I don’t know that I can necessarily say that I remember when Jurassic Park first came out. I was maybe three years old, four tops. But I do remember when my parents rented it and watched it (on VHS!) most likely shortly after its release, and I remember being terrified. And then as I got older, I was able to appreciate it for what a good movie it really was. And as enjoyable as the latest sequel, Jurassic World, is, I think the most telling thing about it is the fact that I kept thinking about iconic moments from Jurassic Park and what made that original movie so good.
Jurassic World ignores the events of the previous two sequels and serves as more of a direct sequel to Jurassic Park, but mostly only in the sense that it takes place afterward and in the same place with the same themes and almost the same plot. Parallels are everywhere–two kids without their parents visiting a relative in charge of a dinosaur theme park, said dinosaur theme park experiencing the sorts of problems that get people killed, the kids ending up in the care of two adults of the opposite gender, etc. And the movie even has some nice throwbacks to the original, from name-dropping and briefly discussing original park creator Hammond to the little Mr. DNA character. And, of course, raptors.
This isn’t to say it’s an exact rehashing of Jurassic Park, though–true, it’s not doing too much new, but we are dealing with a functioning, open park, genetic hybrids to an extreme degree, and those infamous trained raptors. But Jurassic World does sort of lie in this middle ground of not being groundbreaking yet also not feeling like we’ve seen the whole thing before. It is predictable as far as action movies go–we all pretty much know who’s gonna die, who’s not, and what’s gonna happen to them all in between–but it has its surprises, too. That dinosaur jumping out of the water in the trailer, for example, isn’t just a gag to show off CGI or to give that amusement-park feel, even though it does that very effectively. That guy comes back twice in a pretty great way.
As for those amusement-park details, they were among my favorite subtle moments in the movie. It wonderfully captured tourism and consumerism, although the product placement was incredibly obvious. I can’t decide if I was distracted by it because I’d hear it was excessive in advance, but it is certainly noticeable. You get plenty of shots right on logos. By God, does Mercedes want you to know their cars are in this film. The amusement-park aspect also speaks to some of the bigger things of what happens when corporate America goes awry, especially when corporate America is dealing with dinosaurs as commodified attractions and forgets that they killed people in this exact same setting before.
That’s also why I don’t buy some of the cries of sexism in Bryce Dallas-Howard’s character, Claire. Some have argued that she ends up getting pushed around–though she’s in charge of the park, when shit gets real, the men start telling her what to do. And while that is technically true, it’s framed in a way that’s focused much more on experience and ignorance than it is gender, and I say this as a feminist. Claire’s not being pushed around by the men around her because she’s a woman–it’s because for the entire movie, she has never thought of the dinosaurs as animals. They’re attractions meant to spike attendance and therefore profits and media coverage, and when men do step in to clean up her messes, specifically Chris Pratt’s character, Owen, it’s because of different experience in the park with the animals and therefore a different perspective. Owen and Claire handle things differently because of their jobs. Owen takes charge because he has some idea of how to. Plus some of the men taking over fuck up royal–they’re not necessarily stepping in and saving the day. They’re wrong. They make mistakes. In one case, they’re actually the villain. And–spoiler alert!–the whole mess is truly ended by other dinosaurs, not people.
Some have also complained about the fact that Claire is in nice clothes and high heels for the duration of the movie, but again, this is because of her character, not her gender. Claire’s in a pretty high-up position running the park. When you’re in charge of things in corporate America, you dress nice. And you don’t stop to change your clothes or shoes in the middle of a very deadly dino crisis–you keep on truckin’.
If we’re gonna call anything sexist in this movie, it’s got to be the very minor romantic subplot between Claire and Owen, which is my biggest complaint about the movie.
I watched enough movies and read enough books as a kid that I was still pretty young when I got really tired of men and women always ending up as a couple by the end, no matter the genre or what else was happening in the plot. Hell, I remember seeing Van Helsing in theaters and being happy that Kate Beckinsale’s character got killed solely because most other movies would’ve just had her banging Hugh Jackman by the end, and I was glad to see something different happen. Pretty much no one is going to see Jurassic World for a love story, unless you count the characters (and many viewers) who love dinosaurs. It’s like movie studios and certain writers just don’t know how to put a man and woman in a story together without having them have a romantic past or a romantic future. In Jurassic World, we learn on Claire and Owen’s first onscreen interaction that they’re not just coworkers–they went on one date, and it didn’t progress after that because they were basically incompatible. In fact, they bicker about this in a scene where she’s supposed to be asking him to stop over to check out their lab-created hybrid because–shocker!–it’s a bit of a menace. That past does nothing for their characters or the plot. Nor does their random kiss in the middle of an action sequence. Their only reprieve is that Chris Pratt’s last line of, “We should stick together…for survival,” is delivered well and is funny, but the film absolutely would’ve worked without it. In fact, if not for a pretty great closing shot of a T-Rex in the mostly destroyed park, the last five minutes could’ve just been cut and still given you a really good movie. Maybe even a better movie.
Because as summer blockbuster action movies go, it is good. I really liked it. Despite its flaws, I was entertained, and while I wasn’t terrified like I was when I was Jurassic Park–pretty much because I’m 25 now, not 4–it was still suspenseful and engaging. Ironically, it would’ve been a stronger movie had it just embraced that, rather than trying to add depth and backstory in things like that romance, and even what was practically a throwaway line about the kids’ parents getting a divorce. The romance was a cliche and the divorce detail was clunky, and the thematic elements prevalent in the first film dealing with corporate and industry failures with a hint of greed were strong enough to carry it. Play to your strengths–dinosaurs fucking shit up.