Now that Jurassic World has made about a billion dollars at the box office, perhaps I should finally share my thoughts about the movie itself. Over the past two weeks since its release, I’ve been harboring some strong feelings about Colin Trevorrow’s film that are only amplified by its success.
I’m overwhelmed by one theme: sometimes stupidity and magic can exist together.
Yes, I found Jurassic World to have elements of pure idiocy, primarily when it came to the human characters, and found within it other moments of pure cinematic magic at the hands of some very cool dinosaur effects. And when placed in context with the original Steven Spielberg directed Jurassic Park, all of these feelings can lead me to some interesting contextual analysis. Interesting to me, at the very least. Let’s explore and you can tell me if you agree.
Much has already been said about the decision making of the human characters within Jurassic World, namely the female lead Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. The way her character is formed and executed represents a lot of the lazy, sexist problems that Hollywood has had for years. As Jada Yuan explained over at Vulture, it seems unnecessary for Jurassic World to resurrect gender stereotypes along with the dinosaurs. From her career focused anti-family attitude that must change for her heroism to shine through to the fact that she can’t be more realistic about her footwear, there’s a lot that’s problematic about how Claire was written. The same can be said for the meat stack who shares much of her screen time, Chris Pratt’s Owen. He’s got the classic hero bravado and the classic hero misogyny. The list continues throughout the supporting cast. With the exception of Irrfan Khan, who cranks his performance as the eccentric billionaire park owner to 11 out of a clear awareness of how silly the entire film is, many of Jurassic World’s human characters spend more time making horrible decisions than they do being whole, fleshed out human beings.
What makes this worse is a re-visit to Spielberg’s original. Trevorrow’s revisit does a lot of work to honor the original, but building intelligent human characters capable of surviving isn’t exactly one of them. Jurassic Park had Dr. Ellie Sattler, a khaki shorts and boots wearing scientist who was not just an intellectual equal to her male counterparts, but a heroine aware of the classic gender tropes of survival situations. In my viewing of Jurassic World, a moment like this one would have felt incredibly foreign, given the tone:
Universal Pictures (Screenshot)
Now, you may think that this doesn’t matter. It’s a big summer blockbuster, it doesn’t have to be smart and shouldn’t be held to ideals such as gender equality. All we want to see is dinosaur action. I would argue that it’s important to hold every movie to a certain standard of intelligence. When we look back at some of the true classics – the movies that defined the summer movie season and elevated it to a time of year when the biggest and brightest advances of cinema technology are brought to market – we find movies that were big on effects, but also pretty big on brains. The original Jurassic Park is the story of numerous very smart characters placed in a horrifying situation by John Hammond’s hubris and Dennis Nedry’s greed. The same can be said for movies like Jaws and Alien. These are not “dumb” movies.
As Matt Singer wrote at ScreenCrush this past week, “‘Turn off your brain’ is less of a defense of a movie than admission of incredibly low standards for entertainment.”
We are right to hold our movies – even the ones that are dinosaur destruction porn – to a higher standard. In the case of Jurassic World, the formula was already established by a 22 year old predecessor. All they had to do was stick to the plan.
What’s slightly more disheartening is that based on a lot of the rest of the movie, we know that Colin Trevorrow and the rest of the Jurassic World team were at least paying attention to the original. In fact, there’s a great deal of World that is a lovely send-up of Spielberg’s first foray into bringing dinosaurs to life.
Not only are there direct references to the original film, Trevorrow and the effects teams – led by Industrial Light & Magic, Hybride Technologies and Image Engine – honored the tradition of pushing the visual effects envelope with living dinosaurs. The effects, some practical and a great many more digital, are fantastic and seamless. Subsequent rewatches of Jurassic Park show a few seams, if you know where to look, but it’s hard. The bar was set so high by the work done on that original that it’s hard to imagine feeling that kind of magic ever again.
But it’s there. In watching Jurassic World, I felt a sense of awe similar to that which my 10-year old self experienced watching the original film in theaters. A sense of awe that I didn’t get earlier this year from Marvel’s action explosion, Avengers: Age of Ulton. That’s not to say that one movie is better than the other. I enjoyed both Age of Ultron and Jurassic World in their own ways. But there’s still something especially magical about seeing dinosaurs and humans occupying the same space in a believable way.
A great assist goes to the score from Michael Giacchino, whose work builds on a foundation build two decades ago by John Williams. There’s bits and pieces of original Jurassic Park themes and by proxy, bits and pieces of original Jurassic Park emotion.
When it comes to making dinosaurs stand up and walk into reality, there’s so much that Jurassic World gets right. It’s what creates this interesting conflict within me. I can recognize that this movie has problems. It’s not particularly smart and its best stuff is nostalgia driven. But there’s part of me that also had a lot of fun with it. I wish it had been more than a lazily constructed version of the original. Then I could spent all 1,000 words on how much I absolutely loved watching dinosaurs come to life again.
You were fun, Jurassic World. But I expected you to be smarter. And I don’t feel wrong in admitting that you have problems, even if you did give me some warm, nostalgic glee from time to time.