I was six years old when Jurassic Park came out. As a young Dinosaur buff, this was a remarkable experience: iconic creatures of the ancient past brought to life in a way that totally blew away the lumbering, ungainly stop-motion lizards and puppets of productions past. It was a movie that helped define a generation, redefined the popular image of Dinosaurs and set a new standard for special effects. Given that stunning contribution, the very last thing we needed was another one… I admit, the raptor/Chris Pratt stuff was pretty cool. Just a pity this was the movie it was in…
Twenty years after the disaster on Isla Nublar, the original Jurassic Park has been replaced by Jurassic World, a massive and incredibly popular theme park. Eager to maintain their spectacular profits, they’ve taken things to the next level and created a new Dinosaur from scratch, Indominus rex, a super-dinosaur hybrid with the viciousness, size and cunning turned up to eleven. Owen Grady, an ex-serviceman and now Velociraptor trainer is forced into drastic action to protect the head administrator of Jurassic World, his sometime girlfriend, her nephews and all the innocent visitors from a gory doom, while opposing both the hubristic scientist Henry Wu, one of the masterminds of the original Jurassic Park project, and the bombastic corporate man who wants to militarize the Dinosaurs.
And it was with that last point that I realized why, in particular, this Jurassic Park sequel bugged me so much. Because it isn’t Jurassic Park, it’s Aliens. The Velociraptors are the Aliens, the Indominus is the Queen, the military/corporate guy is the military/corporate guy, and the strung-out, terrified business lady is…I dunno, the one Marine who starts crying and saying ‘this can’t be happening’ partway through? But instead of having memorable heroes played by the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Lance Henriksen, we’ve got Chris Pratt, generic white Anglo-Saxon protagonist #18445 and that neckbeard in the control room. And instead of Newt, the traumatized yet brave little girl, we have generic brothers-who-don’t-get-along set #11233.
A lot of people who share my interests were rolling our eyes at the fact that the franchise that once pioneered a new image for Dinosaurs has now gotten so attached to that image that they refuse to take a step beyond it by, for example, remembering to put feathers on the raptors. But that was by far the least of it. As a friend of mine mentioned after we’d left the cinema, a good marketing move would be to release a special cut of the movie that removes all the humans. Because the human characters are almost to the last individual rage-inducingly obnoxious.
Actually, Pratt’s character is alright if only because he’s the only one who acts like he has a brain and realizes how totally absurd everyone else’s behaviour is. The leading lady is that kind of headstrong (read: shrill) corporate-lady archetype with a cellphone always on the go, an inability to keep her word to children and a sense of dignity and poise about as firm and unwavering as a block of silky tofu. Although credit where it’s due, not many people can sprint or forge through the rainforest in stiletto heels. The CEO tries to act like he has principles and ethics but just comes across as a hotshot and a Modern Major General of the business world. When things start coming unravelled the military/corporate guy, already a blowhard, spends all his screentime gazing at the carnage like he’s trying desperately not to masturbate at the sight. Control-room-neckbeard-guy is only slightly above-average for the pathetic parody of milennials that we’re all routinely called upon to somehow find funny these days, and the kids are the stereotypes from every teen-with-a-kid-brother set from every movie ever.
What’s particularly bizarre is how the human characters keep stealing screen time from the Dinosaurs. In particular the kids: they’re there to spend time with their aunt (the shrill corporate lady) and doing their best to have fun while coping with the unspoken knowledge that their parents are finalizing a divorce in their absence. And my question is, why the hell is this even here? Do you think I showed up to a movie about genetically engineered Dinosaurs to listen to an angsty preteen and his indifferent big brother trying to bond? Their presence sort of serves the plot, in the same way that the two kids in the first movie did, but we didn’t require a lot of background on their home life for them to have character development in a situation that involved wilderness survival and Dinosaurs!
As for the Dinosaurs themselves, the raptors and the fictional Indominus are the only ones that spend the movie as more than window-dressing. It’s kind of funny how the T-Rex doesn’t really show up until the very end in a way that suggests the writers going, “Oh, crap, we just remembered this is a Jurassic Park movie!” The CGI is alright but very obvious compared to the animatronics of the original. The cinematography is of the Michael Bay cameraman-with-epilepsy school of not letting you get a really good look at the action or the CG creatures – which might explain why one character gets a howl of “IT CAN CAMOUFLAAAAGE” as his last words because it isn’t completely obvious at first that this is the case.
What gets me is that the first two Jurassic Park movies managed to drive a dramatic plot of being chased by Dinosaurs while still paying lip service to actual animal behaviour. In this movie – and this is also part of where the Aliens reference comes from – the Dinosaurs aren’t dangerous and extraordinary creatures, they’re just kind of…monsters. Even to the point of seeming evil at times. For example, when the pterosaurs (which are, admittedly, not Dinosaurs) get out of their enclosure, they immediately swoop, Hitchcock-esque, onto the public and start massacring them, because…reasons, I guess.
The first Jurassic Park movie (and arguably the second one) had a theme of wondering at these iconic animals from long ago whilst at the same time tragic in our inability to share a world with them, a doom brought back to life by corporate greed and hubris. At hardly any point in the movie are we invited to marvel at these creatures. The theme-park ambience removes any sense of discovering these animals in a natural state, something that again you get from the first two movies. Personally, I think a day at Jurassic World looks like it would be more exhausting and stressful than fun. And as for a theme against corporate greed and immorality? They seem to be trying for that (again aping Aliens) but it might have been a little more palatable if it wasn’t for the demented amount of product placement sharing the screen with it!
I’ve been saying for ages now that Hollywood seems determined to rehash, cheapen and homogenize every unique or outstanding thing they’ve ever created, and Jurassic World was exactly the committee-designed, money-grubbing piece of tripe I expected it to be. Jurassic Park was great because it was unique, cutting-edge and evoked a range of emotions. Jurassic World makes a ton of references, hangs them on a framework that is fundamentally identical to every action movie ever created (except Mad Max: Fury Road, of course) and doesn’t care if it actually achieves anything special or memorable or unique as long as the money rolls in. And if it doesn’t care, then why should I?