It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and in the interest of getting this one out I’m abandoning Movie Tuesday for now. I’ve been working on this post for days but a lacklustre internet situation has been no end of trouble.
It kills me that high concept original material like Tomorrowland bombs at the box office whilst a film like Avengers: Age Of Ultron, essentially a retread of previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films with extra characters, rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars. Jurassic World is another such film.
Having had this whinge, I have to confess that I do really enjoy the Jurassic Park series. They’re well made, exciting, and generally well cast, even if the children are unceasingly irritating. So, when Jurassic World approached, I rolled my eyes but also got a little bit excited. What magnificence would we be treated with now that visual effects have advanced 20 years since the original film, and the scope of cinematic storytelling is now wider than it’s ever been?
If you answered, “The best film in the series, raising moral questions about genetic modification and experimentation whilst also providing a rollicking good ride with brilliant performances from all the cast!” then you’d be sadly mistaken. Jurassic World is an absolute trainwreck of poorly formed ideas and badly executed plot points.
The film shows us that the remains of Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar have been salvaged by InGen, corporate masters of dinosaurs, and raised from the dirt into shiny theme park and shopping mall, Jurassic World. This new park has been in operation for ten years, but in the face of rapidly declining revenues, park scientists have created an entirely new dinosaur. This being a Jurassic Park film, things rapidly get out of hand, and it isn’t long before true loyalties are revealed, raptors make an appearance, men do manly things, and women run around in high heeled shoes.
In its over two hours running time, several points are raised that are never resolved and never mentioned again. The most obvious example is the divorce of this film’s children’s parents. Zach and Gray have been sent to Jurassic World so their parents can fight it out in divorce court. Zach is a massive douche who has a girlfriend but perves on every woman ever, and Gray is down one personality and up a filing cabinet mind full of dinosaur facts. Anyway, when they eventually work out what’s happening between their parents, they get a little sad…AND THEN IT NEVER COMES UP AGAIN. Sure, there’s some minor character development when Zach decides not to be an unpleasant turd and instead look out for his brother, but even at the end when the parents arrive to collect their children, there’s no mention of the divorce being resolved in favour of keeping the family together, or even a cheesy six months later montage. In the wake of all this, what happens? We don’t know! The film is chock full of these unresolved or untidily used plot points. Of course they’re just set dressing to give us people to root for, but it doesn’t make for a satisfying aftertaste in the car on the way home from the movies.
Chris Pratt’s Owen is a former Navy man who is training velociraptors for some purpose by which he seems criminally surprised considering his boss’s function as InGen’s Man Who Designs Unethical Weapons. And what exactly did this Owen do in the Navy that qualified him to train history’s most efficient killers? Another thing we never find out because he is too busy staring intensely into the middle distance, or at Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire.
Ah, Claire. The controller of Jurassic World just happens to be sister of our divorcing mother and is thus the aunt of Zach and Gray. Who better to chaperone a couple of kids than a woman who is clearly distracted (and fair enough) by running the world’s most expensive and dangerous theme park? It doesn’t even seem like she was given an option. Claire instead palms the boys off to her inept assistant who is quickly given the slip. So, while the boys are being menaced by the scary new dinosaur Indominus Rex, she gets to hang out with Owen trying to catch it.
The only returning character from the original series is Dr Henry Wu, geneticist, and in this film, a villain in the pocket of InGen’s military division. It seems a curious choice, especially as he’s in it for all of 5 minutes, and then vanishes without a trace in yet another unresolved plot development.
Still, he fares better than InGen owner Simon Masrani, a guy who forgot to exercise due diligence and keep an eye on his company, and is thus held accountable by the plot for Indominus Rex’s escape because he didn’t know what his people were doing. He tries to redeem himself by flying a helicopter into the park in an attempt to shoot the monster, but is instead killed in a pterosaur strike. Rough justice, I say. Just because a man wears Gucci loafers and a silk shirt doesn’t mean he should be for the chop.
Having said this, perhaps the worst death in a film with an almost higher human cost than the previous trilogy combined goes to Claire’s assistant. The camera follows her in a hideously voyeuristic fashion as she is tossed about in the air by several pterodactyls and then eaten by the aquatic mosasaurus. Considering her biggest crime was just to lose track of a couple of brats (and not even by deliberately running away and leaving them like Genarro in Jurassic Park), it hardly seems like a “deserved” death.
All this poor development really serves as a method of linking together a number of excellent set pieces. The escape of Indominus is brilliantly executed, and when the motorcycle-riding Owen and his team of raptors later chase it through the jungles of Isla Nublar you can be on the edge of your seat at times.
Like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this film suffers a conceptual change from which it does not wholly benefit. Whereas Indy 4 changed from ancient mythology adventures to scifi, Jurassic World shifts from scifi to horror. Instead of treating its dinosaurs as instinctive animals in the way the original three films did, JW looks at them as monsters. It’s fair to say Indominus Rex is a monster (in a ham-fistedly Frankenstein-like criticism of ‘playing God’), but velociraptors and tyrannosaurus rexes in this film communicate in an intelligent and cooperative manner reminiscent of cinematic aliens or monsters rather than animals. It’s a small but vital difference that prevents us from seeing the dinosaurs humanely.
When the film does try to make those comments about messing with genetics, what it really needs, and it pains me to say this, is Dr Ian Malcolm the Chaos Theoretician. Whilst Jurassic World almost certainly would not improve with Jeff Goldblum’s presence, it’s his role as concrete moral director that is missed. Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg use his character to brilliant effect in Jurassic Park and The Lost World, and his absence in Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World really does serve to make them little more than monster movies.
Jurassic World is not a bad film. But it’s not by any means a great film. It’s summer/winter blockbuster fare to go to the cinema to view and meanwhile switch off your brain. Where it’s most successful is when it plays on nostalgia for the original film, whether it be Michael Giacchino aping John Williams’ signature style, or shot-for-shot retreads of original trilogy action. While I’ll certainly buy it when it’s out on BluRay, I’m in no hurry to see it again at the cinema.