Jurassic World, the most recent incarnation of Hollywood nostalgia, is what Jurassic Park 3 should have been. The box office receipts have broken another record, the critics lament the niggling impossible bits (sure, you probably can’t outrun a T-Rex in stiletto heels, but has anyone actually tried?), and audiences applaud the entertainment. As of writing the film broke the record for largest opening weekend ($500 million, more than tripling its budget) and is within a pterodactyl swoop of $1 billion.
For someone who grew up with the Jurassic series there are plenty of references and salutes to the original. Film students would refer to this as intertextuality, and when it is done badly you get the clumsy cameo bits we’d rather forget from the Star Wars prequels. Happily, in this case it is done well, and the references like (spoiler) the DNA strand animation from the first film that appears briefly on a screen in the busy museum, or the famous tour cars found in the abandoned garage somewhere on the island, makes it feel like the film is watching itself. Watching itself and cackling with laughter at every chomp and stomp. The film claps you on the back and pushes your frozen coke a little closer.
This is a movie I want to see again just for the sheer fun of it. The story is basic, and the same as the rest of the Jurassic movies; (a) big terrifying dinosaur(s) gets created in the lab, (a) big terrifying dinosaur(s) escapes captivity, and thrilling scenes of prehistoric violence ensue. Before you audibly yawn at the formula you need to ask yourself if you would be interested in seeing a dinosaur movie where this didn’t happen. These movies stand or fall on that simple premise, and this one undoubtedly stands.
Palaeontology has developed in the last twenty years, in my opinion for the worst. How disappointing to find that Velociraptor actually had feathers and could be mistaken for just another bird if it were alive today. Jurassic World’s raptors are vintage 1993, smooth skinned lizards that dart and hunt in packs and consider their prey with beady eyes and tilting heads. They are more like wolves or jackals, and their obedience to trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has something more doglike than fowl. A major theme in the film is that people want to be awed by the creatures, so the scientists splice their genes to make them meaner, smarter, and more terrifying. Real science is eroding that, whence the departure from science. Whoever would have guessed that the dinosaurs that thrilled us in 1993 would turn out to have more in common with Big Bird than crocodiles.
The scientists took to twitter in a mass outpouring of nerdy disappointment when the trailer and featherless raptors hit screens everywhere. They said it was ‘retrograde’, they said it was ‘a dumb monster movie’. The inauthentic creatures were created by fusing the DNA of amphibians to the damaged dinosaur DNA, so one could make a scientific case for the Velociraptor not having feathers. But that would be unnecessary. What the scientists would get if they had their way is a movie version of the National Geographic. Something tells me this would be less, um, thrilling.
If there is one indispensable reason for the success of Jurassic World it is Chris Pratt. The guy can do humour, drama, and action with an easy flair that is outrageous. I think the reason he can do traditional masculinity without it being off-putting is because he seems to have no ego. Action stars of the past (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, even Brendan Fraser in The Mummy) have all had egos that loom before them like permanent advance shadows. Yet Pratt carries his easiness from Parks and Recreation and becomes a leading actor that does not dominate the rest of the cast. He is becoming the ideal father figure, full of humour with the ability to fight off whatever attacks, and knowing when to shut up and support the “mother” character. His bond with the raptors is certainly one of a parent and young – this is made clear when he says that they imprinted on him when they hatched and he raised them to adulthood. The ‘Pratt’ has signed on for sequels so we should be treated to more form this new-age Harrison Ford. Hooray!
Bryce Dallas Howard performs well as the chilly workaholic manager of operations Claire Dearing, despite her feet being glued to a pair of cream coloured stilettos throughout the entire movie. Prodigiously strong her ankles must be. In the past I have found Bryce to be rather vacant and detatched, difficult to connect with on a human level. The opposite of Pratt in some ways. Yet here she is that removed person at the start, and goes on a character journey that breaks through her isolation and replaces her love of all things work related (like her smartphone) with a genuine emotional connection with her nephews. The scene where she outruns a T-Rex in heels has been ridiculed by people I can only call misguided. When the massive gate opens and the eyes of the T-Rex glint in the dark as it stomps toward the brave woman with the flare, who the hell is looking at her shoes? Leave the theatre at once you cheap entertainment philistine!
This makes me recall the guy who worked on creature design for The Lord of the Rings, who clashed with artist John Howe over the spikes on the wingtips of the fell beasts. The chap contended that such spiked wingtips do not exist in the real world. John Howe overruled him on the grounds that, well, neither to fell beasts, and spiked wing tips – though utterly fantastical – were ‘cool’. The point is that films are not made to be realistic, or hole-less in a narrative sense. Some films have more holes than Swiss cheese or pumice, but like Swiss cheese and pumice still manage to float.
Like a good adventure from the early 1990s, Jurassic World leaves you feeling satisfied, with most ends succinctly tied. The hawkish would-be profiteers get chomped (for the most part), and the family that was heading for the dissolution of divorce may stick together. And the music of John Williams keeps the whole thing feeling familiar and authentic. On that point though my sister felt it was a bit underwhelming. The tension was not kept up by the music through the softer bits. She has a good point, and the score though good was not a standout. It was composed by Michael Giacchino who tried to use the original themes of Williams to make the world feel familiar. He succeeded in that, but that isn’t saying much.
In the film (and also the trailer) the spectacle of the Mosasaurus diving out of its huge water enclosure to devour a great white shark (like a Killer Whale jumping for fish at Sea World) is a moment that is perhaps something of an inside Spielberg joke. Jaws eaten by bigger jaws. However, it seems a little bizarre in that a core theme of the film is environmentalism. The dinosaurs are bred for profit but aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. They are living animals, deserving of respect. It is strange then to see an endangered species strung up to be eaten for entertainment. But, if they can clone dinosaurs I am sure they can keep sharks from extinction. Another humorous layer could be that an endangered species is eaten for crowd entertainment – by an extinct species. Perhaps I am reading too much into it.
I haven’t talked about the director and other main cast because I really have nothing of substance to say. The two brothers are less annoying than children from the earlier films, and they very quickly get forgotten. The older brother (I can’t remember his name and I bet neither can you) has the adolescent desire to procreate with everything, which is a reminder of the dinosaur instinct so aptly summed up by Jeff Goldblum in the first movie; “Life, er, er, finds a way…” The teenager does not I am happy to say. That is not a spoiler to say that he doesn’t spoil anyone… oh dear, how did this become so filthy?
My judgement is go and see it. It is well worth it. As always an adventure film is diminished by even the most block-busting home theatre system. See it at the cinema, and if you are in Wellington you really are spoilt for choice.