After its gargantuan success at the box office, Jurassic World has proved that now, as ever, children love dinosaurs. Jurassic World is on the brink of making $1.5 billion at the worldwide box-office, a huge figure that makes it far and away the most successful film of the last 12 months and a possible candidate for the highest grossing film ever. However, audiences don’t have to wait long to be dragged back to cinemas by their T-Rex obsessed kids; next up (this Autumn) is Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, a story about a young Apatosaurus who adopts a human boy in a world where the cretaceous extinction never occurred.
Jurassic World harbors a nastiness far beyond Steven Spielberg’s original, and has likely left many toddlers traumatised. Sure, Jurassic Park was scary, with several of the main characters meeting horrible demises, but it’s never nasty. In fact, the audience is left with the feeling that all the dinosaurs – even the vicious raptors – are actually wondrous creatures, as majestic as they are dangerous. It’s hard to imagine anybody thinking that of the pterosaurs that brutally attack the visitors later in the film.
This mean streak is a trap that many imitators of Spielberg’s 1980’s Amblin-era peak have fallen into (see also: J.J Abram’s Super 8) by essentially trying to combine E.T’s sweetness with Jaws’ tension. Spielberg himself even failed to accomplish this with Jurassic Park’s first sequel: The Lost World.
Jurassic World simplifies these themes to a clichéd ‘Heroes VS Evil Military’ subplot seemingly designed to produce sequels where the writers don’t have to invent an excuse for a new theme park.
The problem with attempting this approach is that if the filmmakers fail they are left with a wildly veering tone. One scene in Jurassic World sees a barely-acknowledged background character repeatedly picked up and dropped by flying dinosaurs – all the while in obvious terror and pain – before being swallowed whole. It’s more akin to a scene from an adult horror movie than an action scene in a family blockbuster. We then cut to the two teenage leads looking on with mouths-agape with comedy-shocked faces. If this scene generates any laughs it’s in the “should I be letting my kids watch this” sense rather than actual amusement. This is far from the only scene with this issue and it leaves a distinctly bitter taste in the mouth.
Jurassic World also strips the Jurassic Park model of some of its most interesting components. Whilst the original was about dinosaur’s rampaging in a theme park, it also dealt with chaos theory, man’s relationship with nature, and the ethics of science. These plot points were seldom subtle but they served to differentiate the film from the tacky monster movies that its detractors lumped it in with. Jurassic World simplifies these themes to a clichéd ‘Heroes VS Evil Military’ subplot seemingly designed to produce sequels where the writers don’t have to invent an excuse for a new theme park. Worse, the film makes the mistake of attempting to divide the dinosaurs into good and evil. This results in the ‘evil’ dinosaurs being reduced to the boring monsters that Jurassic Park avoided, whilst the ‘good’ dinosaurs helping the human heroes undermines the ‘uncontrollable nature’ theme of the entire series. However, this setup does result in a great dino fight at the end!
Perhaps the greatest failure of Jurassic World compared to its predecessor is its lack of memorable characters. Chris Pratt is the very definition of bland as the raptor-trainer hero – a shame considering how much fun he was in Guardians of the Galaxy – and Bryce Dallas Howard’s uptight professional who learns how to love fares little better. The two teenage leads are slightly better sketched, but the film forgets about their arcs almost entirely in the second half. In contrast, almost every character in Jurassic Park was at least memorable, with several, namely Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond and Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, becoming iconic. This was because each one was to some extent flawed, relatable and unique and, as a result, the film remains captivating even when the dinosaurs are off-screen. The same sadly cannot be said for this year’s cinematic success story.
All this does not make Jurassic World a terrible film; it’s a consistently enjoyable thrill ride. However, in 20 years, when the children who saw it at the cinema have children of their own, it’s hard to imagine them sharing it with quite the same joy as the current crop of parents have with Jurassic Park.
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