Being the stubborn jerk that I am, I will probably lie on my deathbed trying to convince whatever nurse is trying to keep me alive that Jurassic Park is the best blockbuster movie ever made. Judging from anecdotally high number of people I noticed are excited for Jurassic World based on their love for the 1993 original, I don’t know if I’ll have to do much convincing. Indeed, not only is Jurassic Park a perfect movie of its kind, but people of my generation seem to know this.
Because we love Jurassic Park, and because we live in this day and age of wanting “more, more, more” of the things we love, everyone got excited for a sequel. However, as Jurassic World‘s very own plot points out (more on that shortly), “more, more, more” is not always a good idea. Case in point, Jurassic World is a huge mess of a movie. A bunch of noise that manages to turn watching dinosaurs fight into a boring activity.
What happened? Well, my first reaction would be to say that it was foolish of us to believe one could replicate the thrills of what is essentially a perfect movie in a sequel, let alone a sequel helmed by someone other than the original’s director (and I’m not even mentioning the fact that Spielberg himself already failed to make a worthy sequel years ago). But that sort of criticism is not constructive. Instead, why don’t we take our beloved Blockbuster Method, and try to figure out what exactly went wrong for Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World.
Years have passed since the “incident” of the first Jurassic Park. Since then, we have managed to crack the code of how to do a pretty smooth job of running a theme park filled with dinosaurs. Jurassic World is a product-placement paradise that has made a lot of money for a lot of people, but the world is starting to get tired of dinosaurs. The beasts that once made us stare in awe are now so familiar that a teenage boy doesn’t flinch once before turning his back to a T-Rex exhibit when his mom calls him on the phone. The people visiting Jurassic World want “more, more, more” dinosaur action, just like us, the people who have payed money to see this movie.
That’s right, the movie is quickly to point its finger towards the audience that has come to relish in some dino action. The movie sees the audience’s (our) thirst for bigger, faster, stronger blockbusters is seen as a problem. The executives of Jurassic World, led by park director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), have concluded that the audience’s wishes for “more, more, more” will only be fulfilled with the creation of a new, genetically engineered, and man-designed dinosaur called the “Indominous Rex.” This new dinosaur is so big and smart that it doesn’t take long until it escapes its maximum-security cage and starts devouring people. There is also a subplot that includes a secret government plan to train Velociraptors and deploy them into war-zones to take down terrorists.
If we ignore the fact that most of this sounds rather ridiculous, the premise of the movie makes thematic sense. Audiences are hardly impressed anymore, the park executives defy nature by creating bigger, badder dinosaurs, the dinosaur is smarter than they thought, all hell breaks lose. Even the raptor part makes sense, as people get more used to dinosaurs and find new ways to use them to their advantage. I thought this was the movie’s way to set up a premise through which it would somehow manage to make us stare in awe at the sight of dinosaurs once again, but I was wrong. Jurassic World doesn’t even seem to try to inspire any kind of feelings in the audience. It decides to implicitly agree with the executives that believe that more equals better. It scolds the audience for lusting over bigger dinosaurs, then delivers the biggest dinosaur you’ve ever seen. And you feel nothing. Is this summer entertainment secretly a misanthropic exercise?
A lot of Jurassic World‘s ridiculous and dumb plot-lines (and there are a lot, I have just scratched the surface) could be forgiven if the movie ended up being as crazy “more, more, more” action-oriented as the imaginary movie its bloodlust audience is supposedly dying to see. That is why Jurassic World‘s biggest problem is the fact that its action sequences are so terrible.
Many of the film’s detractors have thrown around a statistic that says only 15 minutes of the original Jurassic Park was dedicated to computer generated imagery. A lot of that movie’s most iconic moments were achieved through the use of animatronics. That is one of the reasons Jurassic Park still has some of the best-looking CGI despite being more than twenty years old. As in many behind-the-scenes stories, technology limitations resulted in better (and more creative) execution.
But there is more to Jurassic World‘s inept visual effects than the ubiquitous use of computers. If you want to read a longer and more detailed analysis of the situation, I recommend this piece on Cracked by David Christopher Bell. He wrote it before the movie even came out, but it perfectly points out at the problems that plague most contemporary blockbuster movies, and that were apparent in Jurassic World ever since we got a first glimpse of its trailer. If you don’t want to read the full article (although you should), most of this can be summed up to the fact that the effects in Jurassic World are weightless. The dinosaurs are so fluently animated that we can’t fail to recognize them as anything but cartoons.
The effects look even worse once you pair them up with the visual “look” of the movie. A look which, by the way, is not based on any creative decision, but in the fact that most movies these days are color-corrected to look bluer than they should. The CG effects look too shiny, the movie looks too blue (i.e. fake), and Trevorrrow’s direction (paired with the decisions of the post-production supervisors at Industrial Light and Magic) present the action in the most detached way possible. There are more dinosaurs, more gunshots, more blood, than in any other Jurassic Park movie, but it doesn’t make us feel anything. It is just there. Nothing awes, nothing amazes.
