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Jurassic World and the Theme Park of Modern Blockbusters


Jurassic Park is one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. No wait, it’s one of the best films ever made. Spielberg is a master, and it’s hard to believe that he made Schindler’s List in the same year…. Both are favorite films of mine. Sadly neither of JP’s two sequels were any good and I’ve always been bitter about it. Honestly, going into this I didn’t expect much…. I’m so surprised that this is actually a decent-ish piece of entertainment and a worthy-ish sequel to Spielberg’s original adventure if we view it under a specific lens. Now, originally this was just a review of the film but after another viewing I’ve added analysis of the film’s meta critique and how it’s the poster child for money hungry reboots/remakes/sequels.

As we head back to this trouble plagued theme park, we follow brothers, Gray and Zach, as they enter the park for the first time to meet their aunt Claire (Bruce Dallas Howard), who runs the park. She’s a career woman straight out of a 80s film and doesn’t have time for her nephews. Also introduced is Owen Grady, (Chris Pratt) a cowboy type who is the parks’ raptor trainer. Claire and Owen butt heads immediately because she’s got big plans for the park — namely, the new Indominus Rex, a genetically altered hybrid Dinosaur. Can you guess what happens to it? It escapes (uhhhh) and we follow the bothers, Claire/Owen, Vincent D’onofrio’s mini military (a side plot straight from the syfy channel) as they run around the park battling and running from Dinos. Director Colin Trevorrow keeps the story always shifting into another problem with a hide and seek structured script. While its characters and story are generic, it is paced like a raptor.

There’s exciting moments that take cues from great films like Aliens (this feels a lot like a James Cameron film albeit a much less polished one) and a scene that’s directly influenced by Hitchcock’s The Birds. On the flip side, at points it treads into Kingdom of the Crystal Skull dumb territory, but it’s not as well directed as Spielberg’s heavily flawed, but fun cartoon adventure. With that said, I was happy to see that the film isn’t afraid to be silly or even dumb at points. When the B movie monster mayhem meets nighttime action sequences this is kind of a blast to watch. At its worst, it’s a TNT film that’ll you’ll watch on a weeknight for a few scenes. Take that however you like.

The Dinosaurs are obvs the selling point of the movie. The CGI ranges from solid to glaringly obvious. The film itself feels and looks too clean, and that’s part of the intention as a parallel to theme parks like Disneyworld, but there’s a distinct lack of style, making the film feel “made by committee.” More on that later. The CGI does allow the filmmakers to create some nuances with the Dino’s movements and also have choreographed fights. In the action sequences and nighttime scenes — which look the best on a technical level because of the darker color tones — I generally forgot these were CG and was just sorta pummeled into the middle of CGI battles. They’re directed competently and quite fun at their best moments. But does “fun” mean good? Idk, that’s a separate discussion. The most surprising feat amidst the CGI overkill is that I found myself actually caring for some of the dinosaurs. The human characters are where the film falters.

They’re thin but that’s usually ok for a thriller and doesn’t derail this theme park ride. Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady is written as barely a 2 Dimensional character and only offers attachment to the audience because of his relationship with the raptors, although if you watch any creature/monster film you’ll see that they often rely on archetypes to tell their story. Dr. Alan Grant was not a deep character, but in the context of suspense film theres a primal attachment to the character. Grant was a distillation of the reluctant hero and Spielberg’s usual surrogate father figure — an older Indiana Jones, if you will. In thrillers, the lead hero is defined through action. It’s the only genre where this is completely necessary. However, the action in JP tells us about the characters, whereas this film has action for… studio mandates… Owen isn’t someone interesting and you won’t even really get to know him. You’re getting Chris Pratt and he’s a fun cat to watch. It’s then a bit odd how he’s used here. Pratt is a cartoon and Trevorrow seems determined to use him like Harrison Ford, and ya know, he’s just not that. Ford was a reluctant brute and Pratt is a reluctant goof.

Pratt does fill his paper thin hero archetype with enough charisma to get us to follow him through the park. But it’s Bryce Dallas Howard who surprised and delighted me the most. She and Pratt felt like they lacked chemistry but this is due to the their characterizations, I think. Howard, despite being given a character with dislikable traits, straight up steals the scenes from Pratt. She is the best part of the film. Did you get that? Bryce Dallas Howard is the best part of the film. Now, she’s no Furiosa but give her the silver medal! And more badass female heroines from Hollywood please!!! As I said before, this is like a James Cameron film more than a Spielberg one, so of course we get a kickass heroine!

Of all the characters, she’s the one I’d consider the actual lead of the film. The two brothers are just sorta there…. Trevorrow begins the film with a near sexist relationship between Owen and Claire, which will likely alienate some from Claire, but that’s literally the point. Owen’s supposed to be the rugged hero who knows everything and Claire is the businesswoman who just gets in the way and screams. These are well worn and sexist stereotypes. Trevorrow aims to deconstruct both of their gender roles before swapping them, and despite some seriously fumbled moments on his part, there’s enough to consider it a decent success.

