The other day my wife and I celebrated our anniversary by going to see Jurassic World. You have may have heard of it. Apparently it broke all sorts of box-office records when it took in about 50 Squidzillion dollars in the first 30 seconds that it was out – such an impressive display of financial power that it made even the Marvel movies sit up and notice. (Hey everyone, dinosaurs are back in! How long until Marvel pays a cinematic visit to the Savage Land? Or maybe DC will step up to the plate and give us a movie version of the War That Time Forgot.)
Anyway, my wife and I finally gave our financial contribution to the movie’s international take a couple of days ago. And I have to say it was one of the more “meta” tent-pole blockbuster’s I’ve ever seen. I mean, first there’s the whole thing with director Colin Trevorrow apparently faking a bunch of product placement as some sort of consumerist satire. But more than that is the fact that a lot of the film’s characters are stressed out about coming up with bigger, more spectacular dinosaurs in order to keep their park’s audiences coming in. Surely we could just replace “film’s characters” with “film’s makers,” and “park’s audiences” with “sequel’s audiences” (and maybe “more spectacular” with “more implausible”) and the statement would be just as true? After all, the Jurassic Park franchise fizzled out years ago (the last film was in 2001), so what is going to draw audience’s back except for bigger, more exciting, and more implausible dino-theatrics?
Much has been said in the internet-o-sphere about how the film makes the effort to position itself as the true successor to the first Jurassic Park, by quietly ignoring the intervening two films and by including lots of direct and indirect references to the original. And many have seemed to think it has succeeded, I gather. And I guess it’s true – there is something about this movie that is reminiscent of the first film in a way that the others were not. But I don’t think it’s to do with the film’s quality. Rather, it has more to do with the fact that it takes place in a dinosaur-theme park (albeit one that’s actually open) filled with people who generally think they’ve got things under control and that overall this is a good thing. Neither Part 2 nor Part 3 were about this – coming right after the first film as they did, they were mostly full of characters who went into the story knowing that dinosaurs were a major threat.
But here’s another key thing: if one is trying to emulate Jurassic Park in terms of quality, you are really not shooting all that high. Jurassic Park is not a very good movie. Yes, it had some classic Steven Spielberg touches and brought to life the best dinosaurs that we’d ever seen, but it included also some of the dumbest people who as characters were overall just not that interesting.
And in this way Jurassic World is also like it’s predecessor, in that it is full of some great looking dinosaurs and some gripping moments, but also a whole lot of stupid. Picking things out hardly seem worthwhile, as the movie barely seems to care. And maybe it doesn’t matter, because the end result is still pretty entertaining.
On the positive side, you’ve got Chris Pratt as unbelievably awesome Owen Grady, who is an enjoyable leading man and a credible action hero. You’ve got Vincent D’Onofrio as the films biggest baddie (or perhaps the one whose death simply takes the longest to come about), an actor with an ability to camouflage himself into a role at least as well as the main dinosaur can. You’ve got BD Wong, who is the only actor to return from the first Jurassic Park, apparently so he could actually have something to do this time. And you have a decent relationship between the movie’s requisite junior co-protagonists, lots of thrills and chills with rampaging dinosaurs, and some decent moments of humor as well.
On the negative side, you have to do some massive suspension of disbelief to accept that all these people are completely blind to how unsafe their dinosaur theme park is. This place includes a carnivore the size of a giant whale that leaps out of water tank so close to the audience that one errant swipe of its tail would easily kill dozens. It includes paddle boats that go down little rivers almost within arm’s reach of gigantic animals (can you imagine tourists getting so close to an unsupervised hippo? Or rhino? It’s sort of the same thing). It includes an aviary that contains hungry, carnivorous flying monsters with the mighty power of glass. It includes features where kids can just hamster-wheel around giant paddocks full of dinosaurs absolutely unsupervised. It apparently contains no evacuation protocol of any sort, since when the disaster does happen the best they can do is just herd all the people into a courtyard. This place is insane, even before you get to the idea that all the dinosaurs they own are basically unknown quantities (since their genetic make up is actually a secret).
Also, you have Bryce Dallas Howard doing the classic “wardrobe gets skimpier as the stakes get raised” thing, and also playing Claire, one of the most annoying and unlikeable female lead in a movie ever. You have the ludicrous idea that the original Jurassic Park, with all of its gear and equipment, has been left completely untouched on the same island for the last 22 years. You’ve got Chris Pratt turning wild velociraptors back onto his side with nothing more than the power of his steely gaze. And you’ve wild killer dinosaurs who chase after the small group of main characters when there’s like 10,000 people sitting in another part of the complex. And you have everyone at the end sort of relaxing (and that one guy even turning off all the monitoring equipment) when there’s still a T-Rex out there, as well as at least one raptor, and probably about 50 pteranodons flying around.
You’ve got kids with super-powers, which is an odd yet consistent part of the Jurassic Franchise formula. In the first movie, someone had super-computing powers. The next one had a girl who demonstrated super-gymnastic powers. In the third one, the boy had super-survive-dinosaurs-all-by-yourself powers. And this time, they have super-car-repair powers. It’s so consistent that it’s like the kids from the first movie actually left behind stuff for the kids in this movie to find and use in their battle against dinosaurs.
And you have other various dumb things that characters do. Like when in the middle of an urgent rescue mission of two children, Owen and Claire stop for a loooong time to comfort a dying apatosaurus, all so Claire can have a “realize that these creatures really are living animals with feelings and stuff” character beat. And then later, when the survivors stop to admire the exhibits in a lab’s reptile house, even though there are killer dinosaurs still on the loose. And later, when Owen conveniently forgets about his gun when a dinosaur (that he likes) is about to kill a guy (that he doesn’t).
So like I said, lots and lots of dumb things. But in spite of all that, somehow the movie is still a lot of fun. I enjoyed watching it, rampant stupidity and all. It’s a fun, well-produced adventure flick that feels like it’s smirking a bit knowingly at itself.
In the end, my takeaway from Jurassic World? If a Tyrannousaurus, a Velociraptor, and a Mosasaurus can work together in spite of all their differences to fight off a common enemy and achieve a unified purpose, than gosh darn it, maybe we human beings can too.
My wife’s takeaway: Don’t ever go to a theme park.