Jurassic World

Like most of us, I imagine, I went into Jurassic World with mixed expectations due to a complicated personal history with the franchise. I missed Jurassic Park’s original run in theaters, but saw it many times in the following years. I was at a great age to love The Lost World upon its release. However, Jurassic Park 3 did not sit well with me, The Lost World may not have aged as well as I would hope (I've been meaning to revisit the sequels), and even the original was cheapened for me thanks to a frequent schedule on cable. However, for whatever setbacks I found, time helped to shape the franchise for the better. The original sits as one of my favorite films, I'm eager to revisit the sequels, and I'm excited for the franchise to live on. 

Enter Jurassic World, a film that is quickly pulling in more money than even John Hammond or his lawyer could have imagined. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are here to usher in a new era that builds on the legacy, but essentially gives us a new start. While the previews looked exciting, it was clear that the creators were seeking to tap into the spirit of the original while updating it in the fashion of modern blockbusters. 

Warning: The following is a spoiler-filled response to Jurassic World. If you haven’t seen it, congratulations. You’ve somehow missed one of the biggest movies of all time. Don't worry, I still haven’t seen Titanic.

To explain the context of my thoughts, I found an interesting time to see this movie. I caught it while on vacation in Orlando, Florida. Not only was I in the shadow of a number of theme parks, such as Sea World, Universal Studios and Walt Disney World; but one of the parks we visited was Disney's Animal Kingdom. That visit undoubtably shaped my perceptions of this blockbuster. 

Almost certainly, the biggest influence on Jurassic World is Jurassic Park. 

Interestingly, The Lost World, and Jurassic Park 3 seem to be ignored. Some viewers seem to think that they've been erased from continuity, but I don’t see that. I only see selective choices in what they acknowledge. Jurassic World makes it clear that not only does life find a way; greed does as well. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself here, lets get back to all of those Jurassic Park references in a moment. There are a few other influences that shape my perception of this film beyond nostalgia for the franchise.

The primary influence I noticed from outside this franchise was Aliens. Perhaps Colin Trevorrow's approach to carrying on such an iconic franchise was to make the Jurassic World the Aliens of the series. Other movies have tried to tap into the awe or fear driven from the original, so the creators pivoted into over-the-top action. The likenesses don't stop there. Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) might was well have swapped his Ingen uniform for one from Weyland Yutani. His reckless pursuit of profiting on the dinosaurs is perhaps made even more dangerous by his foolish belief that he can breed them into controllable attack dogs. He's far from the only one who does not respect what he is dealing with, but his ambition and greed make him dangerous. In addition, the shot of Claire summoning the T-Rex echos Ripley's final battle. Perhaps Claire's story is also meant to echo Ripley's role as a mother in Aliens. Claire's bond with boys never reaches the depth that Ripley and Newt achieve, but Claire didn't start this movie as a mother either (nor did I sense final resolution in her relationship with her nephews). There are a few parallels between Claire and Ellen Ripley, but that is a long shadow to escape.

Another clear influence on the film seems to be the state of the theme park industry as a whole. In particular, the opening of the movie has a lot to say about the state of theme parks. The boys represent our childlike wonder and excitement, as well as our growing boredom with what has been done. We've seen it all before. In an effort to amplify "the wow factor" the engineers at Jurassic World create a creature that ultimately destroys the park. There is a logical case laid out that the park for the park's need to stay profitable, as well as a snarky rebuttal from the purist employee who overly respects the original. Feel free to look into the current state of Epcot Center to see a similar (just not as lethal) debate going on. (Recently, one of the World Showcase attractions was replaced with tie-in to Frozen). Ultimately, we see through Owen (Pratt) how the park has lost its original vision, and the greed driven creation leads to chaos and death. 

This is Jurassic Park reinvented for a post-Transformers era. We see lots of action and carnage, with the story pushed back a bit. Perhaps this is what we needed, because the wonder is gone. We’ve seen it all before. We are the attendees of the park, and dinosaurs themselves simply aren’t enough. We are given a basic premise, and then the theme park attraction takes control. Thats ok, as action movies do not need to have subtlety or character development (they just help).

There are lots of fun nods to the franchise, such as the shot of the InGen helicopters arriving that mimic the shot of the arrival from the original film. We have nods to previous characters like Hammond and Malcolm. Of course the integration of the original visitor center, as well as the original dinosaurs offered inventive callbacks (gas jeep FTW!). Call me a sucker, but I flipped that the T-Rex was the hero that saved the day again. The creators clearly understood how much affinity the fans had for some of the dinosaurs, and used that to their advantage. Jurassic Park 3 lost me simply by having the T-Rex lose to that Spinosaurus; so making the T-Rex arrival one of the biggest cheer-worthy moments of the movie was fantastic.

