I don’t remember the first time I watched Jurassic Park. I remember going to see Free Willy (yeah) while my cousin and brother saw it in theaters, and them discussing the t-rex spitting the bloody goat leg on the car on the ride home. I remember the first time I saw part of the film. I was in a department store with Joe, and on the TV screens was the scene where Timmy, Lex, and Dr. Grant are walking up the hill and Timmy is whining “I’m tired, I’m hot.” I asked Joe if that was the first time the t-rex appeared, and he said no. I even remember joyously opening a Christmas present of the VHS copy of the film. I just somehow don’t remember the first time I saw the movie I went on to watch 30 or 50 times over the next 12 years.
I could quote the movie in my sleep. I could watch it in my head. Jesse Walker’s greatest flaw is his dislike of the movie. (Or you had to have been six in 1993.)
I watched The Lost World and defended it when I was 10, and then didn’t when I realized it sucked some time later. I reluctantly watched Jurassic Park III, and knew it was terrible but enjoyed the drive-in movie setting. I rolled my eyes at talk of still more sequels and had no interest in Jurassic World until — as with the new Star Wars preview — the familiar score in a slightly subtle trailer made me drool like Pavlov’s dog.
The derivative nature came through even in trailers. Chris Pratt is Dr. Grant, except he knows the dinosaurs’ nature in real life. Bryce Dallas Howard appears to be the new Hammond until you actually watch. Two generic kids are in peril — and their parents are even divorcing!
Still, the meta nature of this third sequel makes it more interesting suddenly. I knew we weren’t going to get the backstory of how dinosaurs became banal to the public, and how the disaster of the first park was PR-ed away. (The lawsuits alone….) But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want it. I laughed when the guy from New Girl who works as one of the tech guys is wearing a Jurassic Park shirt he got on ebay. Bryce Dallas Howard’s character — who basically is vaguely in charge of the park, without being in charge of the company of Ingen, we have a new Hammond for that — scolds the guy for wearing it because people died.
And that is before we even discuss some of the visual aping of the original film that got a little tiresome for someone who knows that film backwards and forwards. The final shot is like this. And a “sick dinosaurs are just animals” scene with Howard and Pratt does not work like Grant and the triceratops does in the first one. Possibly because the brontosaurus in this film is practically given cartoon eyelashes and a lolling puppy tongue.
But the worst of it comes in the second third of the movie, when the totally not credible 21st century version of the automated cars of the first one turns into “yeah, t-rexes sure love prying open vehicles to get at the delicious child innards.” The part where the brothers find the remains of the old Jurassic Park is kind of fun and pure fan service, except that it invites so many awkward questions. Did they really just leave all that shit there? Junked cars, the banner from that final shot, the merchandise? Why?
Much was made of the fact that Jurassic World has made a fake dinosaur. But within the movie, this works. And it works in a very Michael Crichton way. The man’s books — not just Jurassic Park — are full of descriptions of cold, calculating companies and their biotech plans which should alarm us all. Fish with advertisements in their skin, nanobots running amok, an ape-child, he was worried about this, and he was clearly quite willing to believe (at least in fiction) that these companies would top each other and go farther and farther. So, when Henry Wu (he’s back! and evil this time!) says “But you didn’t ask for reality, you asked for more teeth, it’s not the only nod to the unreality of all the dinosaurs — not just the new spliced I-Rex.
This works in the Crichton-y world, even if it’s also cloyingly meta. It’s a good step to admit that this is a monster movie, not a dinosaur movie, both in the world and while watching in the audience. The absurd scene where the sea dino jumps and eats an entire Great White shark cements this. (It’s a monster movie, where the monsters are in pens, so forget the awkwardness of the first movie ruining people’s impressions of real dinosaurs perhaps forever. GRANT TOLD YOU THEY TURNED INTO BIRDS, DAMMIT.) And that is an appealing plot point that cries out for better worldbuilding — what does the world in which Jurassic World exists resemble? When these dinosaurs are normal, instead of a hushed up tragedy on a nearly empty island?
The movie won’t tell us. It’s a small world after all. Now, I like the banality of the dinosaurs in some ways. However, Boyfriend and I debated whether people would be sick of regular dinosaurs this quickly. This is still a park that requires a trip to Costa Rica and farther to visit. Meaning, this park “isn’t only for the super rich” but it is still going to cost a lot more than Disneyland does. It would help with the believability if the audience knew exactly how long the park has been open, and how long dinosaurs as a fact have been around. Still, this strange marriage of a reboot and a sequel might be cynical and self-aware, but it works when we admit the characters want to keep audiences interested. The commies at Jabobin might think this condemns us all, but if they had committed to this, if there were more world-building and more scenes of conversation, it might really work. Instead, we have villains eaten hastily by raptors before too much plot can come out.
