Jurassic World (Or, That Time I Felt Like I Was Five Again)
[SPOILERS SPOILERS OH SO MANY SPOILERS PLEASE DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT THIS UNTIL YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE]
When I was five years old, my cousin took me to the theaters for the first time. We were going to see what would become the highest grossing movie ever at that point in time, but numbers like that mean nothing to a five-year-old who is obsessed with dinosaurs. And yes, Jurassic Park is entirely unsuitable for a five-year-old to watch, but before you get on your high horse, just know that I somehow understood that movies are fake and the violence was fake and it didn’t seem to affect me nearly as much as it did my cousin (who was terrified the entire time as I, like Tim in the movie, was thrilled).
The movie was more foundational to me than most other life events of that time. I don’t really remember much about my fifth, or even sixth, birthdays, but I definitely remember how my heart was racing as Donald Gennaro was lifted from his porcelain seat. It sparked a lifelong obsession with Jeeps, a love of playing with action figures, and even a love of writing and imagination, as for years, I wrote little stories based around the characters and settings in the Jurassic Park movies.
Needless to say, 22 years later, I was thrilled to watch Jurassic World as soon as I could. I busted through a busy workday to make sure everything was wrapped up that evening so I could make it early enough to find a seat. Somehow, my theater only had 8 people show up for this particular showing, so I was able to watch it almost entirely alone. It was the perfect viewing scenario. I went back on Friday night to see it again, and look at it more logically to determine whether I loved it purely for nostalgia or whether I loved it as a movie.
Let’s talk nostalgia first: the movie is loaded with it. There is the subtle reference to the original gates that they pass through on the monorail, an appearance by Mr. DNA, the book “God Creates Dinosaurs” by Ian Malcolm, and even the arrival of the young protagonists to the original building (with the Jeeps I loved so very much). What I found quite interesting about this is that the nostalgia seems natural, even if there is a significant amount to be found (Jake Johnson’s shirt, the John Hammond statue, even bringing back Henry Wu). You can tell that effort was made to make it seem less like an homage to the original movie and more like a story taking place in the same universe, 22 years later.
And that is perhaps the most fascinating part of Jurassic World: how it is somehow a reboot that isn’t a reboot. In today’s Hollywood World, there is no real love for originality. The biggest movies are the Marvel films, which are based on characters created 50 years ago. The biggest action hit so far this year is Mad Max, a new installment in the series that made Mel Gibson famous. So naturally, Jurassic World was not going to be incredibly original.
What is original, though, is the method of doing this. The plot is incredibly similar to the first movie (theme park with dangerous exhibits where control is an illusion and internal sabotage ruins things), which makes it a bit of a reboot of the 1993 hit. However, it is also an effort to be its own movie, not just a retelling of the same story. Therefore, the “bad guy” dinosaur isn’t just a lost and confused animal, it is a weapon created by scheming men. Again, a control issue. Stylistically, though, Jurassic World is more of a monster movie than a science fiction warning about messing with nature. It almost has more in common with Aliens or Pacific Rim than it does with Jurassic Park, at least in that regard.
Control is again the central theme of the movie, with the term being thrown around constantly throughout the film. It often brought back memories of Dr. Ellie Sattler telling John Hammond “The control IS the illusion!” as they lament their powerlessness over some melting ice cream. Michael Crichton wrote the book Jurassic Park to make the case against trying to play God with science, and this is really hit on in the original movie during the discussions the scientists have before everything gets loose.
With Jurassic World, one of the primary differences is that the characters are not scientists. They are a powerful businesswoman and an ex-military animal trainer. Therefore, they aren’t going to have very many in depth scientific discussions, which is what Crichton loved to write about. In fact, there aren’t as many great lines, like Dr. Malcolm’s “Life finds a way”, in Jurassic World. Most of the long speeches are done by Vince D’onofrio’s character Vic Hoskins, who again is more military than scientist and often has no idea what he is saying. Dr. Henry Wu easily delivers the best monologue in the film, discussing how nothing in Jurassic World is natural, and how “monster” is a relative term. “To canaries, a cat is a monster.”
