What a Wonderful ‘Jurassic World’

In November, I was worried.

The trailer for Jurassic World debuted and it looked like my beloved childhood franchise was up for a third round of sequel failure. I wrote an entire post about my misgivings. 

And I’m so glad I was wrong. 

I had 4 main concerns about a 22 years-later sequel to 1993’s  Jurassic Park. It turns out my concerns weren’t anything new, and must have come up in a number of meetings helmed by writer/director Colin Trevorrow and executive producer Steven Spielberg.

With few exceptions, 2015’s Jurassic World does what it sets out to do: It wows while setting a new bar for future installments in what has become, at least in the past weekend, a reinvigorated franchise.

Here’s how.

(SPOILER ALERT, by the way…)

1. The Right Story

I was worried that Jurassic World would make the same mistakes that The Lost World and Jurassic Park III did (which is a hell of a lot).

They’re both monster-movies. How else can you explain poor Eddie Carr getting ripped in half by two T-Rexes, or the cell-phone chomping Spinosaurus?

And while Jurassic World is essentially a monster movie, filled with dinosaurs chasing and eating hapless people, it confronts the reality that only the first film dove into: These monsters are man-made, and made with dollar signs in their DNA.

Image: Universal
Image: Universal Pictures

Seriously. Did you not laugh your butt off at “Verizon Wireless Presents the Indominus Rex”? The relentless (and purposeful) product placement? The story isn’t so much about dinosaurs as it is society’s unhealthy relationship with large corporations.

Just like the Alien franchise, it’s a seedy corporation that lurks in the background, deliberating tampering with an uncontrollable force of nature for its own evil gain. And while this narrative is certainly weathered with excessive use, it’s painfully relevant in a world of oil spills, fracking, and rising oceans.

Hell, I bet FIFA would sponsor an attraction at Jurassic World

2. The Right Characters

While characters are never the stars of a Jurassic film, they can be its downfall. They don’t need to be Shakespearean, but they’d better not be doing effing gymnastics.

Which is why Jurassic World nails it.

Unlike the previous films, World features a character who grows. Even the first film failed at this. Grant goes from disliking kids to tolerating them. But that’s not real growth. Malcolm doesn’t change either – he smirks as his predictions all come horribly true.

Yet Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) comes to several realizations about family and the illusion of control. Is her story terribly deep? Of course not. But it’s just serviceable enough to keep us invested.

We want her to find her nephews. We want her to open up to Owen (Chris Pratt) because he’d be a good partner for her. And we want her to survive because we care about her stakes – again, just enough to get through.

3. The Right Critique

In November, I wrote that times were ripe for a commentary about cloning. Remember that 1993 was three years before Dolly the sheep was cloned.

Feeling old now?

Thankfully, the writers of Jurassic World have been paying attention to the world, around them, and noticed that things have changed in 22 years. Phones are everywhere. Technology is omnipresent. And with it comes ubiquitous boredom. This, perhaps, is where Jurassic World rises above a typical “monster movie” and becomes a fine piece of social commentary.

bd_wong_jurassicworld_henry_wu
Image: Universal Pictures

I wonder if I found the film especially potent because I live near Orlando, the theme park capital of the world. I resonated with the disgruntled teenagers manning the rides. I scoffed at the corporate sponsorship of every damned attraction. Seriously – study the history of Epcot the Theme Park versus Epcot the Utopian City.

And I nodded at Claire’s use of the term “focus groups,” the means by which InGen decided to build the Indominus Rex. I kid you not, I had barely left the theater before a survey-taker asked me for 5 minutes of my time, during which I answered about 11,000 questions about Marvel’s Fantastic Four movie.

Focus group. Targeted marketing. Bottom line.

It’s everywhere.

And Jurassic World knows it, and serves up a story that speaks to the crooked way our world works – both at the corporate and personal level.

4. The Right Action

In case you haven’t noticed, there are tons of action movies being made right now, and every one faces pressure to “up the wow factor,” to quote Claire. I especially felt this throughout Avengers: Age of Ultron, a film that bothered me due to its muddiness. Ultron moved too fast and made too little sense, and I left the theater with a sigh and a shrug.

Not Jurassic World. 

I remember the action scenes clearly. They are executed with a brilliant sense of Place. Even when I knew what’s coming, I was still thrilled or wowed by the scale, execution, and style of it all.

And this is especially true of the film’s final sequence, containing the one truly unpredictable piece of the plot that will thrill and terrify everyone. I couldn’t stop grinning. I felt 9 years old again.

It was AWESOME.

Image: Universal Pictures
Image: Universal Pictures

Sure, we all know the raptors are CGI. I knw that of the Indominus and every other dino on screen.

But that’s true of every creature on film today. Optimus Prime and Godzilla and Gollum are all fake, too, and some creatures look faker than others (that means you, Wrath of the Titans).

Once again, I cannot stress enough the importance of Place in an action scene. If I, the audience member, cannot keep track of my hero, his/her goal, and the surrounding world, then the scene doesn’t work.

Think of Man of Steel. Thousands of windows and struts were obliterated during that film’s finale. Such sound, such fury!

Audiences snored.

But as World sprinted to a close, I knew exactly where my heroes were, exactly where my monsters were (or could be, in suspense), and exactly what was happening when they collided.

Like I said. It was AWESOME.

Don’t Judge Me

This isn’t a blog devoted to movie reviews.

It’s devoted to Story.

And to be fair, Jurassic World’s story isn’t a knock-out. It does its job, which is to provide a solid frame for the teeth and claws.

But it tells its story better than the previous two JP films, and many other movies in general, because it was savvy enough to pursue relevance. Its story is, in a way, our story. We’re surrounded by branding and corporate culture and technology that bills itself as all-powerful.

Yet that marriage of corporate power and technological prowess is constantly in jeopardy, and jeopardizing us. How many credit card hacks must we endure before the bottom falls out? How much of our personal information will we willingly shell out before becoming nothing more than a numbered consumer?

And worse, our short memories and unquenchable thirst for entertainment leads to many dangerous, ugly things. Think Worldstar. 4Chan. That seedy 40% of the Internet.

God-knows-what-else.

Perhaps – the movie dares to suggest – the true monster of Jurassic World isn’t a dinosaur.

It’s the tourist.

Did you enjoy Jurassic World? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below!

Photo Credits: Universal Pictures

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2 thoughts on “What a Wonderful ‘Jurassic World’”

  1. I really enjoyed this movie. I, like you, had pretty low expectations and honestly might not have seen it if it wasn’t getting so much hype. But I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained.
    But I’m curious how you feel about the character delevopement. For me, that almost ruined the movie.
    I felt like they were trying so hard to make sure you understood that Claire was a workaholic. And in case we still weren’t sure, they wrote in a conversation for Owen to verbally remind us that she is a control freak. They were making obvious choices to show that the older brother was a jerk that ignored his little brother and that the little brother was a very intelligent kid that loved the park.
    The only character development I think worked were the parents with the subtle comment the mom makes when she was bothered by the dad. The office with full of suits and the mom almost too emotional.
    But, hey! If a movie can make me want a pet raptor, it’s still a winner in my book!

  2. I totally want a pet raptor!

    I’m with you, though, on the character development. There’s nothing in this film to get excited over, but there’s nothing agonizing, like the idiots in “Lost World” or the horrible couple and kid in “Jurassic 3.” These characters, for the most part, were fine. That’s all: Fine.

    What I loved was the social commentary and thrilling action. That’s what we paid $11 to see, right? (Or $19 in IMAX, when I checked…)

    Good to hear from you, Ms. Keller!

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