And for those that have criticized Howard’s character wearing heels while she runs from Dinos, it’s part of the deconstruction Trevorrow is doing with gender roles found in blockbuster archetypes. Pay attention to the reversals of common tropes. Ex. Her saving and kissing him. A lot of this is sloppy and sudden, but I admire that a blockbuster is trying interesting stuff amidst the action.

A look back at the original and what made it so spectacular offers some insight into what this films goals are and how Hollywood has changed for the worse. In Jurassic Park Spielberg slowly unveils the dino’s like a ride up the food chain with each new dinosaur being more and more dangerous until that all time great T-Rex reveal and THEN he takes it a step further an unleashes the Raptors. Shit just hits the fan and Spielberg directs an orchestra of prehistoric action. But the best parts of that film are the build up. Most of the Dino’s are heard off screen with sound fx and we only see people’s reaction shots to them. It marked an evolution in cinema. And for the characters, their responses told us about who they were without having to use dialogue.

Jurassic Park let Spielberg show off his command of every genre. It’s a masterpiece for it’s perfect meld of genuine wonder, horror, thrills, and suspense. But there’s also a fascinating meta element throughout the film that ties the breakthrough of CGI to the Dinosaurs that have been created in the film. Spielberg knows that what he’s done will change cinema forever, and he’s not sure if it’s good or bad.

Lost World covertly explored its own meta existence as well. Now, enter this film. It is the exact monster that Jurassic Park warned us of. It’s fucking prophetic. Spielberg’s creation sent Hollywood into a laboratory, just like Jurassic Park did with scientists, to try to cook up our past and then sell it back to us. This offers us a way to look at how Trevorrow chose to go with this film because of the studio system nowadays. Here we head more into the pure action genre with light shades of 50’s sci fi and B-Movie horror like The Creature From The Black Lagoon (Trevorrow unfortunately doesn’t channel this aesthetically). This is where a lot of the silliness comes in and I could feel the clash between Trevorrow’s attempts at subverting tropes, adding his sundance twee humor (oh godddd), and the studio’s bland vision of a regular blockbuster. The latter wins, and the film knows it.

There’s no real glimpses of personality here and if there is, they’re swallowed up. The action scenes are bloodless and lack any gusto or punch. The big set pieces are CGI fueled and the climax is motivated by a shoe-horned sub plot involving army raptors. In Jurassic Park there’s a clear function of story and action. The wonders, mysteries, and horrors we see are completely earned and not simply thrown in our face like they are here. Studio films now just expect us to look up in awe at the next big thing, but the next big thing is often just a rehash of what we were just looking at. Jurassic World is a film about this problem with this problem.

If you can go with the goofy aspects of JW then you’ll have a good time, and if not, you’ll despise it. I did engage with the purely escapist elements of the film. The script isn’t “good” per se, but it’s sufficient and hits the check marks. The screenplay works like a game of hide and seek in which the escaped Indominus Rex causes mayhem and our heroes have to find and stop it. Simple and executed with some decent thrills.

Is that really enough? Are we going to accept this? Hollywood has mastered pavlonian techniques. I found myself sometimes excited, but there’s an obvious lack of personality here.  I was always aware that it was a sequel to Jurassic Park and it never became its own beast as a film… Trevorrow has serious tonal clashes that makes the film lopsided. Ex. A scene after some terrible deaths will have people cracking jokes. And the characters do make dumb decisions for contrivance sake. There are full sequences from Jurrassic World that are just re-purposed scenes from Jurassic Park. Some have made the argument that most of the film isn’t even new, but stolen and sold back to us.

This video shows all of the moments taken directly from the JP trilogy. https://vimeo.com/143563837

It’s a film that preys on the audience’s nostalgia while also critiquing the audience’s desire for nostalgia, which is quite odd. But what makes it utterly bizarre is that the film does manage enough laughs and thrills to make it worth a theater viewing. It’s a weird conundrum of a film that is, in a way, the apotheosis of reboots/remakes. Like the Indominus Rex, it’s the king of an island filled with the feces of some our greatest films reboots/sequels/remakes.

Trevor row understands that the original cannot be beat so his meta thread going on throughout the film compares the parks’ commercialism, and desire to be bigger and badder, to that of the film we (the audience) are watching. This is shown when the brother Zach answers his phone instead of staring at the T-Rex from the first film. The more subtle (really) use of this comes when the original Jurassic Park theme plays over consumers at the park buying merchandise; it’s a depressing condemnation of modern audiences. This is pushed even further (some say too far) when the nastiest death in the entire film comes to a woman staring at her phone. Tbh I find it to be a darkly humorous moment.