However, as much as Trevorrow and the writers seemed to understand that the audience was there to see the dinos, they don’t seem to know how we should feel about them. At one point, they are majestic, intelligent animals to be loved; but when convenient, they are disposable monsters. I understand that this is not a new problem, but I feel like things got too mixed up in the treatment of the raptors. This was my biggest problem with the movie on a personal level. This movie does an incredible job of reintroducing the raptors, previously the most fearsome dinosaur in the series. Within the first 30 minutes, we are made to love them now as trained animals. I have no issue with characters wanting to take advantage of those trained raptors for their own interests, but I do have a problem with the quick and thoughtless slaughter of any raptor not named Blue. Maybe I was a little too sensitive at the time I saw this (after all, I did just visit an animal theme park), but it bothered me. It would seem cruel if another action movie introduced a loyal dog, only to have that dog blown up with a rocket launcher without acknowledging the loss.

In many ways Jurassic World brought back what I loved about the franchise, twisted it, then made me watch it die. Meanwhile, the movie seemed to have little interest in making me care about the humans in this movie, let alone hope for their survival. It was much harder to watch the raptors in peril, now that they were lovable companions. I found the final battle more heartbreaking than exhilarating.

To be fair, there are many things about this movie that I enjoyed. The score from Michael Giacchino was excellent, striking new ground while including the original. The focus on the rights of extinct animals was fascinating. I may have been the only nerd in my theater who wanted to hear more banter about measuring the ROI of animal happiness, but I don’t care. I even enjoyed the heavy-handed criticism of Jurassic World management for pushing for results without paying attention to the consequences. 

I loved that fully-realized view of Jurassic Park as a destination. I was fortunate enough to see this on vacation in Orlando, the opening of the film rang true, complete with a Sea-World-like stadium with a splash area, sponsorships, a petting zoo (which made me slightly uncomfortable), merchandise and food areas, along with everything else that made this a Disney-fied experience. It made sense, and was fun, yet left us missing what felt so organic about the original park. 

I am glad that so many people enjoy Jurassic World, and I see how it can work on multiple levels. Kids may be excited by dino vs. dino action, some adults may walk away disturbed (then again, may the kids do, what do I know). Glancing at the mountains of money people have thrown at this movie, it seems that people had fun with it. I’m glad.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the world at large. I hope my outlook improves upon second viewing, perhaps I’ll remind myself that its just a movie and no dinosaurs were harmed in the making of it.

I fear that further visits to Jurassic World will only feel worse due to other issues I see. Much has been written about this “turn your brain off” movie, but here is what stuck with me. 

The script is likely the biggest issue. It’s been reported that the script had been a challenge, but I can only describe the finished product. Perhaps some issues will become clearer on later viewings, but they sure didn’t make sense at the time. Owen (Pratt) was “brought in” to look at the Indominus Rex, but hadn’t he been living on the island working with the raptors? I never got a clear sense of distance around the park, even if they showed us a map. It never seemed to take long for characters to travel far. The transition of day to night was more jarring. Once the decision to use the raptors was made, it was suddenly night. The InGen relationship was never replay explained. Maybe that wasn’t needed, but were the the mother company, were they bought out? A partner?

Much has already been said about Claire running in heels, which I cannot understand being necessary for any other reason other than considerations of height. I understand the all-business attitude of the character, but are you telling me there aren’t any needs for more practical shoes in her daily work?

Far more troubling, were the overall state of our characters. I believe this move was well-cast, but who was the main character? We enter with the boys, which had a relationship that I like, but they never quite fit with the rest of the movie. Claire has the most development over the course of the movie, but takes a backseat to Pratt as the star. Despite everyone’s efforts, the chemistry of this couple doesn’t show. At the end, I can see how we were supposed to watch these four come together into a makeshift family, but I’ve spent 2 hours barely caring about them, so I certainly don’t care about them escaping, reuniting, and walking away into the sunset. That could have been improved with a few more quite moments, and that would have disrupted the action thrill ride.

I cared more for the dinosaurs than the human characters, but even they had some empty qualities about them. The new CG dinosaurs looked good; but they seemed much too glossy at times. The rare animatronic moments were much appreciated, as they go a long was of adding a sense of realism to what we are shown. The lack of animatronics in most scenes, confirm the feeling that this is a move of a different era than Jurassic Park, which is not entirely a bad thing. This new era gives us some trilling moments and incredible shots, I just wish they handed leaned so heavily into such changes.

This may be the most affective Jurassic Park film I’ve seen, as I was truly disturbed by some of the dinosaur deaths. That said, Jurassic Park stands tall as my favorite of the franchise, but that was to be expected. I have to think about what I really expected out of this movie. If this was the Aliens of the franchise, then perhaps viewing it again will allow me to appreciate it for what it is. It carries on the lore and gives us something new. I think its a good sequel, but I found it severely flawed for my tastes.

It’s a shame that the boys have trouble fitting into Jurassic World, as represent us as the audience so well. Their contrasting attitudes entering the park echo our own. The world has changed, causing the continually raising expectations of the public. Meanwhile, the purists, new kids, kids at heart are still in awe, perhaps feeling neglected as the rest of the world moves on the bigger and better things. To them, its still magical, and they can’t believe how the rest of the world fails to see that. Not only is that a good description of today’s entertainment, it’s an apt description of this film.