You don’t even have to go back to the original Jurassic Park to find a true sense of awe in blockbuster filmmaking. Peter Jackson managed to transmit how magnificent it was for Sam to see the computer generated Olyphants in The Two Towers, and the Dreamworks animators conveyed the exhilaration of soaring through the air for the first time in How to Train Your Dragon. It was all computers in both cases, but the effects meant something to the characters. There was a reason for us to invest in those images.
There is little reason to anything that happens in Jurassic World. The action sequences are not built around any kind of cause and effect. Once the Indominous Rex escapes its cage, it just prances around the island and encounters whatever character the script requires to have an encounter with it. Even though there are many maps on screen at many points, the movie’s sense of geography is never satisfying.The original Jurassic Park is a flawless example of letting us know what character is where, and who must be concerned about which dinosaur. This time around, there are too may characters to keep track of, and thus, every encounter with the deadly dinosaur seems to come out of nowhere. There is no momentum.
It’s not a surprise that a movie about fighting dinosaurs will not be particularly interested in its human characters, but considering the CG creations fail to engage, we kind of have no choice but to try to find solace in the human heroes.
First of all, we have a couple of kids who are not only annoying, but terribly defined as characters. At some point, we are introduced to the fact that their parents are in the process of getting a divorce; a piece of information that doesn’t come up later and barely colors any of the kids’ actions during the movie except to maybe give us a simplistic and stupid reason for teenage Zach (Nick Robinson) to put younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins) in danger. And while we’re on the subject, Zach is clearly the worst character in the movie. He is nothing but a jerk the whole time, and none of his actions make any sense, except the fact that he spends most of the time ogling at girls, because he is a teenager. Listen, I’ve been a teenager. I know they do this sort of thing, but is that all you can give your character to do?
Anyway, the kids are just annoying. The character with the closest thing to an arc is Claire, the park director played by Bryce Dallas Howard. However, having an arc doesn’t mean that the arc is any good. She is presented as a soulless businesswoman who doesn’t know jack about dinosaurs (how did she get this job?) and that must learn to understand that there are things more important than her job. Like saving her stupid nephews (the two kids mentioned above) when there is a loose dinosaur that could kill everyone on the island.
The worst thing about Claire’s story is that she isn’t doing anything particularly wrong. Her job is to manage a theme park full of deadly creatures, I understand if she can’t take a day off to hang out with a couple of stupid kids. But the movie tries to shame her for not wanting to settle down and have kids. And what’s more, it suggests she is a terrible person for not knowing how old her nephews are. At no point during my childhood and teenage years, would I have expected my aunts and uncles to remember how old I was, and they’re all pretty good people. Hell, I can barely remember how old I am (although that might just be me). In any case, the movie’s treatment of Claire is horrible, which is a shame, because Bryce Dallas Howard is a very charismatic actress. She could have made a great lead in an action-adventure movie…
Especially paired up with Chris Pratt, who broke through big-time last year with the massive success of Guardians of the Galaxy, but plays a very different character here (probably because Jurassic World went into production before Guardians‘s massive success). Pratt is a tough guy who has managed to train velociraptors to follow his orders. He is the “cool” guy in the movie, and while he does some pretty awesome things, he seems more like a cartoon of a type of manly man than an actual human being. He is so tough and knowing of all things dinosaur that he remains unmoved throughout most of the movie. He always keeps his cool, which results in little tension and little engagement on my part.
There are some human villains, but why waste time writing about them? Vincent D’Onorfio plays some sort of army guy who wants to train raptors to fight terrorists. He is evil, that’s kind of it. The real villain of the movie is the Indominous Rex, which is an absolute failure of design. I’m not even kidding, this is one truly bad looking dinosaur. Are any of the other dinosaurs better designed? Well, I think the coloring of their skin makes most of them look too colorful (which makes them look even more fake). There is a giant water dinosaur so massive it got me kind of excited when it was introduced, but the movie doesn’t really spend much time with it. I will just stick with the T-Rex and Raptors of the first movie. Those guys had personality.
There have been complaints about the sexist treatment of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, but that to me is not as much sexism as the fact that the movie doesn’t even understand what a human being is. And as far as other representation is concerned, why are there American kids working minimum wage jobs in a theme park off the coast of Costa Rica? Shouldn’t most employees in low-level positions be Costa Rican? Because the kids operating these rides look like high school or college age. Are there working here during the summer, or what? It’s not a huge deal, but it makes me wonder if the people behind Jurassic World even cared about the movie they were making.
It’s time to put an end to this long review, so let me ask, what is Jurassic World about? What does it have to say? The truth is this is just a mess of a movie. It sets itself up to establish a direct connection with its audience by addressing the very fact that we’ve come to see the movie, but ends up delivering a poor version of what it thinks audiences want. It presents us with a premise that must be disproven, but is instead accepted. How amazing would it have been if Jurassic World had made us relish in blockbuster energy once again? Well, that’s not the movie that was made. The movie that was made says that… Actually I’m not quite sure what it is saying. Is it saying that audiences are wrong to enjoy this? Or is it giving us license to enjoy this kind of mayhem? The truth is that with such a murky message, and such poor execution, there is little to take from the movie. There is always going to be a tiny bit of joy in seeing dinosaurs rumble on the big screen, but for the most part, Jurassic World is just noise.
Grade: 4 out of 10