Hubris is what the Jurassic Park franchise is all about at its core. Man’s belief that he can ultimately control everything. It’s what led a good man, John Hammond (movie Hammond, that is, since book Hammond was a jerk), to create an environment that was too dependent on automated technology and Denis Nedry. It’s what leads a good man, Simon Masrani, to decide to pilot a helicopter he doesn’t even have a license for, which ultimately leads to his death and the release of flying terrors.
Warnings against hubris and the illusion of control aren’t the only throwback elements we see in Jurassic World, as we also see good characters die. Something that lacked tremendously in Jurassic Park 3 was depth. While Jurassic World brought back the depth found in the early movies with these perhaps philosophical elements, it also saw good employees, the good owner of the park, and innocent visitors be victims of attacks. It’s harder to stomach that than seeing a velociraptor eliminate D’onofrio, and it could easily be argued that watching Zara the “babysitter” get tossed around and basically tortured by the animals was too much. Regardless, there was more reality in those moments than you saw with Lost World and JP3, where it seemed only bad guys got theirs.
So what is new? Well, as Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady said, “They’re dinosaurs, wow enough”. The storyline focuses on people being bored with this park having the same prehistoric attractions they’ve already seen. Knowing that director Colin Trevorrow, in his short directorial career so far, isn’t one to pander to a mainstream audience (Safety Not Guaranteed being one of the quintessential “hipster” films), it would make sense to assume that line is directed towards the movie audience as well. Jurassic Park built up a tremendous amount of tension before a dinosaur even appeared on screen. Jurassic World opens up with eggs hatching. Trevorrow knows the audience wants “more” than just more dinosaurs. In his effort of doing that, he’s almost making a movie that purposefully isn’t going to live up to expectations. Or perhaps more accurately, he’s not going to put out a movie that is what we expect it to be.
That might not make it a huge hit with critics, as some early viewers are complaining that the plot isn’t enough or whatever the case might be. And maybe that’s what Trevorrow was trying to prove. Maybe there is a distinct reason why, in Jurassic World, the “natural” dinosaurs are the ones that team up to stop the “unnatural” Indominus Rex. Nature found a way to persevere; the point that is constantly brought up in Jurassic Park and The Lost World is addressed openly again in Jurassic World, but this time not through words. It’s seen through Blue the Raptor and the Tyrannosaurus Rex cornering Indominus, and Indominus letting out almost a desperation roar to an unintimidated T-rex before being blindsided by a sneaky giant fish.
There is a lot to address in Jurassic World. There are cheesy moments, and there are really deep and serious moments. There is a lot about it that won’t be what people want it to be, which seems to always be the case when somebody harkens back to a landmark part of culture. The new Star Wars movies were never going to satisfy overly picky moviegoers, regardless of whether JarJar Binks was a terrible character forced upon an unwilling audience. Jurassic Park was the highest grossing movie for a reason, and even 22 years later, its special effects are mind-blowing. Jurassic World has a lot to live up to; a near impossible task. The question is: does it live up?
I’ve seen the movie multiple times now. I’ve analyzed it and talked about it, and processed it so much, since Jurassic Park seemed to define so much of my childhood. And the more I try and take Jurassic World into consideration, the less I care about the analysis. Cynical moviegoers will say what they want to say about it, and I’m sure we will repeat this process again in December when Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrives. I’m a bit tired of critiquing the movie, and here’s why:
On Thursday night, as I sat in a nearly empty theater, I was five years old again. Maybe it was the fact that I accidentally stumbled into the perfect viewing situation, but I don’t care. I found myself not caring at all about whether the movie was going to live up to anything I expected. I found myself putting my cynicism away for a while. It had been a busy work week. It had been a stressful and exhausting day. I just wanted, once again, to be excited and amazed by something. In short, I was the opposite of the jaded park visitors in the movie. I was young Gray, just thrilled to be there.
I grinned from ear to ear as the theme I knew so well played while Gray threw open the window at the resort. I nearly screamed when Claire ordered Paddock 9 to be opened and lit her flare. When the T-Rex’s eyes lit up in the dark, I actually had to stop from standing up. And when the credits started? I cried. I actually cried.
Jurassic World gave me a feeling I haven’t had since I was five years old. Life found a way. I don’t want to nitpick that.