In 1993, my mother said the most beautiful words I had ever heard:
“Do you want to see Jurassic Park?“
As an eight year-old boy, nothing could come close to the allure and power of JP. I had all the toys, the board games, and I practically wore out my VHS copy.
Now, nearly 22 years later, we have the trailer for Jurassic World, a post-Michael Crichton telling of the dino-tale. Is my eight year-old self giddy?
But more than anything, I’m scared.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer for 2015’s Jurassic World:
Epic, right? I particularly love the way they’ve twisted John Williams iconic score into a foreboding dirge. The effects look flashy and the tension sky-high.
To be honest, I posted the trailer to Facebook after my first viewing and wrote, “Take my money.” That little eight year-old boy, despite growing up, was excited again. And maybe after the disappointment of The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, this could be the Jurassic Park sequel I’ve been waiting for.
Or maybe not.
I’ve viewed the trailer three more times since that first emotive Facebook share. And similar to how I felt after seeing the trailer for Dumb and Dumber To, or after hearing of the planned two-part sequel to Independence Day, something deep within my soul just cringes.
I’m scared about Jurassic World for a number of reasons, and not just out of fear that it might “ruin” the original – the sequels already did their damnedest there.
I’m scared that this film, unlike the original, won’t be right for the times, the technology, or for us.
It’s Not 1993 Anymore
Jurassic Park stood on the shoulders of geniuses (get it?) by taking the work of Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day and bringing 3-D computer animation to new ground-breaking levels. Without it, we might not have Pixar and Dreamworks Animation.
Since 1993, we’ve seen CGI go both north and south. For every Matrix, we endured a Deep Blue Sea. For three Lord of the Rings films, we suffered the blunt instrument of three Star Wars prequels.
Audiences aren’t going to be wowed by photo-realistic dinosaurs anymore. We’ve been to Pandora and flown with the Nav’i in mind-blowing IMAX 3-D in Avatar. Times, literally, have changed.
I’m scared that Jurassic World is simply going to rely on a bigger, louder, smarter, nastier dinosaur that’s really just Godzilla with a Latin name, and we’ll all pay $11.25 for a massively underwhelming experience.
Which leads me to…
JP is Not About Story
It’s about science and ethics.
Read the book. Seriously. The best parts of the book (other than a drunk Robert Muldoon shooting rockets at the tyrannosaur) are when Hammond, Wu, and the immortal Ian Malcom open the moral can of prehistoric worms that is the miracle of cloning.
Jurassic Park is about the danger of Man getting a big ego and thinking he can play God with nature. That’s half the fun of it. Smart-ass humans poke tortured animals with cattle-prods until the animals fight back, like when Caesar fulfills every Gryffindor’s Malfoy-hating fantasy in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
This is the inherent problem with a JP franchise. Franchises are about ongoing stories and sagas. We see characters on the journey of life over many years and additional chapters feel natural.
But the characters of Jurassic Park aren’t the humans. They’re the dinosaurs, and their journey is that of survival in a modern, foreign world. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes figured this out and went all-in to get it right, spending more than half of the screen time, drama, and dialogue on the animals.
But Jurassic World can’t take a similar risk, or at least it won’t.
Same Characters, New Actors
In a monster movie, there are really only two types of characters: survivors and snacks.
The most recent attempt to make a monster movie with Characters and Story was Godzilla (2014), starring (at least for a few minutes) the beloved Bryan Cranston. Talk about legitimacy!
But in the end, Godzilla was still a mishmash of archetypes and imposing CGI shots, all of which we’re exhausted with. After viewing Jurassic World’s trailer, I see little to look forward to character-wise.
Seriously. How different are these survivors/snacks than those in the original film? Even the color palates are practically identical.
The rugged outdoorsman and resident dino expert, clad in “good-guy” blue. Perhaps the denim shirt is a Grant family hand-me-down?
The wealthy, arrogant douche-in-charge who has no idea what hell he/she is unleashing on these innocent people, draped in ironic white. That way the metaphorical blood shines good and bright.
The plucky, innocent, certainly-in-peril child who is a dino-fanatic and therefore capable of surviving in a Cretaceous Period wilderness for days at a time. I love movie rationale.
We’re Just Not That Interested
Jurassic Park debuted just as cloning technology was polarizing the country. Dolly the Sheep appeared just 3 years after.
Even more, Jurassic Park heralded a new era of movie magic with digital wizardry that left audiences scratching their heads. Now story-tellers could create larger-than-life monsters inside of a computer with incredible realism.
But in 2014 we’re bored and inundated with all of this. Social media bombards us with relevant issues 24/7, and the ethics of cloning, or even stem-cell research, haven’t been on anyone’s radar since 2004 when Bush won reelection.
Our cinemas are bursting with larger-than-life creatures. Optimus Prime. The Hulk. Smaug. Hugh Jackman’s face in Les Miserables. And everything can be seen in IMAX 3-D, too, keeping many optometry clinics in the money.
Honestly, a genetically-engineered monster isn’t that interesting right now. Since The Sopranos, much of our media has orbited around anti-heroes and the villain within the common man. Not only do we crave entertainment, we crave significance. We want our stories to matter.
How else can the overwhelming success of The Dark Knight be explained? TDK explored the darkness in man’s heart, the fear of chaos and the need for control. It had the stones to kill a major character, not just another fleeing extra. Its villain was mysterious, unpredictable, and sickeningly likable.
If Jurassic World goes the route of Giant Movie Monster, hopefully it will somehow make it relevant to us today. The guys at IGN did a good job discussing this, focusing on how bored we get in the Smartphone Age, and it sounds like the filmmakers might even go there.
But I’m still afraid that Jurassic World will, on the whole, probably offer nothing so engaging or relevant. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard will utter monster-movie cliches (“Oh my God…”, “What have we done?”) while the rich and icky characters get eaten in grotesque ways. At the end we’ll be treated to a romantic view of dinosaurs despite the 2-hour bloodbath, and then we’ll leave the theater with nothing to add to our lives except a ticket stub.
I hope I’m wrong. I’d love to amend this post in June of 2015 and say: ‘Thank goodness the filmmakers had the courage to craft honest, flawed, and highly motivated characters. Thank goodness they dreamt up new ways for the dinosaurs to threaten the humans and eat them in a morally unpredictable manner. And thank goodness they made this film relevant to 2014 Americans, with our stark racial injustices, gender issues, and international threats.”
But they probably won’t.
So while my inner child wants to be excited, I’m really just scared.
How about you? Are you excited about Jurassic World? Nervous? Scared like me? Is it even possible to make a monster movie with cultural relevance?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below!