What of our characters? Irrfan Khan is the new eccentric, decent, but childish billionaire who owns the place. He’s…sufficiently different. Pratt and Howard are both Dr. Grant in parts. Howard manages the place, and is therefore also rigid John Hammond. But she is also the Dr. Grant because her character — buttoned up woman in heels clashing with wild man, we have seen this before, yes — has no idea how to interact with kids. This time it’s her sister’s sons. And the movie is judging her hard at the start, just because she isn’t maternal. It’s not terribly sexist, though. Her arch is the same as any male character’s who needs to be a hero and step up to save the kids — again, this is just Dr. Grant (arguably, she should care more since they’re relatives, and they’re just Hammond’s nephews in the first one. But also, Grant’s conflict over kids is with his significant other and the kids themselves. Howard’s character basically is told by her sister that she’s going to have kids someday so she will stop being such a bitch. Whatever, Judy Greer.)
And as someone on Twitter noted last week, the movie puts Howard in impossible heels, then mocks her for it. But she’s actually the most likable character in the end, and the one who doesn’t just stand still. Nobody said she’s about to get knocked up because she saves her nephews — much like Grant being heroic doesn’t mean he’s suddenly a goofy suburban dad because he didn’t let two random kids die. Plus, she’s competent and doesn’t really need a lot of rescuing. She’s arguably more competent than Ellie Sattler in the first film, and I have always been fond of her. (“Look, we can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back” is something I should say more often.)
My favorite plot and visual theft from the original film is when Howard plays Grant/Ian Malcolm and lures the t-rex with a flair — while Chris Pratt’s character is hiding with the kids! It is satisfying that Hollywood has given the ladies a chance to play dinosaur tag. It’s probably the high point of the movie.
(On the other hand, Bustle needs to accept that yes, Howard’s character was dressed for a business meeting, not dinosaur fleeing but it’s not a fucking feminist victory to wear hideous, bad for you shoes while in jungle setting just because it’s harder than wearing hiking boots. Please do not try to brand heels in the worst settings as some kind of victory, because I will laugh in all your faces and at third wave feminism in general. Feminine women can be bad-ass as well is not the same as you can do something epic while wearing ankle-breaking shoes! You’re a real woman of 2015! I punch everything.)
Weirdly, buff Chris Pratt has not won my heart as he has the rest of America’s. He’s not Andy Dwyer anymore, and he hasn’t pulled off the roguish action star thing as much as he thinks. There’s a lingering charmlessness there now. Or a lack of charisma with his onscreen romances. Sorry, America. He’s no Harrison Ford. He’s not even Sam Neill. The romance between Pratt and Howard is tepid to decent. Their first scene together is bad, and the banter completely falls flat, however it improves a bit as things go along. A bit.
What else? The military industrial complex evil plot doesn’t work (weaponized raptors, people). They should have stuck with Ingen is scary, period. Stuck with Crichton’s strengths with his fears of biotech run wild.
Now, Chris Pratt on a motorcycle leading a pack of raptors is something we need in the internet age. It’s a meme come to life. And it’s not as dumb as it should be, like much of this movie. If these things are supposed to be as smart as an ape and as fast as a cheetah, some tentative training being possible is believable enough. You can train a bear or a lion, but it might eat you at a moment’s notice. Also, Chris Pratt on a motorcycle riding with raptors. That, America, cannot be denied.
The movie looks good. The effects are good, though I swear a brief shot of gallimimus who are “flocking this way” looks less real than in the first one. The final fight between all our favorite predators is excessive, but it doesn’t resemble one big cut scene, or one big Michael Bay wet-dream or any of the worst things action scenes in 2015 are like.
But at the end of the day, the movies is thin. The characterization is so much weaker than in the first film. Pratt has less heart than minor characters like Robert “clever girl” Muldoon and less prickle that turns around than Grant. He is static, except for his affection for Howard. The kids are devices, not characters, even if they’re borderline ’90s annoying in the original. The billionaire is likable, but he’s sure as hell not Richard Attenborough just killing it through the whole movie. The flea circus scene with the ice cream? Come on, people. It’s fantastic.
And a thousand lawyer jokes notwithstanding — or the, shall we say, toilet humor of his death. Even though it’s still gruesome in a PG-13 way — the man who plays Gennaro in the first movie gives it his all. He is a person, even if he’s a sleazy lawyer person. Jurassic World has a surprisingly low death count, but the cartoon-gratuitous death of Howard’s British assistant who has almost no lines, but loses the kids, is surprisingly mean-feeling. It’s as if it came from another, even worse film.
The trailer’s hints that thousands of people will under dino attack is a bit of a red herring. We have our stock group, and a few faceless soldier types. Strangely, this is almost a small movie. I don’t know why it feels that way, but it does. Perhaps because, though it has some fun moments, and I did flinch during tense dinosaur times, it is just another seasick mixture of a reboot and a sequel. The movie is about as long as Jurassic Park, the cast is much bigger, but Jurassic World doesn’t feel like we evolved into anything at the end. We’ve stalled. We’re just having a little more fun as the wheels spin than we might have.