Most studio tentpoles are bloated overstuffed CGI fests about a ton of boring characters. BLEHH. Jurassic World understands this and does the best it can to distance itself while also recognizing that it is one of them by design. The film itself is metaphorically the Indominus Rex; a bigger, sloppier, dumber film/dino with more money spent on it and a product of capitalism and commercialization. Given how it now has the biggest opening weekend of all time… the meta element is utterly fascinating to observe and analyze.

While this meta thread about modern studio film’s constant sequels and reboots runs throughout, it’s not finished. Jurassic World knows that itself and its audience are not what once was. At times this feels like it’s talking down to its audience, but to be honest, some of them deserve it. Modern audiences can now not even engage a film beyond railroad plots and dialogue. Audiences are now like the dumb idiots in this film that go to a park with dinos that could eat them alive. The dinosaurs in the movie attack the idiotic attendees of the park WHILE the film itself is ripping on the audience for enjoying and accepting this paper cut out of a film. This is the most oddly profound point the film makes while also being a fucking depressing condemnation that’s all too real.

This meta thread doesn’t go further because the film is content with what it is. Idiot audiences might be fine with that, but not movie peeps that are able to grasp the film’s own internal dialogue with itself. Jurassic Park prophecized that it had just opened a pandora box and would change the film industry. JW essentially just says that audiences suck and our film isn’t really that good, but that itself makes the film worthy of analysis. As I said, it’s a bizarre conundrum of a film. 22 Jump Street suffered from the same problem of self reflexivity that never rose above what it was making fun of.

Bringing to light that you’re a sequel to a successful film and part of a commercial system isn’t enough. You have to transcend that if you wish to become great or memorable. At the end, the Indominus Rex roars on its island and Trevorrow acknowledge’s that it’s not possible for these types of films to even touch classic level with Hollywood’s current focus of sequels and reboots famous films. It’s near impossible to push boundaries of cinema when you’re just recycling and retooling what’s already been done.

Jurassic World is a Dino popcorn munching fun time at the theater. Jurassic World is also a bland mediocre modern blockbuster that condemns itself and its audience, which in turn makes it… smart in a confused way? Trevorrow is playing with nostalgia for the original like a toy, but he has enough meta text and deconstruction going on that it can’t be defined as just “dumb fun.” But enough about that. Let’s dig into the film’s primary function.

As a piece of entertainment with thrills and chills, it’s adequate. If we solely look at it through a lens of popcorn fun then it’s a decent theater experience worthy of $10. The film isn’t beautiful looking or technically impressive or well written and there’s absolutely no innovation here. No, it doesn’t offer the wonder or edge of your seat thrills of the original, BUT it is a nostalgic ode to what the original meant to so many people and has quick doses of excitement and laughs.

It aims to be an expensive 1950s sci-fi creature feature with a kick ass heroine, awkward comedy, decent action scenes, and crowd pleasing moments. The obvious recent comparison is last years Godzilla which is a much, much more ambitious film, but there’s a certain goofy energy here that I was taken with. And I couldn’t help but sucked into the nostalgic dino pit towards the end.

The film marks the beginning of 90s nostalgia and it’s aware of this fact. Trevorrow’s up to some interesting stuff and his final message seems to be that as films have gotten bigger in scale over the last few decades they’ve forgotten what made the great ones so great. It’s an interesting, but troublesome condemnation because it milks the audience’s nostalgia and then basically says, “you’re wrong and this is your fault but let’s have fun.” This isn’t a film to fix that issue, but it’s one that at least acknowledges the problem and that’s more than I can say for most modern blockbusters.

Despite all of these problems, there were a few moments in the film I had a smile on my face and at one point I clapped! Jurassic World is a theme park ride that’s old, rusty and a little worn out, but it’s got a new coat of paint and has long lines so we all feel we need to be a part it. We’ve been on this ride many times but it still manages to makes audiences laugh, scream, and cheer throughout. How long can Hollywood keep this up before the ride breaks down?




2 Responses so far.

  1. Richard Pulse says:

    Sort of a shame that two major predators (Suchomimis and Baryonyx) were left out of the film despite being mentioned on the JW website… I have but one question, do you think Dr. Grant would have been on board with training the raptors? He always had a passion for them.

    • andyzach says:

      Dr. Grant was always a skeptic. Until the sighting of an actual Dinosaur on the island, he didn’t believe it to be true. One could then assume that he would be heavily against a theme park in the first place. He and Dr. Ian Malcolm likely had quite a few beers talking about their disapproval of the theme park’s existence. Dr. Grant would no doubt see the idiocy in using Raptors for warfare. His stance would’ve been much similar to that of Owen Grady’s.

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