Jurassic World is a movie constantly fighting with itself and its protagonist’s journey towards ‘self-jungle-ization.’ The fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise (and the first since 2001’s Jurassic Park III), follows Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park operations manager of a fully-functioning dinosaur theme park. In what is seriously the worst twenty-four hours of her life, the latest attraction (the hybrid Indominus Rex) gets on the loose and it’s up to her and hunky Raptor Behaviorologist Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to save the day. In the end she gets in touch with her own animal instincts and comes to understand what it means to shepherd these dinosaurs into a new era. While this summary extracts the through-line established by director Colin Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly, I would argue that that the road to understanding is paved with muddled results on screen. So in the midst of a civil war between fans and creators, I wanted to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Jurassic World by engaging with what the film did wrong and what it did right by looking at the words and intent of the filmmakers.
1. Dearing Revolutions
“To me it’s Claire’s movie. She starts off pretty straight-laced, corporate, uptight somewhat…but she ends the movie in a different place [than] where she started.” – screenwriter Derek Connolly (Jurassic World Blu-Ray)
Claire Dearing, represents a bold new step in the Jurassic Park franchise, putting us in the shoes of someone implicitly responsible for unleashing the dinosaurs on the world. However, the audience is constantly given opportunity to turn against her whether it’s Owen’s grumblings or her nephews’ rumbling. She’s never allowed on screen to process key thematic material regarding her growing respect for the dinosaurs and her place in the chain of command. Instead of showing the theme park for the first time from her prespective they show it from her nephew Gray, the filmmakers trying to recreate the former glory of the original. This undercuts Claire’s declarations that people are bored with dinosaurs almost immediately. The film needed ‘a day in the life’ moment for Claire. Seeing her strolling around the park looking at stats and graphs while the ‘miracles of cloning’ exist all around her would have been instrumental in seeing what makes her tick before they strip it all away. When she makes the heroic move to lure the original Tyrannosaurus Rex out of its paddock to attack the Indominus Rex it should feel triumphant, but without a proper setup to her arc it feels perfunctory and without weight.
2. Pratt Miscast
“There was a bit of a darkness. This is a guy who’s been through something.” – actor Chris Pratt (Screen Rant)
While Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady perfectly played into the Harlequin Romance side of things, turning stereotypical blockbuster love stories on its ear when the persnickety Claire gets the hunk in the end, he feels completely miscast for a role that required a more ascetic personification. Owen Grady is the anti-Malcolm, a grizzled veteran much more content to hang out with his animal friends than interact with other people much less the corporate shenanigans of the main park. His dialogue seems stripped straight from a Werner Herzog doc. It’s confirmed by Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg and Colin Trevorrow that Pratt was cast before his star-turn in Guardians Of The Galaxy, but this metatextual event hurts his performance even more. His charm is a proverbial blackhole to the narrative, muddling the film’s themes where “they must all be destroyed” (as declared by original game warden Robert Muldoon in the original Jurassic Park) is taken as gospel instead of foreboding that could play countermelody to Claire’s transformation.
3. ‘That First Park Was Legit’
“The T-Rex that’s in the film is the T-Rex from the original Jurassic Park and she is 22 years older. But, she’s not limping around.” – director Colin Trevorrow (Slash Film)
Jurassic World’s approach to nostalgia is woefully ‘subtle’ in all the wrong ways in a world filled with vicious attention to continuity and shared universes. Repeating story beats and echoing previous conflicts versus fan service is a real balancing act (one that last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens mastered quite successfully overall). Instead of crafting callbacks that tie the past with the present and propel the narrative forward, Jurassic World is filled with ‘blink and you miss moments’ that are unclear or even worse, go unnoticed. Think of how much more grand and meaningful the fight between the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Indominus Rex would be if it was explicit that this T. Rex is the same mean motherfucker that ate the lawyer and killed two Raptors in the original? When you have the two kids Zach and Gray explore the Visitor Center from the original, what good does it do to completely obscure it to the point that it doesn’t register until Gray picks up Tim’s goggles (not even Tim’s original goggles, but another pair!). When you show a statue of John Hammond (the original creator of Jurassic Park) and you don’t splash it in blood by the end, it just doesn’t feel like you’re paying attention.
4. Indominus Rex; or, The Modern Prometheus?
“They begin making hybrids of different dinosaurs combining them in a way they never would have been naturally combined, meaning it’s a complete manifestation of the hubris of man.” – actor B.D. Wong (Jurassic World Blu-Ray)
Jurassic Park films are all about man’s desire to meddle with the natural world and the Indominus Rex is the culmination of this theme since Malcolm’s “Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun” speech in the original. Yet the Indominus Rex’s destruction often feels random and convenient. Is it the world’s most dangerous puppy as portrayed in the gyrosphere destruction scene? Is it the horror movie serial killer as shown in many of its attacks on the nameless military goons and our heroes? When it’s revealed that Indominus Rex shares DNA with Velociraptors, this ‘twist’ met mostly with a shrug because the Indominus Rex never really felt like a ‘damn animal.’ By making it more into an immovable force of nature it diminishes the responsibility of those that had a hand in creating her.
Ultimately it’s the dinosaurs of Jurassic World that have to step in and do the job for the humans with the power trio of the original T. Rex, Blue the Raptor, and the Mosasaur finishing off this unnatural monster that has disrupted the natural order of things. I hope the character of Claire (and the filmmakers) take this personal failing of the humans to heart and uses it as drive towards absolution and redemption for releasing Frankenstein’s Monster on the world in the next Jurassic adventure (‘Jurassic World II’ comes out June 22nd, 2018, fyi).
5. Transcending Genre: The Movie
“I have to build something that can take them to the same place those earlier films took us.” – Colin Trevorrow (Slash Film)
The original Jurassic Park defied genre conventions by splitting the difference between terror and awe while Jurassic World embraced its b-movie roots to surprise success (Pratt on a motorcycle with the Raptor Squad at his side is still glorious). There were attempts at the other half of the original Jurassic equation such Gray’s joy at seeing the park for the first time, Jurassic World founder Simon Masrani’s aspirational speeches, and the nod Blue gives Owen at the end, but it was shown most exquisitely during the death of Apatosaurus scene. When Claire and Owen stumble onto the dying sauropod it becomes a real defining moment in the film especially for Claire as she holds onto one of these majestic creatures as the life leaves its eyes. Backed by composer Michael Giacchino’s touching and sorrowful eulogy, it’s unlike any moment in the franchise this far, and gives me hope that there’s still room for the divine among dinosaurs.
What were you favorite moments from Jurassic World? Least favorite moments? Did you want to see dinosaurs with feathers? Sound off in the comments below!