painting on plywood) and dubbed her Raptor Red after the star of Robert Bakker’s book of the same name. Raptor Blue is no doubt a nod to Bakker’s book and character. He had a small role as an advisor on Jurassic Park. We saw him at a lecture locally, and afterwards, he invited anyone left to some up on stage and he’d talk to kids about dinosaurs and draw these awesome magic marker dinos on huge drafting paper and give them away. I got a protoceratops… and no doubt infamy as the only middle aged woman to ask him to sign my stuffed Utahraptor. Jurassic Park definitely spawned a bit more interest on my part, in dinos, though I also have to give credit to a fantastic painting of a deinonychus in a National Geographic issue (now what would that evolve into in a few million years if it could… oh wait, they did… grey parrots).
I also like Chris Pratt… who, like Liam Neeson, could be thrown into the worst pile of doodoo ever and none of it would stick to him. He manages to evoke something beyond the script, or maybe I just love the fact that he’s freakin’ clicker training utahraptors.
Worth the entire price of admission.
Much fan art and memes have emerged from the motorcycle/raptor pack scene, ranging from “you’re cool but not Chris Pratt on a motorcycle leading a pack of raptors cool” to fan art of him cuddling baby raptors. I volunteered with some wildlife rehabbers, and the big thing I learned is domestic animals have juvenile characteristics… they never grow up, which is why we can train them easier than tigers. Wild animals are easy to handle when small (I once played with a four month old Siberian tiger and he could wrap his jaws around my thigh… just playing, but, yeah), but they grow up and get their own agenda, and then…
you’d better have a lot of expertise and experience and be able to run real fast.
You see Owen’s knowledge of the power of those animals when he dives into the cage to rescue the hapless newbie. He’s trained them, but…. BUT…. And when he takes to the woods on the hunt, he does it, not because he has something to prove, or because he’s all macho, or it’s the only way to stop YouKnowWho… he does it because if he doesn’t, some moron will, and get everyone, especially the raptor pack, killed. He does it to save his critters.
I had trouble believing that anyone would think you could train raptors for military use… it boggles my mind, the stupidity of that. Of course, what falls out of the mouths of many politicians also boggles my mind, so… yeah.
There are a lot of neat little one liners that fall out of Owen’s mouth that say something about our relationship with the rest of life on this planet. I wish we’d seen more of that kind of character development… perhaps they were trying to cram too much into one film, or succumbing to box office expectations.
And while Claire was fairly stereotypical…
Ok, my most hated female stereotype…. ick bleaH Phooey, Corporate Perfect Chick…
You gotta admit Keep Calm and Open Paddock 9 …in heels… was pretty cool.
swapping character types… Chris Pratt in heels…. o . O
Maybe it ‘s just that there were neat moments and ideas and images… that should have been held together by a better film.
I’m rooting for another couple of films… and for them to study up and make those sharper.
Meanwhile, we may be spawning a whole new generation of paleontologists…
or people who fiddle with DNA…
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PS: perhaps the best part of this film was fan reactions: memes, art, cartoons… perhaps reacting as much to the Legend of Jurassic Park as to this film. One of the finest was a series of zoo employees and animal trainers recreating the scene where Owen is standing in front of the raptor pack holding them off the frightened newbie…
the best was the last pic… a descendant of those therapod dinosaurs with a clicker, in the same pose… before a ferocious pack of zoo employees…
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Really really great write up. I put my review out in a hurry and actually the fact that I can’t be bothered to go back and rewrite is a mark of how little I care about the film. I enjoyed Jurassic World while I was watching it but when I came to write about it I found I only had negative things to say about it.
I look forward to your follow up post. For me the most interesting thing about this film is how it works as an allegory for itself. Big company, trying to impress crowds with tech that was once astounding but is now over familiar and in the end the new stuff is no real match for the older versions.
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Thanks, that’s very nice of you to say! I can definitely relate to not being bothered enough to go back and rewrite your review. It’s definitely not worthy of extra time. My follow up post is going to focus on exactly what you brought up! Not an original thought, obviously, but one which I feel will be interesting to examine. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that seemed to hate itself as much as Jurassic World did.
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You have a compelling review here, and as an unabashed fan of the JP franchise I think there were a lot of great points raised in the review. That is except the Michael Bay comparison, that is beyond the pale in every way, shape and form.
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Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m glad you appreciated some of my points. Id actually forgotten the Michael Bay comparison, and while that’s probably not very fair to the film it certainly reflected my feelings after I saw it. Michael Bay, after all, is a very commercially successful director, and I feel like Jurassic World’s focus on spectacle over story and depth is in like with Bay’s tendencies. Though I’ll happily admit that Jurassic World is a much better movie than Michael Bay could have made. But bringing him into the conversation made my point even if it’s a bit of hyperbole.
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Now that is something I can see more eye to eye with. In the case of Trevorrow, I think he’s probably a better technical director than he is a writer per say, but I still think he’s open to improvement.
As for the spectacle over story aspect of the review, I actually did write my own review of Jurassic World, and how the I-Rex and Raptors were used in context:
“The core theme of this film is that of humankind’s relationship with animals, and how the best bonds are one of mutual trust and responsibility. The I-Rex was made to be a money-making machine and kept in isolation all its life. The beast could be seen as symbolic of consumer and corporate excess. Without proper care given since birth, like the Raptors, the creature was allowed to turn into a monster.” And in the end, we see that the Raptors still considered Owen (Chris Pratt) to be their adopted father, and so didn’t remain in the I-Rex’s thrall for very long.
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