As I was sitting down in the cinema with trailers were going by, I thought, Man, some twenty-plus years since Jurassic Park and—wait, that’s not right. Because, lest we forget, not too soon after the first film in 1993 there was 1997’s Lost World: Jurassic Park, and then Jurassic Park III in 2001. I say ‘lest we forget,’ but we all really forgot on purpose, didn’t we? What Jurassic Park sequels? How then, do I explain the uncharacteristic optimism that has been bubbling up in me ever since Jurassic World’s announcement, even after hearing whispers on Twitter warned me otherwise?
I often tell people that I was babysat by Jurassic Park. This is not exactly true, but true enough that I don’t mind saying it. From around the age of six and onwards, I would go over to my cousins’ house and watch it, over and over again, day after day. I even went to see Jurassic Park when it returned to theatres a year ago because I am a sucker for that damn theme song, despite knowing that putting old films back into cinemas is nothing more than a moneymaking scam. So of course on the day of the release I welcomed my return to Isla Nublar with open arms.
I can only guess that the writers for Jurassic World watched JP as obsessively as I did, because the first thing I noticed were the homages/references. Legacy films—and I think it’s fair to call this a legacy film since the last “sequel” was released 14 years ago—have this really bad habit of throwing stuff in “for the fans,” usually in a ham-fisted and out-of-place kind of way. But most of the Jurassic World references are anything but that. Half the time, my ears would prick up and be like ‘wait, did they just—’ but was too late, the moment already gone. While some of the references are indeed obvious and visual, the majority are somewhat neat tricks like lifting a line from Jurassic Park and placing it in a completely different context. Subtle, understated, and very much as though they don’t care if the audience has noticed or not.
But unfortunately, now that we’ve upgraded from Jurassic Park to Jurassic World, the references to JP are the only subtlety we really get. The most egregious sin was the romantic element to the story. The writers pile on a well-trodden backstory in the couple’s first scene together, and in general, their flirting is shallow. The entire theatre groaned at “the big kiss” and was right to do so.
The dialogue is mostly fine, but occasionally rough—largely due to the hackneyed emotional themes. Every character’s background, motivation, and relationship to the people around them is exactly the kind of thing you’d come up with if you only thought about it for about ten seconds. The actors work with what they have—and I give a salute to both Chris Pratt, the raptor trainer, and Nick Robinson, who plays the older of the two children, for their work here. On the other hand, I don’t know why Katie McGrath was cast. Her character basically just existed to be British, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character was kind of a mess. Still, the cast pretty much saves what could have been much, much worse, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re handed facile characterizations and set-ups.
And of course, there’s the much talked about issue of sexism. I don’t really have much else to say about it—it was really part and parcel of the lazy characterization. It almost doesn’t seem worth remarking on because everything really is exactly as you’d expect: badass male action hero rides motorcycle and uptight girl who doesn’t want children learns to relax after spending time with him. The only thing that’s actually noteworthy is, as much as people are complaining about the scene where Bryce Dallas Howard runs in heels, the director actually wanted her to change her shoes but she insisted on doing it as she was. Not exactly what you’d expect, and while there are conversations to be had about agency, heels as signifiers of femininity, Ginger Rogers, etc., this movie is not good enough to warrant them so I’m moving on.
The story is fine and there are dinosaurs we haven’t seen before and there’s actually a narrative justification for why the previous films (and this one) have inaccurate dino science, but, I think—and I’m going to get a little sentimental here but—I think what’s missing here is really the sense of wonder and amazement at the dinosaurs. There is one killer moment involving a T-Rex, but aside from that, there are so few times when they really had me.
But maybe this is the point.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since I left the theatre, actually. One of the major thematic elements of the film is that this new hybrid dinosaur is a result of wanting bigger, louder, and cooler because now that dinosaurs have been around for twenty years, they’re old news and the park needs something flashier. What if this lack of excitement, this reliance on cliché is a kind of performance art? What if this is the writers and director saying—either to us or to their producers and the studio—See? This is what happens when you keep asking for bigger, louder, and cooler!
And what about the product placement? There is product placement everywhere. This is goes beyond the standard fare of 21st century cinema. Along with the usual Beats by Dre headphones, we the have actual locations of the park named after corporations. Verizon Wireless, a mobile phone company, has actually been written into the dialogue because they want to sponsor a new attraction—but this aspect is actually criticized by other characters! That is to say, Jurassic World manages to include product placement while simultaneously disparaging product placement, and I have so many questions: Would the critique have been more successful or genuine if they had used false corporations? Is there some concern here about ethics in product placement journalism? Is this entire film actually a critique of blockbuster culture and are the writers and directors getting the last laugh?
I don’t know. But here’s what I do. There are better ways to spend your time than seeing Jurassic World, but there are also definitely worse ones. Because of my love for JP, I don’t regret having seen it and it outstrips those other sequels—you know, the ones we intentionally forgot about—pretty easily, even if it doesn’t hit the same heights as the glorious original. Still, whether you love it or you hate it, I can guarantee one thing: you will walk out of the theatre humming that theme song either way.